Benelli 828U Shotgun Review
July 16, 2015
The brand-new 828U has what I consider to be the most interesting breeching arrangement for over-under shotguns to come down the pike. Nothing else I have seen is anything like it.
When a shell is fired in the more common design, axial force pushes against the standing breech of the receiver while simultaneously pushing forward on the barrels. The latter applies stress at the hinge point of the barrels, and enough permanent distortion there can eventually cause the barrels to become loose or, as some gunsmiths describe it, "to go off face."
As the barrels of the 828U close into battery, a lip at the bottom of the monoblock engages a semicircular-shaped channel at the bottom of a spring-loaded, linear-traveling steel part inside the receiver called the locking plate. At the same time, shoulders machined into extensions of the monoblock adjacent to the upper chamber are engaged by lugs in the top of the locking plate. This locks the steel plate solidly into place against the rear of the monoblock when the barrels are closed. And since backthrust generated during firing is absorbed by the plate and then transferred to what would be described in a conventional design as the standing breech of the receiver, forward force on the barrels is greatly reduced, thereby minimizing stress up front at their steel-on-steel hinge point. Some of the rearward force is also arrested by the upper section of the monoblock bearing on the receiver.
This arrangement, along with steel inserts at the front of the receiver that serve as rotation surfaces for the forearm knuckle and as cam surfaces for cocking the ejector kickers, as well as replaceable steel trunnions used for barrel hinging, allows a reduction in gun weight by the use of an aluminum receiver. Over-unders in 12 gauge typically weigh 7 to 8 pounds, but an 828U with 28-inch barrels registered a mere 6 pounds, 3 ounces on my digital postal scale.
The locking plate also contains the firing pins and their retraction springs. Unlike problem-prone firing pins in some guns that approach their holes in the standing breech and primers in chambered shells at an angle, the firing pins and their strikers in the 828U action travel perfectly in line with the axes of the barrels.
Breech lockup during barrel closure is accomplished as a pair of tapered bolts emerge from the face of the standing breech to engage tunnels in the upper monoblock extensions. The usual method for fitting a pair of barrels to a monoblock is to use a so-called female configuration of the latter. The breech ends of the barrels are inserted into the monoblock and then soldered in place by applying heat to the monoblock. Heat-treating the monoblock prior to joining the two increases its ability to retain pressures during firing and the application of enough heat to melt the solder can have a detrimental effect on that heat treatment. Benelli skins the cat a better way by giving the monoblock a male configuration. Integral tubes projecting from its front end are inserted into the barrels, and the heat required to melt the solder is applied to the barrels rather than to the monoblock.
Three things happen when the top lever is thumbed to the right. The locking bolts are cammed from their recesses in the monoblock, the safety slide is pushed rearward to its engaged position, and, if the gun has been fired, the firing pin strikers are cocked. Due to the ergonomic shape of the lever along with its resting position toward the left side of the receiver, accomplishing all of that actually requires no more pressure from the thumb than is typical for over-under shotguns. Since everything happens within the receiver, the amount of iron in the forearm is reduced to only those parts needed for rotation and for its Anson-style latch.
As most hunters expect, when the top lever is thumbed to the side, the barrels of the 828U hinge downward freely by their own weight for reloading. For those who prefer otherwise, a screw in the forearm loop of the barrel can be adjusted to increase tension between the rotating surfaces of the forearm knuckle and the receiver.
Hooks machined into both sides of the steel monoblock rotate on replaceable steel trunnions projecting from the inner sides of the receiver for steel-on-steel hinging. This arrangement allows a shallower receiver when compared to a centrally located hook and receiver hinge pin as seen in the Browning Superposed and others. Receiver depth of the new Benelli 828U is only 2.340 inches, and while width is a bit greater than for some other over-unders, it carries comfortably in one hand. Balance point of the gun is dead-on its barrel-hinging point.
The hammer-forged, cryogenically treated barrels are steel shot rated. They have 3-inch chambers and bore diameters of 0.725 inch. Barrel weight is reduced by omitting side ribs and by the use of a carbon-fiber top rib, the latter having a 0.135-inch-wide red fiber-optic sight out front. The 28-inch barrels weigh an ounce over 3 pounds. To put that into perspective, the barrels of a Remington Model 332 in my battery weigh a half-pound more.
Most over-under shotguns have to be sent back to the factory for the fitting of an extra set of barrels. Not so with the 828U. If you buy one with 26-inch barrels and later choose to add 28-inch barrels (or vice versa), uncommonly precise robotic machining during manufacture eliminates the need to ship the gun back to the factory.
The five cryo-treated, flush-fit chokes are in Cylinder, Improved Cylinder, Modified, Improved Modified, and Full. The three more-open chokes can be used with steel shot. An included choke wrench also serves to clean fouling from the threads of the barrels.
The Ejection System
To better explain how the case ejection system of the 828U differs from other designs, I'll start by mentioning that double-barrel shotguns have either extraction or ejection capability, the latter commonly seen in two different variations.
When the barrels of an extractor gun are hinged downward, loaded shells and fired hulls are extracted from its chambers just far enough to allow their rims to be grasped for removal. When the barrels of a gun with standard ejectors are hinged down, both loaded shells and fired hulls are ejected completely from the chambers. If neither shell in the chambers of a gun with selective ejectors is fired, both will be extracted just far enough for removal when the barrel is hinged down. If one of the shells is fired, that hull will be ejected while the unfired shell is only extracted. If both shells are fired, both hulls will be ejected. Mechanical links between the trigger and the ejector sears automatically "select" whether the ejectors extract or eject.
Metal linkages have a tendency to wear from use, and there is no better example than my beloved 1920s-vintage Westley Richards double in 20 gauge. Not long back its left-side ejector stopped operating, and since there is no gunsmith in my area that I would trust the gun to, having it repaired will require shipment halfway across the country.
When designing the 828U, Benelli engineers eliminated the usual linkage between its trigger and ejectors and came up with what the company describes as a "pulse ejection system." Each chamber has a small steel pin positioned with one end flush with the interior wall of the chamber and with its other end resting against the sear of the ejector kicker. When a chamber fires, the plastic (or paper) wall of the shell case expands against the end of the pin with enough force to activate the kicker. Then when the barrels are tipped down, the kicker drives the ejector rearward with enough force to send the spent case flying from the chamber. If only one shell is fired, hinging the barrels downward ejects that case while the unfired shell is only extracted far enough from the chamber to be easily grasped by the fingers.
The Barrel Selector/Safety & the Trigger
A small barrel selector tab is contained by the safety slide tab. Thumbing it to the right selects the under barrel to be fired first and thumbing it to the left is for firing the over barrel first. The safety tab automatically returns to its engaged position when the top lever is pushed to the side. It is easily changed to full manual operation by using a supplied tool to remove the entire fire-control assembly from the receiver and detaching the auto safety lever identified as part No. 2 on the second page of a parts list included in the hard carrying case with the gun.
Easy removal of the fire-control assembly is a great idea as it allows its various parts to be cleaned. Here's a tip based on experience. Should the trigger be accidentally pulled before the assembly is all the way out of the receiver, one of the firing pin strikers will travel forward and make removal difficult. Should that happen, simply reach inside with a finger and push the striker back to its cocked position.
The single-selective trigger pulls smoothly and crisply with, according to a Lyman digital scale, an average pull weight of 5 pounds, 9 ounces for the bottom barrel and 6 pounds, 7 ounces up top. The trigger is of inertia-reset design, which means that one barrel must fire before the other can be fired.
I have examined a dozen or so 828Us, and all had extremely nice, contrasting figure in their European walnut stocks and forearms. The fish scale-style checkering is nicely executed with adequate coverage and no runovers at the pattern borders. A pocketful of shims included in the package allows its owner to make plenty of drop and cast adjustments in the stock. Available at extra cost are recoil pads varying in thickness for length of pull adjustment and comb inserts of various heights.
Despite its light weight, shooter comfort level of the 828U is quite high due to a stock that is properly shaped and dimensioned along with a slightly modified version of the extremely successful Progressive Comfort System. It was introduced by Benelli sometime back on the ETHOS semiauto. In addition to a soft rubber insert in the comb of the stock, the Progressive Comfort System consists of a cushiony recoil pad, the center of which bears on a recoil-absorbing device located inside the stock. It is made of a flexible synthetic material and consists of two parts: one stationary and the other capable of traveling to and fro about 1.5 inches during recoil pad compression. As the gun recoils rearward during firing, inward-pointing flexible fingers on the two units engage and then flex to soak up part of the kick.
While the Progressive Comfort System works great on the ETHOS, it is, in my opinion, even more effective at reducing recoil on the 828U. During my time with the 828U afield last October at Brown's Hunting Ranch near Gettysburg, South Dakota, I warmed up on clay targets with the only ammo on hand, the same heavy 2¾-inch loads that would later be used during five days of chasing pheasants. Not once did I experience shooter's headache, nor did my shoulder ever complain.
How the new Benelli shotgun came by its name is an interesting story. The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) catalogs Heritage Sites around the world that are of cultural or physical significance. A site can be a number of things — a mountain, a lake, an island, a monument, a building, or a city. Italy is home to more of the 1,007 presently recognized Heritage Sites than any other country. One of those sites is Urbino, a medieval walled city nestled on a high sloping hillside in the Marche region. Each site is assigned an arbitrary number, and the number for Urbino is 828, hence 828U. Important to this story is the fact that an ultramodern, environmentally friendly factory is located down in the valley, and it has been turning out Benelli shotguns since 1967.