Benelli’s Super Black Eagle series, now led by the SBE3, is one of the most popular waterfowl shotguns in the world. Probably second only to John Moses Browning’s Automatic 5 that was introduced in 1903. That same year a Danish gunsmith, Christer Sjörgren, put his Normal shotgun on the market. Both guns operated using the recoil of the fired shell, but in different ways. Jump ahead 116 years and Sjörgren’s masterpiece is still alive and kickin’ in the SBE3, while Browning discontinued the long-recoil Auto 5 in 1998. So why is the SBE3 so popular? Simplicity!
When a shotgun is fired it kicks, Ouch! But if some of that energy is redirected it can cycle the action in the blink of an eye. The SBE3 is fast, but if you want fast, try the German Army’s MG3, with which I qualified during my soldiering days. It can fire between 800 and 1,300 rounds a minute. Now that’s really fast!
Why is the SBE3 so fast and reliable? It all starts with its innards and a rotating bolt head that turns into the locking notches in the barrel extension. Used by many military rifles and nowadays other semi-auto shotguns, this lock up is lightening quick. When you pull the trigger the gun begins to move backwards, but the bolt’s mass, and gun's weight, holds it steady while a very strong and carefully calibrated spring inside the bolt pushes the bolt head into an even more tight engagement. By the time the shot has left the muzzle—a 1,450 fps shot charge is going 988 mph—the spring trips over and releases the bolt, and the still recoiling gun pulls the bolt back shucking the fired shell out of the chamber with its hook extractor and flings it free when it hits the ejector nub. If there’s a fresh shell in the magazine, it shoots out tripping the carrier release that hoists it up as the bolt slams home. All of this, mind you, happens faster than you can wink.
If we do an autopsy of the bolt that enables such fast and reliable cycling, we find there are only six parts—the bolt, firing-pin retainer pin, firing pin, spring, index pin and bolt head —which, by the way, is so easy to disassemble and reassemble that anyone without the help of an eight-year-old can do it. Remove the pin that holds the firing pin, take it and its spring out, then pull up the bolt index pin and the bolt head slides free. Clean and lightly lube and put it back together. Even the index pin is marked so you have it in the right position for the firing pin to slip through. To quote our gun-club manager who sold Benellis in the pro shop, “There’s nothin’ in them.” With the simple bolt and the action-return spring in the butt stock that’s all there is.
The ComforTech stock is an excellent addition which I recommend. I went to its roll-out, and the difference in recoil with the standard plastic stock is monumental.
Last fall I hunted in Manitoba with Michitoba Outfitters (michitobaoutfitters.com) using the SBE3’s stable mate, Stoeger’s Inertia Driven M3500 that uses the same style operating system as the SBE3, but at a bargain price starting at $669. The SBE3 is made in Italy and the M3500 in Turkey, but over three days of lots of shooting—huge Canadas and a gallery of mallards—I poured several boxes of Kent’s No. 4 Bismith and new No. 2 Fasteel 2.0—through the M3500 without a sneeze or blink. Both guns shoot 3½-inch artillery rounds, but the 3-inch stuff works as well if not better.
Take your choice, the 116-year-old inertia system is alive and well and does its job in mud, snow and, “I forgot to clean the danged thing.”
Shim It Up
Both the SBE3 and M3500 come with shims that allow you to fit the gun to you. Ribs and beads be damned, the sight of a shotgun is our eyes. If the gun shoots where we look, you’ll limit out every time. Here’s the drill.
With a safe backstop, set up a 30-inch sheet of paper at eye level. Mark the center and then step back a measured 16 yards, which must be exact. Why? When we shoot, for every inch our pattern is off the center mark, the stock must be adjusted 1/16-inch. With everything set, shoot three shots aiming your shouldered gun at the center mark —I like full, but any choke will do. Then measure with a ruler from the center of the pattern to the center of the mark.
For each inch its off, you need to correct by a 1/16th. Cross reference with the owner’s manual which shim will move your stock closer to that dimension. Install it—a 13mm deep socket removes the stock—shoot again with a fresh target and see where it hits. Once you have it set try a couple of shots mounting your gun with your eyes fixed on the target and shoot just as you would with a duck. It might take a couple of hours, but its time well spent.
It'll make the difference between being a hot-shot in the field or just another dude who can burn up ammo.