Italy has an impressive history of firearms production that dates back centuries, from the time when Brescian furnaces forged barrels for the guns that helped drive Ottoman invaders back across the Mediterranean Sea. But not all of Italy's gun companies trace their production history back for hundreds of years.
Founded in Urbino in 1967, Benelli introduced shooters to inertia-driven semi-autos, and in doing so they revolutionized shotgun production. Now the company has its sights set on making shooters rethink the over/under design with the release of their first stackbarrel, the Benelli 828U.
Since the Benelli 828U is a brand new design from a company known for delivering innovative products, Benelli didn't face some of the hurdles that other brands would encounter with the launch of a gun like the 828U.
There were no cynics to complain that it didn't look like their dad's Benelli, no expectations or pretensions about the gun's design elements. The 828U provided Benelli with an opportunity to improve upon a century of over/under design. They created a thoroughly modern and updated stackbarrel and one of the few truly revolutionary double guns to come along in decades.
Benelli 828U Receiver
The new design starts with the receiver, which has a floating steel locking plate that engages the barrels at four points, creating a sealed chamber that locks tightly. The design is robust and far removed from traditional breech-to-barrel systems, according to Benelli's Senior Product Manager George Thompson, who played an integral role in the development of the Benelli 828U. In fact, the 828's design was actually inspired by the rotating bolt head found in the brand's semiauto shotguns.
"The new monoblock is one of the best innovations on the gun, in my opinion," Thompson says. "It is actually stronger than a traditional lockup due to the new manufacturing and heat treating process on the monoblock."
The steel locking plate accomplishes two primary objectives — first, it relieves stress on the frame, breechface, and hinge, which means that this gun can survive years and years of hard use. Secondly, the plate eliminates the need for a heavy steel receiver.
That has allowed Benelli's engineers to shave the gun's weight to just 6 ½ pounds and an opportunity to rethink receiver design. The Benelli 828U doesn't look like traditional over/unders because it's not made the same way.
Light over/unders like the Benelli 828U have traditionally been reserved for serious bird hunters who were going to walk a lot and shoot a little. Light guns kick harder, and these light guns were too abusive for serious competitions during which shooters would fire hundreds of rounds in a single day.
Benelli decided a lightweight, light-recoiling over/under was past due, so the 6 ½ pound 828U comes equipped with Benelli's excellent Progressive Comfort system that debuted on the Ethos.
The Progressive Comfort system relies on a series of interlocking flexible baffles that compress during recoil and soften the blow. It's a very effective system, and you will immediately notice a reduction in rearward force.
You'll also likely notice an increase in the number of birds you drop and targets you break, for none of us is immune to recoil and few truly appreciate how much it can impact your success as a shooter. The Progressive Comfort system is discrete and doesn't add bulk to the gun. The only time you'll know it's there is when you pull the trigger.
Unlike traditional over/unders, which recock upon opening the action, the 828U relies on the top lever to recock the gun. As far as I know it's the only over/under in history to utilize the system, and the reason is quite simple — it's more robust than traditional designs. The trigger assembly drops out for cleaning and repair, a feature that's found on Benelli's semiautos.
Also borrowed from the repeating side of the product line is a stock with cast, drop, and length-of-pull shims, and like the Ethos before it you can adjust the comb height on the Benelli 828U, a first for an over/under. That means you can adjust the stock for a perfect fit. In addition, the 828U features interchangeable carbon fiber ribs and sights.
There are significant minor changes to the traditional over/under design that make the Benelli a major player in the stackbarrel market. The top lever, which runs parallel to the rib, is easy to find and manipulate. The tang-mounted automatic safety, too, is wide enough that you won't have to go fishing to find it when you want to make the shot.
The safety also has an integrated barrel selector, and Benelli has color-coded the indicators (left shows red on the bottom barrel to indicate the lower pipe fires first).
The wrist of the stock is wider and more rounded than many competing over/unders, and it provides a secure grip and makes lateral movements easier. The same can be said for the rather wide, comfortably-rounded fore arm, which has a functional finger groove.
There's no forearm release lever taking up grip space — instead, Benelli gave the 828U a push-rod release on the front of the fore end. The pistol grip and forearm share the same fish scale-style checkering you'll find on the Ethos.
The 828's cryogenic treated barrels are free-floated, and the cryogenic choke tubes are designed to produce even, consistent patterns. Over the past two decades, there have been a host of features added to sporting and field shotguns with the promise of more consistent patterns, and in that regard Benelli is no different.
But the 828U comes through on that promise, producing rounded patterns that are even and consistent. I tested the Benelli 828U at 15, 20, and 30 yards and found the results to be extremely uniform.
Despite a long list of new technologies and innovative design elements, the most striking thing about the 828U is its look. It appears to be a traditional over/under caught in fast-forward motion, with sweeping lines on the receiver and a top lever that looks like the pinned-back ears of a running cheetah. It looks more like an over/under by Pininfarina, the Italian car line, than John Browning, but this is, after all, a brand new Italian stack barrel.
There are two receiver options. The most basic, which I tested, is black anodized. There's also an engraved nickel receiver that adds an extra touch of class to the gun. The 828U's rakish looks will draw most of the attention, but in reality this is a gun that you should grip and mount with your eyes closed.
That's the real beauty of the 828U — it balances beautifully between the hands and swings so smoothly that it feels like an extension of your arms.
On the range I found that it was an easy gun to shoot well. There's no wasted weight on this gun, and it comes to the shoulder so naturally that it is easy to stay target-focused. And, technological features and good looks aside, balance and feel are what is most important when selecting a shotgun.
Benelli knows a thing or two about reinventing firearms, and if the 828 catches fire we may be looking at the future of stackbarrels. The beauty of the 828U as it is designed is that you get a light-kicking, easy-to-carry field gun and an easily adjustable competition gun in one package. Bellissimo!
Chamber: 3 inch
Receiver: Black Anodized or Engraved Nickel Plated
Barrel Length: 26, 28
Stock: AA Grade satin walnut (shim adjustable)
Weight: 6 ½ pounds
Length: 43 ¼ to 45 ¼
MSRP: $2,499 (Anodized), $2,999 (Nickel)