August 05, 2022
Our ATV’s muddy windshield cut through that last morning’s dense, pre-dawn fog as we made our way to a duck blind opposite of a rice field. Behind the wheel was Bailey Fritter, a guide with Merlo Waterfowl Company. I was crammed between him and my friend Alfredo Rico, a fellow Guns & Ammo contributor and photographer. “Buddy,” a yellow lab, rode in the back with the shotguns.
We traversed a nasty stretch of road, which meant mud was flung all over Rico. Hehe, I chuckled at the fact that it covered him from head to boot, and his face was almost unrecognizable. But we had serious business to tend to. This was the final day of a three-day hunt near Oroville, California, and we had to make up for a lackluster start. Merlo Waterfowl Company boasts 15 properties, including 55 blinds that span across 6,000 acres in the heart of the Sacramento Valley Pacific Flyway. This is an area renowned for exceptional waterfowl hunting, but there are no guarantees when it comes to hunting; the previous two days proved that. All I had to show for my efforts were a spoonie, a pintail and a speck.
As we exited the Can-Am Defender and trudged through the sticky mud, I had to remind myself: Regardless of how fruitful this hunt was, I still had a job to do. I was here to evaluate Benelli’s new BE.S.T. coating. No, the spelling of that acronym is not a typo; it stands for “Benelli Surface Treatment.” Birds or no birds, this was still a great assignment.
Rewind Three Days
When my group first arrived at the lodge, Rocque “Roc” Merlo (the owner), somberly mentioned that weather and water had taken a turn for the worse. This caused many birds on property to venture out of the area. Just my luck, I thought. Those were the same reasons that I had for not hunting in my personal blind this season, which was coincidentally located about an hour east.
BE.S.T. is a relatively new and proprietary coating, but it required more than a decade of development by engineers and scientists in Italy. It uses nanotechnology and carbon-like particles to protect steel from rust and corrosion. The multi-layered surface also features considerable abrasion resistance.
There’s a photo on Benelli’s website (benelliusa.com) that offers a side-by-side comparison of a BE.S.T.-treated barrel and a competitor’s barrel. (I’m not positive, but it looks to be a barrel from a Remington Model 1100.) After 48 hours of saltwater exposure, the competitor barrel is best described as “rusted camo,” as if it were an artifact recovered from an old shipwreck. The Benelli barrel coated in BE.S.T. is pristine. Afterwards, BE.S.T.-treated parts were submerged in salt water for months. Still, there was no sign of rust or corrosion.
According to George Thompson, director of product management for Benelli USA, the BE.S.T concept came from growing up hunting sea ducks on the Chesapeake Bay.
“I’m not sure if you’ve ever done this,” he said, “but if you go out at dawn and come back at dark, chances are that your matte-finished shotgun will be rusted. Salt water is brutal on gear. Camo helps, but it is far from a total solution. A better coating was the first project I pushed the engineers to develop when I became Benelli’s product manager in 2009. We evaluated every coating on the market and found none were perfect.”
The technology behind the BE.S.T. treatment is not new; it’s the hybrid of a physical vapor deposition (PVD) and plasma-enhanced chemical vapor deposition (PECVD) coating. It’s already been used in a variety of industries, including by gunmakers. The challenge is that this coating has to be applied at a high temperature. The requisite heat can ruin the hardness rating and ballistic properties of any barrel. What Benelli figured out was how to apply this coating at low temperatures.
I asked Thompson whether BE.S.T. would be available in a camo pattern. He said that wasn’t likely because a camouflage film would add too much thickness to the BE.S.T. coating, which might risk “tolerance stacking” at critical areas. Applying camo over BE.S.T. could prevent components from fitting together properly. However, Thompson did note that BE.S.T. would soon be available in colors other than black.
“In 2022, we will be launching our first coloration; we are calling it Labrador Gray on our Lupo rifle — for the wolf, not the dog. This is just the beginning,” Thompson insisted.
To expand on PVD, parts are put into a specialized machine that creates a high vacuum. Located at Benelli’s factory in Urbino, Italy, the machine technology is proprietary. The apparatus uses radio frequencies and plasma to deposit a vapor film evenly and completely over the part’s surface. This is a “green” process, which means that it “produces no toxic chemical byproducts,” according to Thompson.
Benelli is so confident in BE.S.T. that it increased the standard 10-year warranty to 25 years for parts treated against rust and corrosion. But I didn’t want to just take Benelli’s word for it; what better way to test a shotgun’s finish than a waterfowl hunt?
BE.S.T. is currently available in select models of Benelli’s Super Black Eagle 3 (SBE 3), starting at $1,999, and Ethos, starting at $2,199, both of which Rico and I had on hand to hunt with. If you haven’t shot these, you’re missing out. These guns are sleek, lightweight and comfortable to shoot. Reliability was never in question. If you’re purchasing a quality shotgun, why not preserve and protect your investment?
Benelli’s SBE 3 has several parts coated with BE.S.T., including the trigger and trigger pin, safety, barrel and barrel extension, bolt, bolt handle, stud, as well as the knurled extended choke. The Ethos carries a BE.S.T.-coated trigger and trigger pin, safety, bolt, bolt handle and barrel. Parts with this coating have a unique, high-quality feel; it’s neither slick or tacky. Perhaps this is due to the coating’s inherent lubricity at the molecular level.
No matter how careful you are when waterfowl hunting, your shotgun will get wet — and probably muddy, too! Freshwater can make a mess of a shotgun’s metal surfaces, and saltwater’s effects are even worse. Not only does BE.S.T. provide an impenetrable armor to steel surfaces, it also reduces the amount of oil and cleaning needed to keep a shotgun running flawlessly.
A duck hunter’s shotgun will undoubtedly be knocked around a bit, especially when hunting from a metal blind. So, I was impressed that Benelli’s BE.S.T. had prevented these shotgun barrels from sustaining even a scratch during our hunt with Merlo. Still, I hoped that the last day would make up for the first two day’s lack of action, as far as the hunt was concerned. Our shotgun barrels had been propped against the blind long enough.
While the Benelli Ethos and SBE 3 shotguns showed no signs of rust, I couldn’t make the same claim. This was the first time I’d hunted in a year, and it showed. Most of the shots I’d missed during the first two days were challenged by wind, distance and angle, but I’m making excuses. In good conscience, I can’t blame Benelli’s shotguns for my misses — nor the ammunition.
Boss’ non-toxic copper-plated shot eventually proved plenty accurate (bossshotshells.com). Boss offers an assortment of American-made shotshells. We shot the 2¾-inch, No. 4 and No. 2 shot, which ran flawless in these guns. Truth be told, I stuffed a mix of each load in my pocket and shot them interchangeably. This was my first experience hunting with Boss shotshells, but it won’t be my last! These shells were clean running, reliable and accurate.
Fortunately, hidden by the morning fog were a plethora of ducks — and my shot at redemption. Fritter’s calling was on point. Thanks to his keen eyes and ability to lure birds, there were plenty of opportunities. Duck after duck materialized from the fog that morning and often cupped as if intending to land. Rico and I were happy to assist several in doing just that, albeit harder than they intended.
We knocked enough birds out of the sky to give Buddy a workout in retrieving them. That poor dog’s face couldn’t hide his boredom during the previous days’ hunts, but by 8:40 that final morning, Rico and I met our limit. We both had a pintail, a teal, and five widgeon apiece. It seemed that my SBE 3 and Rico’s Ethos Cordoba couldn’t miss.
Temperatures were mild, typical low 40s for that area, but the combination of light rain, sunshine, wind and dense fog provided a worthy environment to test the BE.S.T. While not a torture test, we didn’t handle the shotguns with kid gloves. When they weren’t muddy enough, we muddied them up. Then, we’d hand-wash them in a nearby puddle. We didn’t clean or lubricate the shotguns, which found their way into soft cases after each hunt. This is ill-advised with most shotguns because soft cases tend to trap moisture and cause rust.
Abrasion from leaning the shotguns against the metal walls of the blind would have marred the surface of most shotguns, but there wasn’t so much as a scratch on either Benelli. There was zero evidence of BE.S.T. chipping in the way we’ve all seen on a gun given a camo finish.
As a waterfowl hunter and gunwriter, I’ve shot a fair share of shotguns. Few are comparable to the Benelli’s latest lineup of Super Black Eagle 3 or the Ethos Cordoba. No other shotgun made by any other brand sports a finish like BE.S.T. Not only does it protect treated parts from the elements, but it maintains the guns’ high-quality appearance. It’s the perfect surface treatment for a waterfowl shotgun. When you consider that BE.S.T. also requires less oil and cleaning than other finishes, it becomes the clear choice for waterfowl hunting.
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