Older than Rome, the city of Urbinum Mataurense was considered by the Romans to be a stronghold of great strategic importance during the Gothic Wars of the 6th century. It now goes by the name of Urbino, and while its fortified walls no longer exist as they once did, castles, churches and other structures going back to Medieval times remain to marvel over. In contrast to the very old of the city is the very new inside a Benelli factory in the valley. Motor scooters were its first product back in the early 1900s, but these days skilled hands aided by robotic machinery build some of the finest shotguns in the world. The latest is a new 12-gauge semiautomatic called the Ethos.
Several Ethos design features were borrowed from other Benelli shotguns, and there is no better example than the receiver. Similar in concept to the Vinci, it consists of a lower unit containing the trigger, cartridge-drop, bolt-release and cartridge-feed mechanisms, while an upper unit mainly serves to enclose the bolt. Upper and lower receivers are precision-machined of aircraft-grade aluminum.
The new gun has the time-proven, inertia-driven operating system introduced by Benelli back in 1967. Lockup is accomplished as twin lugs on the rotating head of the breech bolt engage shoulders on the inner wall of the barrel extension. More than 3 million have since been sold, so, obviously, no small number of hunters and shooters like it — and for good reason. It has proven to be an extremely rugged and totally reliable design, and the Ethos introduces a major difference in operation that makes it even better.
The bolt of the original design has to be released to travel freely from its locked-back position in order to build up sufficient momentum to drive its locking lugs into full lockup. Ease the bolt forward, and it will not lock up. Pushing on its handle with all your might will not coax it into battery. Pulling the trigger causes the internal hammer to travel forward, but the out-of-battery position of the bolt prevents the gun from firing (as it should). Regardless of their designs and whether semiautos are used for wingshooting or smoking clay targets, their chambers are customarily loaded by allowing the bolt to slam home. However, doing so makes quite a racket, one you do not want that big buck in the area to hear after you have climbed into your stand and need to charge the chamber with a slug load. The same goes if a wily old spring gobbler is within hearing distance and you forgot to load your gun.
A detent mechanism added to the bolt of the Ethos allows it be eased forward into battery. Described by Benelli as the Easy Locking System, it works flawlessly and all but eliminates noise when forward bolt travel is manually controlled.
Owners of other Benelli shotguns will find the various controls of the Ethos in familiar places. The transverse safety button sits close behind the trigger. The cartridge-drop-lever tab just forward of the trigger is larger, and that, along with a clearance contour in the side of the triggerguard, makes it easy to operate when wearing gloves. The bolt handle and bolt-release tab have also been increased in size. Breaking consistently at six pounds, the trigger is smooth with only minor creep and no overtravel.
Hammer-forged barrels undergo a 24-hour cryogenic treatment and are steel-shot rated. Optional lengths are 26 and 28 inches, both with three-inch chambers. Sights consist of a .060-inch brass midbead along with a holder up front for accepting interchangeable fiber optic pipes. Red, green and yellow are included, all measuring .110 inch in diameter. The carbon fiber rib looks nice and is more durable than steel. Bang a steel rib against a rock in the field, and in addition to being permanently bent, its replacement requires the skilled hands of a gunsmith. Not so with the rib worn by the Ethos. In the unlikely event that someone does manage to damage it, removal for replacement is as simple as turning out a single retention screw located out near the muzzle. The gun comes with a rib of standard height, and while shooting a pattern test plate, I found shot-pattern center point of impact to be dead-on my hold point. Taller ribs are available for those clay-target shooters who prefer them.
The flush-fit, screw-in chokes are marked Cylinder (no constriction), Improved Cylinder, Modified, Improved-Modified and Full. According to my Brownells bore gauge, the latter four have constrictions of .003, .015, .023 and .035 inch. For those who are deep into technicalities, the first two are closer to Light Skeet and Light-Modified, while the other two are dead-on the money. Regardless, their range covers just about everything one would want to do with a 12-gauge shotgun.
Standard bore diameter for 12-gauge field guns made in the United States is around .730 inch. Overboring to diameters of .740 inch and larger is commonly practiced because some target shooters believe that doing so results in a slight reduction in recoil. There can be a downside as well. When subjected to extremely cold temperatures, a plastic shotshell wad can become quite hard, with the loss in flexibility diminishing its ability to seal off propellant gas. Many European manufacturers consider the velocity reduction a poor tradeoff.
Over there, it is not uncommon for bore diameters in field guns to run even smaller than are considered standard here, and that includes those built by Benelli. The barrel of the Ethos I am shooting measures .720 inch, but since it is a preproduction gun, it is likely a bit tighter than we will see in production guns (most other Benellis I have measured were in the neighborhood of .725 inch). I prefer a snug bore, not necessarily because it squeezes a bit more velocity from a load, but because during extremely cold weather it prevents an excessive amount of propellant gas from escaping around the wad to disrupt the shot column. There is another benefit as well. A tight bore along with a barrel extension that reaches deeply into the receiver to stabilize the barrel is a big reason why Benellis are more accurate with Foster-style slug loads than some of the other autoloading shotguns.
Through the years, the recoil-reducing ComforTech and ComforTech Plus stocks of other Benelli guns have proven to be quite successful for the company, but since flexing of the sidewalls of a synthetic stock during recoil is an essential part of their designs, they are not compatible with wooden stocks. For this reason, a new system had to be developed for the Ethos.
Called the Progressive Comfort System, it consists of a nice, cushiony recoil pad, the center of which bears on a recoil-absorbing device located inside the stock. Made of a flexible, synthetic material, it consists of two parts, one stationary, the other allowed to travel to and fro as much as 1.6 inches during recoil-pad compression. Inward-pointing fingers of varying flexibility on the two parts work in three stages of recoil absorbance. A light target load moves the sliding section just enough to allow its fingers to bear on the most flexible fingers inside the stationary section. A medium-heavy load increases its travel, causing it to bear on those as well as fingers of medium rigidity. Pull the trigger on a three-inch magnum shell, and those two stages as well as even more-rigid stage-three fingers come into play. It sounds simple — and it is — but it took a long time for someone to think of it.
The unit is factory-rated at 40 to 50 percent reduction in recoil compared with the same gun without it. A big advantage is its suitability for use in both synthetic and wooden stocks. And since everything goes inside the stock, it has no affect on aesthetics. It also lasts for a very long time. When tested at the factory in a special machine designed to simulate recoil, Progressive Comfort System units survived many thousands of cycles. If one does wear out, it is easy and not terribly expensive to replace.
During the visit to Urbino, we took a couple of days off from the factory to give the new gun a try. After warming up on skeet, trap and five-stand, we moved on to a hunting club for a go at ringneck pheasants. The view was breathtaking, the birds flew well, and the dogs and their handlers made sure a grand time was had by all. Each and every shot fired with the lightweight gun felt easy on my shoulder, even when shooting heavy loads, but I did not shoot it enough to form any lasting impressions. That would have to wait until later.
The Ethos is designed to operate with everything from light, 2¾-inch target loads to heavy, three-inch waterfowl and turkey loads, so after returning home I put it through its paces with both. On the light end was a new target load from Federal loaded with 7/8 ounces of No. 8 shot at 1,200 fps. Basically a 20-gauge load in a 12-gauge shell, recoil is in the powder-puff class, and it proved to be all I needed for the majority of clay-target presentations. In fact, my scores at skeet and 16-yard trap were as good as I usually manage to pull off with any load. The Ethos gobbled up close to 300 rounds without a single malfunction or missed target, although its pilot did manage to allow a few to sail off into the sunset unbroken.
Curious to see how the recoil-reduction effectiveness of the two Benelli systems compared, a friend and I alternated between the Ethos and a gun with the ComforTech stock when shooting a round of skeet. A quarter-pound more weight in the ComforTech gun gave it some advantage in the shootout, and yet my built-in kickometer indicated a toss-up in shooter comfort between the two systems. My friend had the same opinion.
I then headed to the pattern-test board and opened a couple boxes of Federal three-inch loads with two ounces of shot. Sitting on the ground and squeezing off those monsters at turkey targets while aiming a shotgun like a rifle ceases to be loads of fun after that first pull on the trigger, but I did manage to put 10 rounds through each gun. The ComforTech system seemed to be a tad more comfortable there, but the difference was so slight that another shooter behind the two guns might have the opposite opinion. As I mentioned before, it was slightly heavier, and that can make a difference in recoil.
Stock and forearm are nicely figured walnut. The 18-line cut checking was well executed, and coverage is more than adequate. Wood-to-metal fit leaves nothing to be desired. A lot of the discomfort we feel when shooting a shotgun is due to the sharp blow it delivers to the cheek. It discourages a shooter from keeping “wood on wood” contact, and we all know that lifting the head from the stock during the shot will cause a gun to shoot high. The padded insert in the stock of the Ethos soaks up a lot of that punishment before it reaches the shooter. The stock comes with a comb of standard height, but higher versions are available and easily switched. Length of pull can also be adjusted by changing out recoil pads. The pad on my gun gives it a pull length of 14.4 inches, but those for 13.8 or 15 inches of pull are also available.
Due to a redesigned carrier and two-part carrier latch along with a deep bevel at the rear of the loading port, shells push into the magazine like grease on glass. Benelli calls it the Easy Loading System for good reason. I find it to be especially nice for high-volume shooting. Attempting to shoot all the doves in Argentina in a single day would be an example. Marathon rounds of skeet, trap or sporting clays over a weekend are another.
Taking down the Ethos is simple and easy. After making sure all shells are removed, engage the safety, and retract the bolt to its locked-back position. Screwing off the anti-seize magazine cap (also new) frees the barrel and forearm for removal. While hanging onto the handle of the bolt, ease it all the way forward. The upper receiver is now free to be pushed forward and off the bolt. With it removed, push the bolt forward until it disengages from its tracks in the lower receiver. The entire trigger assembly can be removed by pushing its transverse retention pin from the receiver, but since removal of the bolt and upper receiver exposes most of it to view, doing so is unnecessary for routine maintenance.
When putting everything back together, align the bottom of the bolt with its tracks in the lower receiver, and as you push it to the rear, make sure the end of its link is aligned to enter the mouth of the recoil-spring tube in the buttstock. Slide the upper receiver over the bolt; retract the bolt to its locked-back position; install the barrel, forearm and magazine cap; and the gun is ready for action. Once you do it a time or two, falling off the proverbial log will seem difficult.
The two available variations differ only in their receiver finishes. The standard version is black anodized, or, for a bit more money, you can have a brushed natural coloration with attractive machine engraving. They will sell lots of both.