The Accademia is a rare thing, a beautiful semi-automatic. But does its performance match its looks? The editor of Sporting Gun finds out
What makes the Benelli Raffaello Accademia semi-auto different? The words ‘beautiful’ and ‘semi-automatic’ don’t get used together very often. Most semi-autos are plain. None of them would turn heads on the looks front. For example, the Benelli M2 is the workhorse of many gamekeepers because it offers rugged reliability, but it is totally utilitarian. However, the semi-auto we are reviewing here couldn’t be more different. It is stunning.
Benelli Raffaello Accademia semi-auto
With flying mallards engraved on its profile and gold accents, the Benelli Raffaello Accademia is the antithesis of the M2. So much so that you wouldn’t believe they came from the same stable. You would struggle to find a game gun with this amount of artistry. Combine that with beautifully figured walnut (grade 3) and you get a stunningly beautiful semi-auto.
Not only that, the blacking is lustrous and glossy, a finish that is achieved by Benelli’s new Benelli Surface Treatment (Be.ST) process. Diamond-like carbon particles are applied to the barrels using nanotechnology, creating a hard surface that the company claims is impervious to abrasions and corrosion. Not only does this make the barrels look good, Benelli also offers a 25-year warranty on the finish, so you can have confidence in this process.
Some might argue that the shiny finish will scare your quarry if it catches the sun but taken in the context of a coin-finished action with gold accents, I would suggest that a shiny barrel is only one of the many things that would catch the light on this gun — and you would be better going for a more mundane shotgun if you wanted to be more stealthy.
It is also worth remembering that if you are using the gun in the hide it would only be visible when you are taking a shot.
This is a unique and collectable prestige shotgun, strictly limited to a production run of 1,000. We tested gun number 913. The Raffaello Accademia came about from Benelli’s collaboration with Urbino’s Academy of Fine Arts, with the students designing the engraving. Looking at those flying mallards on the profile, you can see that they have been executed with exceptional skill.
So far I have talked about the aesthetics of this gun because that is what is most striking about it. Benelli has created a thing of beauty, but how does the Accademia work as a semi-auto shotgun?
Looks and utility
The Accademia is not only pretty. Money has been spent on the internals and they are beautifully engineered. An inertia driven system cycles the cartridges with reliability. Naturally, you have to be aware that inertia-operated systems can be cartridge fussy because it relies on recoil to cycle the next round. If your cartridge has too light a load, or doesn’t give a certain amount of recoil, the gun won’t cycle. I tried the Accademia on loads as low as 24g and it didn’t miss a beat. In the field you would be using cartridges with a heavier load, so the gun is more than fit for purpose.
An advantage of the inertia-operated system is that it is easier to clean than a gas operated system. True, the latter will cycle any load cartridge, but they can become quickly coked up with the gases and debris and need to be cleaned regularly, which is time-consuming and often fiddly. Benelli is famed for its technically brilliant recoil operated semi-autos, so there is nothing to worry about on that front. (Read here for instructions on cleaning a semi-auto shotgun.)
The gun’s stock is finished with the ‘progressive comfort’ recoil damping system, which adapts to different cartridges and loads and makes the Accademia even more comfortable to shoot because polymer vanes absorb the ‘kick’ from the cartridge. This neat system is in addition to the fact that this is a semi-auto – with the mechanism absorbing some of the recoil – and makes this a very comfortable gun to shoot.
Even though the gun is relatively light at just over 6lb, you could easily fire magnum loads through it without ill effect because the progressive comfort system takes greater effect as the load increases.
The Benelli Crio barrels fitted to this gun have been frozen to -300°F to relieve the stresses in the metal caused by the hammer forging process. The process tightens up the molecules in the steel, which creates an even-grained, slick surface. This means the shot and wad passes through the barrel more easily, resulting in better patterns – Benelli claims 13.2% more pellets on target – and keeps the barrels cleaner for longer.
On top of the high-tech barrels sits an equally high-tech rib made from carbon fibre. The advantage of that is that it is light – it can save up to 200g – and is strong. Attaching this rib to the steel barrels is also a feat of engineering; you can see that the money has been spent on performance as well as aesthetics on this gun.
On the range
As a light shotgun the Benelli Raffaello Accademia semi-auto felt easy to shoulder and get on aim quickly, which is exactly what you need when shooting woodies from a hide. The balance of the gun brings the weight of it back into the shooter’s hands. This makes for lively handling. Some might say it is a bit ‘whippy’ but I liked the way it handled. After all, this gun is made for the field, where fast handling is often required, not for the clay ground where slower and steadier handling is needed.
Controls such as the cocking handle, safety and release button were big enough to be used with a gloved hand, making them ideal for fowlers and everything moved with mechanical ease, revealing the skilled engineering that underpins this gun.
Using Benelli’s rotating bolt head mechanism the Accademia can fire three shots as quickly as you can pull the trigger. I tried to catch it out by doing lots of rapid firing in quick succession, but it performed faultlessly with no jams or stoppages.
The gun fitted my 6ft-plus frame well straight out of the box, but if needed you can make adjustments with the shims and spacers provided.
Recoil was well managed thanks in part to the progressive comfort recoil system. Because I was on a clay-shooting ground, the largest load I could use was 28g, but it handled that with ease and, as I mentioned, I’m sure that even magnum loads would be comfortable to use in this gun.
The looks, handling and engineering of this gun are all impressive and would justify its high price. If you are after something utilitarian and a bit cheaper, there are less-embellished guns in the Benelli range that handle just as nicely and have the same fine engineering.
The beauty of the Benelli Raffaello Accademia semi-auto would be too much for many semi-automatic users and they would go for something like a Benelli M2 as a reliable workhorse. Benelli knows this and has limited production to 1,000. However, if you want a semi-auto that is out of the ordinary to cherish for many years to come, the Accademia fits that bill. Not only does it look elegant it is beautifully engineered and performs brilliantly. You get what you pay for with this gun.
Scores on the doors
- Build quality 25/25
- Handling 24/25
- Styling 25/25
- Value for money 24/25
- Weight: 6.4lb
- Barrel: 28in or 30in (tested)
- Available in 12-bore 3in magnum chamber
- Crio multichoke Grade 3 walnut
- Progressive Comfort system
- Interchangeable butt pad
- Proofed for superior steel shot