May 12, 2017
It's now hard to remember what waterfowl hunting was like before Benelli. Long before the Robertson family grew beards, we were hunting from boats and blinds using pump-action 12 gauges, doubles or single-shot scatterguns.
Sure, there were some semiautomatics in the fields during the 1980s, but serious waterfowlers considered them to be unreliable or too expensive. And those early gas-operated shotguns didn't go as easy on our shoulder pockets as they should have when it was time to step up the power factor for ducks and geese.
Though it now sounds painful to shoot, the weight of the old 10 gauges did a lot to tame felt recoil. In fact, the 10 wasn't that bad of a goose gun until federal regulations hindered the use of lead shot. It's for these reasons that hunters have always been forced to look for ways to compensate.
I can remember being about 6 or 7 years old when Dad introduced me to a shotgun. I know for a fact that it was a double because one pull of two triggers planted me to the ground as laughter erupted around me.
I could have given up and never hunted with Dad and his friends again, but I was determined to stick with it and toughen up. Still, I remember fearing the boxes of 12 gauge containing 31/2-inch shells until I bravely graduated from 3 inchers in a Benelli Super Black Eagle (SBE). Life got better after that.
Heckler & Koch (HK) started importing Benelli firearms in 1983, but, due to modest sales, there was no marketing for the brand in those days.
Its growth came from word of mouth until 1991. Twenty-five years ago, Benelli finished its development of and introduced the SBE. It was created for the American market.
It's unclear whether or not it was the first semiauto shotgun to meet the growing demand for 31/2-inch shells, but it was certainly the first successfully reliable one to do so. In fact, many in my family say the SBE rung the death knell for the 10 gauge.
It is unclear whether Galileo Galilei or Isaac Newton deserves credit for identifying inertia, but Benelli gets credit for first utilizing the kinetic energy of recoil in this manner through the SBE's simple inertia system.
During recoil, the inert bolt moves about 4mm forward to compress a coiled inertia spring inside the bolt carrier and behind the rotating head. After the spring is compressed, it extends, making the bolt assembly move rearward toward completing the cycle of operation.
The SBE gets its reliability in three fundamental forms: Spring pressure delays the opening of the action and regulates the different pressures produced by loads of different power. Due to its operation, no gas or debris ever enters the receiver.
In fact, everything dirty is sent out the muzzle. And lastly, the SBE bolt group is made of only seven parts by my count, which brings us to G&A's first Law of Reliability: Few (moving) parts and a clean action are conducive to reliability.
Benelli USA was formed in 1998 and took over the importation from HK shortly before Benelli was acquired by Beretta Holdings Group. During that time, Benelli scored a big win in its M4 gas-operated shotgun with the U.S. Marine Corps designating it the M1014.
Then, in 2004, Benelli continued their success and introduced the SBE II, which featured cryogenically treated barrels and chokes, the ComforTech recoil absorbing system, a larger triggerguard and stepped rib for waterfowl hunters tracking birds while aiming.
About seven years ago, Benelli produced its 2 millionth firearm since 1967. Considering that they've made more than 4 million as of this year, it's easy to calculate that Benelli's success has not been linear. The same goes for the SBE I and II, which have accounted for 600,000 Benelli shotguns sold. Though we now have other models like the Cordoba, Nova and Vinci families, the SBE remains most popular.
Most of Benelli's SBE patents have expired, which is why we are seeing companies who once argued that gas guns were better now making inertia guns. There are even clones, which is a generous word. The truth is, a Benelli copy is not Benelli quality.
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