All Purpose 3-1/2″ Benelli SBE

Dear Technoid,

I enjoy your website and the advice you and your readers contribute. Good to learn from others since I do not have the time nor inclination to learn everything solo. Keep up the good work. I hope your readers continue to advise you when you wonder off into the “often in error” zone.

I read your reports on the inability of 3-1/2″ 12 gauge shotguns (Browning, Benelli, and Remington) to perform effectively on target loads. You also stated several times you do not like the Benelli as a sporting clays (SC) gun because of its stock fit, higher recoil vs. gas autos and inability to shoot SC loads. On several occasions I thought about writing you about this, but never did. Well, I just read the “Correction on Steel” and decided enough is enough. I do not know if your experience with the Benelli SBE is as extensive as your experience with Beretta, but my experience with the SBE is different.

Issue #1 : 3 1/2 ” guns do not function properly with standard target loads. Below is your quote from the “Correction on Steel” update.

“My biggest complaint about the 3-1/2″ guns I’ve seen so far has been that they don’t function properly with standard target loads. I’m a big believer in practicing on clays with my hunting guns in the off season and would really rather not practice with magnum shells just to make the gun work. Though I haven’t shot one yet, perhaps the new 3-1/2″ Beretta Xtrema may be able to deal with a broader range of shells than the efforts from Browning, Benelli and Remington. We’ll see.”


I have considerable experience with SBE (1995 vintage) on light loads and do consider it suitable for all applications. My SBE reliably cycles everything from 24 gram loads ( just under 7/8 oz ) up 2-1/4 oz turkey loads. That’s a 1.4 oz load range. Not sure why anyone needs a wider load range for any shooting situation. I routinely use light loads (usually 1or 1-1/8 oz) for SC’s. Practicing with the same gun I use for hunting is a big plus.

I never experienced a problem with the SBE on light loads, even with a fairly dirty gun. One key is using powder loads above 2.5 drams equiv. (low recoil stuff). 2 3/4 drams equiv. or greater powder charges cycles loads less than 1-1/8 oz in my SBE. 7/8 and 1 oz loads do not eject hulls far from the gun, but always eject reliably. Hull retrievers will appreciate hulls falling close. No need to walk 10 feet which can place hulls in shrubs and weeds on SC courses and out of sight in hunting situations. Hunters should make a reasonable effort to retrieve hulls even if they do not reload.

I had a delightful experience on an Argentina Dove Hunt with sub 1 oz loads. I requested the outfitter to provide me 1-1/8 oz loads as a precautionary measure. The outfitter’s normal load was 24 gram low recoil Fiocchi shells. I knew I would be doing a lot of shooting and did not know if the SBE would function on ultra light loads, especially in the latter part of a heavy shooting day.

When I arrived in he field and unpacked my gear, I realized the outfitter provided me the 24 gram loads. I had never tried a load lighter than 1oz. Well, what is one to do when doves by the hundreds fly by continuously? I started the SBE on a continuos diet of the light Fiocchi loads to determine how many rounds, if any, the SBE could digest before dirt accumulation stopped the ultra light loads from cycling. I hoped the answer was long enough for the outfitter to get me the correct ammo. I did not think about it at the time, but this was the perfect test since the SBE was cleaned thoroughly before the trip. To my delight the SBE worked flawlessly all morning and consumed over 15 boxes. I shot about 40 boxes (1000 rounds) in 3 hours that morning. The SBE digested 15+ boxes of the 24 grams loads.

After lunch I decided to not clean my guns for the afternoon hunt. Partially because I was interested how long the SBE would function on light loads, but mostly because I was tired after 3 hours of continuous shooting. A new experience for me. I decided to stay with the sub 1oz loads since they were a pleasure to shoot and the SBE worked so well with them. These loads work well on doves. Low recoil is a good thing when shooting over 2,000 rounds per day.

All the gas gun shooters cleaned their guns for the afternoon hunt for concern their guns would not take another session like the morning. A few Beretta shooters experienced cycling problems towards the end of the morning hunt. Other gas autos experienced more problems. I sat in the shade relaxing, sipping a cold drink and watched those tired hunters going through the drudgery of cleaning their gas guns. At that moment I really appreciated the SBE’s functionality and reliability. I was subject to a few harsh comments for not cleaning my guns (recoil operated). Feeling rather confident, I said real hunting guns do not need to be cleaned during the middle of a hunt. I knew then I would be subject to harsh treatment if I experienced gun problems.

To my amazement the SBE performed flawlessly the rest of the day AND the entire second day on the ultra light loads. The only exception was one round on the second day that I contributed to be either undercharged powder or shot.

I did NOT even perform a complete gun cleaning after the first day hunt unlike the gas auto shooters. My confidence in my SBE was high, but the real reason was I was extremely tired after shooting 8 cases (2000 rounds) in 6 hours. That’s right, my averaged ammo consumption rate was one case every 45 minutes and that included a 5-10 minute rest every about every hour.

I performed a partial cleaning that included cleaning the chamber to remove plastic accumulation, wiping the 2 bolt rails in the receiver with a Q -Tip (3 seconds each) and applying a little high tech oil to the bolt rails with a Q-Tip (another 3 seconds each). I did not clean the bolt internals, barrel, trigger, or remove the considerable powder residue accumulated near the stock recoil spring and throughout the receiver.

The SBE is the easiest auto to clean. The receiver is extremely accessible and has very few moving parts. If there is an easier auto to clean, then I have not found it. I understand the new Beretta can be broken down fast, but you still have to deal with the gas system.

The 24 grams ultra light loads had very little felt recoil and made the SBE a pleasure to shoot all day. I used a magazine extension tube that increased magazine capacity to 8 shells. I am sure the added weight from the extra shells helped felt recoil. In my opinion the SBE has considerably less felt recoil than the Benelli Sport during side by side comparison tests. Not sure how much is related to weight difference or the SBE having a higher cycle force requirement. I prefer shooting the SBE over the Sport.

So Technoid, I wonder why are our experiences are so different for the same model gun. Are SBE’s (post 1995) different or are you doing something different? Well, the answer might be related to how my SBE was conditioned and my maintenance program. If other SBE owners experience your problem, then they may want to consider trying the following.

First, I conditioned my SBE over duck and goose season and used magnum 2-3/4 to 3.5″ shells the entire season. The first 2 cases fed through the SBE were magnum hunting loads. I did not shoot a light load for the first four months and honestly do not know if my new SBE would cycle light loads. Based on comments from other SBE owners, I believe new SBE’s may experience trouble cycling loads below 1-1/8 oz until properly conditioned.

New Benelli autos have tight clearances which cause greater static and dynamic frictional drag forces, especially if all metal to metal contacting parts are not properly lubricated. The total force required to cycle the bolt is the force to overcome inertia (which really just delays cycling until the wad clears the muzzle) plus the recoil spring compression force plus the trigger spring force required to cock the trigger plus all frictional forces (static and dynamic). Frictional forces on new SBEs can be considerable. So maybe a partial answer is just keep feeding more heavy loads through the gun and periodically try light loads until they work. Light loads should work.

Secondly and I believe more important, proper gun lubrication is required for reliable light load operation. I used a high tech lubricant from day one on all metal to metal moving contact surfaces to minimize static and dynamic frictional forces. I never used Benelli oil. I performed a thorough lubrication, more than indicated by the owners manual, prior to firing the first round. This included all bolt moving parts, bolt rails, ejection pin (including the inside surface that contacts the receiver) and the recoil spring plunger. The last is important and from my experience many people ignore it.

During compression, the plunger spring rubs against the tube housing which causes frictional drag. High frictional drag causes spring noise and requires more force to cycle properly. Every notice how new Benelli’s, at least the older versions, tend to have that irritating spring noise during cycles. I hate it. Sounds somewhat like a squeaky bed. Almost as irritating as the 391’s prominent gas valve metal slap noise after every cycle. I apply a high tech lubricant on the tube inside walls and cycled the plunger fully about 50 times to assure even distribution. The result is a noticeably smoother (easier) cycle and a dramatically quieter spring. I have used this method for 6 years without a problem.

I use a spray solvent degreaser to clean the trigger assembly and apply small amounts of Remington Rem Oil and high tech lubricant to critical locations. Use sparingly to minimize dirt and grit accumulation.

Hand cycling the bolt on my SBE dramatically shows the difference, especially compared to new SBE’s or older SBE’s maintained differently. Other SBE owners are amazed how smooth and easy my SBE cycles. No grabs or hitches (i.e. low static friction) when pulling the bolt back very slowly. Just a smooth, constant force (i.e. low dynamic friction) through the entire cycle. In a ideal world with no friction, the only resistance force would be the plunger spring which is not very strong. Anyone trying this should do it with the trigger in the cocked position to eliminate the trigger spring force.

Bottom line is the SBE can handle everything from at least 1 oz loads (24 grams in my case) to the heaviest turkey loads and is the “all purpose” utility shotgun. The SBE is not perfect, but in my opinion it is currently the best utility shotgun (period). I have not tested the Beretta 3.5 inch yet and hope it is more reliable than its cousins. A waterfowl gun must work in foul weather including heavy rains, heavy field grit, or after being dropped in a muddy field, ditch, pond or whatever. The SBE will! Will the new Beretta?
Issue #2 : Benelli’s are not a good sporting clay gun because of higher recoil and stock fit.

I agree with your observations that the Benelli short stock fit is less than desirable for target shooting (especially for tall shooters) and the gun has more felt recoil vs. gas autos. While the weight of the SBE is ideal for hunting, in my opinion it is too light for SC. These are subjective items that each shooter needs to evaluate. However, I discovered the SBE fit, felt recoil and weight can be easy improved to make the SBE a better SC gun.

I like the fit of the 391 for SC so I performed side by side SC shooting tests with the SBE and the 391 to understand the differences in fit and recoil and how they impact my score. A key fit difference (for me) is the SBE length-of-pull (LOP) is shorter than the 391 (14.24 vs. 14.875 inches). I think the extra 0.5 inch improves the 391 fit and swing dramatically for SC’s. However, I prefer a shorter LOP for cold weather shooting when wearing a heavy coat or close up fast action hunting like quail. I rarely use a coat for SC’s.

I discovered the SBE fit can be dramatically improved by using a simple slip on stock recoil pad. I use a type with a velcro lock and a sorbathane recoil pad. The resulting LOP is very close to the 391 and more importantly the gun fit feels much closer to the 391. The 391 still fits me slightly better for SC, but the difference is small. Other benefits include a noticeable recoil reduction from the sorbathane pad and the slip on pad can be easily removed for convenient flexibility. I have not figured out how to rapidly shorten the LOP on a 391 without cutting off the stock. It is easier to add length with a pad than remove stock.

With regard to gun weight, I prefer my SC gun to be slightly heavier than my field gun. I use a 4 shell magazine extension tube for SC’s and some hunting. The weight of the tube improves barrel swing and more importantly improves my SC score. Additional weight can be easily added inside the tube to suit one’s preference.

The bottom line is my SC’s score with the modestly modified SBE is dramatically better, essentially equivalent as my score with the 391. I consider these modification minor and inexpensive compared to some of the high end gadgets and gear I see at the range. I would not use a SBE for SC if I only shot targets. However, it you are looking for a reliable all in one gun for all types of hunting and SC, then I believe the SBE fits that order well with these minor modifications.

I will be the first to admit the appearance of a black synthetic stock SBE with a slip on pad and magazine extension is more tactical than SC, but that does not bother me. I have received a few looks from high end O/U gun owners, but they usually vanish after watching me shoot a few stations. My view is SCs and all shooting sports are better served by shooters being more inclusive.

Reading your reports clearly shows you have a wealth of experience with Beretta autos and know many, maybe all, of the tricks and tips to get the most from them. I am sure you would have discovered these simple Benelli tricks if you had focused as much attention on the SBE. Hopefully you will include this information on you website so you and your readers can test and judge for themselves. That way we can all learn from each others experiences.

I encourage you to try these suggestions. Go out and shoot the SBE on 1 oz loads or lighter until it stops working. I never reached that point in Argentina so I am interested in knowing just how many light load shells the SBE will consume before cleaning is required. You may need to reserve several days for this test. Better yet, go to Argentina and repeat my test.


Dear Jeff,

Thanks so much for your comments. I always appreciate getting feedback from readers.

It sounds as though you have found the secret to keeping that SBE running on target loads. Trust me, you’re one of the few people who has. Your extensive break-in period may have helped. When I reviewed the 3″ Benelli “Sport” it would handle 1-1/8 3 dram target loads just fine, but it would not reliably cycle 1 oz Fiocchi “Lights”. This was a new gun so perhaps further break-in would have helped. Warm weather also would have helped more than winter weather. When functionality is “on the edge”, temperature really counts. Still, the SBEs I’ve observed in the hands of the average guy, do not prosper on one ounce loads.

The clay target shooters have certainly voted on the issue. Go to any good sized trap, skeet, sporting match and compare the number of Benellis to the gas operated Berettas, Remingtons and Brownings. Heck, just compare them to the number of Beretta 390s and 391s. It’s not even close. I can’t tell you the last time I saw a ranked clay shooter use a Benelli unless she was paid to do so. Yes, you an shoot a Benelli at sporting once you get things adjusted properly, but all those other shooters out there have sent their money elsewhere for a reason.

I’m not against the Benellis in any way. I think that they are marvelous field guns in hunting applications where the auto is appropriate. They certainly shoot clean and are quite reliable. They break parts just like anything else does, but certainly not more than other good guns. They will also work when soaking dripping wet. That’s a big plus over the Beretta gas gun. The Beretta can take some water, but when it gets really thoroughly soaked, you’ll have some occasional problems. The Benelli could care less.

The one big area where the Benelli loses for many people is recoil. Its fast recoil operated action seems to transmit just as much recoil as an O/U. I liken it to a hard hit cueball striking another ball dead on. The cueball stops dead, but the object ball seems to move away with exactly the same energy and speed that the cueball had. It’s as if there were a 100% transference of energy with no reduction of time or friction. Take one of the new gas operated Beretta Xtrema 3-1/2″ guns and shoot it alongside the Benelli SBE and you’ll see what I mean when you start launching those 3-1/2″ Roman candles.

Your experience with Benelli recoil was different from mine. Opinion seems to be about 50/50 on Benelli recoil. That’s not unusual. Felt recoil is a surprisingly subjective thing. One thing that can’t be argued is that the Benellis faster cycle time creates a more peaked recoil time line than the slower gas action time line. Whether the difference is enough to notice depends on the shooter. I’ve run blind tests with groups of shooters using equivalent speed loads of fast and slow powders. Some shooters claimed they could tell the difference. Others couldn’t.

I’ve had the opportunity to shoot both 12 and 20 gauge Berettas and Benellis during a couple of trips for dove and duck to Entre Rios province in Argentina. I felt that the difference in recoil in the 12s was significant, but not so much in the 20s. Your comment about the Benelli stock length possibly contributing to the recoil is well taken. The guns I used were “off the rack” and I didn’t use my usual slip-on pad. That could have contributed to some of the difference in recoil, but I don’t think it would have accounted for all of it. It’s also interesting to note that of the four guns, only the Benelli 20 broke. Of course, that’s just luck and I have no idea of how much usage the particular guns had previously, but it’s worth a mention. Nothing’s bullet-proof.

Still, you’ve had good experience with your Benelli SBE, so I’ll pass it along. We can all learn from it. You’ve certainly been detailed in your explanation. I think that your comments on cleaning and lubing are particularly important. The Benellis appear to shoot so clean that most people don’t go to the extra effort to clean and lube that you do. You may have discovered the secret and I thank you for your input. I hope that it will keep me out of my “often in error” zone.

Best regards,

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

This entry was posted in Shotguns. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.