Can one of the most revered and desirable guns of the last 30 years still cut the mustard? Alex Flint investigates.
First produced in 1979, Beretta‘s series of 680 guns have continuously been among the most popular guns available to sportsmen and women across the globe. With the introduction of the higher grade EL and EELL models in the early 1980s this trend continued, not only due to the gun’s excellent handling and weight characteristics but also thanks to superb aesthetic appeal.
The Beretta 687 EELL Classic, however, is another step above even these guns and marks the beginning of Beretta’s range of premium grade guns. These guns are made in a special facility within the Italian firm’s factory near Brescia, and are worked on by their most skilled engravers and gunmakers. They feature premium walnut in the fore-end and stock, have hand-cut chequering and a high quality oil finish along with hand-finished (though not hand-cut) engraving.
Beretta gave the EELL Classic something of a facelift in 2012, giving all the guns a Prince of Wales-style rounded semi-pistol grip and an upgraded gloss finish to the barrels. Mechanically, the gun remains identical to all the 680 range of Beretta guns, meaning a lovely shallow action body thanks to the triggerplate action and clever locking system. Any owner of a Beretta gun is, of course, also buying into their famed reliability; it is not by coincidence you will see so many of these Italian guns on a high bird day at the height of the season.
A casual observer might well be forgiven for wondering, then, quite why one would pay an extra £5,250 over the mechanically identical Silver Pigeon I. That same casual observer, however, could not fail to notice the difference in visual appeal; the EELL Classic is a truly stunning gun worthy of its moniker. Our test gun exuded quality in every respect from the moment one lays eyes on the lovely Beretta branded hard case with leather detailing. The receiver and barrels are housed within soft fabric bags emblazoned with the Beretta logo, and once constructed the gun lives up entirely to the dramatic promise of its presentation.
While standard 680 guns are by no means ugly, it would be fair to say they can look a little plain in the finishing department, but the EELL Classic is immediately striking thanks to the lovely rich colour of the oil finish on the well figured wood. The eye is then drawn to the rounded Prince of Wales style semi-pistol grip which this reviewer has a particular weakness for and finally to the richly engraved sideplates and carved fences.
The rounded semi-beavertail or American-style fore-end fitted to our test gun is also a really nice touch; a big improvement over the more common Schnabel fore-end and giving the gun a very attractive overall shape.
The EELL Classic can be had with game scene engraving or a scroll engraving pattern as on our test gun and is worthy of significant praise. Carried out largely by machine and finished by hand, the engraving on the sideplates goes a long way to justifying the price of the gun. Our test gun featured very tight foliate scroll engraving with larger bursts of Acanthus in the centre of and bordering the sideplates.
The manufacturer’s name features in a banner near the top of the action towards the hinge pin and the carved fences engraved with a floral motif are also a lovely touch. This sumptuous engraving covers almost every part of the action body and is nicely balanced by the well figured wood and smaller high quality touches such as the extended trigger guard tang and raised frame of the stock around the sideplates.
Fit and finishing is of a superb standard, with excellent wood to metal fit all over the gun. The hand cut chequering is exquisite, being extremely tight and offering plenty of grip without any hint of roughness. In the hand, as to the eye, the EELL Classic feels like a high quality item, opening and closing smoothly and with a suitably satisfying range of noises.
The gun mounts well, though with the standard wooden butt plate fitted it is a little short for me at 14½”, in common with most Beretta guns. Though Beretta do supply a thicker rubber butt plate as standard, the buyer may be a little hesitant to have it fitted for fear of spoiling the look of the thing. Correct gunfit, however, is absolutely paramount – especially when one is spending just shy of £7,000 on what will doubtless be a well used gun. If you have a hankering for a Beretta, then the EELL Classic really feels like the pick of their range.
Beretta 687 EELL in the field
When mounting this gun it becomes immediately clear why it has such a good reputation, coming up to the shoulder quickly and consistently and moving effortlessly. Given the gun has 30″ barrels one might expect a little more weight in the front hand, however given the lightweight construction of the barrels and the bit of extra weight between the hands thanks to the sideplates, its balance is a little more neutral than expected. This can lead to a little extra play at the muzzle end if you over-think your shooting, however when moving instinctively it is an unadulterated joy, particularly on driven targets.
In spite of the balance of the gun there are no obvious problems with muzzle flip. Recoil is dealt with very nicely, and the very fine hand-cut chequering is comfortable and feels very secure in the hand. The trigger blade has a good shape to it and pulls well without being sharp, and the rounded shape to the fore-end allows the front hand to be placed comfortably all along its length.
Both myself and instructor Bruce Marks struggled a little on some tricky long crossing targets, and Bruce put this down to the relatively short length of the stock on this test gun. But as Bruce usually shoots with a EELL anyway this is clearly not a serious issue! The gun is supplied with a rubber butt plate which would doubtless alleviate any issues, however this could be detrimental to the exquisite look of the gun. A welcome reminder that good fit is paramount when buying any new gun.
View from the gun shop by Bill Elderkin
For most, this really is the best gun you can buy from Beretta. Given the quality of the wood, engraving and finishing you are getting a superb gun for the money – indeed the EELL Classic stands up quite convincingly to its bigger brother, the Jubilee, which is some £7,900 more expensive.
These guns tend to come with fi xed chokes, as this test gun does, at a quarter and a half, though a multichoke option is available at £7,000. Though Beretta’s fixed choke guns tend to be a little over tight compared to their nominal size, I would probably advise against going for a multichoke gun as this is likely to upset the balance of the gun. If you find they are too tight it would be easy to have them taken out a little.
Moreover, if you are likely to be using this gun on high bird days or with fibre wad cartridges as many shoots dictate nowadays for environmental reasons, you may find the slightly tight chokes help you to retain a good pattern.
Although the ‘standard’ EELL is available for around £500 less, the Classic feels a cut above. Though you of course must take each gun individually, the wood quality here is excellent and the standard of fit and finish is excellent. The figuring on display is as good as you could wish for, and the lovely oil finish avoids the problem of some Beretta models at the lower end of the spectrum where the lesser quality finishing can lead to the wood looking a little artificial. The engraving too is lovely, reminding me of the style of a Churchill Premier.
With the well established good name of this Italian brand you are unlikely to be buying a more reliable or well respected gun.
A pleasure to use