Benelli Raffaello Academia
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- Last updated: 28/12/2020
I am not really one for bling, but I have to say Benelli’s Academia semi-automatic, 12-gauge shotgun stands out for all the right reasons. It’s a limited edition design with a manufacturing run of only 1000 units worldwide. From what I can make out, we in the UK have only been allocated 50 guns. So, if you’re a self-loading, smoothbore aficionado who likes the idea of a small number of what will doubtless become a collectable and premium product, then this model could be right up your street.
The Academia as its name suggests is an intellectual blend of Benelli’s world-renowned, recoil/ inertia operating system, combining high-grade walnut furniture and well executed engraving and gold inlay. This is further enhanced by Benelli’s BE.S.T. finish for elegance and weather resistance as well as the Progressive Comfort recoil damping system and carbon fibre rib. In comparison to their equally excellent yet far more practical M2, it’s like comparing a cavalry charger to a dressage horse. It is available with 28 and 30” barrels (3” chamber) with five CRIO chokes, a left-hand version is also an option. All are steel proofed.
The Accademia’s format is built around Benelli’s unique and excellent, two-piece Raffaello action that allows a full field strip. Its recoiloperated, inertia-driven operating system is said to reliably cycle everything from target loads to heavy magnums, we shall see!
However, and compared to a gas/piston system it’s elegantly simple. It consists of three main parts: bolt carrier, twin lug rotary locking head and internal recoil spring. As the gun fires the recoil force generated pushes back on the bolt head, which is securely locked so sealing the chamber. Once the barrel pressure has dropped to zero, the energy pulse assisted by the internal spring moves the carrier rearwards, which in doing so rotates and unlocks the bolt head to extract and eject the empty, cock the hammer and set the trigger. At the end of the rearwards stroke a spring in the butt returns it to battery feeding, chambering and finally locking as it does.
The bolt handle is quite wide and triangular shaped with grooves for grip. A Benelli trademark is the slotted shell lifter, that allows clearing a cartridge in the unlikely event of a feed jam. The magazine follower is red anodised, most distinctive is the polymer trigger guard, which is near triangular in shape. As standard is a cross bolt safety, eye catching is a gold-washed and smooth trigger blade, both controls looking good and operating perfectly.
For those of you perhaps more used to Benelli’s workman-like M1 and M2 guns with their one-piece aluminium receivers, the Academia’s Rafaello build is quite different. The receiver is split, the main lower section accepts the upper barrel assembly, complete with what could be termed an extension at the rear of the chamber that the bolt runs in complete with the side-mounted ejector. This build gives a pleasing, two-tone look. The upper/ barrel has what Benelli calls their BE.S.T. coating, this gloss black finish looks like best English bluing but is reputed to be more than five times tougher. It certainly looks superb and is highly resistant to scratches.
The lower is nickelplated and elaborately engraved and decorated. This is a collaboration between Benelli and Urbino’s Academy of Fine Arts to show the best of Italian culture and flavour. This results in some well executed game scenes of duck in flight and repose, as well as trees and branches with some exceptionally good gold inlay too. Not normally my thing but it works very well with this whole Academia design. I wonder if those buying this gun will ever take it out into the field where it really belongs?
You get a set of five Benelli CRIO choke system tubes (Cylinder, Improved Cylinder, Modified, Improved Modified and Full) for varying the patterns down range with their extended internal cone profiles for excellent shot density. You also get their Powerbore system which maximises ballistic potential without added felt recoil. This is accomplished by a tight bore, typically of 18.4mm diameter that gives higher velocities and thus improved down range ballistics and performance. Barrels and chokes are cryogenically stress-relieved, rather like a good custom rifle. Finally, on top is a narrow carbon fibre rib to keep the weight down, although a tad loose, it sports eight vents, a mid-sighting bead of silver and muzzle end red dayglo insert sight, handy in low light situations.
The timber is of superb quality Grade 3 walnut. The wood is equally well matched between butt and forend, which is the trick with a gun of this price and quality, which Benelli achieves beautifully. Add in some really superb figuring balanced with depth of colour and hue and the 100% wood to metal fit and I’ve no complaints on this furniture.
The forend is slim and long with a sweeping line to its top edge and deeper section to the base to fill the palm. It is well chequered with a continuous side and bottom panels with well-defined diamonds to grip. The same is true of the pistol grip that has no border, just well executed cut panels that look very classy. The palm has a slight swell to both sides and felt really nicely proportioned to my big hands, although length of pull (LOP) was a tad short at 14.5” but better than some American semi’s! The comb too is a bit low, but stock inserts supplied can adjust this and cast to suit if you so desire.
The Academia also features the Progressive Comfort recoil damping system, which reputably reduces recoil by the amount needed to the load of the cartridge being used. It forms part of the recoil pad and its radiated polymer finger pattern design is almost hidden by the butt pad and thus does not detract from the look. The heavier the kick, the greater the system reduces it.
Being an inertia system, like any semi you need a solid fit in the shoulder to maximise the efficiency as recoil needs something to push against to start the process. Also, light target loads like the 24-gram Blue Diamond or Hull Pro Fibre produced excellent patterns but did not function 100% as expected. Stick to 28- gram or heavier and you will be fine. It’s a light gun at 6.5lbs, so is very lively to handle and fast, I guess the 30” more so? I still like the shorter 28” barrel and for me, the Academia despite its shorter LOP handled admirably.
I shot a variety of cartridges and patterns proved tight, probably due to the Powerbore system as a half choke behaved more like a ¾ in terms of pattern spread. Hull Steel game loads with 70mm cases and plastic wads delivered 32-grams of #FE4 shot at high velocity and the Academia functioned perfectly with easily manageable recoil.
A total of 185 FE4 pellets hit the board, with 77 inner strikes and 108 outer hits for a dense and even pattern. Gamebore Velocities use 28-grams of #7.5 shot, which I use for squirrels, but is equally good for clays! This showed a total of 303 on the board with 110 inner and 193 outer strikes, plus with pleasingly low recoil too.
Hull’s Driven Grouse is a 70mm case with high 12mm head, plus a fibre wad and a payload of 32-grams of #5.5 copper shot. They always deliver exceptional and tight patterns and so they did with this Benelli. A total of 219 pellet strikes on ½ choke with 102 within the inner sector and the outer having the remaining 117. Nice and tight, plus hard hitting too.
Yes, it’s expensive at £2895, but remember it’s a limited edition and desirable as well as collectable, not to mention it shoots extremely well too! To be honest, as this is such a special and for that matter short run of these shotguns, the price is particularly good indeed. There is just the right amount of embellishments from the engraving and gold wash set against a superb BE.S.T. finish and that gorgeous walnut stock, what’s not to like? More good news: after September 2020, any Benelli model bought new, gets a 10-year warranty, if the buyer registers it with importer’s GMK Ltd (www. gmk.co.uk/warranty) plus 25 years on BE.S.T. barrels and parts. Now that’s what I call a good deal!