Another semi-automatic landed on Mark Heath’s desk, this time from Beretta — and it proved to be a extremely capable piece of machinery
It seems to be the season to review semi-automatics, with the latest offering — a new A400 Upland 12-bore — coming from Beretta. This one is a little sexed up compared with our last two camouflaged offerings, with a wooden stock and nickel-plated action, complete with some pheasant and partridge engraving.
The other main difference between the reviews of the Breda 3.5SM Kyrptek Mandrake
and the Winchester SX4
is that the Beretta is gas operated while the other two use inertia, so it will be interesting to see the difference in performance.
I am a recent convert to certain aspects of semi-auto shooting, for which I might blame the deputy editor. For those of you who might not be familiar with semi-auto shotguns, I will outline the key differences between gas-operated and inertia mechanisms.
The gas-operated method has been pretty much the standard for the past 50 years. In rifles it’s easier to operate due to the high-pressure ammunition, but shotguns present a bit of a challenge with the relatively low-pressure ammunition. The main benefit of a gas-operated semi-auto is the ability to fire a wide range of cartridges and to regulate the gas pressure to reduce excess recoil.
The downside to the gas-operated system can be the build-up of carbon residue and fouling, which can affect reliability if allowed to accumulate.
These technically work on a short-recoil system similar to that used by semi-automatic handguns. It uses the shotgun’s recoil to deliver the loading cycle. This involves a bolt carrier and inertia spring that are not fixed but float inside the receiver. This leads to the compression of the inertia spring on firing, which then sends the bolt flying in the other direction, compressing the return spring in the process while extracting the spent cartridge and re-cocking the hammer.
From a handling perspective, inertia guns tend to be thinner and less bulky than gas-operated guns, as they contain no pistons nor external linkages and are consequently lighter. Inertia guns will need less cleaning as there are no gas ports to clog or pistons to get covered in muck. This reliability may well pay dividends out on the marsh.
The A400 series of guns is aimed at both the clay shooter and the shooter of feathered game. There is also a Vittoria version with a stock that would suit the shorter person in terms of length, and a Monte Carlo-style comb. The Upland weighs in at 7lb 1oz with the length of pull a little over 14¼in, while the drop measurements are 1 3/8in and 2¼in.
This version comes with a wooden stock with built-in Kick-off Plus technology, which claims to reduce recoil by up to 50 per cent.
Bearing in mind it is capable of cycling 62g cartridges, any recoil reduction is useful. This series of semi-autos has the typical push-through safety catch, but on the front of the trigger-guard rather than the rear, as with many semi-autos.
The gun comes with five flush-fitting Optima chokes — the test gun had a 28in barrel and there is a 30in option. The A400 uses what is known as the Blink gas system, which has a reputation for being very quick in terms of recycling and good at managing recoil.
The test was a tale of two halves. The brand new A400 came in on a Friday and my last lesson of the day on the Saturday was cancelled, so I took the opportunity to shoot the Beretta.
There was a yellow sticker on the box demanding the use of 32g cartridges to run the gun in — I thought we’d see if we could break the rules and recycle 21g No71⁄2 and some 24g No8s.
I headed down to a small area of the shooting school with some great partridge targets coming off a high bank and a selection of clay competition targets.
Starting on the partridge, some 21g loads only failed to recycle fully twice — which I thought was pretty impressive — while the 24g loads recycled without a hitch. The additional weight provided by the gas system made for some smooth handling.
The breaks delivered by the half-choke were pretty impressive and the handling was very predictable and controllable. I finished the test with a couple of clay competition-type targets. The gun has no vices, handles well and patterns well.
I gave a it a second test with a variety of cartridges from 21g to 36g No4s, and it only failed to recycle one 21g cartridge. This is impressive as I have only ever seen a 20-bore recycle a cartridge this light.
On the medium and high towers the handling produced no complaints from either my fellow instructor Paul Gendall or me. We shot it alongside an inertia-action semi-auto and they were both a pleasure to shoot.
We had no real preference between the two. I had a lesson booked with a regular client and gave her the Upland to try — she enjoyed using it so much she ordered one.
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Beretta, Benelli or Winchester — they all shoot well, inertia or gas-operated, synthetic or wood; it depends on what and how you intend to use your semi-auto and your personal taste.
Overall, this a great gun that handles and shoots well and recycles a wide range of cartridges. I am not sure, though, where it sits in the UK market, where semi-automatics in the main tend to be used in the pigeon hide or for wildfowling. There are several clay competitions for semi-automatics but the clay shooter already has a number of models to choose from.
- Action / Barrels: The Beretta is well made and easy to assemble. The engineering, as always with this brand, appears well executed and finished. The flush-fitting Optima chokes deliver great patterns. 18/20
- Trigger and ejectors: I have the opportunity to pull the trigger on a wide range of guns of every variation and price. My view is that the trigger pulls on this model are absolutely on the money. The gun recycle a wide range of cartridges which landed consistently around six feet away. 19/20
- Stock: Not high-value walnut, but a very effective recoil absorption system that complements the low recoil of the gas system. 19/20
- Handling: In line with most semi-autos a very enjoyable gun to shoot, whether having some fun on the clays, pigeon shooting or wildfowling. Great handling and easy to get used to if you haven’t shot a semi before. 19/20
- Value: Well made with some additional aesthetics in the engraving and competitively priced. 19 /20
Overall, this a great gun that handles and shoots well and recycles a wide range of cartridges.