Review: Benelli Ethos 28 Gauge
September 22, 2017
The Ethos is one of Benelli's more recent creations and serves as a retort to those who thought that the Vinci represented a pivot to a future of largely plastic construction. It uses the two-part receiver familiar from guns like the Legacy and SuperSport. This combines a silver-anodized aluminum lower receiver with a black-anodized upper tube, in contrast to guns like the M2 and Montefeltro that use a one-piece aluminum receiver.
Each style has its supporters and detractors, but debating the merits of each is like arguing how many angels can dance on the head of a pin; both styles work just fine, and the difference is mainly in looks. The Ethos goes all the way in the modernist idiom, with a semi-triangular triggerguard whose shape is echoed in the line between polished and scrolled panels in the receiver. The junction between the lower receiver and upper tube is tilted forward to maintain the theme.
The swoopy contour is continued in the forend, which rises upward in the middle, with the 18 lines-per-inch (lpi) checkering following the top line. It looks great and gives maximum protection to the hand at the point where it's most likely to contact the barrel.
The Ethos operates, as you would expect, by Benelli's Inertia Driven system. This was thought of as exotic 30 years ago but now has been widely copied. It's well understood by most shotgunners, but for those who just came in, it's an unusually simple system based on the principle that a body at rest tends to remain at rest.
In this case, the resting part is the bolt body. On firing, all other parts of the shotgun begin to move rearward. The inertia of the bolt body means it initially holds its position, compressing a very short, stiff spring between itself and the rotating bolt head. After the period of peak barrel pressure has passed, the compressed spring pushes the bolt body rearward. A cam pin in the bolt head travels a curved track in the body, rotating the bolt head out of engagement with the barrel extension. This allows the bolt assembly to recoil, ejecting the spent shell and loading a fresh round on the return stroke, which is powered by a recoil spring in the buttstock.
With only three moving parts, it's hard to imagine a simpler system, and it compensates for everything from light target loads to 3½-inch 12-gauge shells. It's no great trick to put a variety of shells in the magazine and fire them off rapidly with zero malfunctions.
If you discount recoil-operated guns like the Browning Auto-5 or Franchi 48 AL, all of Benelli's semiautomatic competitors are gas operated, and the Inertia Driven system has several advantages over gas operation. In addition to reliability, an inertia gun stays a lot cleaner because no gas is directed out of the barrel into the gun.
It can be lighter because it needs no piston or operating rods. The easiest difference to see is that the forend can be very thin, even in the 12 gauge, because there are no moving parts between it and the magazine tube.
We all know there's no free lunch, so what's the disadvantage of inertia operation? It is a fact that it creates a snappier recoil than a gas-operated gun. This was very apparent in early Benellis, where you had to accept a certain amount of punishment if you wanted to enjoy the reliability and trim lines.
Benelli engineers have worked obsessively over the last 30 years to cure the problem and have come up with some pretty fancy technology, such as the ComforTech system used in the Cordoba, SuperSport and Vinci models. That innovation demands a synthetic stock, so a more traditional shotgun like the Ethos needs something different.
The answer is the Progressive Comfort system. While it allows a more traditional appearance, it puts a lot of engineering under the fancy walnut buttstock. What touches your shoulder is a relatively conventional rubber recoil pad, but in front of that is a pretty complicated plastic box.
Its fixed section is a buttplate screwed to the stock with an attached housing that fits inside a large recess in the buttstock. The moving section is in its center, and the recoil pad is affixed to that piece with a pair of machine screws.
Imagine two pairs of combs, each pair with one pointing up and the other down, with the teeth interlocking. That's the heart of the Progressive Comfort system. On firing, the whole shotgun starts moving rearward. The teeth of the top and bottom combs push against the teeth of the central combs, absorbing energy as they are flexed. When recoil forces subside, the flexible teeth return the assembly to its original position.
That's certainly clever enough, but Benelli designers added a couple of refinements. Thicker teeth at the butt end of the assembly provide additional buffering for stiffer loads or if your trigger finger is so fast that the assembly can't return to its rest position before a second shot. Another even thicker set of teeth at the front takes care of the heaviest recoil.
Except for fasteners, the whole assembly is synthetic and weighs just 3½ ounces. It makes a bit of a squeak on the return stroke, but that's not noticeable when firing the Ethos.
It's easily removed and replaced, which is good because you'll need to have it out when using Benelli's familiar shim kit to regulate drop and cast of the buttstock. Use a long Phillips-head screwdriver or bit to turn out the machine screws that retain the recoil pad. Then turn out the wood screws that hold the Progressive Comfort assembly to the buttstock and pull it out.
A selection of four shims and two locking plates allows you to regulate drop at heel to 45mm (1¾ inches), 50mm (2 inches), 55mm (21â„8 inches), 60mm (23â„8 inches) or 65mm (2½ inches). You can also select cast-on (displacement of the butt to the left, mainly for left-handers) or cast-off (displacement of the butt to the right for right-handers). You're stuck with the standard amount; there's no fine regulation of cast.
With the Progressive Comfort assembly removed, use a 13mm deep hole socket to turn off the throughbolt nut and its rubber O-ring. Pull the buttstock straight to the rear and off the throughbolt. Using the table found on page 53 of the instruction manual (yes, there's actually a good use for the instruction manual), assemble the proper combination of shim and locking plate to get your desired cast and drop.
Replace the buttstock, O-ring and nut, and tighten securely. Then replace the Progressive Comfort assembly and recoil pad. It would be overdramatic to call the process arduous, but it's not something you are going to want to do often. Once you've found a comfortable setting, you'll likely continue to use it for life.
Another thing you can do while you have the Progressive Comfort assembly out of the buttstock is remove and replace the soft comb. Insert a 3â„16-inch punch through the angled hole on the top inside of the buttstock and press up on the rear of the comb, which will pop off easily. You can replace the factory low comb with a ¾-inch higher comb if you like shooting trap with a 28 gauge.
Finally, you can insert a hex key through a hole at the bottom of the recess where it steps down for the locking plate. Push down to press out the plug on the ventral surface of the buttstock, allowing convenient installation of a sling swivel, if you are one of the few Americans who insists on one.
Benelli always seems to be making small refinements, and the lower receiver has been touched up with a rounded carrier button that is inclined slightly outward from its previous configuration. The goal was to make it easier to find while minimizing snagging.
The bolt release is a pivoting bar at the right front of the receiver that similarly combines ease of use with a no-snag surface. It actuates a new two-piece latch that Benelli claims will make loading the magazine easier.
The Ethos' chrome-lined barrel is cryogenically treated by freezing it to minus 300 degrees Farenheit. This is thought to relieve stresses induced during hammer forging and to provide a smoother bore surface, improving pattern performance and reducing the need for cleaning.
The 2¾-inch choke tubes are also chrome-plated and cryogenically treated. The Ethos comes with Full, Improved Modified, Modified, Improved Cylinder and Cylinder tubes and a combination tool that's a spanner for installing the tubes on one end and a thread cleaner on the other. It's very sensibly stamped with a warning to remove it before firing.
If you've installed that tall cheekpiece, you can complement it with a stepped rib to replace the standard flat rib, which is a 7mm straight-sided unit. Just turn out the slotted screw at the right front of the rib. Then slide the flexible carbon-fiber rib forward and off the barrel. Reverse the process to install the other rib.
You also can choose among green, red and yellow fiber-optic beads. These can be popped out of the rib using a small flat-bladed screwdriver and replaced by hand.
Finally, Benelli has added a synthetic bushing to the magazine cap that it claims prevents binding or cross-threading when removing or replacing that part.
I pattern-tested the Ethos with results shown in the accompanying table and function-fired it with Federal and NobelSport 2¾-inch loads and Fiocchi 3-inch ammunition. Here were no failures of any kind, even when loading a magazine with both 2¾-inch and 3-inch ammo.
The first question everyone has when hearing about the 3-inch 28 is, "How much recoil?" Answer: More than you might think. If you calculate the free recoil of the Ethos 28 firing Federal ¾-ounce loads at 1,230 feet per second (fps), it's coming back at you with 20.2 foot-pounds of energy. Substitute Fiocchi High Velocity ammo with an ounce of shot at 1,300 fps, and the figure goes to 28.7. That's a cool 42 percent more recoil.
Those are the numbers, but what's it like subjectively? I would compare it to the difference between the .32 S&W and the .327 Federal in a revolver. The .327 certainly can't be said to have a heavy recoil, but it's sharp, and the report is a harsh bark.
Similarly, the 3-inch 28 loads deliver an attention-getting snap, combined with a clamorous muzzle blast. It'd be a stretch to call it unpleasant, but when compared with the murmuring report and tender comeback of the standard 28 gauge, it's not as fun to shoot. Ejection is very firm, with empties landing about 15 feet from the gun.
My first impression of the Ethos 28 was that it is butt-heavy, and that impression did not change while firing it. Keep in mind that you have a very thin barrel and no mechanism under the forend that must balance a wooden buttstock, albeit one that's extensively hollowed for the Progressive Comfort mechanism.
That combination creates a gun that is extremely fast-moving, though a bit whippy. If you're shooting rising preserve pheasants, you'll think you're using a magic wand because the Ethos leaps to the shoulder and floats upward like a feather.
If you're firing at low crossing birds, you'll need to maintain firm control on the forend and continue to always drive through the target. This isn't your old 12-gauge 1100 that will keep chugging thanks to inertia. You have to power the Ethos every inch of the way. There's nothing wrong with that; it simply means a conscious change of approach.
I conducted a quick and dirty experiment by taping two 12-gauge shotshells, weighing about 3½ ounces, to the Ethos barrel just in front of the forend. That made a huge difference to the balance. My free, utterly unsolicited advice to Benelli is to offer a 4-ounce weighted magazine cap for those who want a bit more forward heft.
The updated controls work great in the sense that you won't notice them. They help make the Ethos 28 smooth in the hand and easy to carry. The expanded loading port on the bottom of the receiver makes loading easy and comfortable.
The looks are striking, if a bit exuberant for more traditional tastes. There's no law saying that gun design reached its apex before World War I and that attempts at improvement are futile. The Ethos demonstrates that modern design can coexist with well-worn folkways.
So, do you need an Ethos 28? You do if you're determined to use a 28 gauge on game like wild pheasants or grouse where that extra power margin can really make the difference. Chances are you'll shoot it vastly more often with 2¾-inch loads than with 3-inch, both for shooting comfort and cost control. But if you need that additional increment of energy on target, it's there.