If you are looking for a gun that is lightweight, well made and affordable, try the Beretta S56E says Charles Smith Jones
Beretta shotguns can often come at a price that is not for the faint-hearted. The premium EELL version of the DT11, for example, is a superb piece of engineering with the finest selected woodwork and exquisitely hand-engraved decoration and is aimed at the top end of the competition circuit right up to Olympic level. It is unlikely to leave you with much change from £16,000, and that is even before you choose to take a trip to the Beretta factory for custom fitting. Fortunately for those of us who need to beware of a partner’s reaction, or worry about an irate bank manager, Beretta produces shotguns for all depths of pocket. They are all built to the exacting standards you would expect of this marque and, if a new one remains difficult to justify, there is always the option of a well-maintained but sensibly priced used gun. So let’s take a close look at a secondhand Beretta S56E.
Such a gun might be one of the Beretta S50 series. Available only in 12- and 20-bore, they were introduced in the early 1970s and intended initially as game guns. The basic model was the S55B, a boxlock which featured a single selective trigger (some examples appear to have been made with double triggers), plain extractors and a chequered pistol-grip stock and fore-end. They were offered with barrels of varying lengths topped with a ventilated 6mm rib. The chokes are fixed, most commonly at quarter and half but with some variations, especially in those chambered for 3in cartridges which are presumably intended to appeal to the wildfowler. The S56E pictured was virtually no more than a deluxe version of the S55B with a scroll-engraved receiver and selective automatic ejectors.
It was, in its time, Beretta’s most popular model.
By the 1980s the model S58 was being produced to the same basic specifications but in Skeet and Trap configurations. The Skeet gun had shorter 26in barrels, a wide vent rib and the bodywork was styled for the skeet shooter. The Trap gun offered 30in barrels, a Monte Carlo stock and recoil pad. All were popular guns in their day and frequently appear on the used racks, especially the S56E which proved to be a particularly popular import. All models have long since been discontinued to be replaced by newer ones as Beretta continued to develop and innovate with a growing popularity within the UK shooting scene. The clay guns were soon succeeded by Beretta’s successful 680 series which, after some heavy publicity and early competition successes, quickly took the lion’s share of the market.
As a result of their relatively light weight and tight bores, these guns do come with something of a reputation for recoil so might not appeal to the shooter who looks to putting high volumes of cartridges through one in the course of a day on the clays. In addition, fixed chokes might not appeal to the modern competition shooter looking for a degree of versatility between disciplines. Fitting a recoil pad or using lighter loads would doubtless help if this is an issue. For the game or pigeon shooter, though, the S56E is an excellent proposition, not too tiring to carry around while handling naturally and pointing instinctively.
For a production gun these are well made with an excellent metal-to-wood finish and, where included, attractive and understated engraving. Though they will be beginning to show their age by now, and sourcing spare parts might be something of an issue, most repairs will be well within the abilities of most gunsmiths. In any case, the S50 series were very strongly built, with little to go wrong, and have long life expectancies.
There are still plenty of the Beretta S50 series shotguns in circulation today and the S56E is probably the foremost among them. This is testament to an extremely robust and durable build quality, and also to Beretta’s preference for chromed barrels, which are far more resistant to pitting. Add to that the low profile typical of Beretta shotguns and this one’s sleek lines and easy handling, and you have an option worth closer examination. As older guns they may carry a few superficial signs of age or seem a little more expensive than others on offer, but the extra outlay will be worth it for an example that has been looked after well.
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- Configuration Over-and-under
- Action Boxlock
- Choke Fixed
- Chamber 2¾in or 3in
- Barrel length 26in to 30in
- Ejector/non-ejector Ejector (the earlier S55B is a non-ejector)
- Safety catch Manual or automatic depending on model
- Weight (12-bore) Between 6lb 14oz and 7lb 8oz
- Available in calibres 12- and 20-bore
- Cost new N/A
- Cost used from around £450
For a production gun these are well made with an excellent metal to wood finish and, where included, attractive and understated engraving