Vic Harker tests the A400 Xcel – a budget semi-auto with no compromise on quality
The repeating shotgun has always held a special appeal for me. It was of course the Americans who first designed the best and most reliable kind. The development of the gas operated repeating shotgun was a by-product of America’s military requirement for a self-loading rifle, and the .30 cal Garand developed by the US Government’s Springfield Armoury was adopted by their Army as early as 1936.
While, for the entire course of World War II, British and German forces were still cranking away with their bolt action Lee Enfields and Mausers, GI Joe was simply thumbing home a preloaded clip into his M14 rifle or M1 carbine and getting off rounds as fast as he could pull the trigger. I know which kind of gun I would have preferred in a firefight. In the post-war period Winchester and Remington both produced gas-operated shotguns but in recent years the Italians, particularly Beretta and Benelli, have picked up the ball and run with it.
The Beretta X400 Xplor introduced in 2011 is a state of the art repeating shotgun that Beretta bill as the only shotgun a hunter needs, I’ve been shooting the new A400 Xcel, the Sporter derivation.
I’ve always believed that the auto loader can be as good looking as any other category of shotgun in its own way, and the A400 is certainly that. Its lines are graceful and, as with all good design, form follows function in the best possible way. The blue anodised aluminium alloy receiver is at first a bit of a shock but it grows on you, and like all Beretta finishes it promises to be extraordinarily durable. Nicknamed the Blink the A400’s gas operated cycling system is, Beretta claim, 36% faster than any other semi-auto. The gas piston is smaller than previous and a steel gasket serves a dual purpose of sealing the piston and scraping clean the inside of the gas cylinder as it cycles. At the rear of the piston is a sleeve to which the action bars and bolt carrier are welded and the A400 assembles and disassembles for easy cleaning. Connected to this sleeve is the action return spring and the bolt locks into the barrel extension by means of a rotating head.
The sample A400 GMK sent me was obviously the cooking version without the kick-off recoil system or the shot counter in the stock. As I didn’t have them I can’t describe their advantages but that suited me fine, I can count up to ten anyway and I imagine the recoil system is most useful with big hunting loads. The full pistol grip provides a comfortable hold but undoubtedly the stock’s best feature is the shims that can be inserted between it and the action which alters the amount of drop. They provide the opportunity for a better off-the-shelf gun fit than any double gun and for me that’s a huge plus and a good reason to go down the auto loader route in this price bracket.
Beretta’s tri alloy cold hammer forged barrels are legendary for qualities of durability and standards of finish. The A400 is no bargain basement auto loader but in every aspect of the gun you are getting the best in materials and design. As the A400 is a Sporter, I only patterned the gun with 1oz target loads and, with Express Super Comp, the Optima bored barrels with the compatible HP choke tubes printed well distributed patterns with every choke constriction.
My sample gun came with 30” barrels which with the auto’s long receiver, provide a line of sight equating to a 34” barrelled over and under. With a single barrel however weight up front is significantly less and with an all up weight of 7lb 10oz I had a relatively light Sporter with no compromise on pointability. On some fast but fairly low driven doubles at Francis Lovell’s Oxfordshire Shooting Ground I discovered that this very long gun was surprisingly manoeuvrable. On some longer crossing targets the combination of fast handling characteristics and a very long barrel was equally effective. Having a stock with exactly the right comb height also added to the pleasure of shooting this hugely capable self loader.
I can enthuse about almost every category of shotgun, side by side, over and under and repeaters but a modestly priced auto loader, which the A400 is in comparison to double guns of similar quality, has a special attraction for me. That the Beretta A400 Xcel Sporter could in the right hands hold its own in competition with many other kinds of much more expensive double guns, has an element of democracy that is especially appealing.
Model: A400 Xcel Sporter
Bore size: 12
Barrel Length: 30”
Action: Gas operated self loading
Chokes: Optima HP 5
Stock: Full Pistol adjustable for drop
UK Distributor: GMK, Telephone 01489 579 999. website: www.gmk.co.uk