September 12, 2023
“Just keep moving.” That’s what I told myself as I inched my way up the steep incline wearing a full pack and Benelli’s Lupo slung over my shoulder. Unable to walk up the hill, I reached for a handful of dewy grass to pull up and get on all fours. So it went for what seemed like an eternity. When we crested the hill, my onX Hunt app indicated we had traveled just .9 miles since exiting the skiff 3 hours earlier.
After several deep breaths and a few sips of water, my fellow hunters and I searched for a good spot to glass for Sitka blacktail deer. Kodiak’s deer are a relatively small subspecies of mule deer whose coats had by now darkened to a grayish-brown color from what was reddish brown earlier in the year. This was Day 1 of our deer and sea-duck combo hunt.
Once settled on a ridgeline that offered a favorable vantage point into a valley, we started glassing. After a while, we spotted a buck some 575 yards away. My partner and I decided to move in, hoping to close enough distance for a viable shot. As luck would have it, while using my new monopod as a walking stick, the bottom telescoping leg snapped in half.
We managed to close to 232 yards. Curiously, we estimated the deer was farther away, perhaps 300 yards, but we each got the same reading from the rangefinder. We hoped to close the distance, but doing so would mean losing sight of the buck; all that was visible was his head above the vegetation and front quarter.
While working to hold the buck in the scope, there was more wobble than I felt comfortable with. No doubt, my legs were still trembling from the uphill crawl. A few deep breaths and I pressed the trigger. I felt confident in the shot, but the buck simply turned and looked in our direction. Then, the buck calmly walked away. We never saw him or found evidence of a hit.
Frustrated and gassed, I was still happy to be on Kodiak Island. I’ll admit that I was a little wary of being hunted by brown bear, for which the island is known, but there were no close encounters. Unfortunately, the same could be said for deer.
As afternoon gave way to evening, we connected with another group of hunters and made our way down the hill to the beach where we climbed aboard a skiff. Deerless, we were shuttled back to the “Venturess,” a 65-foot sportfishing boat that was home for the week.
Save for the rocky ascent from the beach, the next day offered an easier hike. Unlike the first day, there were few signs of deer. In the late afternoon, we did spot a doe at about 750 yards out, but then came the pouring rain. The weather would prove to be a another test for the Lupo’s Benelli Surface Treatment (BE.S.T.) finish, which was also on the Super Black Eagle 3 I brought with me for ducks.
Guns & Ammo subscribers might recall that I previously evaluated BE.S.T. after using a Super Black Eagle 3 on a waterfowl hunt in California (May 2022). I was amazed at how the shotgun’s finish stood against the exposure to waterfowl hunting and life inside a duck blind. The gun still looks new! However, the drenching from the combined rain and wind-whipped salt water was a challenge on another level. Add the beating from thickets and branches, being dragged across rocks and through mud for several days, Kodiak was the ultimate test. Of course, cleaning the rifle would invalidate the stress of such a test, so my job was to give these guns no attention when we finally retreated for sleep.
More inclement weather was in the forecast, but Day 3 was perfect for our sea duck hunt. I still use the Super Black Eagle 3 because it’s a soft-shooting, inertia-driven, 12-gauge shotgun, which is also available in 20 gauge. I use it on my favorite duck hunt in California’s Pacific flyway where my blind partners and I tend to limit out before 9:00 a.m. But that’s freshwater, an entirely different experience than what Kodiak Island offers.
With a dozen or so decoys placed in the water, we nestled into the rocky hillside and picked off a few Barrow’s goldeneye as they flew by. These medium-size ducks with bulbous heads and distinctive gold-colored eyes were not interested in our decoys though, so we were relegated to pass-over shots. This type of shooting tends to be more difficult, and the birds moved faster and farther than if they were drawn to our decoys. Still, we made some nice shots and came away with a handful of birds for the effort. We felled birds between 40 and 50 yards on average, thanks in no small part to the two Federal Premium loads we were shooting.
Black Cloud TSS is ideal for birds that fly high. It features a blend of 60-percent tungsten and 40-percent “Flight Stopper Steel.” Use of Federal’s Flight Control Flex wad ensures consistent patterning. TSS blended loads consist of No. 7 or 9 TSS with BB or No. 3 Flight Stopper Steel. With a density 56-percent greater than lead, TSS has been tested to fly further and penetrate deeper than other common loads. In addition to the TSS loads, we used HEVI-XII tungsten waterfowl loads.
HEVI-XII shotshells outperform steel in every category. It features smaller and denser pellets that have proven to penetrate deeper than traditional pellets, while holding a tighter pattern. HEVI-XII puts more pellets on target, which means we can get away with using smaller shot sizes than steel-pellet loads. They produce the same lethality. Aside from those selling points regarding modern shotshell technology, even the best ammunition won’t do any good if you’re not hunting in the right spot.
Hoping to have a more favorable angle, we moved a hundred yards or so, this time using a berm as concealment. At this point, the birds were flying directly overhead and we were rewarded with more favorable results. What we hadn’t encountered yet was the coveted Harlequin, perhaps the prettiest duck species.
A drake Harlequin has a slate blue head and neck with distinctive white crescent shaped markings in front of the eye and a white dot behind the eye. A black stripe appears vertically from the beak over the head and a black-bordered white horizontal stripe separates the head from the breast. Swaths of chestnut accent the head and sides of the body. Hens sport a more subdued brownish-gray plumage.
Since a drake Harlequin was on everyone’s wish list, we loaded up in the skiff and headed to a nearby pond where we sat on a rocky beach with no concealment. I am sure that we stuck out like a sore thumb, but the Harlequin didn’t seem to mind. We all made our shots on these fast, low-flying beauties. I scored a drake and a hen and was more than content. Once again, the Super Black Eagle 3 and Federal Premium ammunition proved ready for the challenge.
Unfortunately, at the end of the week, only two hunters filled their deer tags. A nice buck and a doe easily succumbed to Federal Premium’s 185-grain Berger Hybrid Hunter bullets, but I never had another shot available for a deer after that first day. Still, I can’t help but remain impressed with the Lupo. Benelli’s first bolt-action rifle has been a success. The Lupo is lightweight and customizable, and features a smooth, clean, and adjustable trigger.
Despite not taking a Sitka blacktail, the trip to Kodiak Island wasn’t a disappointment. I was thrilled with experiencing a portion of Alaska’s majesty. Again, the Super Black Eagle 3 with BE.S.T. finish affirmed its place in my gun safe. It is intuitive to shoot and exceptionally reliable. After talking guns with my fellow waterfowl hunters, it appeared that I wasn’t alone in having an affinity for Benelli’s guns.
Tired from a long week, I arrived home grateful for the opportunity to hunt Kodiak Island. Though I didn’t open the case for several days, there was no rust or corrusion to remove. If BE.S.T. can defend against the rigors of Alaska, I’d be willing to bet that it can handle anything Mother Nature can throw at it.
Benelli BE.S.T Super Black Eagle 3
- Type: Inertia operated, semiautomatic
- Gauge: 12
- Capacity: 3+1 rds.
- Barrel: 26 in. or 28 in.;Benelli Crio treated
- Overall Length: 49.6 in.
- Weight: 7 lbs., 1 oz.
- Stock: Benelli Combtech, Comfort Tech 3; black
- Finish: BE.S.T. (steel), anodized, black (aluminum)
- Sights: Fiber optic, red (front)
- Trigger: 5 lbs.
- MSRP: $2,999
- Manufacturer: Benelli, 800-264-4962, benelliusa.com
Benelli BE.S.T Lupo
- Type: Bolt action
- Cartridge: .300 WM (tested)
- Capacity: 5 rds.
- Barrel: 24 in., 1:11-in. twist
- Overall Length: 46.625 in.
- Weight: 7 lbs., 2 oz.
- Stock: Synthetic; ComforTech; Progressive Comfort
- Grip: AirTouch texture
- Length of Pull: Adj., 13.8 in. to 15.2 in.
- Finish: BE.S.T. (steel); anodized (aluminum); Open Country
- Sights: None
- Trigger: 4 lbs., 12.5 oz. (tested)
- Safety: Two-position selector
- MSRP: $1,899
- Manufacturer: Benelli, 800-264-4962, benelliusa.com
Enjoy articles like this?
Subscribe to the magazine.
Get access to everything Guns & Ammo has to offer.
Subscribe to the Magazine