This semi-automatic Benelli Raffaello Crio Comfort 12- bore has a synthetic stock, a 3in magnum-proofed 28in barrel and a clever inertia operating mechanism.
I have chosen this Benelli for review because I think it the best game-shooting semi- auto in the world.
It is not that long ago that over-unders were considered not quite the thing on many game-shoots.
This prejudice has diminished but it is still in place against repeaters (as both semi-automatic and pump-action guns are termed). It is usually justified by the fact that ones fellow guns cannot immediately see when an automatic or pump action is unloaded.
Whether or not the prejudice is really justified is a matter of opinion. A few good shots use repeaters for driven work, not to mention numbers of visiting foreign sportsmen.
In 1887, an age when form was far more important than today, Basil Tozer, aka 20-bore, wrote in his Practical Hints on Shooting: On the whole a repeating shotgun is preferable when battue-shooting or driving, or in what is commonly known as a warm corner. To the Spencer gun [an early, manually cycled gun] we would give the priority; it is light for a repeater, weighing but 7¾lb, and in this gun the mechanism of both lock and magazine is remarkably simple it handles far more pleasantly than any repeating gun we know of. In a hot corner, with a couple of such guns, nothing more could be desired.
Today, there remains a great deal to be said for the repeater, in particular the semi-automatic.
I do not use one for driven work in deference to the sentiments of my friends but I have no objection to them in experienced hands.
Moreover, I advocate semi-autos for pigeon- shooting, wildfowling, clays and, not least, use abroad.
Most are soft recoiling.
They are tough and will suffer much ill-treatment. They can handle just about any load and are versatile if fitted with multi-chokes. Their relatively low cost is another positive.
Our test Benelli is distinguished by a number of interesting features as well as its operating mechanism (housed in an aircraft-grade aluminium receiver). The hammer-forged barrel has been stress-relieved by cryogenic freezing as have the long, gradually constricted, interchangeable chokes.
The manufacturers claim that this also improves the surface finish, reducing friction and minimising the build-up of lead and plastic residues on firing.
The rib is made of carbon fibre, which helps to keep the barrel weight down and handling lively. The synthetic stock is most intriguing too. It is well shaped and comfortable with a slight palm swell in the grip. It incorporates ComforTech a package of anti-recoil devices.
The butt has a soft polymer recoil pad (available in different lengths and right- and left-handed variants). There is an interchangeable polymer comb, as well as shims for the adjustment of drop and cast without the use of anything more than a socket wrench.
The stock has an unusual diagonal split from the heel to just behind the pistol grip. Connecting the two large parts of the butt are a dozen or so polymer recoil-absorbing chevrons. These are designed to flex on firing and really seem to work.
Unlike the majority of modern semi-automatics which are gas-operated, the Benelli is based around an inertia operating mechanism.
It is a work of true engineering genius.
It utilises a rotating bolt head attached to the main body of the bolt by means of a short, stiff spring.
The locked front part of the bolt assembly remains stationary relative to the barrel at the moment of firing while the main mass behind accelerates forwards and compresses the connecting spring.
When under full tension, it all accelerates back as a single unit.
This initiates the unlocking of the bolt head and the extraction and ejection of the cartridge-case.
The breech block, which also has a hinged rats tail connected rod to its rear is re-energised by another longer spring contained in a tube in the plastic butt.
The action returns forward, loading another cartridge into the chamber, completing the cycle.
This is a most impressive gun to shoot. It is lively, without being too light (hitting the scales at something over 7lb but without excessive frontal weight).
It is instinctive and forgiving to use. There is more felt recoil than in some gas-operated guns of similar weight but the cycling is extremely quick and the gun handles exceptionally well.
Thanks to its anti-recoil features, this gun is the softest shooting Benelli that has passed through my hands. One advantage of the inertia mechanism is that there is less cleaning to be done than with a gas operated semi-automatic.
No propellant gases foul a chamber/ piston beneath the barrel since the part is dispensed with in this design. The Benelli shoots extremely well by any standard.
It is darkly elegant.
You would have to go a long way to find a better or more rugged gun for hide or marsh.
If I were going to Argentina or South Africa for high volume pigeon shooting, it would be my first choice.