July 10, 2021
Benelli’s new Super Black Eagle 3 (SBE 3) in 3-inch 20 gauge is slim, lithe, handles like a dream and can gobble 2 ¾- and 3-inch shells like a football team at an all you can eat buffet. Also offered in a 3-inch 12 gauge, for those who realize that the 3 ½-inch shell can sometimes beat the snot out of you after a long day in the duck blind.
In 1954, the latest duck death ray was Western Cartridge’s Super X 3-inch 20-gauge load introduced with the Winchester Model 21 double. The 3-inch 20 was criticized for its excessively long shot string, primarily caused by pellet deformation in the extra-long shot column, even with Western’s copper-plated “Lubaloy” lead shot. When hard steel shot came along, the 3-inch 20 came into its own in the blind.
The 20-gauge SBE 3 is made on a properly scaled 20-gauge action, making it seem alive between your hands, yet not so slim as to be almost whippy like the old lightweight Winchester Model 59 with its fiberglass wrapped barrel. Slim isn’t all it is. It is brimming with features for the chilly-fingered duck hunter, with its oversized trigger guard, big bolt release, large safety button and loading ports sculpted for the ease of jammin’ in shells. The trigger pulls on this SBE were a crisp average of 4 lbs 6 oz with my Lyman Digital Trigger Pull Gauge.
On the Range
I took it to the range with a tinge of dread of shooting 3-inch 20s through its 5-pound, 15-ounce frame. Not to worry, recoil was almost nonexistent due to its third generation ComforTech 3 recoil-absorbing stock and cushy Combtech cheek pad.
One of the urban legends of the SBE is its tendency of not going fully into battery if you close the bolt by holding the bolt handle. Benelli’s answer is their new Easy-Locking Bolt System that prevents a “shooter-induced stoppage.”
The SBE’s inertia-style action is the easiest to keep clean. By the time the bolt opens all the shot, wad, burned and un-burnt propellant is out of the barrel. Cleaning and lubing the bolt requires no tools for takedown and takes about five minutes, so even with a dunking in salt water, mud or whatever else we duck hunters play in, you’re back in the game in record time.
Accessories and Extras
The extra stuff in the case is a set of shims to adjust the stock for drop and cast. Cast off or cast on is what compensates for the thickness of your donut-swollen face. Also included is a very good owner’s manual complete with pictures, and three choke tubes.
Benelli cryogenically treats all their barrels and choke tubes by freezing them to -300 degrees, which realigns the molecular structure of the steel providing a smoother internal barrel and choke surface on which to slide the shot. I shot some patterns at both 30 and 40 yards using Federal Premium’s Black Cloud FS Steel that combines round steel pellets with Federal’s proprietary Flite-Stopper pellets. I counted the No. 1 pellets in the one-ounce 20-gauge load and of the 92 total pellets 30 were Flight Stoppers and the rest regular steel.
The chief reason small-gauge shotguns—20, 28 and especially .410—run out of juice at longer ranges is not pellet energy, its pattern thinning. We have to hit a duck or goose with enough pellets retaining enough energy to kill it. For example, this Federal Premium load of No. 1 shot at 1,350 fps packed plenty of energy at 40 yards—4.59 ft/lbs, and even at 60 yards carries sufficient energy to put down a bird provided its hit enough times. I shot patterns with the .0175 Modified tube at both 30 and 40 yards, and the results were really good. At 40 yards, the industry standard, I got an average of 73 percent—plenty dense. At 30 yards, 100-percent of the 92 pellets were in the 30-inch circle, and 75 percent of the No. 1 shot was within the 20-inch inner circle, so there’s little room for error in leading a bird at that range and closer, but if you connect, your retriever can smoke a Lucky then swim out for the retrieve.
Despite the tight choke, I shot some skeet targets with really good results. The SBE cycled the light ⅞-ounce loads with the same positive action as with the 3-inch duck loads. As to handling, with its light weight, it is very live in the hands. So, you could easily go to the dove field, pop a bobwhite or a pheasant and kill a goose all in the same breath.
With the kind of performance this gun is capable of I flirted with the idea of keeping it, but then again, I can only shoot one at a time.