October 13, 2008
The author puts this gun through what he calls a torture test.
It has been a long time coming. The development of Beretta's introduction into the 3 1/2-inch 12 gauge autoloader market is final. Beretta has chambered their OAJ Onyx in the big 12 gauge for some time, but not until now has the company made any attempt to introduce a totally fresh shotgun design as applied to the super-long shotshell.
Right off I should make it clear that the new Beretta Xtrema is not a remake of the AL 391 or any other autoloader that this company has been involved with for some time. The Xtrema is a design that has been engineered from the computer drawing board to the marketplace as a completely new gas gun as a heavy waterfowl or upland payload delivery system.
All you need to do is pull the forend off the new heavy-hitting 12 bore to see that there are major changes from anything Beretta has produced in an auto loader prior to this design concept. The gas system may look a bit like several other 3.5-inch models on the market, but between the gas piston and the receiver, everything changes in that the recoil and return spring are mounted in the forend leaving the butt stock free to hold a special recoil reduction system.
Now there is no more recoil spring to get rusty and fowled up in the butt stock, and with a quick flip of one latch the whole gas system--recoil spring, bolt and operating arms--comes out over the magazine tube as a complete and easy-to-maintain unit. Field cleaning of the whole system can take as little as two minutes when using pressure sprays like Outers Quick Scrub, or Liquid Wrench-type solvents.
Construction of the rotating bolt is massive and built from high grade stainless steel. The remainder of the barrel, receiver and action parts are all Beretta quality in that the system looks like it is a part of a bank vault. No stamping here, but all milled steel for super strength and a long life. The barrel tang is built extra heavy, and the gas piston is a totally self cleaning design. That is not to say that you don't need to maintain the new gas gun because that is always the case with these systems, but Beretta has cut to the chase in terms of maintenance time and trouble making this shotgun very easy to keep up and running.
Other features on the new gun include a soft grip rubber inlaid pistol grip and forend. The feel of the poly stock, being the only material the shotgun is offered in, is great in terms of the shooters ability to hang on to the shotgun even when firing the heavy-recoiling 3.5-inch fodder.
Recoil has been addressed in the use of the previously discussed recoil system built into the butt stock, but also the use of a special recoil absorption material (Gray-Gel) in the recoil pad itself. Add the return recoil spring to the system and you have a good, solid design that will take up some major recoil give-off by heavy waterfowl or upland loads.
At a weight of 7.8 pounds, you would tend to think that it is a heavy field gun, but the balance makes the weight just walk away. In effect, this big gun is going to get a good deal of work as a clay target shotgun and general purpose field gun, not to mention its use as a goose killer. While shooting the gun in Arkansas at the Pintail Point five-station sporting clays course near Stuttgart, we found that even under the most severe testing, the gun would not give up proper function. At one point we shot Federal 2 3/4-inch trap handicap 1 1/8-ounce loads to the tune of 4000 rounds in about two hours through six randomly selected shotguns. First, the 2 3/4-inch clay target loads worked just fine through the gas gun, and then, even when shot under a test that included ten-shooters rotating off the six guns full time, with loaders pushing shotshells at the shooter, and bird in the air at all times, (rapid fire sustained) we only experienced two malfunction magazine feed skips. Secondly, we turned to Federal 3-inch Classic heavy steel shotloads 1 1/4-ounce Tungsten-Iron 1450 f.p.s. Then 1 3/8-ounce loads, and Tungsten Iron-Steel 3 1/2-inch loads, mixed loaded. Even the real heavy weights were not all that abusive to shoot and I personally shot 30 rounds of the full-house 3.5-inch fodder, then mixed in an additional 50 rounds of 3-inch to fill in the gaps. The result while shooting in a light shirt was a slight redness at the shoulder, but nothing more. All loads used during testing we manufactured by Federal Cartridge out of Anoka, Minnesota.
Mike Larsen, from Federal's marketing department, indicated that the Xtrema shot so well on clays that he tended to think it would take up a place as a very dependable gas gun among clay target shooters in times to come. I'm here to tell you that Mike is a clay-bird buster of the first order, and he made that big gun talk with straight runs of 25--often during the several hundred rounds he sent aloft during testing. In my case I had trouble with my long left to rights, but rabbits, outgoing close crossing and other assorted targets were busted cleanly and often.
Stuttgart in 2001 was short on ducks and that is an understatement. With the help of a young guide, Ben Moore, out of Augusta, Georgia, we found after two days, snow geese in numbers well west of the famous duck trade routes. Ben got us and the new Berettas up and onto live targets. When applied to pass-gunning from dike ditches, or decoy gunning from feeding locations, we killed enough light birds to verify that this new gas gunning system was indeed a very solid option in the 3.5-inch autoloader market. Shooting the 3.5-inch Federal 1450 f.p.s. (ultra-high velocity) BB X 2's with the #2's being tungsten iron and the BB's steel shot, I dropped birds at a solid 65 yards, with at least one flock cleaned off the horizon by three shooters over decoys at 55 yards. On other occasions, the 3-inch Classics at 1 1/4-ounce, #2's filled in over decoys giving us the chance to clearly see that the Xtrema is a waterfowl gun with flexible load capabilities. Calling the new Beretta a "do it all" gun is not overstating the abilities of this system. What's not to like? There are several elements associated with the new shotgun that some shooters may question. Let it be clear that I did not find any fault with the gun at all. However the butt stock retains a bit of added length that could require a change in recoil pads, or even some shorter dimensions. The pistol grip is a new, full-body design that some will like while others won't, and that included some members of our test team.
As to a wood-stock option, there isn't one. It is possible that if the gun graduates to a clay bird gun, a wood stock could come about, but for now it is offered in composition materials and either in black or three options in camo patterns. This is a field waterfowl gun first. Upland as in turkeys and other game come second to its designed purpose.
In one case, the red indicator on the safety button, which is located ahead of the trigger, showed a slight red line (ready to shoot) when the safety was in safe mode. I also observed one shooter that didn't like the forward location of the safety. All things considered, these are minor points and you could say that your delving into the area that you can't please all of the people all of the time.
I found the new Beretta Xtrema extremely effective, well built and a surefire winner in the 3.5-inch market. As to price, the street tag on this big gas gun will run about $950.00 but please don't call me if it is a few bucks more. This makes the Xtrema competitive with other well-made gas autos in 3.5-inch offered on the market today.
Developments at Federal include the upgraded production of their new BBX2 Tungsten and Steel Combination Loads for heavy waterfowl gunning. These loads were tested in Stuttgart and also run on Rochester, Minnesota Canada geese extensively. I found the loads to be a ballistically solid design and geese didn't like meeting up with the new fodder at all. The #2's outrun the BB steel and develop a very hard-hitting core pattern giving the combination load a higher pellet count versus tungsten-only loads. These loads follow the lead of the first 2X4 loads of a few years ago and sell at a reduced price, since the full amount of expensive tungsten is not required.
Also Federal has increased the velocity of classic steel to 1450 f.p.s. which keeps it in line with the faster is better philosophy in current vogue today. Federal has decided to drop some dead end shotshell loads from their list of offerings which will make the ammunition company a more streamlined competitor. I have a feeling that ATK is already making some waves within the corporate structure at Federal Cartridge. All I can say is when you build 120 mm very big military rifle bullets that can cut through eight or more inches of tank armor plate at 4000 plus yards, watch out for those guys in the sporting ammunition market.