As when buying a new car, those looking for a fresh shotgun should think carefully before splashing out on the options list. By Alex Flint.
I first got my hands on this delightful custom Beretta in the April 2015 issue of Shooting Gazette. On first look the differences are purely aesthetic: the Classic we tested last year had fully scroll-engraved side plates, but this month’s gun is engraved with game scene vignettes. And despite almost identical specifications between the two guns, one small difference ticked on the options list has had a marked impact, creating a gun with almost unrecognisable handling characteristics. More on that later.
The intervening months have done little to dull the appeal of this Beretta – it remains a tempting prospect as an entry into the world of high-end guns. Somewhat puzzlingly, variants with game scene engraving as seen on our test gun are actually significantly cheaper than the scroll-engraved gun reviewed previously, to the tune of £725. It seems likely that many sportsmen and women will be very happy indeed with the vignettes on display here – two ovals on each side of the action featuring highly detailed scenes of game birds including pheasants and flushing ducks.
Elsewhere, the gun is fulsomely engraved, with almost every part of the expansive action body and sideplates given plenty of attention. There is some extremely tight and neat foliate scroll engraving alongside large patches of deeply carved acanthus, tight border work around the shoulders of the sideplates, carved fences and attractive rose-style designs carried out on the hinge-pin and various screws.
Underneath, the gun is no less impressive, with attention given to the fore-end release lever and trigger guard, and screws on the extended trigger guard tang. The engraving gives a good impression of depth, has been well finished and is striking, though arguably a little busy when taken as a whole. The more expensive scroll engraving option gives the gun a rather more cohesive and refined overall look to my eye. Ironically, however, the cheaper game scene engraving option probably gives the impression of being a more expensive gun.
Quality of construction and wood remain hallmarks of Beretta guns, and this is brought to bear impressively on these higher-end models. Wood-to-metal fit is astonishingly good for guns that must be produced in fairly prodigious numbers. The quality of the wood chosen is also high, with lovely fi guring on display alongside tight and strait grain through the rounded semi-pistol grip. The stock and fore-end have an appealing deep oil finish to them, a clear jump in quality over Beretta’s mass-produced guns and quite fitting for something likely to making an appearance on the best shoots around the country.
Chequering is astonishingly fine and feels superb in the hand but looks particularly handsome on the wooden butt plate on the stock, where it surrounds the Beretta logo. However, this is where I have my only real complaint with the finishing, as the retaining screws in the butt plate stand out like a pair of sore thumbs and might have been hidden by some wooden plugs.
Visually, then, the 687 EELL Classic remains successful – but what of it in the field? In our previous review Bill Elderkin suggested potential buyers steer clear of ticking the multichoke option for fear of ‘upsetting the balance of the gun’, and indeed the addition of multichokes to this otherwise identical gun totally changes its handling characteristics.
Though this month’s test gun had the same 30” barrels as the Classic we tested previously, on handling alone you would be hard pressed to recognise these Berettas are related, with the point of balance now being well forward of the hinge pin. Where previously I praised the gun for its neutral handling, noting the particular pleasure in faster, more instinctive shooting, here it rewards deliberate, thoughtful shooting and needs sustained effort and concentration for success.
One should note this is not necessarily a criticism, rather a description of how a seemingly small change can make a startling a difference to a gun’s character.
The 687 EELL Classic from Beretta remains an eminently desirable item. It is competitively priced, very much looks the part, and is likely something that any sportsman or woman could take great pride in owning. However, like buying a new car, a test drive is essential before heading for the sales counter to make sure you get the right model for you.
Beretta 687 EELL Classic in the field
The handling was a real surprise to me and the instructors at Grange Farm Shooting School, as it was clearly barrel heavy. While this could have been down to the multichokes, there was some speculation as to the impact of the density of the wood in the stock. Though you might expect to find the point of balance forward of the hinge-pin, here it was a good 2” forward.
As a result, this gun required a deliberate style to shoot well, with a strong forward movement needed for a consistently clean mount. It felt quite different from the Classic tested previously.
Once in the shoulder the gun moved extremely well and certainly did not feel its 7lb 4oz weight. It dealt with recoil impressively and muzzle flip was not noticeable, though on the day we were only shooting with relatively light loads.
The trigger was weighted excellently and added to an overall feeling of quiet security when shooting. I do, however, prefer my guns to be a little more lively in the hand and this variant required a not insignifi cant amount of concentration for continued success. Although interestingly, where I had struggled with long crossing targets when testing the previous Classic, this model was defi nitely easier to keep on line, and the same targets were far more easily and consistently broken.
I wouldn’t describe this model as having inferior handling to the previously-tested Beretta; rather it simply felt quite different.
It was an interesting illustration of the impact a seemingly small change can have on a gun’s handling, and a reminder that properly testing a gun before buying it is always highly recommended.
View from the gun shop, by Bill Elderkin
As an introduction to the world of premium guns you can certainly do a lot worse than the Beretta 687 EELL Classic. Staying within the world of Beretta guns, the next model in the range starts at a heady £14,750, and once you move up into the world of sidelock guns you are looking at spending the better part of £40,000 for the SO6 and over £70,000 for the SO10. A pair of 687 EELL Classic guns, meanwhile, have a premium of about £1,000 per gun, meaning you could get yourself a pair of beautiful guns fi t for the best shooting in the land for under the price of just one Jubilee shotgun.
For guns with custom dimensions and those who shoot left-handed, there is about a six-month lead time, increasing to a year for pairs. Generally the 687 EELL is quite readily available, though those opting for shorter 28” barrels or the scroll-engraved gun previously reviewed are likely to have to wait a bit longer.
These are very popular and it is not difficult to see why. At first glance they look very special thanks to the excellent quality of wood and intricate engraving. This example has some tremendous figuring and has been given a delightful finish, with the oil providing a deep, natural shine – I would be surprised to see anything better than this on a Jubilee shotgun. The side plates give plenty of room for engraving, and the work on display, while generally not being particularly deep, has been well executed.
The supplied case is a particularly welcome feature, being well lined and featuring excellent leather detailing along with three locks. A boon is the presence of handles on both the end of the case and the side – very handy when loading or unloading your car. It certainly makes a difference.
Essentially, this is a well-thought-out product and is a very fine package for a good price. Beretta Classics are popular with a variety of sportsmen and women and won’t look out of place next to the best English guns on shoot day. Indeed, you might well ask what the difference is between this gun and a Silver Pigeon, since so many of Beretta’s firearms are built on the same action, but this is just as true of a gun from Purdey or Holland & Holland as it is of Beretta or Browning.
Compares favourably with its competitors and the next model in the Beretta range, the Jubilee.