May 27, 2020
By Robert W. Hunnicutt
Nothing gladdens the heart of the gunwriter more than a new firearm with plenty of interesting features. When I was new in the trade, Harrington & Richardson (H&R) introduced a new Topper single barrel at least once a year, and it was the job of the low man on the totem pole to write it up. The obscure historical references and literary flourishes required to get 1,000 words on such a humble shotgun made a tough afternoon’s work. No such heavy lifting will be required for this issue’s subject, the Benelli 828U Sport over/under shotgun. Just reciting its notable features will provide a hefty read. So let’s get to it.
If you have even the slightest interest in shotguns, you are aware of Benelli’s autoloading and pump shotguns. Benelli has a tradition of outside-the-box design and manufacturing, and has now brought that to the otherwise staid world of over/unders. The 828U hunting model has an aluminum frame and weighs 6½ pounds. Competition shooters want more weight to reduce recoil, so the 828U Sport has a steel frame and weighs a full 8 pounds with provision for making it even heavier.
Despite the change of material, the new Sport model retains the steel locking system and floating breechblock of the aluminum-framed 828U. The barrels lock into a chrome-plated steel breechface that is free to rotate in multiple directions as the barrels are closed. A semicircular lug at the bottom rear of the monobloc engages a cut at the bottom of the breechface, while bolting is done by a pair of truncated cones emerging from the frame on either side of the top lever. This arrangement allows for the low-frame profile so desired by competitive shooters.
While most over/unders place the fire control system between upper and lower tangs (requiring the neck of the buttstock to pass around either side), the 828U has a repeater-like configuration at the rear that allows the buttstock to be attached as it is on an auto or pump. This is not a new idea. Dating at least as far back as the Ljutic Bi-Gun, I watched John Satterwhite use it to win the Pan American Games’ skeet championship 40 years ago.
The Remington 90T trap gun was similarly configured. This layout offered advantages both to consumers and manufacturers. The shotgun’s trigger mechanism does not work as a wedge to split the buttstock, and the latter part can be shaped much more freely in the pistol grip area since it need not accommodate the tangs. More to the point, for the 828U, the shim system that allows drop and cast regulation of Benelli autoloaders can be applied to these over/unders.
Using an autoloader-like frame has also allowed Benelli to offer a unitized, removable trigger assembly, always a popular item for competitive shooters. To remove the trigger, simply remove the barrels and allow the top lever to return to its closed position by pressing in on the release pin at the top left of the standing breech. Then, pass the supplied tool (which is nothing so much as a very well-designed paper clip) through the tiny hole at the very rear of the trigger body. Push it against the plunger inside the frame and release the trigger assembly. Withdraw the pin and you can pull the trigger straight out of the frame. Don’t try to rotate it on the way out.
If you’re expecting the sort of fancy workmanship and tuning you might see on a Perazzi or Westley Richards detachable trigger, you’ll be disappointed here. Benelli’s approach looks like an autoloader trigger. We’ve gotten used to striker-fired pistols, so we should not quail at a striker-fired over/under. The chrome-plated strikers point straight at the firing pins with only a little down angle on the bottom and a slight inclination on the top. This contrasts with hammer-fired guns where the firing pins may impact the primer from all sorts of odd angles.
Spring compression on the 828U is surprisingly light. If you snap the strikers with the trigger assembly out of the shotgun, you can simply press the points against a wooden surface to recock. In normal operation, they are cocked by a chrome-plated wedge that incorporates a wire extension that then resets the inertia block at the rear of the trigger. It’s interesting that Benelli specified an inertia trigger when so many competitors insist on mechanical units, but many medals have been won with the Browning Superposed and other inertia trigger guns over the years.
The 828U trigger blade is adjustable fore and aft in a range of 6mm. It’s secured by two 1.5mm hex socket screws, so you won’t need to worry about it moving during a round. Use the supplied key to turn out the locking screw in the face of the trigger blade, then pass the same key through the top rear of the triggerguard and turn the adjusting screw.
You will need a truly authoritative index finger to take advantage of the front position. To return the trigger to the frame, insert it almost straight in; Don’t try to rotate it in like as if it were an AK47’s magazine. Engage the lip at the front of the trigger with its recess in the frame and press the trigger home with a soft click.
While you have the trigger out of the frame, take a look inside. The 828U is not cocked by any system of rods or levers, but rather by the top lever itself. Turning the lever to open the gun cams the bolt out of engagement with the monobloc, while at the same time uses a lever tipped with a roller bearing to press rearward on the chrome-plated wedge mentioned above, cocking the strikers.
I first encountered this system when writing up the Swedish Caprinus shotgun in the early 1980s. It was made entirely of stainless steel and the barrels were blackened stainless. The Caprinus had many innovative features, but it was quite expensive at more than $5,000! (That’s $12,000 adjusted for inflation.) It was a commercial failure.
This design has, when combined with the ejection system, the advantage of eliminating the requirement for linkage between the lock and the ejectors. No cocking rods or trip rods need to run through the frame, simplifying the manufacture of that part. Freed of the function of powering recocking, the 828U barrels open more easily, though this probably would be more noticeable in a light game gun than a hefty competition piece. Benelli has cleverly improved the system by curving the top lever itself to the left, putting it closer to the thumb of the firing hand. (For right-handers, at least.) They even offset the serial number stamp to keep it under the repositioned lever.
Appropriate for a competition gun, the safety is manual and quite low and wide. Moving it rearward presses the inertia block out of engagement with the sears. Selection is on the system familiar from Beretta doubles; you move a rectangular catch left or right to choose barrels. I could find no means of locking the safety out, a useful feature on a target gun that is never loaded before the shooter takes his post.
The 828U barrels are assembled on a monobloc system. The monobloc is continued rearward at the top left and right to engage the bolts, giving it a distinctive look. The ejection system I first encountered on the Caprinus is used here. A plunger passes through the barrel wall about 2½ inches deep in the chamber. On firing, the expanding shotshell pushes out on it, turning it into a catch that holds the ejector back against spring pressure until the barrels are opened. It’s a conceptually simple system that I suspect must be tough to manufacture since it hasn’t taken the world by storm.
As is typical for Italian shotguns, the 828U bores are chrome plated and given Benelli’s cryogenic treatment. Barrels are cooled to -300 Fahrenheit to relieve stresses induced during manufacture. The choke tubes are similarly treated and chrome plated, too. They are quite long at 3½ inches with the last ¾ inch extending from the muzzle, and they are knurled for easy changing. If they get stuck, there’s a cross-wrench-style spanner with a thread cleaner at the other end.
The Full, Improved Modified, Modified, Improved Cylinder and Cylinder tubes have a conical-parallel internal configuration with a straight-sided section at the muzzle that helps stabilize the shot charge before it leaves the barrel. The barrels are topped by a carbon-fiber 10mm stepped rib. There’s a bold .135-inch white bead at the muzzle and no mid-bead.
In the style of the Remington Model 32, there are no side ribs. Down the center of the rib is a .15-inch channel intended to direct the eye to the front bead. It lets you immediately spot canting of the gun more effectively than a mid-bead would. You can use a jeweler’s screwdriver to turn out the tiny slotted screw about ½ inch behind the front bead on the right side of the rib. This will let you slide the rib off and replace it with a lower hunting-style rib, if you prefer.
The 828U forend has an Anson-style latch at the front, and the forend iron and a rubber spacer at the front are numbered, suggesting larger replacement parts are available to take up wear. “It’s what’s up front that counts!” was an old advertising slogan, but a lot of the excitement in the 828U is inside the buttstock.
Stock fitting is something traditionally associated with grizzled, starchy British experts, but here Benelli makes it possible to set up your buttstock in any of 40 different positions. It’s up to you to figure out which of the 40 works for you. A handy table in the instruction manual shows the combinations of shims and plates required to adjust to any of 10 drop-at-heel measurements from 15⁄8 to 2½ inches. Multiply those by 3mm or 6mm cast-on or cast-off and you get the 40 positions.
To adjust the stock, start by using a long Phillips-head screwdriver bit to turn out the recoil pad screws. These machine screws fit into threaded inserts in what the instructions refer to as the “Case, Balancing.” This is the mounting point for the Progressive Balancing system (described below) and the recoil pad. The combination of machine screws and threaded inserts is important when you may repeatedly be taking the recoil pad on and off while experimenting.
Next, remove the case by turning out two wood screws. I would have liked to see machine screws and threaded inserts here, too, but Benelli apparently thinks you’ll be changing weights more often than cast and drop. (I suppose they’re probably right.) Use a 13mm deep-hole socket with a flexible extension to turn out the through-bolt nut and pull the buttstock off the through bolt, being sure to keep track of the nut, washer and plate. With the stock off, you can remove and replace the shims using the handy table on page 67 of the 828U’s instruction manual.
The drop shims are designated A to D, while the cast shims are designated “D” for destra, Italian for “right,” for cast-off, or “S” for sinistra, meaning “left,” for cast-on. Two have neutral drop, while the other two have an extra half-millimeter of drop. So, if you want cast-off (and if you’re right-handed, you do), install a shim marked, say “DX6,” facing outward. You can always do a visual check to be sure the fat side is on the left. The drop shim goes in first and has molded-in studs that engage holes in the frame and cast shim, respectively. I wouldn’t say it’s impossible to assemble improperly, but it would take a lot of creativity. Replace the buttstock and the proper plate. These are marked to jibe with the cast and drop shims. Refer to the manual’s table for the correct combination.
This part, I find, is the fiddliest part of the hole procedure. Slide the plate over your screwdriver and feed it down into the buttstock. Be sure you can see through it to the through-bolt hole. Hold the buttstock neck down and feed the through-bolt into its hole and through the plate, being sure not to dislodge the latter. Put the nut and the washer, in that order, around your screwdriver. Holding the gun horizontally, insert the screwdriver point into a recess in the end of the through-bolt and slide the nut and washer onto the threaded end. Then, use the socket wrench to tighten the nut. If the nut won’t tighten, check to be sure the plate hasn’t gotten cockeyed on the through-bolt. You then can replace the case. This is the mounting point for Benelli’s Progressive Balancing system, which is a collection of eight 12.9-gram (.45-ounce) weights that can be removed or replaced in the butt.
The supplied 828U weights are steel, but you can order tungsten weights separately that will give you a full 50 grams (1.76 ounces) of balancing. Eight of those would be more than 14 ounces, which would make the 828U a real load. The weights are retained inside the case by a pair of Torx machine screws. The proper key is among the accessories.
Externally, the Progressive Balancing system is indistinguishable from the Progressive Comfort recoil-reduction system used on the hunting model 828U. The stock and forend are an attractive Turkish walnut and the gripping surfaces of each are in a fish-scale treatment in a point pattern that I found made for an effective grasping surface, especially when combined with the palm swell on the pistol grip. Metal finish, except for the trigger, is a uniform matte charcoal. I’d be tempted to call it utilitarian, except some nice cars are this color these days.
I patterned the 828U Sport with results shown in the accompanying table and function-fired it with Remington Premier STS target ammo. There were no failures of any kind. For years it has been my practice to test guns with adjustable stocks as they came out of the box on the theory that’s how the consumer will first encounter them. But shotguns with adjustable butts have been available for some time now and I suspect many more users are likely to try their hands at gun fitting. Furthermore, a long conversation with pro-shooter Dave Miller yielded the information that many shotgunners do better with more drop in the buttstock. I have been as guilty as anyone in seeking that high trap-gun sight picture, but after that chat with Miller I’ve started setting test guns with as much drop and cast as I can get and the results have been surprising.
My first encounter with the 828U was to pull it out of the box and start shooting it for Guns & Ammo TV. Results were disappointing in my hands, to say the least, with shots continually passing over the target. Editor and co-host Eric Poole had a completely positive shoot experience with a near-perfect run on trap. Before writing about this, I set it up for the full 2½-inch drop at heel and full 6mm cast-off. Pattern testing showed it shooting straight down the middle for elevation and just a fraction to the left. I probably could use even more cast.
Shotguns with straight stocks look great and work great if you like a lot of air between the bead and the target, but let’s not forget that the passenger pigeon was rendered extinct by hunters using guns whose drop measurements would seem comical today. With drop and cast applied, misses became rare, though more drop and cast mean a little more recoil to the cheek. In the context of more hits, that was a small price to pay.
The 828U patterned very tightly with Improved Cylinder and Modified tubes. That’s great if you’re shooting long crossers or novelty targets like minis, battues and rabbits. If you’re shooting regular targets at close range, it’s overkill. I would be inclined to test with promotional dove loads or other ammo with soft shot to get more open patterns for close targets.
One feature I ignored when initially examining the 828U impressed in the field. The groove in the carbon-fiber rib really stood out, especially in low cross light. I’m normally blasé about any sighting device on a shotgun on grounds you want to look at the target, not the gun, but I found this rib made canting immediately obvious, giving me a chance to alter my gun mount.
The 828U’s trigger was very light at 3 pounds with minimal take up. I wouldn’t even call it rifle-like; It was more like something from a video game. I advise doing plenty of dry firing before that first trip to the range because it’s very easy to set off. Once you’re used to it, it’s safe enough and crisp, but it’s not going to be like your good old Remington 1100.
So, the 828U is as feature-filled as a Mercedes S-Class. Will that make you want to buy it? For many years, Benelli has been aggressive in its designs while trying to break out of the 19th century box that constrains shotgun aesthetics. Editor Eric Poole recently attended a press event at Benelli’s factory in Italy where Takeo Hosoe, Benelli’s art director, explained some of the general concepts behind the looks of the firm’s guns. Designers worked in shapes rendered abstractly from the natural world. The 828U’s top lever, for example, is based on the curve of a bird’s wing. The forend echoes a duck’s bill. Whether this means anything to you, or whether you like it is individual choice. You do have to appreciate a company that starts with a fresh page rather than endlessly recycling designs penned 125 years ago.
While not exorbitantly priced by standards of competition guns, the 828U Sport is not cheap. Taking advantage of all its features will require hours at the pattern board and the practice field. The money commitment may be easier to make than the time required. Spend both the money and the time and you’ll have a shotgun well-tailored to your physique and shooting style.
Benelli 828U Sport
- Type: Over/under
- Gauge: 12, 3-in. chambers
- Barrel Length: 30 in.
- Overall Length: 47¾ in.
- Weight: 8 lbs.
- Trigger Pull: 3 lbs. (both barrels tested)
- Length of Pull: 14¾ in.
- Drop at Heel: 2 1⁄8 in.
- Drop at Comb: 1½ in.
- Accessories: Eight drop and cast shims; four balance weights; hex key; Torx key; trigger removal tool; Full (.685 in.), Improved Modified (.695 in.), Modified (.703 in.), Improved Cylinder (.713 in.), Cylinder (.726 in.) choke tubes; carrying case; accessories case
- MSRP: $4,399
- Manufacturer: Benelli Armi SpA, Urbino, Italy
- Importer: Benelli USA, 301-283-2185, benelliusa.com
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