Alex Flint reviews the Beretta 690 Field I
It is a natural human instinct to have favourites even when we are told we really shouldn’t. Though you might happily wear a smile and tell your difficult teenage daughter that of course she’s your favourite child as she attempts to shake you down for an extra £20 for the weekend, we all know that if it came down to it you’d probably only go back into a burning building if there was a chance you could save the dog.
For many, it’s a similar tale when it comes to shotguns; yes, you’ve got that lovely bespoke side-by-side from a big London name, perfectly fitted to you and as beautifully engraved as a Louis George clock but it’s always Grandpa’s battered old Birmingham sidelock that seems to find its way out of the cabinet on shoot day. Bound up with all of this is the inexorable pull of nostalgia and reminiscence. We long for the comforts of the past and the chance to repeat long lost glories, for the feeling of frost on long grass crunching under your feet on the big drive on your neighbour’s estate back in the winter of 1982 when you were in the hot seat and old faithful pulled down every towering pheasant it swung at.
The Beretta Silver Pigeon
One such modern name capable of drawing a similarly reverent breath is Beretta’s 687 Silver Pigeon. For almost a generation, and indeed still today, that combination of precious metal and wood has been enough to bring a smile to even the hardest of sporting hearts thanks to a heady combination of neutral handling, fine presentation and outstanding value for money. Indeed, shooting instructors up and down the country still produce these old workhorses for a client’s first lesson and give vast numbers of sportsmen and women their first taste of the visceral pleasure of using a shotgun.
Given the enormous success of this model and its seemingly ever-present popularity, it is unsurprising that Beretta continues to manufacture and sell them. However, since their peak around 10 years ago when one could buy a dizzying range of Silver Pigeons, each with subtle or stark variations in engraving style, finishing and woodwork, the range has been reduced to a single model in the guise of the 686 Silver Pigeon. Introduced in 2010, that gun acts as the low budget point of entry to the Beretta brand.
Our test gun this month sees the venerable Italian firm looking to move the conversation on to its newer 690 range of guns with a low-cost price of entry. First introduced in 2014, the 690 range of guns are based on the popular competition gun, the Beretta 692. We reviewed the Field III variant of the 690 last year, and it was well received.
Very little has changed in the intervening months to alter the appeal of that gun; if you want a good all-around gun and have a preference for the handling characteristics of a Beretta over its nearest rivals, then this is a fine place to look.
There is a difference of £175 between the Field I (which is the cheaper model) and the Field III guns, and there are absolutely no mechanical differences. Like all Beretta over-unders the barrels are made from Beretta’s own Steelium metal which is proven to be straight shooting and long lasting. And at less than seven and a half pounds they are certainly not heavy.
So the differences are all aesthetic and it will be very interesting to see how that £175 impacts on the decisions of buyers in gun shops up and down the country.
What it boils down to is the Field I has a slightly lower grade of wood, not such a slick finish on the wood and generally lighter engraving. The Field III in fact has game scenes whereas the I does not go down that route and has floral engraving instead. So, ultimately it will come down to personal choice, whether you want to spend £175 more or not…
View from the gun shop
The slow trickle of variants of new models of existing products is hardly an activity exclusive to the gunmaking industry. Beretta, however, has always had a knack of releasing guns to address sections of the market you might not have imagined even existed until it creates the guns to fill them, and the 690 Field I is the latest such example.
Those looking for a second gun, something a little bit outside of the ordinary, or simply something new and interesting will be attracted to the 690 range of guns, and this offers a good point of entry. Keeping the Field I so close to the Field III, itself under the £2,500 barrier, also looks an astute choice, as one would imagine many buyers will be willing to stretch that short distance more to get the upgraded model. In terms of silhouette the two models of gun are absolutely indistinguishable, and both share the same blacked section of fore-end iron and fore-end release lever surround which distinguish the 690 model from the 686 series guns. Construction is excellent as you would expect, but differences in terms of wood and engraving are quite significant.
Mechanically, the guns are quite clever and are very reliable indeed so you should have no concerns over picking one up and using it quite hard – they will certainly take very hard use. Currently, this gun is available only in 12 bore with 28” or 30” barrels with multi-chokes. Chambers are 3” long. One would imagine smaller bore guns can’t be too far behind, and given the 690 series’ already excellent overall weight and balance they are likely to be very popular guns indeed.
690 Field I in the field
It is very hard to argue with the quality of the 690 series’ handling characteristics. Both instructor Bruce Marks and I were very pleased with the way the gun mounted and moved at Grange Farm, Wittering, with particularly linear swings and a fine trigger pull.
Recoil was well controlled and the overall operation of the gun was very pleasing, with satisfying movement on the top lever and safety catch. In all ways then, the 690 Field I is an extremely pleasing gun to shoot. Despite its relatively light weight it feels extremely solid and all the moving parts do so with satisfying clicks and firmness.
Inevitably a lot of modern Berettas share the same distinctive trademarks aesthetically and in terms of handling. This is unsurprising since the feel and character of Beretta guns is what has made them so popular – and in a sense you know what to expect and this model certainly delivers that. On Grange Farm’s excellent new simulated grouse stand, the neutrality of the gun left us wanting a little more spark and life to get moving and up on to some fast, challenging targets with alacrity. But then this gun is not pretending to be a Best London sidelock from 1910 in action on the grouse moor.
Given the quality of the handling and the competitive price, however, it is difficult to argue that the Beretta 690 Field I offers anything other than a tidy, satisfying shooting experience. It certainly won’t disappoint and delivers everything we have come to expect from Beretta.
Engineering: Small changes to a classic design make for a clever, reliable and hard wearing gun. 9/10
Handling: Very good as you would expect from this gunmaker. 8/10
Looks & finishing: It’s not staggeringly beautiful but you certainly won’t be embarrassed by this gun. 7/10
Reliability & customer service: Guns from Beretta are famously reliable and things should be no different on this particular model which you will be able to shoot hard. 9/10
Value: As Bill Elderkin says this model has been well positioned in the market place and is likely to be very popular. 8/10
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