June 28, 2017
Benelli introduced the recoil-operated Black Eagle in 1989. It went on to become one of the most popular shotguns not only in America, but also around the world. It inherited the rotating locking lug bolt with its inertia unlocking design from Benelli's earlier Montefeltro Super 90 shotgun. The Black Eagle was originally chambered for the 3-inch shell, and when chamber length was increased to 3 1/2 inches in 1991, the name was changed to Super Black Eagle and a super star was born.
Benelli shotguns have a reputation for reliability under the worst field conditions Mother Nature can throw at them. This is largely due to the absence of propellant fouling buildup that has long plagued gas-operated shotguns.
As a rule, recoil-operated shotguns kick harder than those operated by the push of propellant gas, and through the years, Benelli has come up with various ways to narrow the comfort gap between the two. This has not been an easy task because the absence of a gas-operating mechanism makes the Benelli lighter than the typical gas gun.
A couple of years after the Super Black Eagle II was introduced in 2004, it became available with the ComforTech stock. A combination of a durable yet flexible synthetic stock and a dozen rubber chevrons positioned on both sides acts as a shock absorber to make the gun friendlier to the shoulder. All else, including gun weight, being equal, the Super Black Eagle II was not as comfortable to shoot as a gas gun, but it was closer than any other Benelli shotgun before it had been.
Super Black Eagle 3 Features
The new Super Black Eagle 3 from Benelli inherited all of the design improvements of its predecessors and introduced a few of its own. I had the good fortune to hunt geese, ducks, and Sandhill Cranes at Habitat Flats in Saskatchewan with one and was surprised at how comfortable it was to shoot with heavy 3-inch loads. During three days of shooting, I became convinced that the new gun is as comfortable to shoot as most gas guns and more comfortable than some I have shot. This is quite remarkable considering its weight of only 7.2 pounds.
Perceived recoil was reduced by additional improvements in the ComforTech Plus stock. An additional large rubber chevron extends over the top of the stock, and the shape of the other chevrons was modified for more efficient shock absorbance. These changes alone improve the efficiency of the stock in soaking up recoil before it reaches the shooter. But the good news does not end there.
Quite a bit of the discomfort we feel when shooting a shotgun is a blow delivered to the cheek, one of the more sensitive parts of the human body. Realizing that some of us are more sensitive to recoil than others, Benelli engineers came up with a clever way to vary the softness with what the company describes as a cheek protection pad. An internal cavity running the full length of the rubber comb insert contains a flat metal spring, which is removable when the comb is detached from the stock. The gun comes with a standard-tension spring, and I found it to be, as most hunters probably will, easy on the cheek. But for those who do not, springs with heavier and lighter tension ratings are available at extra cost. The comb insert is easily removed for spring switching by popping off the recoil pad and pushing on an internal latch. Higher combs are also available.
Perceived recoil is less when holding the butt of the stock firmly rather than loosely against the shoulder, and the more sharply curved grip of the Super Black Eagle 3 makes doing so easier than a shallow grip. The arms of shotgunners vary in length, and reach-length also varies depending on the amount of clothing worn. Regardless of whether the forearm is grasped up front, at its midpoint, or at the rear, it feels the same in the hand. Proper stock fit plays a big role in comfort, and an included shim kit allows 10 different cast and drop adjustments to be made specifically for the individual shooter. The stock's 14 inch length of pull is easily shortened or lengthened by a half-inch by switching to a thinner or thicker recoil pad.
Another improvement is described by Benelli as a rigid internal stock fixing system. It serves to eliminate rotational and lateral movement of the stock under stress while the stock remains free to compress under the force of recoil. Muzzle rise is reduced during firing, which results in quicker back-on target recovery between shots. A small feature for sure — one that many shooters will likely fail to notice — but it is indicative of the company's attention to detail and its effort to make the Super Black Eagle 3 the best shotgun it can possibly be.
The Stock and forearm have the hand-friendly AirTouch surface treatment, and finishes available are black synthetic (MSRP: $1,699) and Realtree Max-5 (MSRP: $1,799). While the latter is a marsh grass, waterfowl pattern, turkey gobblers would also find it difficult to spot unless the gun or its hunter moves. That along with a receiver drilled and tapped for mounting a scope or electronic sight makes the gun useful during both spring and autumn.
Barrel lengths are 26 and 28 inches, and to resist the ravages of steel shot, the vent-ribbed barrel undergoes Benelli's Crio System treatment. Chamber length is 3Ã³ inches. The barrel extension has been improved for increased rigidity. In the original Black Eagle design, the bolt could not be eased into battery; it had to be allowed to slam home at full speed in order to fully lock up. (The noise it made undoubtedly allowed more than one turkey gobbler to live to gobble another day.)
The inertia-style bolt would also unlock on its own if the butt of the gun bumped against the ground or the floor of a duck blind and remain so. The Easy-Locking bolt, which appeared a few years back on the Super Black Eagle II, eliminates all of that and was inherited by the new Super Black Eagle 3. The bolt can now be quietly eased into battery, and it stays there, even when the butt of the stock is bumped.
Other changes include an oversized safety button and bolt handle and a more ergonomic shell drop lever and trigger guard shape. As I discovered on cold days in a goose blind, those improvements make the gun easier to operate while wearing gloves. I also discovered firsthand that shells are more easily shoved into the magazine with great haste due to a loading track that begins with a channel molded into the front of the trigger and ends with a wider loading port in the bottom of the receiver.
I found loading to be 100 percent fumble-free, even while wearing thick gloves. And at the end of a day, no more racking shells into the mud when unloading the gun. Reaching into the loading port and pressing the shell latch with a finger, releases each shell from the magazine, allowing it to drop into the hand.
The Super Black Eagle has always been a low-maintenance shotgun, but if one should eventually start acting up after digesting a few thousand rounds, cleaning and lubing the recoil spring housed in the stock will just about always return it to action. A redesigned and more accessible recoil spring tube makes doing so easier than ever. The new easy-off magazine cap speeds up field-stripping the gun, and it wears a sling-swivel stud. The buttstock also has a slingswivel stud.
The Super Black Eagle 3 comes in a hard case, and a second plastic box contains the stock shims, five CrioChokes, and a cleverly designed combination choke wrench and barrel thread cleaner. My special thanks to Benelli for including that second box. The Improved Cylinder and Modified chokes are the extended type, and those in Cylinder, Improved-Modified, and Full are flush-fitting.
The Super Black Eagle 3 in the Field
I did not have an opportunity to check out the Super Black Eagle 3 at the pattern board, but its performance on waterfowl proved beyond doubt that it was shooting precisely to my hold point. My crowning achievement on the Saskatchewan hunt was a triple on passing mallards.
Wintertime weather in Saskatchewan can be brutal, and while the temperature never got as cold as it can get there, I was prepared for the worst. We shot mostly from blinds set up in fields where corn had recently been harvested, and I wore VapRtrek LS waterproof boots with 800 grams of PermaLoft insulation along with the latest moisture-wicking and Ultra- Dry technology from Irish Setter. I also used heated insoles from ThermaCell that are powered by a 3.5-volt rechargeable lithium-ion polymer battery. I wore Banded brand waterfowl hunting clothing, and my Squaw Creek 3n1 Parka and Squaw Creek Insulated Bibs feature a polyester twill outer shell and ripstop nylon inner shell, taped seams, water-resistant YKK zippers, and 100 grams of PrimaLoft Silver insulation. I also used an Agassiz Goose Down Vest that was lightweight and very warm.
The clothing and the gun performed perfectly for me during the hunt, and I wasn't the only hunter who had great success with the new Super Black Eagle 3. Everyone else was shooting at the top of their form with guns they had never before held. Actually, hunting with a new gun is much better than breaking a few clay targets at the gun club because it better reveals both good and bad design features. Despite the best of my efforts, I could not find a single thing wrong with the new Super Black Eagle 3.