The money was on the bluebirds; partly cloudy, temperature in the 40s and 50s, no wind, but by 8:45 we had eight fat Canada geese on the ground, the rig picked up and were headed for the barnyard. Part of the fun was having a shotgun that fit and did the job on the muzzle end. No, not my 1924 Super Fox with its custom stock, but an out-of-the-box Beretta A400 Xtreme Plus.
I had worked up the gun on paper, and the 1½ by 2½-inch drop at comb and heel were just a hair less straight than what my physique prefers. Not wanting to take an untried shotgun into the field, I used it the week before opening day for our skeet league. Our team was battling for the cellar, so I figured a poor score wouldn’t ruin our chances. To check where it shot, I went to skeet station Low 7—a dead straight-away that tells lots about gun fit, bent barrels, off-center chokes, etc. —and fired two ⅞-ounce Kent Elite Low Recoil Training loads through it. For the main event, I shot a 49/50! The Xtreme Plus and I would get along very well.
I was invited to Italy in 2009 when Beretta rolled out the A400 platform. As part of the testing on the Lenato range, where international clay-target competitions are held, Beretta’s master engraver Mr. Tempini—a fine shooter—loaded my A400 without my watching with every shell from the very light 24-gram international loads to 2½-ounce lead turkey bombs. I wasn’t completely fooled by which shell was heavy and which was light, but the recoil difference was very slight. So if you want a do-all gas-operated semi-auto that will digest everything from ⅞-ounce through 3½" artillery rounds, this is your gun.
The reason for mild recoil starts with Beretta’s twin hydraulic-buffered Kick-Off and the Kick-Off³, a hydraulic shock absorber inside the buttstock that soaks up the shock of the bolt when it slams rearward as the action cycles. It not only tames recoil to your face and shoulder but reduces wear and tear by gentling the bolt’s movement to the rear of the action.
Piston-driven gas operation has been around for a long time, but through evolution and engineering the Beretta Blink system is top of the line. Blink incorporates the rotating bolt head of many semi-auto military rifles combined with a gas system that delivers constant pressure to the piston, resulting in an ultra-fast firing and reloading cycle. Just because it fires several rounds in a few seconds, doesn’t translate to good marksmanship, but it does to reliability, and nothing beats that on a nasty honker day or high-volume snow goose shoot. It's also easier to load since the bolt handle extends a full 1⅛" away from the action and the bolt release is massive. The big-headed safety is sculpted into the front of the trigger guard for easy off when the feet are down.
There’s virtually no preliminary take up on the trigger, and it breaks like a glass rod. Checked with a Lyman digital gauge, the average of five pulls was 5.2 pounds. A good light let off that doesn’t need a death grip goes a long way to keep us shooting straight.
Flex for Accuracy
The Xtreme Plus barrels are made of a proprietary steel alloy Beretta calls steelium. The barrels are cold hammer-forged then “vacuum extended” to align the molecular composition of the hard-worked steelium. Cold hammer forging takes place in a huge machine that takes a billet of steelium drilled to fit on a mandrel. The machine then hammers the metal from a short, thick cylinder into a long, thin barrel of great strength. Vacuum extension is similar to cryogenic treatments and both make barrels flex in a predictable manner under the forces of firing so they deliver consistent accuracy.
Barrels are fitted with Beretta’s Optima Bore HP choke tubes. The threading of these chokes is engineered to prevent expansion and the chance of tubes becoming stuck in the barrel. I once used an after-market choke tube for a season with steel shot. When it came time for a post-season cleaning, I could unscrew the tube, but it wouldn’t come out of the barrel. A pair of channel locks persuaded it free. Large steel shot will batter a choke tube, and Beretta has done their best to position the threading to prevent this unpleasantness.
Beretta's Xtreme Plus is as close to an all-around semi-auto shotgun as you can get. It might get a snicker or two with its Realtree Max-5 camo coating (it's also available in Mossy Oak Bottomland, True Timber, Gore Optifade and black synthetic) at a sporting-clay range, but when you start crushing targets, well, let them laugh. And in the field, as the old advertisement says ...“See above.”