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- Last updated: 13/12/2016
I have always been a fan of the Beretta Silver Pigeon range. We see them most frequently in 12 and 20 bore form. I happen to have a pair of 30" barrel 28 bores with which I do most of my game shooting with (feeding them with 1oz. fodder). This test, however, focuses on a rare beast - a 36 bore Silver Pigeon (which is what the Italians call a .410). The gun is imported to the UK by
GMK of Fareham, a well respected firm with which I have had a long and friendly relationship, and who have an excellent service department to support their firearms products.
First impressions of our small-bore Silver Pigeon are pretty good. The first thing one notes are the very small chamber mouths when the action is opened. It looks more rifle than shotgun like because the chamber walls are so much thicker than average (no bad thing in the case of a .410 where pressures are significantly increased compared to larger smoothbores). The gun has the usual scroll engraved, nickel-plated, action with which we are all familiar (though there all sorts of other options in the Beretta line these days). Barrels are 28" long and mobil multi-choked (the tiny tubes of the latter would delight any machinist's eye). Top lever, trigger guard and forend irons are also
nickel plated. The Silver Pigeon also has the new 'American' forend instead of the old schnabel pattern that used to be standard. The stock has a half-pistol grip which has not changed much in recent years and is reasonably well figured with straighter grain going through the wrist (as it should) and a little more figure to the rear.
Before we go further, a few words on the .410 cartridge. Three in use – the 2” (now, not so common), the 2 ½” and the 3” magnum. A generation or two ago, the .410 was usually considered a boy’s gun. My first serious shotgun was a 3” chambered .410 – a Cooey single barrel break-action soon followed by a Mossberg bolt-action three shot (also a 3” gun). This was a little unusual in those days in England as the traditional route in a shooting family would have involved a 2 ½” chambered side by side. Nevertheless, I had a great deal of fun in the fields of my grandmother’s farm in Kent with those guns.
Kids today (with some notable exceptions) tend to skip .410 and 28 bores and move straight on to 20 bores or even 12s. This is a shame in some ways. It may have something to do with the vailability and cost of ammunition (one of the biggest practical drawbacks of the .410). The .410 is still used for pest control, of course (often in sound-moderated form). It is also popular with
serious NSSA (National Skeet Shooting Association) clay busters and has a following with a few sporting shots. There are more serious sporting 410ers in the USA, but the UK now hosts an annual .410 'World Championship' at sporting clays (an event that I will try and attend this year). There are also some British game shots using .410s (in the US it has long been relatively popular with 'upland' quail hunters - though the 20 and 28 are the most favoured gauges for quail, woodcock, and grouse in the hills of New England).
Nearly all .410 guns are 3” chambered today (as is the test Beretta) but I would still guess that there are far more 2 ½” cartridges consumed in the UK than anything else. The 3” shell – which reigns supreme in the States - is notorious for its poor shot-string. It recoils significantly more, and as might be expected subjects the gun to fairly high pressures. I use 2 ½” shells by preference. Is it
powerful enough? No, but I do not find the 3” significantly better and it is far more expensive.
So, on with the test. The 28" monobloc barrels on the test gun boast a ventilated sighting rib. It is flat, 6mm wide and neatly machined. It is well made, but I would have preferred a solid design. There is a traditional metal bead front sight which is fine. Joining ribs are solid as they should be on a game. The barrels bears Italian proof marks for 3" (76mm) shells. The bores are well finished - the barrels are hammer forged chrome moly steel - and the blueing is good if a little dull (which seems to be the modern Beretta preference - their finish is extremely hard wearing though). The fit and finish of the ejector work is neat.
The action of the Silver Pigeon is the usual low profile Beretta type with split stud-type hinge pins engaging the bifurcated lumps on the sides of the monobloc. Lock up is achieved by conical locking lugs engaging circular bites positioned just below the centre line of the top barrel. This clever system is now well proven. There is a single selective trigger, operating on the inertia principle - one of the most reliable in the industry. Aesthetically, Beretta have changed the style of the scroll engraving slightly and have plated the action and furniture as already noted. I am a dinosaur and still prefer my trigger guard, top lever and safety blued - but the silver finish looks good too.
The wood on the test gun was well figured for a basic model. The stock finish was what most real shooters will want - matt 'oil' with well cut (laser) chequering in traditional panels (so much the rounded styles that sometimes are used to jazz up older model guns and end up making them look awful). The thin rubber pat fitted is not my favourite for a game gun because I find it a bit sticky, but it might easily be changed for another type. The stock dimensions were good. The length from the middle of the trigger to the middle of butt sole was 14 5/8" with an extra 1/8" to bump and 3/8" to toe. Drop was equally sensible at 1 3/8" at comb and 2 1/4" at heel (though my preference
would have been a little higher).
Although, I am a 28 bore fan, I have never found the .410 an easy gun to shoot. Nevertheless, I managed to break the clays with the little Silver Pigeon with half and three-quarter chokes fitted. Using Lyalvale 2 1/2" shells recoil was barely noticeable in this 6lb. gun. .410s tend – even in weightier form – to jump in front of everything. If you are not connecting with a .410, it is
most likely that you are missing above and in front. To shoot any small bore well requires control. You must not rush, and you must use the front hand well.
My reservations on the bore size apart, this is a well presented gun. If you want a .410 it may be just what you are looking for. My preference, however, would be for the 30", multi-choked, 28 bore version. The handling dynamics of that are simply brilliant. Because it is a little heavier than the average .410 (many of which are ridiculously light) this gun shoots well - as good as any .410 that you will find. Moreover, it is a well conceived and nicely made gun bearing a famous name known for quality and reliability.
It may not be easy to shoot, but it is easier to shoot than most .410s because of its sensible weight and barrel configuration. The 36 bore Beretta might be just the ticket for pest control, or as a teaching aid for nervy, recoil-shy shots, being introduced to shooting. It may also represent an
irresistible challenge to those who have already mastered the 20 and 28 and just want to be different. I remember a pool shoot at a sporting contest a decade ago where everyone had to shoot the same .410 - it was a lot of fun, but bl**dy difficult!
My thanks to Lyalvale (Express) for supplying the .410 cartridges used in this test.