Outdoor Life - - SHOOTING - BY JOHN B. SNOW

Talk about div­ing off the deep end. When Benelli made plans to un­veil the lat­est gen­er­a­tion Su­per Black Ea­gle, the SBE 3, it wanted to make a splash, so it or­ga­nized a hunt for sea ducks in Alaska.

When it comes to prov­ing a shot­gun’s met­tle, there’s no tougher en­vi­ron­ment. Com­bine salt, sand, cold, and high winds with birds wear­ing an ar­mor of thick plumage that tear across the open wa­ter like Chuck Yea­ger, and you’ve got the mak­ings of a real test for both hunter and gear.

In fact, talk to vet­eran sea duck hunters and you’ll find that many don’t think a semi-auto has any busi­ness be­ing in a boat trail­ing a string of ei­der de­coys—even one with the rep­u­ta­tion for re­li­a­bil­ity that the SBE has cul­ti­vated over the last 25 years. For these salts, only shot­guns that go cha-chunk when you work the ac­tion are fit for this kind of work.

They have a point. It doesn’t take much sand and grit to grind a semi-auto to a halt, es­pe­cially when the tem­per­a­ture drops. So Benelli’s choice of venue—with pre­pro­duc­tion shot­guns, no less—would ei­ther prove to be a dis­play of well-founded bravado or of fate-tempt­ing hubris, de­pend­ing on the hunt’s out­come.

Many New El­e­ments

The third gen­er­a­tion of the SBE rep­re­sents a ma­jor re­work­ing of the plat­form, both in terms of the me­chan­i­cal op­er­a­tion of the gun and its er­gonomics.

One of the big­gest im­prove­ments is with how the ro­tat­ing bolt head goes into bat­tery. The in­fa­mous “click” one would some­times ex­pe­ri­ence with Benel­lis in­er­tia-driven ac­tions—where the gun would not fire be­cause the bolt wasn’t fully locked up—is now much less likely to oc­cur. With the pro­duc­tion sam­ple that was sent to me a few months af­ter the hunt (and which will also be fea­tured in next is­sue’s an­nual gun test), the test team spent quite a bit of time try­ing to cause this mal­func­tion but was un­able to do so.

The re­coil re­duc­tion sys­tem is also bet­ter on the

SBE 3. Felt re­coil on in­er­tia guns is more stout than on gas-op­er­ated sys­tems, and to counter this Benelli beefed up the foam chevrons, butt pad, and cheek­piece in the stock. I found the shot­gun quite com­fort­able to shoot even with 3 ½-inch loads.

Er­gonom­i­cally, the con­trols on the shot­gun are well done. The bolt han­dle, bolt-re­lease tab, and cross-bolt

safety all op­er­ate smoothly and are big enough to ma­nip­u­late with gloved hands without be­ing overly large.

The load­ing port on the un­der­side of the re­ceiver has a slight bevel to its edges, and the lifter is con­toured in such a way that it doesn’t catch on your thumb or glove as you stuff shells in the mag­a­zine.

The grip in the SBE 3 ex­tends down deeper than it had pre­vi­ously, and its tight ra­dius gives the grip a more ver­ti­cal and ag­gres­sive ap­pear­ance. Com­pared to my first gen­er­a­tion SBE, the grip is thicker, which fills the shooter’s hand nicely. This is in con­trast to the forend, which on my orig­i­nal is much bulkier and more lin­ear than with the new model. The thin­ner forend, with its swoop­ing curves, pro­vides good grip and con­trol, and all in all the shot­gun has a lively feel to it. The forend cap has been re­shaped as well—it looks like a rounded tri­an­gle—to make it eas­ier to grasp when un­screw­ing it to take the shot­gun apart.

At 7 pounds 2 ounces, the SBE 3 tips the scales at the right weight for a hard-hit­ting wa­ter­fowl piece: Any heav­ier and its han­dling would be­come slug­gish; any lighter and it would be need­lessly pun­ish­ing to shoot.

As you’d ex­pect from a shot­gun that costs nearly a cou­ple grand, the SBE 3 comes with some ex­tras. It has a re­ally nice plas­tic car­ry­ing case that in­cludes a set of five choke tubes—two of which are ex­tended tubes (IC and Mod), three that are are flush-mounted (Cyl, IM, and Full).

The shot­gun comes in plain black syn­thetic trim or in camo. Real­tree Max-5 is the first pat­tern the shot­gun is of­fered in; later this year, you’ll be able to get it in Mossy Oak Bot­tom­land and Gore Op­ti­fade Tim­ber.

Ris­ing to the Chal­lenge

But dur­ing my hunt, these de­tails weren’t at the fore­front of my mind. I was much more con­cerned with an­chor­ing a limit of the brant that were fly­ing in huge flocks around our lay­out boats in the eel­grass.

When it came time for me to pop up and start shooting, the SBE 3 con- nected with au­thor­ity. Geese fell. Ducks splashed down. It made shots on birds pass­ing over­head, skim­ming the wa­ter at top speed at 40 yards out, and with feet down and wings cupped as they were sucked into the de­coys.

I spent more than a week shooting the gun up in Cold Bay at the base of the Aleu­tian Chain. The gun rested on salt-coated kelp, was propped up against bar­na­cle-en­crusted rocks, splashed around in the bot­tom of a wet Zo­diak, and ate a diet of mag­num wa­ter­fowl loads, many of which were coated with rust by day two.

The SBE 3 took the harsh Alaskan en­vi­ron­ment and the tough Alaskan birds in stride, as if the gun were born to it.

The Benelli SBE 3 the au­thor hunted with in Alaska on a break be­tween flights of geese.

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