The rule of thumb for dressing correctly for an upland hunt is that you should be slightly cold when you get out of the truck. Bird hunting is an active pursuit, and you warm up as you walk. It’s usually good advice, but some days you’re cold when you get out of the truck and you get colder as the hunt goes on.
This was one of those days.
We had parked a couple of hundred yards from a dried-out, snowed-in slough in central South Dakota, stepped out into a stiff northwest wind, and followed the dogs into the cattails. The long, winding slough wending between crop fields was full of wild pheasants.
Birds flushed in front of us the moment we stepped into the slough. There must have been hens among them, but all I remember is a stream of long-tailed roosters. I let two or three go until one flushed close enough to suit me, quartering past at about 25 yards. I raised the Benelli 828U, fired, and the bird went crashing into the snow. I’d wondered how the 828U’s wide, flat safety would work with numb, gloved fingers. The answer was just fine. I soon found, as well, that the gun’s light weight combined with 12-gauge punch made it into an easy-carrying, hard-hitting bird gun, exactly right for a pheasant hunt.
The radically styled Benelli 828U, which was introduced early this year, represents a completely new take on the over/under (O/U) shotgun. It would be a departure for any manufacturer, but it’s even more of a departure for Benelli, a company known for its semiautomatics that has never before made a break-action. Even so, you can tell the 828U is a Benelli right away. It shares the love-it-or-hate-it modernistic looks of all Benelli shotguns. Its alloy receiver, in fact, resembles the long receiver of a semiauto more than it does the compact receiver of other O/Us. Right away you also notice its barrels have no side-rib to hide the gap between them. The lack of rib makes the gun distinctive-looking while also trimming an ounce or two from the barrels. In fact, its alloy receiver, missing side ribs, and carbon-fiber vent rib all combine to keep the 828U well under 7 pounds (Benelli claims 6½ pounds, but my test gun weighed 6¾ pounds). This is a nice weight for an upland 12 gauge—light enough to carry, yet heavy enough to swing well.
The drawback to a light gun is recoil. The lighter the gun, the harder it kicks (you can look it up under “Newton’s Laws”). Still, while neither Benelli nor anyone else can change the laws of physics, they can do something about felt recoil, which is the kick that the shooter perceives. The 828U features the company’s “Progresssive Comfort” recoil reducer, which first appeared on the Benelli Ethos semiauto. The soft recoil pad fits on a flexible plastic post that has fingers on both sides that interlock with other fingers inside the stock (think of combs with their teeth meshed). When the gun recoils, interlocking teeth/fingers flex, absorbing some of the recoil.
The Progressive Comfort system also features a soft pad in the comb so the gun doesn’t beat your cheek. The system works. Honestly, in South Dakota we were so bundled up we couldn’t tell how hard the gun kicked us, but I have tested the felt recoil of the Ethos, which employs the same system, in much warmer weather while wearing many fewer layers and I promise the Progressive Comfort does help tame vibration, muzzle jump, and kick.
An Innovative Design
One feature that sets the Benelli 828U apart from any other O/U on the market is that you can adjust the stock dimensions with included plastic shims that fit between the stock and receiver. Shims aren’t practical with most O/Us because of the complicated shape of their receivers, but the 828U lacks the long top and bottom tangs on most break actions that make shim use impossible. Instead it has a squared off receiver butting into a squared stock head that is perfect for a shim kit. As a result, you can adjust the stock to one of 40 positions.
Another feature of the 828U I liked was the drop-out trigger group, a feature found only on high-end competition guns. You use a tool that comes with the gun (although the right piece of wire would work) and the trigger group pops out for easy cleaning. It’s also possible to remove one spring and convert the safety from an automatic design, which goes back on safe every time you open the gun, to the manual safety preferred by target shooters, who like to take a safety off and leave it off throughout a round of trap, skeet, or sporting clays.
Barrels for the Benelli 828U are completely interchangeable from one gun to another, which is very rare among break-action guns. That feature is due in part to the gun’s unique locking-plate action, as well as to the strict manufacturing tolerances Benelli maintains. Usually an extra set of barrels has to be fitted to function safely. Although Benelli doesn’t yet offer extra barrels, the easy interchangeability means this could be one gun that could serve as a target and hunting gun, or waterfowl and upland gun.
If anything, the day after the pheasant hunt I mentioned earlier was even colder. That morning we hunted sharp-tailed grouse—first in their native prairie habitat with no success, and then around the edges of giant sunflower fields that must have been several hundred acres in size. We saw many flocks of grouse that flushed far ahead of us in the thin cover.
The light weight of the 828U proved an advantage as we walked with guns held at port arms, since birds could flush at any time at long range, giving us just an instant to shoot. It wasn’t easy, but we finally scratched out a few birds after a long, cold march around the fields.
Before we climbed back into the trucks to warm up we took some pictures, whereupon the 828U passed one final test: it looked good in post-hunt pictures with our birds. I am a believer in the adage that you don’t shoot beautiful birds with ugly guns. While some traditionalists do find the 828U’s lines ugly, I like its streamlined shape and AA walnut stock. It seems appropriate that a gun this new and different on the inside should look just as new and different on the outside.
Benelli 828U Specifications – Gauge: 12 gauge, 3-inch – Weight: 6 ¾ pounds – Barrels: 26- or 28-inch – Length: 43.25 inches with 26-inch barrel – Finish: Satin finished AA grade walnut, plain black or engraved silver receiver – Chokes: 5 Crio choke tubes – Suggested Retail: $2,499, black; $2,999, silver