July 21, 2020
Modern Europeans have a distinct, forward-looking approach to firearm design. While in Italy for a pre-launch look at Benelli’s all-new Lupo bolt-action rifle, I listened carefully to a Benelli presentation that touted the rifle as having design characteristics familiar to riflemen, coupled with modern engineering and space-age materials. It certainly has the latter, but the only familiar element of the Lupo’s design is the fact that it provides a bolt handle with which to operate the rifle.
By virtue of a clean-slate start, devoid of misconceptions or tradition, Benelli designed a purely modern hunting tool possessed of extraordinary ergonomics and performance. Its appearance is unique, and its ability on the range and in the field is startling.
Lupo in Italian means wolf, so in a fun play on words, Benelli says the Lupo is “the new apex predator of the bolt-action rifle market.” It incorporates so many out-of-the-box design features that it’s hard to pick a place to start.
Perhaps most interestingly, the stock is a blend of machined-aluminum chassis and composite. The middle—around the action—is aluminum and serves as a stable, accuracy-enhancing bedding block. In front of the action and behind the trigger guard (which is machined integral to the chassis), the stock is synthetic.
However, simply stating that doesn’t do it justice. Courtesy of detail-oriented design, the stock is also configurable. The end user may use several different elements to customize and personalize the fit.
Stock spacers enable setting the length of pull for correct fit, and “Trigger Reach Spacers” allow the shooter to finesse the trigger position for optimal feel and consistency. Also, each Lupo comes with several thin spacers that fit between the action chassis and the front end of the buttstock. These have varying angle and tilt and enable the owner to set drop and cast, making for a rifle that fits as near perfectly as possible.
As you can see in the pictures, the trigger and trigger guard are set at a distinct angle rather than the traditional positioning along the parallel bottom of the stock. This is a result of Benelli’s extensive research on the human physique and how best to create a natural-feeling fit. It works, positioning the shooting hand and wrist at such a comfortable angle it leaves one with a “why didn’t I think of that!” reaction.
Forward of the trigger guard is a substantial magazine well. With the polymer magazine removed, the rifle looks as though a large bite was taken out of the underside of the stock. Angles fore and aft create a natural funnel that guides the magazine home for fast, fumble-free insertion. The catch is integrated into the forward end of the magazine and is flush with the stock surface to prevent accidental release. Ergonomics are excellent, making the latch easy to access.
Initial Benelli literature advertises capacity of the detachable box magazine as four rounds, but I was able to fit five .30-06 cartridges comfortably in my sample. Made almost entirely of polymer, aside from springs and pins, the Lupo’s magazines are possibly the easiest-to-load rifle magazines I’ve ever used. Cartridges feed from them into the chamber just as effortlessly.
Naturally, the stock’s fore-end is generously free-floated to enhance accuracy. Molded-in texturing and finger grooves provide a comfortable no-slip grasp. An integral sling swivel stud is molded into the fore-end tip, making for a very sleek, anti-snagging profile. Plus, for those who want a sling swivel stud mounted in the traditional place or want to mount a bipod, there’s a hole fitted with a plug. I removed the plug and installed an adapter for my favorite Spartan Precision Pro Hunt carbon-fiber bipod.
Like the fore-end, the pistol grip features a molded-in texture that’s something like a cross between traditional checkering and the surface of a golf ball. In addition to its rakish, comfortable angle, the grip has lovely lines. In the toe of the stock is molded a sling swivel attachment point.
Atop the comb is a vibration-absorbing, slightly compressible rubber insert that Benelli terms a CombTech cheek pad. It’s designed to minimize recoil felt against the cheek and jawbone. A raised version and an extra-high raised version are available as accessories should you want to fine-tune your cheekweld.
Aft, there’s a very nice Progressive Comfort recoil pad. It features a series of recoil-slowing baffles inside the stock, in addition to the squishy rubber pad itself. It’s particularly effective at minimizing perceived recoil. As mentioned previously, stock spacers make it possible to set length of pull (LOP) from 13.8 to 14.75 inches. Plus, a larger pad that enables LOP to be set from 14.2 to 15.2 inches may be purchased as an accessory.
As for the action itself, it’s a sleek cylindrical affair mated to the machined aluminum central portion of the stock. Interestingly, the front of the action beds metal on metal, while the tang at the rear sandwiches the rear portion of the polymer trigger housing. Additionally, the rear action screw inserts from the top rather than the bottom, and it threads into the aluminum block. With the bolt in place it’s not even visible.
Made of matte-blued steel, the action contains a brightly polished, three-lug bolt with a short, fast, 60-degree throw. A sturdy 0.26-inch-wide extractor is housed in the front face of one of the three lugs and reliably pulls fired cases from the chamber. As the front of a fired case clears the ejection port, a plunger-type ejector heaves it out.
A bolt release at the left rear of the action allows the bolt to be drawn rearward out of the action. Examine the bolt, and you’ll immediately remark on the high polish on the body, as well as the circumferential relief cuts that enable it to function optimally with the magazine’s feed lips.
At the rear is a composite shroud, nicely contoured to match the rear profile of the action and serrated to prevent glare. Beware of the lollipop-shaped takedown latch; don’t press and turn it counterclockwise as if to unscrew it. The cocking piece will drop down into the cam slot and lock it up. Should this happen accidentally, don’t sweat it; simply stick the end of the bolt into the rear of the receiver, cocking piece in its slot (just backwards), and use the bolt handle to cam the cocking piece back into the correct position.
To disassemble the bolt, depress the lollipop-shaped takedown latch and turn the shroud clockwise. It will pop right out into your palm. Draw the firing pin and spring forward out of the shroud and you’re done.
Reassembly is nearly as easy. Put the firing pin assembly back into the shroud, line up the lug on the shroud with the matching slot, and press the shroud into the rear of the bolt, holding the lollipop-shaped latch down. Once it’s seated, maintain pressure to keep the spring compressed and turn the shroud counterclockwise until the latch engages. It’s ingeniously simple.
I confess I was at first put off by the look of the bolt handle. I think it looks like a cross between a bicycle part and something a Russian may have designed for a 19th-century battle rifle. Then I grabbed hold of it…and saw the light. It’s one of the most accessible, sure-operating bolt handles I’ve ever used. The flat-stock shape of the handle’s shank minimizes interference with the grasp, and the dogleg shape positions the knob perfectly for fast, fumble-free functioning. I’m a fan.
In addition to being adjustable for position, the trigger is adjustable for pull weight from—according to Benelli—2.2 pounds up to 4.4 pounds. The rifle I used arrived with the trigger factory-set at 2 pounds, 11 ounces. As measured by my Lyman digital trigger gauge, there was about 2 ounces of variation over a series of five test measurements.
Of all the innovative parts of the Lupo, the barrel is probably the most understated. To the casual glance, it’s nothing special, but deeper examination reveals otherwise.
For starters, the breech is mated with a barrel extension, into which the bolt locking lugs interface directly. Benelli is making a big deal of cryogenically treating the barrel and cites increased accuracy. Whether cryo is the magic ingredient is hard to say, but as evidenced by my accuracy results with the rifle (shown in the accompanying chart), this is without doubt an extraordinarily accurate barrel.
Its profile is simple, without fluting, iron sights, or other embellishments. Threaded 5/8-24 at the muzzle, it’s suppressor-ready—or muzzle-brake ready, for any American who can’t purchase a suppressor at the local hardware store like the rest of the world and prefers the noise of a muzzle brake to the pain of recoil.
The Lupo is offered in .270 Winchester, .30-06, and .300 Winchester Magnum. As I mentioned earlier, my rifle is chambered in .30-06, and its twist rate is one turn in 11 inches.
I first fired the Lupo on a rainy day in the Italian countryside. Loaded with Federal Premium ammo featuring Sierra 168-grain MatchKing bullets, all of the rifles lined up at the range proved to be extremely accurate. Gusting wind and persistent drizzle notwithstanding, several writers produced three-shot clusters close to half-MOA.
When I headed to my home range to perform in-depth accuracy testing, with a rifle that arrived after my trip to Italy, I didn’t have any of that specific Federal .30-06 ammo on hand. I did, however, have an old box of Black Hills Gold loaded with Hornady 155-grain A-Max bullets. With that ammo, the Lupo averaged 0.65 inch at 100 yards.
Next most accurate was Hornady’s 178-grain ELD-X Precision Hunter ammo, which was followed closely by Barnes’s 175-grain LRX BT. In all, four of the seven loads I tested produced sub-MOA averages.
Velocity was about what you’d expect from a 22-inch barrel: just a tad shy of factory advertised numbers in most cases. Cartridges fed smoothly from the magazine into the chamber, without even a hint of a malfunction.
As is usual in a seven-pound .30-06 rifle, recoil was zesty, without being painful. The clean, crisp-breaking trigger made accessing the Lupo’s full accuracy potential easy.
My single beef with the Lupo is this: The two-position, tang-mounted safety is cast of a composite material and looks like a part you’d find on a budget rifle. It works well, and it does lock the bolt closed when engaged (which I like). But it looks cheap. Seems like Benelli could have created a machined aluminum part for very little increase in cost, and it would have complemented the rifle rather than detract from it.
Because Benelli and Steiner are corporate siblings, I used a lovely Steiner 3-12X 56mm H4Xi scope mounted in 30mm Steiner rings for my range session. It’s a superb piece of glass and gathers light beautifully. Europeans often hunt in very low light—and at night in some countries—so the massive objective lens provides a tangibly brighter image. It’s pretty big for traipsing around in the Rocky Mountains, though, and I’d go with a similar scope but with a smaller 40mm to 44mm objective lens mounted as close to the barrel as I could to enable a better cheekweld and to enhance balance for hunting in my favorite areas.
As is, the Lupo is one of the more ergonomic big-game rifles I’ve had the privilege of handling. With a sleek scope mounted low to the action, I think it would handle like the proverbial magic wand and enhance any hunter’s predatory capabilities.
- Type: Bolt-action repeater
- Caliber: .30-06
- Magazine Capacity: 5 rounds
- Barrel: 22 in., 1:11 RH twist
- Overall Length: 44.6 in.
- Weight, Empty: 7 lbs.
- Stock: Synthetic
- Length of Pull: 13.8 to 14.75 in.; adjustable via spacers
- Finish: Blued barrel and action, matte black stock
- Sights: None; Picatinny rail installed
- Trigger: 2.7-lb. pull (as tested)
- Safety: Two-position
- MSRP: $1,699
- Manufacturer: Benelli, benelliusa.com