Xcellent

Beretta A400 XCEL goes Sporting – Richard Atkins gets first look at the new Beretta Sporting semi-auto and finds it ‘Blinking good’

It seems that when the going gets tough, the gun trade gets going – that’s certainly what gun-making giant Beretta has been doing in the face of adverse market conditions.

Some guns just feel good in the hands the moment you pick them up; this is one of them. It’s light without feeling ‘flighty’ and this, combined with its well balanced gas system, minimises felt recoil. Its 30” barrel and competition top rib provides a superb sighting plane so you know where your barrel is pointing without it being obtrusive. Stock drop as supplied meant I had to stay tight on the target’s line but a 9ex-10 on my first stand, a crossing/ bouncing rabbit followed by a departing pigeon, told me that this is an easy gun to get used to.

It handled a good variety of Sporting targets well and I thoroughly enjoyed my time with it. Several others shot a stand with it too; they universally liked it, including a very promising young lad currently shooting well with a side-by-side!

It’s that sort of gun and I believe it will attract a good number of shooters who have considered buying a semi-auto but not actually done so. Its dimensions, weight, easy handling and low recoil, with total reliability, would make it ideal for all, including juniors and slightly built ladies: a great one for coaches to try too. I mean it when I say “try one, I think you’ll like it”.

The basic style and profile is readily recognised as similar to the AL391 Urika-2 Sporting; except that is for the striking blue anodised finish to the alloy receiver. On closer inspection there’s much more to it than that though!

A closer look

The most significant changes are concealed within and are centred upon how the gun cycles the action. Beretta has long used the rising locking bolt that is raised by a cam to lock into a recess in the extension hood that is attached to the barrel, when chambering a cartridge. The new A400 series uses a rotary bolt along the lines of gas operated heavy calibre rifles, with mating recesses machined into the forward part of the barrel extension, eliminating the locking cut-out in the extension’s top surface. The rotating bolt’s body fits within the steel breech bolt, which has a cam path in its top edge; this engages with a pin set into the rotating bolt’s body, twisting it into and out of engagement as the bolt travels forward and rearwards respectively.

Innovation does not stop there, for the gas system itself has been significantly developed too. The principal change is a new, smaller piston that has a steel piston ring like that on the piston of a car engine. The piston assembly is lighter than earlier types so minimising the ‘shuffle’ sometimes felt in semi-auto actions. Stroke is quite short and two steel bars transmit the thrust from the piston, powered by gas from the barrel port when the wad passes it, to the breech block, to which their rear ends are welded. This thrust pushes the main bolt body backward, causing the cam to twist the rotary bolt, thus unlocking it from the barrel. The residual energy drives the bolt assembly fully rearward during which the fired case is drawn back (grasped by the single extractor claw) until the case rim hits an ejector pin set into the left side barrel extension, flipping out the fired case.

On its forward travel the cartridge carrier is triggered, picking up a new round from the magazine tube, which the bolt then slams into the chamber as the bolt head is again locked to the barrel by the cam action of the bolt body. The aim is to achieve totally reliable feed, with a variety of cartridge types and shot load weights without requiring adjustment. This reliability should be combined with the smooth shooting characteristics and minimal need for cleaning. Testing for this review was of necessity abbreviated as the gun was required for display elsewhere. We can though confirm that it fired a selection of 24 gram and 28 gram clay loads with total reliability and was noticeably smooth to shoot with; a feature much appreciated as the reviewer was suffering facial neuralgia at the time and suffered no undue ill-effects from the test shooting!

An added claim for this short stroke, light gas system is that it is ultra-fast cycling, being among the fastest around. We can’t check that of course and feel its stable shooting characteristics with minimal recoil and muzzle lift is of more benefit to clay shooters than cyclic speed. One small point we noted was a ‘zinging’ sound when the bolt is closed abruptly that, once noticed can be heard when the gun cycles. This turned out to be the twin action bars that ‘ring’ rather like a tuning fork, so Beretta might consider a central bridge to reduce the tuning fork effect; it’s not a problem but was noticed by a couple of those who shot it, though it didn’t bother me.

The main spring that pulls the breech bolt into the closed breech position is wrapped around the magazine tube and contained within a polymer sleeve. This location keeps the spring’s weight forward: it also allows a conventional stock attachment bolt to be used enabling the stock’s cast and drop dimensions to be adjusted with spacers.

The barrel is made of Beretta’s ‘Steelium’ material; a high strength triple alloy steel that is quenched and tempered for extreme strength and ductility. The Xcel Sport’s barrel is profiled for good weight distribution and slightly flared at the muzzle to accept the extended Optimachoke interchangeable choke tubes. The bore is over-size at 18.6mm diameter, which reduce recoil and improve patterning performance.

The trigger mechanism is built up on the trigger plate: it uses a roller bearing arrangement to perform the role of sear and bent for a smoother release that’s reasonably light, at just less than five pounds, if slightly longer than some conventional sear/bent set ups.

The pistol grip is full and comfortable with a slight right hand palm swell: as supplied drop was a shade much for me and stock length slightly short; the Beretta ‘Microcore’ recoil absorbing butt pad is available in varying thicknesses to increase length, but only to order.

On the pattern plate, with spacers fitted as supplied, the pattern was placed barely 20 per cent above centre, somewhat lower than a typical Sporter O/U. Spacers are supplied that can be fitted into the stock between head of the stock and rear of the receiver to alter drop or cast, and that includes for left-hand as well as right-hand cast (the ejection port will still send cases across the face of left-handers, of course).

An insert in the pistol grip can be replaced with Beretta’s new Gun Pod, a device that is: “The first ever electronic assistant for the shooter measuring shots fired, cartridge power and temperature.”  This gadgetry may appeal to game or field shooters more, but I think clay shooters will manage OK without one! The blue balance weight on the forend collar, with other weight options available, is a useful finishing touch.

 

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