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There’s a lot to like about this smart new Beretta, writes Mike Yardley in his review of the 686 Silver Pigeon 1 Sporter.
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This month’s test gun is a 686 Beretta Silver Pigeon 20-bore in Sporting configuration. It comes from well-known Beretta (Franchi, Tikka and Sako) distributors GMK – now part of the great Beretta empire themselves. Our gun, weighing just under 6lb 14oz, comes with 3" chambered, fleurs-de-lys steel proofed barrels, longer Optima HP multi-chokes and an adjustable comb. It’s well specified and the price is not too scary by modern standards at £2,400 (£2,200 with a standard stock).
This evolved Silver Pigeon looks smart with new, though stylistically familiar, bright but fairly shallow scroll engraving. This is applied by laser, whereas on many earlier Silver Pigeons the engraving was rolled on. The old engraving was performed by rolling machines that looked much like cartridge reloading presses and which were refined by master engraver Cesare Giovanelli. I remember watching this process once in Gardonne and being surprised by just how time consuming it was. Anyway, the laser work looks just as good, if not better.
Beretta describe the engraving thus: “A more defined and lustrous engraving has been created, using the latest laser engraving techniques. Sharper lines and better pattern definition have resulted in an elegant scroll design which is modern, bold and beautifully balanced. The action is further adorned with the classic Beretta trident, creating a truly handsome gun.”
The gun presents well generally, and the wood even has a little figure. The finish on the stock wood seems improved too. The barrels are nicely blacked without being over shiny. The Steelium barrels on the test gun are made from Beretta's Chrome Moly steel, and they’re chambered for 3" shells as noted, proofed in-house by a branch of the Italian CIP in the Beretta factory. The internal bore size is 16mm, which is bigger than many 20s (15.8 or 9 is the modern average) and have medium-length forcing cones.
Not many on these isles will ever use 3" 20-bore shells (though they are common in the US), but they could come in handy if pushing steel shot to higher velocities in the future. Beretta barrels are legendarily rugged, meantime. I know of one set left underwater for several days on a marsh without being damaged too badly. I have put 100,000-plus shells though one of my own Beretta barrels. It’s still going strong!
The barrels here are equipped with the longer Beretta Optima HP chokes, rather than the shorter (but still good) Mobil chokes of old. Our gun, designated a sporter, has a 9mm sighting rib and solid joining ribs which extend all the way back to the monobloc. This is my preference, although many modern guns, including some Berettas, dispense with joining ribs beneath the forend to save weight.
The overall finish of the barrels is good too; internally and externally, they pass muster. They were almost perfectly straight, although there was a slight imperfection on one of the cartridge rim recesses on the model I was testing.
The adjustable stock is almost 14¾" long and finished off with black plastic microcore lightweight polymer pad – a particularly efficient design and not prone to sticking at the shoulder. The drop – the height of the comb – is 1 5/8" at the nose of the comb relative to the rib axis and almost 2½" at heel with comb down. This is a bit low, especially as this is a 20-bore (where users often need higher combs). The pillars for the adjustable comb are quite short as well. I could not get quite enough height out of the comb to suit my preference. So, my advice would be a comb 2¼" at heel with taller adjustment pillars (I believe these are available as a retrofit). Whilst I am being picky, I would have favoured a rounded fore-end over a schnabel with lip, and, the palm swell here is quite big, though the grip is essentially sound and the comb itself nicely proportioned.
The 686 Silver Pigeon is a trigger-plate design, as are all Beretta 68 series guns (themselves evolved from similar, but not quite identical, models 55 and 56 made until about 1979). They all have a particularly low action profile, made possible by stud pins for hinging instead of a full width pin like its great rival the Browning Superposed (designed a generation earlier).
The design has evolved over 50 years since the model 55 was first introduced after WWII. It is one of the best sporting shotgun mechanisms yet conceived, hence about the only things that have changed in the last half century are that coil springs have replaced leaf springs to power the hammers and gas vents have disappeared from the action face.
Most of the bearing surfaces in a Beretta action are replaceable. The hinge pins and the conical locking bolts are all available in a variety of over-sizes (as used to be the case with Beretta barrel shoulders until they stopped making them as a separate part some years back).
In terms of quality, the guns are all made from first-class materials, even in the lower grades.
The test gun had a good, practical spec without excessive bling. I took it to Ollie Searl’s friendly Essex Shooting Ground near Fyfield with a shooting pal, Alan, a dedicated side-by-side shot with a mechanical mindset. The Beretta presented no unpleasant surprises although I wish I had been able to crank the adjustable comb a little higher.
The gun is about the right weight at just under 7lb, the balance is close to the hinge pin too, and the 9mm parallel rib was good. Nevertheless, this particular 686 did not quite ‘sing’ to either of us, possibly because the comb at full height was still a little low. I still shot nearly everything I pointed it at, including some long crossers and tricky angling trap-like birds, as well as the usual Skeet targets we include on every test as a datum. This is good value and the build quality is solid, but if I was to buy one, I would probably go for the fixed comb gun in this model.
Model: 686 Silver Pigeon 1 Sporting
Action type: Beretta trigger plate with trunnion hinging and conical bolting
Chambers: 3” fleurs-de-lys steel shot proof
Weight: 6lb 14 oz
RRP: £2,400 (£2,000 with standard stock)
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