Benelli Or Beretta Auto?

Dear Mr. Buck,

I am interested in purchasing a semi-auto shotgun. I have narrowed it down to the Beretta 391 or the Benelli montefeltro. The shop people suggest that the Benelli is more reliable. Could you comment on both guns and their differences. I will use this gun about 80% clays and 20% upland hunting.


Dear Bob,

Normally, I don’t do “comparo” comments. It just gets me in trouble. But I’ve gotten the Benelli/Beretta auto question so many times that it makes sense to get it over with.

I’ve done reviews of both guns and shot many examples of each. I disagree with your shop people I do not feel that the Benelli is any more reliable that than the 391. It is reliable in different ways.

The Benelli works very well in harsh weather and after a total immersion baptism. That’s why duck hunters love them. The Benelli also shoots very clean because it is not a gas operated mechanism. It operates on the short recoil theory.

The Benelli’s weaknesses are also it’s strengths. It’s reliable short recoil action does nothing to absorb recoil the way a gas action does. The Benellis all seem to kick harder than the 391s because of this. Recoil doesn’t matter in most hunting (other than Latin dove), but it sure does in clay target shooting where hundreds of rounds can be fired in one day.

Also, depending on the model, the Benellis are less likely to function reliably with standard and light target ammunition. It’s a Catch-22. Not only do they kick more, but they also need heavier shells to work reliably. The 3″ Benelli Sport I tested for “Clay Pigeon” magazine in the February 2000 issue (and quite similar to the Montefeltro) handled 1-1/8 oz target loads well, but would malfunction with the one ounce Fiocchi loads. The 3-1/2″ Super Black Eagles I’ve tested were not entirely reliable with all 1-1/8 oz loads. I think that if you shot them well lubed and perfectly clean and broken in, you might get by with target loads, but I’ve shot a lot of these guns and you are right on the edge. These guns were built for the hotter hunting loads. With those they work very reliably.

As to reliability, it also pays to do a reality test. Because the Benellis are not as suitable for clays and get used mostly as hunters, they generally aren’t subjected to the huge number of shots that a clays gun gets. Naturally they will seem to last longer. Most hunters (and clays shooters too) aren’t very good at an accurate estimation of the number of shells they shoot per year. You have to keep a log book for that and most guys don’t. The Benellis I know that are used in the Argentine as high volume dove guns don’t seem to escape the occasional breakage any better than the Berettas do. Benellis do shoot cleaner (which is why the outfitters like them), but they do break the occasional part just like anything else. Both the 391 and the various That said, both the Beretta autos and the Benellis are extremely durable guns, especially compared to the Remington 1100/11-87s and the rest.

The Beretta autos are the clear choice when it comes to shooting clays. Just take a look at the gun racks at any major shoot. The number of Benellis you see will equal the number of 1936 Alfa Romeo Gran Prix cars you see in the parking lot. The Berettas will equal the number of Fords. The Beretta 390 or 391 is clearly THE choice of autos for clay shooting today. No question about it. It’s not close. It’s not even remotely close.

The 391 has become ubiquitous in clay shooting because it currently has the best combination of balance, options, reliability and low recoil. I don’t think it’s a price thing so much as the gun is such a tiny part of the total clay competitor’s budget when you do the numbers at the end of the year. Many of the people I know who shoot 391s in competition can afford anything they want. They pick the 391 because they simply shoot it better than anything else.

The 391 isn’t the lowest recoiling auto, but it’s pretty good. I think that the Remington and Browning autos have a bit less kick. The 391 is popular due to it’s blend of handling characteristics and reliability. It just seems to have hit the right point for most people.

The Beretta 391 and previous 390 will shoot ANY load between 7/8 oz to the largest 3″ magnum and will do so reliably. They aren’t nearly as fussy as the Benellis. Just slop your Beretta up with BreakFree CLP and blast away. This lack of fussiness about shells is one of Beretta’s major charms. Even the European FITASC shooters are starting to use them to deal with the heavy 36 gram loads FITASC permits. The Berettas won’t perfectly cycle the Winchester 26 gram sub-sonic “Feather” loads, but I haven’t seen any gas gun that will cycle them 100%. This area of functioning with all shells, light to heavy, is a big advantage of the Beretta over the Benellis if you shoot clays.

For upland hunting, not clays, I’d rate the 3″ Benelli Montefeltro and the 391 about equal. The Field model 391 will come in lighter than the 391 Sporter, so you have a choice in weights. At 80% clays/ 20% field, I’d take the 391 Sporter. The 3″ Benellis are very nice field guns if you like an auto in the field. I’d be happy with either brand.

Personally, I find the ergonomics of the Beretta superior to those of the Benelli. I don’t like the Benelli’s stepped rib nor do I like the shape of it’s trigger blade. The latter was more irritating than I had anticipated. Both guns have adjustable stocks, but the Benelli’s stock seems shorter to me, perhaps due to the placement of the pistol grip. Both guns use the same chokes.

I don’t hate Benellis, really I don’t. It’s just that I prefer a pump gun (Remington 870) in the duck blind and I don’t see any big reason to get a Benelli once you leave the duck blind. But I do think that Benelli makes a better waterfowler than the 391 or 390 (we’ll have to see how Beretta’s brand new Xtrema 3.5″ works out). For upland I consider the Benellis and Berettas about equal. The Montefeltro will be a bit lighter than the 391 Sporter and about the same weight as the 391 Field model. For clay target shooting, it’s simply not even close. Beretta wins hands down.

So, using the above criteria of 20% upland and 80% clays, if I were you, I’d get the Beretta 391 Sporter model in 28″ or 30″ depending on your preference. The shorter barrels would be handier in the upland and on the skeet field, but virtually all sporting clays shooters use 30″ bbls.

Best regards,

Bruce Buck
The Technoid writing for Shotgun Report, LLC
(Often in error. Never in doubt.)

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3 Responses to Benelli Or Beretta Auto?

  1. Jay says:

    FYI: My old model (first model) Benelli Super Black Eagel will cycle the promo “dove loads”; 3-1/4 dr. eq., 1 oz. I think that are usually labelled about 1290 fps. It will also cycle 3 dr. eq., 1-1/8 oz. loads. I may just have the lucky gun. Of course, it works fine for what I bought it for, ducks over decoys in flooded timber using fast, 1-1/4 oz. steel loads: SK choke, 15 yd – 25 yd shots mostly. It does work after immersion just fine. I’ve dunked it and it had to come up shooting, dead duck and a spray of steam and duck potato from the action. Put electrical tape around the stock-recoil pad seam to keep water out when wading with the butt under water. Water leaks in and sloshes around in the hollow stock if you do not do this.


  2. Hi Bruce.
    I like this and am pleased you have tackled this tricky but often raised topic.
    Overall my own findings, over many years, agree with yours. I like gas guns and find them smoother to shoot with and generally reliable (my Winchester Super X1 is still in regular use today after approaching 40 years of use).
    Could I just mention a point in the search for clarity? It concerns the method of operation of Benelli semi-auto shotguns. You state: “The Benelli also shoots very clean because it is not a gas operated mechanism. It operates on the short recoil theory.”
    Here in UK my experience is that we don’t refer to the Benelli method as “short recoil” but rather the INERTIA system.
    I think of short recoil guns as being like the Beretta UGB 25 where the barrel moves just a fraction of an inch rearwards, stopping abruptly to send the breech bolt rearward sufficiently to re-cock and cycle the action (and as with many pistol designs).
    Short recoil being distinct from the Browning Auto-5 type LONG recoil method, where barrel and breech block travel much further still locked together.
    In the INERTIA (Benelli) system, the barrel is totally fixed into the receiver.and does not travel back on its own at all.
    The recoiling gun causes a spring in the rear part of the breech block to become compressed, THROUGH INERTIAL FORCES (the breech block’s desire to remain where it is), unlocking the rotary breech bolt lock and imparting the rearward thrust to cycle the action.

    Could you comment on this, please?

    Sorry to be a pedant; just seeking to clear up the point in case of confusion.

    Do keep up your ongoing good work; I do like it!

    Regards. Richard


    • Bruce Buck says:


      Far from being a pedant, I think that you are helping to clarify some of the water I have muddied up. You Brits always were better with the English language than we Americans. You are quite accurate in your definitions and my usage of “short recoil” was incorrect. The Benellis and Browning A5s (the new ones, not the old long recoil barrel banger Auto-5s) are inertia action guns.

      Thank you so much for pointing this out. I learn a great deal from Shotgun Report’s readers and very much appreciate it.

      Best regards,

      Bruce Buck
      Shotgun Report’s Technoid


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