February 01, 2019
The Beretta autoloader has been a mainstay in sporting circles and in game fields for many years, and the line has continued to evolve and improve. Beginning with the Model 300 in the late 1980s, the 300 quickly morphed into numerous specialty versions for target shooting, waterfowl, and upland game hunting. The latest iteration is the A400 Xtreme Plus (“A400XP” for short). The new model draws on its history, respects the past, and employs the latest in high-tech shotgun technology. The result is a superior product.
The Beretta A400 Xtreme Plus was unveiled on May 5, 2018, at the NRA Annual Meeting in Dallas. It’s built in Italy and is billed as the ultimate for superior reliability for all conditions encountered in waterfowl hunting. It offers advanced barrel technology and a host of ergonomic features that will surely tantalize the clay-target shooter. It is packed with features that make it evolutionary, darn functional, and pleasant to shoot.
I recently received a new A400XP for testing, and I was impressed. One of its more unique features is the configuration and construction of the barrel. This multifaceted process is called the Beretta Steelium Plus barrel technology. Beretta proudly notes that it makes more than 500,000 barrels a year, and the company doesn’t skimp on the A400XP barrels. They are made of steel alloyed with molybdenum, chromium, and nickel that results in a superior shotgun barrel. A400XP barrels are drilled, reamed, and cold-hammer-forged, just like a fine rifle barrel. Then they are vacuum-relieved, giving the steel what Beretta says are the ideal characteristics for optimal ballistic performance.
The A400XP barrel has an “Optima-Bore” profile with a 14-inch forcing cone, instead of the more usual 6 inches. This gradual taper results in a reduction in perceived recoil, better patterns, and long-range performance, even with steel shot. The ventilated rib has a 7x7 stepped design with a red fiber-optic front sight and a metal mid-bead.
The A400XP uses what Beretta calls “Optima-Choke HP” choke tubes. They extend about a half-inch from the muzzle and are clearly marked as to choke constriction. Five constrictions are provided, from Cylinder to Full. Steel shot is okay in all except Full and Improved Modified.
The action is equally unique with the “Blink” gas-operating system, as in “quick as the blink of an eye.” The rotating bolt head and the new gas valve make the A400XP 36 percent faster cycling than other shotguns. The design of the gas piston keeps powder gases from “leaking out,” so the gun can cycle faster. This also reduces the amount of gases that get into the action by about one-half, so cleaning intervals are substantially lengthened.
The receiver is a half-inch shorter than its predecessor, reducing the gun’s overall length. A great feature is that the aluminum-alloy receiver is drilled and tapped (for husky 8-40 screws), so adding a scope or dot sight for turkey hunting is a snap.
The receiver has an enlarged loading port, an extended charging handle, and a long lever-like bolt release for easier operation with gloves. The trigger is very good, breaking cleanly at 5 pounds, 6 ounces. The magazine capacity is four rounds, and a plug to reduce it to two is provided.
A terrific feature of the A400XP is the cartridge cut-off lever on the left side of the receiver, reminiscent of the Browning A-5. This allows a live round to be ejected from the chamber and the bolt to be locked open. This is great for crossing a fence or getting back into the truck for the jaunt to the next hedgerow. It also allows the hunter to quickly switch loads without disturbing the rounds in the magazine. This is especially handy if a fat Canada goose is gliding toward your decoys when your gun is stoked with duck loads.
The stock has a really effective recoil-reduction system, a big plus for waterfowlers and high-volume target shooters. Tests have shown that a shotgun has two distinct recoil impulses. The first is when the shell goes off, and the second is when the bolt slams back into the receiver. The “Kick-Off Mega” in the A400XP stock is a hydraulic recoil-dampening system positioned between the pistol grip area and the buttstock proper. It reduces the axial movement that makes the stock smack the shooter’s cheek from that second impulse. The soft comb pad helps here, too. In addition, there is a traditional rubber recoil pad on the end of the stock. The forearm and pistol grip areas have nice, soft padding that not only provide a good handhold, but also soak up a little kick. The A400XP’s stock fit me perfectly, but a shim kit is provided, so the user can adjust the drop and cast, if desired.
The A400XP is available in 12 gauge only and with a 26- or a 28-inch barrel. My test gun has a 26-inch barrel with the Max-5 camo finish, and it is really attractive. It is also available in several other finishes.
Guns are made to be shot, so I proceeded to put all sorts of ammo through the new A400XP. There were no bird seasons open when I had the gun, but clay targets are always in season. I have a trailer-mounted target thrower, so I towed it out to the pasture north of my vineyard and proceeded to crush clays—and in the process scare the daylights out of every grape-eating scavenger in the area.
I wanted to give the new gun and myself every advantage, so I screwed the Cylinder choke tube into the barrel and blazed away. The targets were pretty close, and the wide-open Optima HP tube literally smoked every target I centered. As a test of the recoil sensation, my wife whacked a few clays with the gun and pronounced the recoil “mild.” However, she was not enamored with the A400XP’s 8-pound heft and quickly returned to her 6-pound 20 gauge.
The A400XP has a 3.5-inch chamber, so it can shoot 2¾-, 3-, and 3½-inch shells without any adjustment. I had several target loads with 7/8, 1, 11/16, and 11/8 ounces of shot, plus a couple of lighter handloads. The gun’s operator’s manual states the gun will digest loads down to 7/8 ounce, presumably at a velocity of around 1,200 fps, but suggests that “best initial performance” is with shells loaded with “11/8 ounces of shot.” This is code for “break the gun in” first with full-charge target loads before shooting the wimp loads, and my functioning tests proved Beretta right.
Few folks chronograph shotshells because it is a bit tricky. But just as with rifles and handguns, it’s really the only way the shooter can get an idea what a given load is doing in his or her gun. This is especially true with shotshells. The velocities of handloads and even high-dollar factory loads can vary all over the place. I shot my test loads over the Oehler Model 35P chronograph to see what kind of performance they delivered. As a rough index of momentum, I borrowed the pistol shooter’s “power factor.” This is just the weight of the shot charge in grains, times the velocity in fps, divided by 1,000. Basically, you need a power factor of about 500 or higher to work the action.
Of course, all of the ammo with 11/16 ounces of shot and up worked peachy-keen. However, neither my light skeet hand-loads with 7/8 ounce of shot at a velocity of 1,044 fps nor my shells with 1-ounce shot loads at 1,182 fps would work the A400XP’s action. The empties would usually eject, but not feed a second round from the magazine or lock the bolt back if the magazine was empty. The same is true of Winchester’s “Low Recoil” load with 26 grams (0.917 ounce) of #9 shot that likewise would not cycle the action. This is a very light load—the listed velocity is just 980 fps—and it averaged only 958 fps out of the A400XP.
The results with these last three loads are of little consequence, as few folks are going to shoot such light loads in their duck guns anyway. As the saying goes, it was only a test.
Two of the best shooting loads I tried were Federal’s new Gold Medal Grand and Grand Handicap ammo. Both are loaded with 11/8 ounces of hard #7½ shot. The Grand is listed at 1,200 fps, and it averaged 1,142 fps out of the A400 Xtreme Plus. The Handicap, which is listed at 1,235 fps, measured 1,199 fps. Frankly, I couldn’t tell the difference between shooting them. Both crushed clays with authority, and cycling was 100 percent reliable. As best I could determine, the A400XP patterned “50 percent/50 percent,” and my best hits on clay targets were when I aimed dead center at the target.
Overall, the A400XP is a pretty impressive shotgun. It handles great and is well balanced. It never malfunctioned as long as it was fed a proper diet. The Max-5 camo not only is good-looking, but also blends well in marshes and upland cover.
My first impression was that the gun was a little heavy, but shooting and swinging soon proved that the balance and handling characteristics were spot-on. It swung smoothly and encouraged a good follow-through—critical for hits on crossing targets. If I just pointed the gun correctly and kept it moving, it smashed clays convincingly. Plus, the soft comb pad helped me keep my head on the stock (“Stay in the gun,” as the great Nick Sisley says). And the cumulative effects of recoil seemed modest over the course of shooting several boxes of ammo.
The A400XP’s push-button manual safety is in front of the trigger, and at first it perplexed me. Every other pump or autoloader I’ve shot had the safety behind the trigger, so it took me a while to get used to it.
I must caution users to keep their fingers and other body parts away from the ejection port when the action is open. The breechbolt release button is a lever about an inch long. It has a lot of leverage and is very easy to press and release. It is not difficult at all to accidentally close the bolt on your finger or fingers.
Viewed retrospectively, the new A400XP is traditional and brand-new at the same time. It’s interesting to review what the “experts” of the early 20th century thought were the established norms for the weight and barrel length of the “perfect shotgun.” In W.W. Greener’s opus The Gun and Its Development, the ninth edition of which was published in 1910, the shotgun’s perfect weight was determined to be 96 times its shot charge. In those days, the British considered 1 ounce of shot about right, so this suggested a gun weight of exactly 6 pounds. For a 11/8-ounce charge, it came out to 6.75 pounds.
The classic work The Shotgunner (1949) by Bob Nichols was published just at the beginning of a new era of shotguns and their ammo. In those days, it was gospel from across the pond that a shotgun’s barrel length should be about 40 times its bore diameter. For a 12-gauge bore of 0.729 inch, this equates to 29.16 inches, and indeed, most European game guns had 30-inch barrels. However, even Greener later equivocated on barrel length somewhat and admitted that good results could be had with 28-inch barrels.
The barrel length and weight of the A400XP are fairly close to the ideals of Greener and Nichols. The gun I tested weighs exactly 8 pounds. This translates to a ratio of 113.8, not radically different from the 96 Greener envisioned. And the available barrel lengths of 26 and 28 inches are fairly close to Nichols’s suggestion of 29 inches.
So it is good that things that have worked for decades are perpetuated, while at the same time incorporating advanced features that make the shotgun even better. Greener and Nichols, eat your hearts out.