Beretta Ultralight Gold 12-Bore shotgun.
Years ago there were always those makers who strove to produce lightweight guns but were constrained by the materials available.
Steel action bodies would be reduced to the minimum size, perhaps rounded in form, and action bars were kept short. The walnut blanks would be chosen not just for looks and strength, but primarily for lightness, while lightweight tubes and ribs completed the package.
Yet the materials used and practical requirements of suitable dimensions for a particular gauge of gun and fit to the shooter put a limit on what could be achieved.
Then came the adoption of what are generally referred to as ?aircraft-grade aluminium alloys?, which melded the twin virtues of lightness and strength.
The use of aluminium alloys has been with us for a number of years now and is used extensively by some makers where it is very much part of their mainstay of production.
With Beretta it is an option because this is a company that seems to abide by the traditional gun making principles of evolution rather than revolution.
Judging by the success of Beretta sales and its loyal following, it is a policy that its customers appreciate.
So, just how different is this Ultralight Gold 12-bore?
Well, the trigger-plate lockwork is recognisably and undeniably Beretta, and the trigger-plate is still made from steel, as is the curvaceous top-lever, auto-safe/barrel selector button and trigger-guard.
It also retains those excellent Beretta screw-in hinge pins (or trunnions), which hold captive two smaller steel lugs that act rather like rollers against the ejector trip arms.
To put it simply, most of this part of the gun is as you would expect, with only the action body made from aluminium alloy.
Even with this, the only small visual giveaway is the steel insert dovetailed into the face of the standing breech. Otherwise, apart from a slightly squarer styling, it looks no different to a steel-bodied gun from the same maker.
The 28in hammer-forged barrels, built on the mono-block system, are manufactured to Beretta?s normal close tolerances. At a bare 6mm, the matted, ventilated rib is quite a lightweight piece of work topped off with a silver-coloured bead.
Extra weight saving has been achieved by fitting side ribs that extend for about two-thirds of the barrels? length from muzzle to a bit less than 2in inside the fore-end.
Screw-in chokes, with the necessary extra wall thickness at the muzzle, add a tiny bit of weight. However, multi-chokes are very much regarded as the norm with this type of gun, but there is a fixed-choke option.
As standard, five choke tubes are supplied with the gun, but other intermediate chokes are available. Identification is achieved by the industry-standard notch marking and also engraving on the body of the tube.
The latter, of course, follows the American system and are listed in the handbook as full, improved modified, modified, improved cylinder and cylinder.
For traditionalists, this equates to full, three-quarter, half, quarter and nominal cylinder. Gauging the bores on this gun actually recorded the cylinder choke as a light improved cylinder, using the older British system, which in practice is usually beneficial.
Proofed for use with steel shot, the barrels, with their hard chrome bores, are flawless.
With chambers for 70mm (2.3/4in) cartridges this can only be regarded as a wise move on the part of the makers, as big magnum loads would be distinctly unpleasant in a gun that falls into the lightweight game category.
The trigger-plate lockwork is unmistakably Beretta. The triggerplate, top-lever, auto-safe/barrel selector button and the trigger-guard are made from steel.
Only the action body is made from aluminium alloy.
LIGHT ITALIAN WALNUT
Italian walnut is known for its paler looks and comparative lightness while retaining strength. This Ultralight Gold 12-bore is stocked with wood that has such characteristics.
Darker than some, it still exhibits a pleasing, nicely patterned grain structure enhanced by the conservatively styled laser-cut chequering patterns.
Inside the butt it gave the impression of having just a little more wood cut out, all contributing towards the feel and balance.
The fore-end has some stylish decorative cutaways where the wood meets the knuckle of the steel fore-end iron, but the Schnabel shaping at the tip did come as a bit of a surprise.
A slimmer, more rounded shape would have at least enhanced the impression of a lightweight gun even if, in practice, it made little real difference.
What seems at first to be no more than carefully thought-out, finely detailed modifications have quite an impact on the feel, handling and balance of this Ultralight Gold.
At less than 6.1/2lb, it is remarkably light for an over-under 12-bore. To put that in perspective, it is not much heavier than some 20-bores from the same maker.
Of course, overall balance and the necessary bulk of a bigger gauge gun means it feels just like a lightweight 12-bore, which is not quite the same thing as a 20-bore.
It is, however, impressively fast and quick-handling in a similar manner, when on the move, to a smaller gauge gun, but manages to give an impression of more solid stability when just balanced between the hands.
STICK TO LIGHT LOADS
One thing to remember with a light game gun is not to use heavy loads unless you want to suffer, though for the purposes of testing this was interesting to explore.
I can report that 36g (1.1/4oz) loads are a bit of a handful and, if the gun was not held really firmly, the rear of the trigger-guard hit the second finger.
However, used more sensibly with 28.5g (1oz) loads it worked well and even changing to 30g (1.1/16oz) shot loads, the basic standard for many years for the 12-bore, proved acceptable to me.
On the pattern sheets I found it shot flatter than I have come to expect from a Beretta.
With the foresight bead just touching on the centre point it spread the shot pattern evenly within the marked circle, though the drop across the stock at 1.3/8in to 2.1/4in is similar to most Beretta game guns.
Trudging back from the pattern plate it felt virtually as comfortable as a side-by-side when carried open in the crook of the arm.
It is different but not obviously so, and even the slightly square action body gives it a cobby appeal, which is enhanced by the decorative panels and gold inlaid birds.
Beretta has got it right once again.
The Beretta Ultralight Gold 12-bore is well made with well-thought-out construction.
Careful modifications ensure it is lightweight and well balanced with quick handling.
Attractive decoration and pleasing grain structure to the stock. Cased with some accessories.
Two lengths of butt-pad are provided. Comfortable to carry.
Beretta quality does not come cheap and this is the de-luxe version.
A lightweight gun for those who like the handling associated with smaller gauge guns but prefer the 12-bore cartridge.
For anyone who wants an over-and-under substitute for a side-by-side, this is a worthy contender.
£1,980 – Ultralight Classic with fixed chokes: £1,670
Tel: 01489 587500