Mark Heath is impressed with the performance and handling of this semi-auto, which is perfect for wildfowlers and pigeon shooters
This month, we assess the Benelli Super Black Eagle 3 semi-automatic as a wildfowling gun. Fowling and pigeon shooting are probably the two most common uses in the UK, other than perhaps law enforcement and military, for semi-auto shotguns. If you turned up on a driven day with one, you might hear something like “Are you really sure that’s suitable, sir?” or “I think you’re in the wrong place, sir”.
In the US, they are widely used for wildfowling and in the competitive clay-shooting arena more often than perhaps in the UK. We do see them at the shooting school on occasion, sometimes when a client is going to the US, usually to shoot duck. We therefore cover the safety drills on how to shoot with a semi-auto.
The Benelli Super Black Eagle became a favourite of wildfowlers as it was one of the first semi-autos capable of shooting magnum loads. They were also used by well-known American trick shooter Tom Knapp.
If you need any testament to the suitability of the brand to survive trips to the foreshore, the fact that its M4 is used by the military and police around the globe will persuade you. In 1998, the US Army invited manufacturers to submit semi-autos for testing. The M4 was the only one to survive and has since built a reputation for holding out in all conditions as well as being able to cycle a wide range of cartridges, with minimum maintenance.
There are a number of models in the Benelli range, including the Cordoba, which is designed for high-volume dove shooting in Argentina, and a SuperSport for the clay scene. However, for wildfowling, the Super Black Eagle fits the bill, the most recent being the Super Black Eagle 3.
It has the inertia system for reliability and, with cold winter shooting days in mind, it has a larger bolt release and safety, together with a larger drop release to make it easier to operate with cold hands or when wearing gloves. The stock and fore-end is synthetic, easy to clean and impervious to foreshore mud.
It is fitted with ComforTech 3, a system that makes the shooting of heavy loads extremely comfortable, as we found out during the test. From a technical point of view, the other feature that differentiates this gun from the rest of the Benelli range is the 3½in chamber for some monster loads. It is, of course, steel proofed. The gun comes with a number of shims and stock pads to allow changes in stock length, drop and cast to help make the perfect fit.
The gun test was to be a real shocker. I have rarely used a semi-auto except on the occasional bespoke corporate event at the shooting school. Mickey Rouse happened to be at the school when we were testing. He uses semi-autos for his trick-shooting show in which he shoots cabbages, eggs and tomatoes among other things — he delivered a trick-show routine at this year’s Game Fair. I also took along Chris Douneen, another freelance instructor at the shooting school and a former UK trap shooter.
Rather than start on a steady target, we went goose shooting with a walk straight to the high tower and started with the 90-footer. I had a slow start, with the first couple of targets getting away from me as I got used to the gun cycling the cartridges and the spent cases flying out to the side. The other two had a blast and they seemed to get to grips with it well at both 90ft and 130ft targets.
I gave it another go and, with the lightness of the gun, cut my lead back and started to smoke the clays in the middle of the pattern. At this stage, we were using 24g fibre wad No.8s and three-quarter choke.
We then moved the 130ft trap wide left to give a 65-yard target with some speed. We were all amazed by the positive handling of the gun and the ease with which it shot. It was the sort of target that requires a substantial amount of lead. You pulled the trigger, finished the shot, counted to two and then the target broke. We then shot some long right-to-left battues and a straight for Mickey and myself. Chris needed an extra cartridge on one, which we did give him some feedback on. Mickey and I continued to test the gun on the high tower with a variety of cartridges.
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Effectively, I tried to make the gun fail by using 21g cartridges, both three at the same time, then mixing with 24g, 28g and 32g, all in different orders of loading. Not once did the gun fail to cycle the rounds. By now, I was used to the gun and shot 75ft high-tower targets with different cartridges without a miss. Mickey, with his seven world and European titles, wasn’t too shabby but I did knock him into second place by a couple of targets. The way the gun handled and performed was incredible.
To say I had a disparaging view of semi-autos is an understatement, but 40 minutes of shooting the Benelli completely changed my view. I tested it two days later with some heavy steel cartridges, having changed the choke to something more open, shooting the 130ft tower with a 30mph wind behind the clay and was just as impressed.
If you need a purpose-made, reliable wildfowling gun that absorbs the recoil of super-heavy goose loads with the unique shock-absorbing recoil pad system, the Super Black Eagle 3 may be the one for you. It will also do a great job in the pigeon hide, with easy loading and three shots on a busy day before reloading. Equally, it can be used on a clay day at one of the competitions specifically for semi-auto users. Overall, a fabulous gun to shoot.
Action and barrels: No fine game-scene engraving on this one, just a well-engineered semi-auto action that works. The barrel is easy to remove and clean and there are no gas ports and mechanism to worry about. The gun tested had a 28in barrel with extended chokes. 18/20
Trigger and ejectors: Trigger-pulls were great with no drag and a great feel. The mechanism cycled everything that I put through it from different manufacturers, in different loads and shot sizes. 19/20
Stock: A synthetic stock and fore-end that you can wipe with a damp cloth to remove the mud – perfect for its intended use. Finished in grey with an effective recoil-aborbing system. 19/20
Handling: A real shock in this respect. I was expecting to be significantly unimpressed and have come away with a complete chnage in my thinking – impressive. 19/20
Value: The perfect tool for the intended use. At around £2,000 it is not the cheapest shotgun you can buy but it is well engineered and extremely capable in the area in which it is intended to operate. 19/20
The way the gun handled and performed was incredible