All about the new Beretta’s new SL3 OU shotgun …

New Beretta SL3 OU shotgun
New Beretta SL3 OU shotgun

Last April I traveled to Italy for the launch of the Beretta’s new SL3 Over Under shotgun. Here’s an article I wrote about the trip for Shooting Sportsman magazine. Pics are from Project Upland’s A.J. DeRosa.

The Italian Way

Give me a ‘friggin break, Italy. It was a Sunday, almost 7 pm. After an overnight flight into Milan and a couple of hours on trains, I was in Brescia, sitting at the edge of a square called Piazzale Arnaldo, jet-lagged, cranky, and hungry enough to eat a gunstock.

I had booked a hotel in the part of town known for dining and nightlife, so I had charged out of it an hour earlier expecting to find crowds of people and bustling restaurants everywhere. I had imagined laughter, palmed glasses of red wine, and plates of Risotto alla Milanese and Tortelli di Zucca. But instead of walking into a scene from La Dolce Vita, I walked into ghost town out of a spaghetti western.

Everywhere I went, the streets were deserted: Via Tosio, Via S. Faustino, Via Crispi. Windows were shuttered; shops were closed; restaurants were empty. Nothing was open. I was looking to EAT, and my outfit, a dark shirt topped with a darker jacket, was ready to mask some spilled sauce. But there was no risotto or tortelli to be found anywhere. I couldn’t even get pizza. In Italy. Defeated and fading, I considered my situation. Room service at my hotel? Vending machines in the lobby? Did my hotel have vending machines? Ugh.

As I wondered, bells in towers throughout the city started to ring-in 7 pm. Dong, dong, dong. By the time they finished, the Piazzale Arnaldo had come to life. Couples appeared from around the corner and strolled by hand in hand. The Osteria Vecchio restaurant flicked on its lights and a waiter lined up tables on the stone walkway front. An old man with a cane tapped past. Within an hour or so, everything I had hoped to find earlier had appeared: Chatting people, open restaurants, and, finally, dinner: Casoncelli alla Bresciana (raviolis stuffed with meat, showered with sage butter, guanciale, and parmesan cheese). My shirt did not stay clean.

So what had happened? Basically, Italians do things their own way. On Sundays, that means spending the afternoon with family. Instead of going out around 5 pm (like an American expected them to do), they waited until later. As I would find out, the Italians also do things their own way when it comes to building firearms, and this is what made Beretta’s newest over-under so worthy of attention.

Beretta's new SL3 OU, different engraving patterns
Beretta’s new SL3 OU, different engraving patterns

Confusingly, Brescia is both una citta and una provincia in northern Italy. The second contains the first, and both are nudged against the Italian Alps, closer to Geneva than to Rome. The Provincia di Brescia is the industrial capital of Europe. Along with being a top producer of everything from automobile wheels to pipe fittings, the provincia builds 40% of the sporting guns sold throughout the world. In 2016, the province of Brescia sent more than 395,000 sporting guns to the U.S. alone. Most were built in Gardone Val Trompia, a town 30 miles north of the città di Brescia.

Gardone Val Trompia is squeezed into a valley (il Val Trompia) between mountain and peaks with wonderfully euphonic names like Monte Rodondone, Punta Almana, and Corni di Sonclivo. Unfortunately, the views of them from town aren’t worth seeing. This and Gardone Val Trompia industrial-park vibe keeps the area off of most tourists’ lists. Chances are, anyone traveling there isn’t looking for scenery; they’re looking for guns. Dozens of gunmakers and gun-related business are stacked into Val Trompia, from Zoli and F.lli Rizzini to the famous Creative Art engraving studio. The king of all them all is Fabbrica d’Armi Pietro Beretta S.p.A. I was in Gardone Val Trompia to learn more Beretta’s new SL3, an over-under shotgun the company introduced to the U.S. at the 2018 Safari Club International Convention in Las Vegas. Compared to all the other OUs already on the market, I wanted to see if the SL3 was worth paying attention to at all.

At the range with Beretta's new SL3 OU
At the range with Beretta’s new SL3 OU

“With the SL3, we took all our experience in ballistics, all our experience in manufacturing premium guns, and all our experience in designing beautiful guns, and we put all of this together.” That’s Roberto Zarrillo, Marketing Manager at Beretta. If you know much about his employer, you realize Mr. Zarrillo’s saying a whole lot when he refers to “all our experience.”

Beretta is the world’s oldest gunmaker. It was established in 1526 by Bartolomeo Beretta. That was during the reign of England’s King Henry VIII and hundreds of years before James Purdey or Charles Parker were born. Over the last 492 years, Beretta has made everything from arquebus barrels to the M9 pistol used by today’s U.S. Armed Forces. Of course, Beretta has also made all types of shotguns.

In 1933, the company created its first breechloading OU: The Model S1. With sidelocks and a Woodward-style low-profile action, the Mod. S1 looked like a best-quality British OU. What set it apart was how Beretta built it–and its price. Using high-precision industrial techniques they perfected when building guns like their Model 1915 semiautomatic pistol, they updated traditional gunmaking techniques and turned out a world-class shotgun. Price wise, in the ‘50s, Beretta’s top-of-the-line SO3 cost $750, and a Purdey OU was $2,300. This combination of high-quality and affordability made the Mod. S1 and the sidelock Beretta OUs that followed revolutionary. It also made them the first successful Italian over-unders of the twentieth century and the foundation for all the over-unders Beretta builds today, including the new SL3.

Il Maestro Ferdinando Belleri, Beretta’s master gunmaker,

“Il Maestro” is a tough title to pull off, but with the just the right mix of sophistication and flair, Il Maestro Ferdinando Belleri, Beretta’s master gunmaker, nails it. When I met him, I didn’t know if I should shake his hand–or kiss it. We were in Beretta Due, home of the company’s Premium Division and where Maestro Belleri oversees the gunmakers who hand fit, stock, engrave, and finish Beretta’s finest firearms. As Il Maestro prepared to introduce me to his team’s new OU, I flipped through a brochure about this gun and read “The SL3 heralds a new era of Beretta premium shotguns, combining the finest Beretta technology available from our various product families.” Interesting, I thought. But that’s just ad copy. Let’s see what you’ve got.

What they had impressed.

Like Il Maestro, the Beretta SL3 has plenty of sophistication and flair. It’s a sideplated, over-under game gun available in 12 and 20 gauge, and it features a triggerplate-style action with V-springs, ejectors, and a single, selective trigger. The steel-shot approved barrels use screw-in Optima HP chokes, and right now they come in 28” and 30”. The pistol grip stocks are made of rich Turkish walnut, hand checkered (or not checkered, as an option) and dressed in a matte oil finish. Priced at $20,000, the SL3 is far from cheap. But it is more affordable than Beretta’s sidelock, SO-series over-unders which start at $27,500 and run to $90,000, and it’s less than other OUs aimed at the same market, like the sideplated Boxall & Edmiston (£25,200) and the James Purdey & Sons Trigger Plate (£55,000).

While the SL3 retains the classic features I’m used to seeing on Beretta OUs –trapezoidal locking shoulders on the barrels, pronounced hinge pins on the sides of the action, monoblocked barrels–the rest of the gun is unlike any other Beretta I’ve seen before. It’s slimmer than an SO10 and far rounder than a Beretta Giubileo. With its low profile, lack of sharp edges, and sweeping lines, it looks like it was designed in a wind tunnel. The stock is trim and minimalistic through the head and into the hand. There are no raised panels around the sideplates and there are no drop points. The forend iron, action, toplever and triggerguard complement one another with curves, sweeps, and sculpted layers finished in a mix of engraved, polished, and matte surfaces.

Action on the Beretta's new SL3 OU
Action on the Beretta’s new SL3 OU

While the overall design of the SL3 is very futuristic, the engraving patterns it’s offered in ground the gun in very 19th-century styles. Each pattern–floral scroll, gamescene, and fine English scroll–is cut with a five-axis laser system. While the first two patterns have their strengths, the gamebirds and rose bouquets look a bit flat and cumbersome. The floral scroll pattern doesn’t have either of these problems, and that’s one reason it’s the most impressive. It has a gorgeous Renaissance style with cross-hatch accents, and mesmerizing, three-dimensional look. The SL3 also comes in a stunning, unengraved, mirror-polished finish. Unengraved finishes are like Speedo bathing suits for firearms, and any gun wearing one better be flawless to avoid embarrassing itself. With subtle sculpting on the action and superb metalwork and fitting all around, the mirror-polished SL3s looks great. Even if they could blush, they wouldn’t have to.

Centuries from now, after artificial intelligence has taken over the world, our robot overlords may look back with fondness on their ancestors building shotgun components in Beretta Uno, the factory next to Maestro Belleri’s Beretta Due. Beretta Uno is home to the company’s cutting-edge gunmaking equipment. This is where the tubes that become the barrels are cold-hammer-forged into shape and then laser-welded together and the actions and other metal parts are milled out of bars of steel. The machines that do it do more than just run on their own, day in and day out without a break: they maintain themselves and, whenever needed, contact humans for assistance. That need doesn’t arise very often.

But even with all these high-tech techniques, the SL3 still requires at least a month of hand fitting by Beretta’s most skilled gunmakers to assemble and then stock, checker, fine tune, and complete. A good chunk of this time is spent “jointing” an SL3, gunmaking slang for fitting the barrels to the action and a skill machines are still far from mastering.

The SL3 unique three-point locking system secures the barrels to the action and displaces the forces released by firing the gun. The first of its three points is the hinge pins at the front of the action. Then there are the “lower hooks.” These are on the underside of the barrels, and they match up with blocks in the floor of the action. While the hinge pins and the lower hooks are designed to displace and spread out force, the third point in the locking system—the bolt and locking pins–keep the gun closed upon firing. The way the bolt and locking pins are built into the action is one of the most innovative aspects of the Beretta SL3.

On most Italian OUs, the locking pins (aka “bites”) fit flush against the face of the action. The bolt slides horizontally forward to engage with them and lock things down. Borrowing from their DT11 competitions guns, Beretta made a small modification to the SL3: Its locking pins slip into vertical grooves machined into the face of action and on either side of the firing pins. By moving these locking pins back from the hinge pin, Beretta increased their ability to keep the barrels from pivoting on the hinge. It’s a little detail that makes huge sense, and another example of how Beretta always looks to improve its guns.

In testing, the robustness of the SL3’s entire three-point locking system proved itself when it withstood the pounding of 11,500 magnum cartridges with no issues. Something else that’s special about the SL3 three-point locking system: All aspects of it–the hinge pins, lower hooks, and locking pins–are easy to replace. When any of them wear, new ones are easy to fit and the gun can be back to new—and back in the field—in no time.

At the range with Beretta's new SL3 OU
At the range with Beretta’s new SL3 OU

When it heads to the field, the SL3 shows off its Premium-gun lineage with the case it comes in. Handmade by Beretta’s in-house Custom Gun Case Atelier, it’s an upgraded version of the canvas-and-leather cases British shotguns used to come in. On the outside, it’s covered in blue cotton, with Italian leather straps and corner bumpers, and a Beretta-crested locking clasp. On the inside, it’s lined with quilted wool and features a removable leather pouch for chokes tubes and cleaning accessories. Very classy. And speaking of heading to the field, the SL3 shoots as good as it looks when it gets there. The 12 gauge I used on a five-stand course had a dynamic, weight-forward balance that made it easy to get on a target and swing through. Right off, I was dusting clays coming in, going away, dropping down, and crisscrossing. While the gun wasn’t lightweight, it didn’t feel clunky, and it did a great job of managing felt recoil.

The day after meeting Maestro Belleri and seeing his team’s new SL3, I was back in Brescia, eating pizza in the famous Piazza della Loggia, and thinking about Beretta and their contributions to gunmaking. Why had this company succeeded for almost five hundred years? And why are they still on cutting edge at the beginning of the 21st century? From what I could see, it was because Beretta did things their way, and that “way” included having the foresight to embrace technology and change. The SL3 is the most recent culmination of this vision. From what I saw, it’s an awesome shotgun that does a great job of updating classic shotgun aesthetics with the latest innovations in design and engineering. I would be proud to own one, and I’m sure anyone who purchases and SL3 will feel the same way, too.

Good gun alert: 20g Grulla sidelock, $2650 …

Grulla 215 20 gauge 26 inch barrels ic/mod,
Grulla 215 20 gauge 26 inch barrels ic/mod,

Following this AYA No. 2 I posted yesterday, here’s another Spanish SxS that looks like it could be a good deal. The seller’s calling it a Grulla 215, which it appears be.

That means it was made to be a solid, affordable, nice, but not out of reach for most people. It looks a bit rough, but sound, and I get it would benefit from a good cleaning and tuneup. Because it’s a Grulla (one of Spain’s top makers), it should be a good deal and an even better bird gun.

Grulla 215 20 gauge 26 inch barrels ic/mod,
Grulla 215 20 gauge 26-inch barrels ic/mod,

Grulla has been around since 1932, and many people consider them to be a step up from AYA or Arrieta. Maybe. I’ve seen a bunch of their guns, and I’ve always thought of them as some of the nicer doubles coming out of Eibar.

Grulla 215 20 gauge, Sidelock SxS, 26-inch barrels, ic/mod: STRAIGHT GRIP butt plate, double trigger, beavertail forend, 2 ivory beads, ejectors, side clipped, detachable sidelock, gold washed interior parts, bores bright/shiny, opens/closes tight.  Price: $2,650 

Good gun alert: 28g AYA Sidelock Ejector, great condition ….

AYA ~ SxS ~ Sidelock Ejector~28 Ga: Price: $3,599.99 
AYA ~ SxS ~ Sidelock Ejector~28 Ga: Price: $3,599.99

Now this double looks like a great deal. I’m not sure what model AYA it is, but it’s a nice looking gun. And even though it’s smallbore, its 29″ bbls and 14 7/8″ LOP probably give it the heft and swing it takes for big boys to shoot it well.

AYA ~ SxS ~ Sidelock Ejector~28 GaPrice: $3,599.99 

Chambers: 2 3/4″
Metal Condition: No Blemishes
Wood Condition: Very Few Very Lite User Marks
Bore Condition: Bright and Shiny
Barrels: 29″

Chokes: SKEET (.005″) and IC (.010″)

AYA ~ SxS ~ Sidelock Ejector~28 Ga: Price: $3,599.99 
AYA ~ SxS ~ Sidelock Ejector~28 Ga: Price: $3,599.99

Triggers: Double Triggers
Stock: Checkered English Grip
Stock Dimensions: 14 7/8″ LOP
Fore End: Checkered Splinder
Butt Pad: Checkered Butt
Weight: 6 Lbs 2 Oz.

Vintage Boss & Co 20g SxS in incredible condition…

Boss & Co. 20 gauge Sidelock SxS Shotgun, #7201, 28" bbls, made around 1924
Boss & Co. 20 gauge Sidelock SxS Shotgun, #7201, 28″ bbls, made around 1924

What’s the one word that matters most to gun collectors? It’s “original”, and the more original an old firearm is, the more valuable it will be.

Boss & Co. 20 gauge Sidelock SxS Shotgun, #7201, 28″ bbls, made around 1924. Is this the holy grail of grouse guns? Perhaps. But even if you disagree, its price–$67,000–will make you say “holy sh!t”. Why is it so much?

Boss & Co. 20 gauge Sidelock SxS Shotgun, #7201, 28" bbls, made around 1924
Boss & Co. 20 gauge Sidelock SxS Shotgun, #7201, 28″ bbls, made around 1924

Condition, first. This gun looks well cared for, lightly used, and totally unmessed with. It has a lot of its original blueing and color-case hardening are still present. There’s even original finish on the lock pins The finish on the wood looks original, too, and no one has recut the checkering (thank god!).

After condition, this gun’s vintage adds to its value. It was made around 1924. Boss shotguns from the 1920’s and 1930’s tend to be this maker’s best examples. And the best guns always bring the biggest money.

This gun also has some special features. The length of its barrels (28″), the length of its stock (14″), and an original Boss single-trigger. Taken together, they make the gun appealing to modern shooters.

Boss & Co. 20 gauge Sidelock SxS Shotgun, #7201, 28" bbls, made around 1924
Boss & Co. 20 gauge Sidelock SxS Shotgun, #7201, 28″ bbls, made around 1924

Even though it’s expensive, it’s cheap compared to what brand new 20g Boss SxSs cost now. One of those will run you around $130,000+.

Super rare: a 20 gauge Boss Round Body SxS shotgun…

20 gauge Boss &Co. Sidelock SxS Double Barrel Shotgun, Round Body
20 gauge Boss &Co. Sidelock SxS Double Barrel Shotgun, Round Body

The late 19th century was a golden age for sporting guns in the UK. Hundred of makers had shops throughout the country, thousands of people were employed by the trade, and because shooting was THE ACTIVITY for the Royals and other well-to-dos, there were plenty of customers.

The country’s most prestigious makers were in London, close to Buckingham Palace. Makers like Purdey, Boss, Holland & Holland, and Stephen Grant had shops in the West End. They fought for patronage from high-end customers and were always on the lookout for ways to set themselves apart from the competition.

On January 1, 1891, John Robertson took control of Boss & Co. Robertson had grown up in gunmaking. He joined the London trade in 1864 at Purdeys and went out on his own in 1873. Once he was in charge of things at Boss, his first task was to update the  company’s shotguns and remake Boss as the city’s premier gunmaker.

12 gauge Back-Action Boss, a typical pre-Robertson gun
12 gauge Back-Action Boss, a typical pre-Robertson gun. Go here to see listing for gun.

Pre-Robertson, Boss had been known for making back-action sidelocks and hammerguns with Jones-style underlevers. Robertson ditched these old designs for modern, bar-action locks and a look all his own. He came up with a new, streamlined design for Boss’s guns and created the company’s classic look – snakey, handsome, and sleek.

A few years later, Robertson pushed this streamlining  further and came up with something daring: Boss’s famous Round Body Action. The Round Body pushes sleek as far as it will go, and it looks more Space Age than Victorian Age. The lockplates and action are filed up for a round appearance. There are no beads, hips, or edges to be seen. The fences retain their bulbous “Boss” shape, but the stock gets the “round” treatment  around the locks  and through the hand. There are no drop points. The result is very unique and very modern. If George Jetson found his way back to London in 1900, he would want this shotgun.

Round-Body Bosses were never popular, and of the 10,000 or so double barrels Boss has built to date, fewer than 300 were the Round-Bodies. Most of these RBs were 12 gauges, very few were 20s. So the 20 gauge Boss Round Body you see here is a rare side by side. It was made in the early ‘3os and it looks like it’s in decent shape.

20 gauge Boss &Co. Sidelock SxS Double Barrel Shotgun, Round Body
20 gauge Boss &Co. Sidelock SxS Double Barrel Shotgun, Round Body
20 gauge Boss &Co. Sidelock SxS Double Barrel Shotgun, Round Body
20 gauge Boss &Co. Sidelock SxS Double Barrel Shotgun, Round Body
20 gauge Boss &Co. Sidelock SxS Double Barrel Shotgun, Round Body
20 gauge Boss &Co. Sidelock SxS Double Barrel Shotgun, Round Body
20 gauge Boss &Co. Sidelock SxS Double Barrel Shotgun, Round Body
20 gauge Boss &Co. Sidelock SxS Double Barrel Shotgun, Round Body
20 gauge Boss &Co. Sidelock SxS Double Barrel Shotgun, Round Body
20 gauge Boss &Co. Sidelock SxS Double Barrel Shotgun, Round Body

This week’s good guns: powered by Gunsinternational.com…

12 gauge Holland & Holland Royal Ejector Double Barrel Side by Side Shotgun
12 gauge Holland & Holland Royal Ejector Double Barrel Side by Side Shotgun

Holland & Holland Royal SXS 12 GAUGE: Made 1952. #339XX, 26″ bbls, Chokes 009 and 016, 2 3/4″ chambers, self opener, leather covered pad, excellent original condition with light handling marks. 6lbs 11oz . 14 3/4 LOP. Price: $37,500.00

Army Navy .470 Nitro Express Side-by-Side Double Rifle
Army Navy .470 Nitro Express Side-by-Side Double Rifle

Army-Navy Side-by-Side Double Rifle .470 Nitro Express: No. 45921, 25″ barrels. Built on the Webley Long Bar action, perhaps the strongest double rifle action ever made. Double triggers, ejectors and intercepting sears. Bores are good to very good with rifling square and tall. Wt.- 11 lbs. Pull- 14 1/2″ from front trigger. A super classic hunting rifle! Price: $29,500.00

F.W. Heym 20 gauge Boxlock Ejector Double Barrel Side by Side Shotgun
F.W. Heym 20 gauge Boxlock Ejector Double Barrel Side by Side Shotgun

Fr. Wilh. Heym Side Plate 20ga: 28” barrels, IMP CYL/MOD, SG/DT Leather pad, matt rib, cocking indicators, splinter for end, AE, doll’s head extension, 2 ¾”, Krupp steel barrels, pre-war. Extreme high quality gun. In its original compact leather case. The highest grade, side plate gun with magnificent semi-relief game scenes, of pointers, setters, fox and duck scene. Balance of receiver covered in semi-relief ornamental scroll, with deep chisel breeches. Retaining most all case color, barrel blue and wood finish. We have owned 12’s and 16’s but never had the opportunity of handling a 20 ga. This gun is of superior quality over most other guns. With perfect dimensions, light weight and fast, all of the best options and configuration, side clips, third fastener. The very best pre-war quality. 14 5/8” x 1 ½” x 2 3/8” 5lbs 13oz. Price: $14,500.00

12 gauge Dumoulin Sidelock Double Barrel Side by Side Shotgun
12 gauge Dumoulin Sidelock Double Barrel Side by Side Shotgun

12 gauge Dumoulin Sidelock Ejector Side-by-Side Shotgun: 2 3/4″ chambers, 27 1/2″ bbls, F & IM chokes, straight grip, double triggers, 14 5/8 inches to a checkered butt, color-case hardened action, full rose & scroll engraving. Excellent overall condition. 6lb., 6oz. Price: $8999

12 gauge A.H. Fox CE Grade Double Barrel Side by Side Shotgun
12 gauge A.H. Fox CE Grade Double Barrel Side by Side Shotgun

A. H. Fox CE 12 Ga: Ser. No. 33915 12 Ga.- 2 3/4″ chambers- 30″ Chromox barrels choked M/F. DT, EJ, SF, Semi PG stock to hard butt. 14″ X 1 1/2″ X 2 1/2″. 60% CC, 95% blue and finish. A nice old Fox. Price: $6,500.00

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