Benelli Montefelto Extra-Light
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- Last updated: 13/12/2016
I really enjoy testing new semi-autos. I have been a confirmed semi-automatic user for years and have shot both game and competition clays with them. I take a special interest in the development of new semi-autos, moreover. Happily, the prejudice that once stood against repeaters has now much diminished on these shores, and I hope that I may have done a little to dispel it.
The test gun is a Benelli Montefeltro semi-auto as imported by GMK of Fareham, one of our most respected wholesale firms and one offering an excellent back-up service to all its products (one of the best in the gun business). GMK also bring in Beretta, Franchi, Lanber, Sako, Savage and Tikka amongst many other quality gun lines, not to mention Federal ammunition, Le Chameau wellies, and Burris scopes.
The Benelli is built on an especially clever inertia action design. This really is intriguing if you are a gun buff. The Benelli auto does not bleed off gas via holes in the barrel forward of the chamber as in most semi-automatics designs. Instead, it has a rotating bolt head attached to the main breech block assembly by means of a short, extremely stiff, spring. When the gun is fired, the bolt head remains stationary relative to the barrel (into which it is, of course, locked). But, the main mass of the breech block behind it accelerates a short distance forward and compresses the spring.
When this connecting spring is fully tensioned it causes an acceleration in the opposite direction unlocking the bolt head. Everything now travels back together as the cycling operation progresses. The cartridge is extracted and ejected. A coil spring in the butt re-energises the working parts which are pushed forward by this secondary tension. A new cartridge is loaded in the chamber and battery is established with the rotating bolt head locking back into position. It all happens without the complexities of valves and similar and, as a result, the Benelli is unusually clean in use and unlikely to fail even if you forget to keep it pristine internally.
In the words of one American gun writer: “For a century, gun designers both great and obscure have struggled with an ever-expanding array of auto-loading systems for shotguns. Long recoil operation was succeeded by short recoil. Long-stroke gas pistons coexisted with short-stroke designs. All suffered the same problem. It was difficult to make one system work perfectly with everything from target loads to the heaviest magnums. Hunters were burdened by adjustable gas valves, o-rings, and complex mechanisms that were hard to understand and keep clean. The answer was not found in making the design more elaborate, but more simple.”
Amen to that… I am not sure who came up with the Benelli idea originally (but I should make a point of finding out), but it puts the firm - now owned by Beretta - into a category of its own with regard to gun design. There is nothing else much like it on the shotgun front. One would be very hard pressed to come up with a more ingenious or effective design for a semi-automatic smooth-bore gun.
First impressions of the Montefeltro, meantime, are very good. It is unusual in several respects, because of the action as discussed, because of its short, but legal, 24” barrel (there are 26 and 28” options) and, not least because of its unusually light weight (a shade over 6 pounds – featherweight for a 12 bore semi). Visually, the gun is attractive too with a smart, streamlined, one-piece, black anodised alloy receiver (some Benellis use a two part design with an alloy base combined with a sliding steel top as old soldiers will remember on their SLRs).
The wood on the test gun has exceptionally good figure (could it have been enhanced?) and had a sheen to its finish. The chequering appears to have been cut (probably by laser) but the effect is a little spoilt because some oil has been left in the diamonds. This might easily be rectified with a suede brush or similar.
A generally positive first impression is not in any way dispelled when one mounts the gun to face and shoulder. The tightly radiused full-pistol grip and short forend both feel comfortable, as does the svelte comb. The grip anchors the hand and feels very secure. The gun moves quickly as one might predict, but it is not as lively as you might think considering the reduced barrel length. I am generally a long-barrelled man, but this gun would have advantages both in some constrained hides and in woods where one is walking through heavy cover. My general advice with a semi though, would be to go for a 30" tube (though my own preference, when available, is a flat-ribbed 32).
The barrel on the test gun is worthy of further consideration, not only is it short and 3” proofed, it is equipped with a narrow carbon fibre rib to reduce weight. The weight reduction is especially noticeable in such a short barrelled gun, but Benelli offer this feature in other models as well. It gives these Benellis a special fast-handling character. As a result of their action design and reduced barrel weight they are much more ‘alive’ than some other repeaters. Anything else to say? Not much save for the fact that a centre bead is fitted and there is a traditional small metal front bead (by far the best thing to have on a working gun).
The Montefeltro shot fast and well! In fact I have been really impressed with all the Benellis that I have played with recently. Recoil was noticeable but manageable. Handling was very quick. I suspect that no Benelli is going to be quite as soft to shoot as my trusty 32”, gas-operated, Beretta 303 - certainly not this specialist model (which might be ideal for woodcock or snipe shooting as well as the applications mentioned).
Benellis are faster than the average semi even in standard barrel lengths as noted. They cycle quickly too, and they have a quality feel to them. My considered bottom line is this – Berettas for clay shooting and Benellis for game. I would love to see - just out of curiosity - a heavier barrelled 32” sporting version. At the moment, and, it is just my opinion, the Benellis are set up to excel most evidently in the field. With a little bit of tweaking, they just might make my perfect repeating clay gun as well (although I will concede that the new Benelli Crio Comfort is an excellent clay busting machine as it stands). Meantime, this specialist gun sets its own gold standard. Benellis are not cheap, but you get what you pay for in life. This is a modern classic. You might not want it in this form, but I doubt if you will regret buying a Benelli.