When form follows function
It may be a long way in looks from the traditional game gun, but the Benelli 828U has a lot going for it, says Vic Harker.
Accepting that the design of any type of firearm is dictated by the form of ammunition it utilises, we have to acknowledge that the shotgun attained an apogee of both form and function around the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th, almost entirely due to the introduction of the centrefire cartridge. As a more efficient alternative is still yet to be devised, we must not be surprised that the shotgun – side-by-side or over-under – has changed little since this time.
Nevertheless, first impressions of the new Benelli 828U would suggest some things have changed, if only because of the availability of new materials and methods of manufacture. This alternative looking model from Benelli is a game gun, which is surprising because for at least the last half-century it has largely been the clay target gun and the very specific requirements of clay target shooters that have provided the gunmaker with such opportunities for innovation.
The 828U's action body is made of an aluminium alloy, presumably for lightness, but steel inserts are employed in crucial areas where the barrels are jointed to the action. The hinged steel breech-face incorporates a semi-circular lug that locks into the barrel breech ends.
The actual breech fastening is by way of a pair of circular locking bolts that engage with reciprocating recesses in the extension arms integral to the monobloc – a substantial arrangement and one which also provides some lateral support. The ejector work is powered by long external springs, each side of the barrels. Of sophisticated design, it provides both good primary extraction and powerful ejection. The top lever not only withdraws the locking bolts, it also cocks the lock-work which is detachable. The reason for this facility is not quite clear, perhaps to provide easy access for repair?
The stock, which comprises of a particularly well figured piece of walnut, is the most conventional component of the gun so far as aesthetics are concerned. It is of excellent shape, particularly in the grip area which has a fairly open radius and is suitably slim for a game gun. The checkering is to a fish-scale pattern and provides a firm hold.
Keeping in mind the gun weighs less than 6lb, the recoil pad – which has an excellent concave shape that locates comfortably in the shoulder – incorporates a ‘progressive control' recoil reducing system. It works and it needs to, taking into consideration the kind of cartridges this light gun may be asked to digest. The comb also incorporates an energy-absorbing synthetic insert, which, again, may well reduce the effects of recoil at the face. Perhaps most useful of all is that the stock can be adjusted for height and cast with a set of shims located between the head and the rear of the action body.
As for the fore-end wood, this gives a nod to tradition, fastened to the barrels as it is with Benelli's take on the Anson rod. The wood itself has a rather unusual shape at the front, but its slim profile provides a comfortable hold for the leading hand.
The barrels are made by Benelli's parent company, Beretta, and match-up to their typically high standards. They are fitted with a set of five long, flush-fitting choke tubes, and bored to a tight 18.4mm – this is very sensible as the Benelli is a purpose-built game gun and will almost certainly be required to deliver good patterns with fibre-wadded ammunition. The top rib is made of carbon fibre and is interchangeable. Whilst I can grasp the benefit of lightness in this area, I wonder what this very suitable tapered rib – ideal for game shooting – could be interchangeable for? This aspect of the 828U is the only one that smacks of gimmickry.
I test fired the Benelli at the North Oxfordshire Shooting School, not necessarily a seat of ultra-conservatism, but I was interested as to what the reaction to this unusual gun would be. It was in fact similar to mine.
What I would say of the 828U is that the makers have set out to create an over-under shotgun on their terms, based on what they think works best from a practical standpoint. And so in that way, the Benelli's form follows function. The locking system is, at least in terms of how it works, based on traditional principles of design, and creates a low profile action which is also rounded and elegant. That the action body is longer than some is because a larger section of the barrels are locked within it, which must add to the gun's strength and security. The unconventional heading of the stock to the action, at least for an over-under, is of the sort a maker of automatic shotguns might naturally favour and has the advantage of providing this off-the-rack gun with the facility to make adjustments to almost any shooter's personal requirements, in a way no other gun of this type can. Again, this is a case of form following function.
To shoot, I found the gun a refreshing change from the ever increasing number of Long Toms that come my way. The Benelli provides a choice of two barrel lengths, 28" and 26".
My test gun had the latter specification and in no way did I feel disadvantaged. Long though the receiver is, the 828U's point of balance is right on the trunnions and perfectly between the hands. It has fast handling characteristics and on short, quick driven targets it was just what was needed. On rangier targets, it does still have sufficient momentum up-front to aid swing, and in some ways this was easier than hauling something much longer and heavier across the sky.
Granted, the 828U's looks are unusual, but they are not unattractive. And most importantly, it is designed and built with skill and integrity.
Is the 828U a suitable gun for the grouse butts? I am certain it would prove to be very useful in that environment, and while the odd spluttering colonel might not approve, this Benelli is an excellent game gun. So let them splutter.
Bore size: 12
Barrel length: 26" & 28"
Action: Detachable trigger-plate
Chokes: Five detachable
Rib: Tapered – interchangeable
Stock: Pistol grip with recoil reduction system
Weight: 6lb 6oz
SRP: £2,325 inc VAT