If you are looking for a reliable 'workhorse' semi-auto then they don't come much better than the M2, says Matt Clarke
If you had to sum up the Benelli M2 semi-auto in one word it would be, ‘practical’. It has been designed like every semi-auto should be, where function dictates design. After all most semi-autos are workhorses. They are not designed to look pretty; they are designed to perform even in the toughest conditions.
That is not to say the Benelli is a boring gun. You might consider a pair of ‘practical’ shoes rather dull, but not the M2. It has personality aplenty and, more importantly it is fun to shoot. I will explain what I mean later in this article, but first I want to explore the reliability of the M2 that has won it a place in the hearts of shooters.
The Beretta M2 semi-auto – in the field
Used by many a gamekeeper, the M2 has proved itself in the field over the years. The latest version comes in a Realtreee Max 5 camo, which would make it ideal for fowling. Some might say that the colour is a bit too yellow for the UK, but to be honest as long as the camo breaks up the outline of the gun and stops any ‘shine’ from the barrel, that’s all that matters to me. However, the camo also makes it ideal for summer pigeon shooting because it would blend in so well with a field of stubbles.
Another important function of the camo, which extends to the metal parts, is that it provides a rust proof coating, vital for when you are on the marsh. It is also useful inland when shooting pigeons because nothing rusts the metal parts of a gun than a spot or two of blood from your quarry.
There is a choice of camo finished, the other being Realtree APG, so you can pick which camo you think fits better with your surroundings. The synthetic stock also comes in a dull black for those who eschew guns that look like a cabbage patch.
The good thing about the synthetic stock is that it is not adversely affected by water. It doesn’t warp and it can be easily wiped clean. A dimpled effect on the neck of the stock gave good control in wet conditions and the black rubber insert on the comb gives some protection against recoil, as does the Comfortec gel butt plate, which is nice and squidgy to soak up recoil.
Another element that helps absorb recoil is the semi-auto action. The M2’s is inertia operated. This means the action is cycled by the recoil of the cartridge, rather than by gas from the explosion. The good side of this is that there are no fiddly gas parts to get gunked up and cleaning is easy. The downside is that these types of guns tend to prefer heavier load cartridges to fully load the inertia spring and cycle the action. We tested this gun with 24g and 28g cartridges and it functioned flawlessly. Considering you would be putting heavier loads than that through the gun then there should be nothing to worry about when it comes to its performance in the field.
The M2 uses Benelli’s famous rotating locking bolt action. When the shot is fired all the fixed parts of the gun go rearward with the recoil. The bolt and inertia spring are in effect free-floating and initially remain where they are. This difference in motion (inertia) between the bolt and spring and the rest of the gun causes the spring to compress between the rear of the bolt and the bolt head. After the recoil begins to dissipate this strong spring releases and the power of it rebounding unlocks the rotating bolt head and throws the bolt rearwards, which in turn ejects the spent shell and recocks the hammer. The bolt then meets another spring, which shunts the bolt forwards and on its way picks up the next cartridge that has been released from the magazine and forces it into the breech and the bolt rotates causing the breech to lock up and become ready to fire again.
This all sounds complicated but it happens in the blink of an eye and is one of the simplest and most robust semi-auto actions around. It is robust because there are relatively few moving parts. This design also means there are no moving parts in the fore-end giving it a slimmer profile and brining most of the weight back into the hands of the shooter making. This makes the gun wieldy and fast handling.
Target acquisition with this gun was superb. The gun followed where your eyes moved and you could get onto the clay immediately. A broad ventilated rib on the 28-inch barrel finished with a fibre-optic bead also aided the sight picture. I couldn’t help but think that this gun would be superb for pigeon shooting where the birds are coming thick and fast.
Thanks to the simple action breaking this gun down for cleaning is relatively simple. You unscrew the front nut, remove the fore-end and barrel together and pull back the fore-end so it is removed from the barrel. You then remove the cocking handle from the bolt (this can be a little fiddly) and then the bolt comes out. Simple.
What confused me slightly was the holding open button being placed down near the trigger guard and the safety catch. Initially I kept looking for it on the main body of the action, but the bolt release button was positioned there instead. As there are relatively few moving parts cleaning is easy and some of the people I know rarely clean their M2 and they still work perfectly.
The Benelli M2 has a three-inch chamber and so can for magnum cartridges and is proofed for steel, so it’s ideal for wildfowling. It comes with five removable chokes, which means you have every type of target covered. You also get a range of shims for the stock so that you can set up the stock the way that suits you.
When I tested the gun on the clay ground at E. J. Churchill I fitted it with the improved cylinder choke because that’s what I am used to. I have to confess the first two targets I missed. They were challenging crossers, my nemesis, and it took me a little while to get used to the gun because the comb was lower than I was used to. Had I had more time I would have adjusted the fit of the gun with the shims provided.
I got my eye in after a couple of attempts at the crossers and felt much happier. The gun cycled quickly and efficiently with the no. 7 ½ shot cartridge with a 24g load. Not bad for an inertia operated gun.
The main thing I noticed was how light the gun was and how light the recoil was. I wasn’t aware of the cocking handle going back and forth, like on some semi-autos I’ve used. The lightweight action really rattled through the rounds. As I said earlier, inertia systems are not like gas operated guns in that they don’t get coked up with residue so you could fire the Benelli all day and not have a problem.
The other more important thing that struck me about the gun was how fast it handles. With the weight firmly placed into the shooter’s hands the M2 was very pointable. Target acquisition was superb. I just pointed the gun and pulled the trigger. In the field I find some of the best guns are so light and wieldy that they become part of you. It means there is no lag between seeing your quarry and getting your gun on aim. This makes it ideal for walked up shooting, pest control or pigeons shooting.
The gun I tested was a three shot, with two cartridges in the magazine and one in the chamber. However, if you need a larger capacity magazine for serious pest control then an eight shot version is available for those with a firearms certificate. Loading the gun was easy and comfortable with no sharp edges on the loading gate or the breech.
The gun comes in a range of barrel lengths. I tested the 28-in version and that handled beautifully. Those who shoot from the confines of a hide might prefer a shorter barrel because it’s less likely to get caught on the hide netting.
After using this gun for an hour or so I could see why it has become a favourite with gamekeepers and professional pest controllers. It is lightweight, handles beautifully, and is robust and reliable. It also requires very little cleaning and can handle heavy load magnum cartridges when needed. I would have preferred the gun to be a bit cheaper, but let’s be honest, you have to pay for quality and the Benelli M2 is quality.
Need to know
- Price: £1645
- Weight: 3.2kg
- Barrel: 24, 26, 28in (tested)
- Length of pull: 14 ½ in adjustable with shims
- Drop: adjustable with shims
- Rib: ventilated
The Benelli M2 has built an awesome reputation for fast handling and reliability over the years. It has become the gamekeepers’ favourite and we all know that anything that can stand regular use by a gamekeeper must be well built.
It is cleverly engineered. Like all brilliant mechanisms the action is simple but effective with minimal moving parts. There are only three primary moving parts, the inertia spring, the rotating bolt head and the bolt body. This makes for an impressive rate of fire and with no linkages or gas parts the gun is super light and very clean. It makes a very light game gun and would be a useful tool against all kinds of vermin.
With shims to adjust the stock and a large selection of multi-chokes, the M2 is a versatile gun. At £1,600 it sits in the middle range of semi-autos. However, you can pay an awful lot more for something that would only just be as good as the Benelli M2. If you are serious about pest control and want a bit of fun thrown in then this the gun for you.
Scores on the doors
- Build quality: 24/25
- Handling: 24/ 25
- Styling: 22/25
- Value for money: 23/25