Beretta 690 Field III
Vic Harker considers the Beretta 690 Field III.
London gunmakers perfected the side-by-side shotgun and the over-under before our grandfathers were born, and as a discerning sportsman you would do well to buy one – if you can afford it.
Unless you have been lucky enough to have inherited the ancestral Purdey, the cost of such guns often keep them beyond the reach of the vast majority of us. Of course, for those absolutely wedded to the idea of owning a best English gun, there is the second-hand market, but if the burden of a hefty mortgage, school fees and other luxuries still do not allow for that, what then?
It is worth thinking carefully at this stage about what one expects of a shotgun. At least part of a best London gun's appeal is the maker's history and heritage. The quality of materials and the skills employed in the making of the gun are also very important. A good shotgun, after all, represents a considerable outlay of capital whatever kind you choose, and it's natural for you to wish that it should possess the kind of durability that will enable you to pass it onto your heirs and successors in the fullness of time.
The Beretta family have been making guns in the Gardone Valley in northern Italy since the 15th century. That they continue to do so in changing times, when many of their competitors have fallen by the wayside, is by dint of extraordinary ingenuity and inventiveness which has seen them flourish and prosper. Their methods of production may have changed but standards of design and manufacture have continually improved. A gun from Beretta encompasses all the history and heritage you could wish for, and their reputation as makers of fine guns remains impeccable. As to the durability of their guns, as a major manufacturer of all categories of firearm, Beretta is a leader in the development of state of the art alloy steels. Stelium, their own proprietary brand, is the latest in shotgun barrel material technology. Not only immensely strong, this steel is virtually impervious to rust or damage in the most arduous of conditions.
I've been looking at the new Beretta 690 Field III, a derivative of Beretta's highly successful 692 competition model. The game gun is lighter in weight, the action being slightly smaller dimensionally and, with 28" barrels, it weighs just 7lbs. Nothing, however, is lost in terms of its strength, and that is due to the genius of its design. London makers such as James Woodward & Sons and Boss & Co. produced the most graceful looking over-unders and, though introduced some decades later, Tullio Marengoni's over-under design for Beretta was, in its own way, equally classic. Marengoni noticed how a gun's barrels and action flexed together upon discharge of a cartridge, and so he placed his guns' locking bolt above those forces to reinforce them. At the same time he was able to dispose of any form of under-bolting – creating an extraordinarily strong and elegant low profile action for his over-under. These design principles introduced into his first ‘Sovraposto', the SO3, were carried over into Beretta's volume production guns in the 1950s. The main difference being, instead of a cross-bolted fastening, a bifurcated conical bolt came forward from the standing breech, located in reciprocating recesses in the barrel monobloc. This hugely strong and yet compact design is the perfect platform for a game gun. Providing both excellent balance and handling, and with the axis of the bottom barrel in a straight line with the shoulder, recoil is very low.
Among the many ‘game gunesque' qualities that the 690 Field III possesses is a discrete efficiency. The barrels, bored at 18.6mm, incorporate a set of Beretta's Optima hand-detachable chokes, which, in situ, are completely undetectable but very useful if conditions dictate you require more or less choke. This efficiency even extends to the ventilated top rib which is very narrow and low and with an engine turned surface, making the gun beautifully pointable.
A game gun should also be eminently portable, easy to handle and carry and with no unnecessary weight. It should possess a feeling of balance between the hands, coupled with sleek graceful lines. The Beretta 690 III possesses all of these qualities and its low profile action, together with a slim fore-end and a stock with a suitably open radius for the grip, provides a ‘hands-in-line' hold that contributes significantly to a smooth and coordinated gun mount.
Amongst the dogs and the tweeds at a pheasant shoot in late October, the Beretta 690 III looked right at home. In every visual aspect of this gun there is an element of restraint. The action's double fences and side panels are elegantly sculptured and delicately engraved with a scroll design and game scenes, with an old silver polish finish.
I found the gun a pleasure to shoot with, aesthetically pleasing and very well balanced – superlatives that, for me, sum up the Beretta 690 Field III perfectly – not forgetting its long and illustrious heritage and the fact that its price tag does not require that second mortgage on the family seat!
Model: 690 III Field
Bore size: 12
Barrels length: 28"
Action: Non-detachable trigger plate
Chokes: 5 Optima hand-detachable
Rib: 5mm parallel
Stock: Semi-pistol grip
Weight: 7lbs 8oz
Price: £2,500 (inc. VAT)