Vic Harker tests the Beretta 686 Silver Pigeon 1 Sporter that may break clays but certainly won’t break the bank
The other day a magazine editor said to me in the simplistic way that breed are inclined to do, that the only thing he wanted to know from a gun test was whether the gun was worth buying. So, before I go any further let me put everybody else who thinks like that out of their misery: Yes, this new budget priced Beretta Sporter is certainly worth buying. Now, for those with more enquiring minds I will go on to explain why.
It is a fact that, for more than 30 years, Beretta has represented at least 30% of the total number of over and under shotguns sold in the UK. The reason for this is their volume production 680 series models continue to be fundamentally superior in terms of design and build quality over most other guns available in their price bracket. I would add the high quality materials from which they are made also contribute to durability that other guns many times their price can’t equal. Beretta guns have been market leaders in the UK for long enough for this to be apparent, and it is reflected in their second-hand values.
There are only so many ways of fitting a set of barrels to an action, but in Beretta’s case their careful analysis of the problems of ensuring strength, security and good aesthetics produced a design that successfully solved them all in the best ways possible, and at a price that was affordable. Having concluded, after much research and experiment, that the explosion of the cartridge actually flexed
a shotgun’s barrels and action together, they positioned the locking bolt as far as possible above these forces to reinforce them. A bifurcated conical bolt of tempered steel moves each side of the breech face and locates in reciprocating recesses in shoulders integral to the barrel monobloc. On closure, these shoulders engage slots machined in the side of the action body – adding two more substantial bearing surfaces and also relieving stress at the breech face. Without requirement for further machining to accommodate other forms of jointing, the breech end of the barrels are in effect enclosed in a cradle of solid steel. They are held there with a locking system that is both inherently strong, and also works with the forces that are generated when the gun is fired.
Other guns do offer similar solutions, usually based on designs originating with the great gun makers of London and with prices that reflect this. The Beretta 686 Silver Pigeon I costs just £1,500 and for that you get all the aforementioned plus a gun that has an elegant appearance with an indestructible nickel chromed action that is attractively engraved and looks good in any company.
Sometimes incorrectly described as boxlocks, the 680 series guns trigger mechanism is mounted on the bottom plate and as such should be described as a trigger plate action. Regardless of what we call them I have always found the geometry of the hammer sear engagement of this design provides excellent trigger pulls.
Gun stocks are the most subjective part of any gun test, if the sample stock fits you everything’s fine, if it doesn’t you have to take it on the chin or, more accurately, in the face. Beretta offers two sets of drop at comb for their Sporter guns, 35 – 55mm and 38 – 60mm, my preferred measurements are 35 at comb and 50 at heel, the test gun had Beretta’s lowest option. There are no rights or wrongs when choosing a set of dimensions for a volume production gun, but Beretta offer two choices that will be close to most people’s requirements. My perennial gripe with Beretta stocks on 680 series guns is the position of the front of the comb in relation to the radius of the grip which is too far forward for anyone other than those with the shortest fingers.
The high standards of manufacture applied in the making of Beretta barrels is in keeping with the rest of the production. Incorporating rustless tri-alloy steels they are impeccably finished both internally and externally; I always come back to the same question of how do they do it for the money? Big numbers are only part of it the real explanation is Beretta’s industrial engineers who constantly strive to improve quality while at the same time developing ever more technically advanced methods of production to keep costs down.
With a bore size of 18.6mm (0.732 thou) the tubes have long forcing cones and are complimented by Beretta’s long Optima chokes. The 10mm x 8mm rib tapered rib is suitably unobtrusive with a superb machined finish. The total weight of the 32” barrel assembly was 1.435KG (3lbs 2oz) – ideal for Sporter barrels of this length.
Accepting that the stock didn’t fit me, I managed pretty well. On an exceptionally gloomy November afternoon at Ian Coley’s Shooting School, the long barrelled Beretta and I dealt with some long crossers very effectively. On high driven targets however the stock was far too low for me to hit them consistently, with the higher comb option I would have done better.
This Sporter’s handling qualities require no modification, even with 32” tubes and long detachable chokes, which do add some weight, it still balanced right on the trunnions. Trigger pulls were excellent and as both a Sporter gun for serious competition or high pheasant shooting, suitably stocked I would be confident with this gun on any kind of target.
When I wanted to talk to a Champion who knows his way around the Beretta 680 series I looked no further than Barry Simpson. A World and European FITASC Sporting Champion with a clutch of other big wins to his credit and all won with this type of Beretta. While Simpson is best known as a Sporting shot he also had an early career as a successful Olympic Skeet shooter using a Beretta 682 and representing Great Britain on numerous occasions. “My first Beretta was a 687EL, it was a prize from GMK and I immediately liked the low profile action and its straight back recoil. The easy interchange ability of the barrels was a great feature of the 680 series. Trigger pulls were something I didn’t have to think about; with Beretta they are invariably excellent.”