The name Benelli is synonymous with reliability. My M1 Field, bought 15 years ago, has churned through thousands of rounds and withstood filthy hunting conditions and a consistent lack of cleaning that only a lazy gun writer can inflict. It has failed to cycle only twice in all the years I have owned it.
So when you have created something that works and works so well, whatâ€™s left to improve? That was my first thought when Benelli unveiled its newest shotgun, the ETHOS. As I was to learn, in a quest for absolute perfection, Benelli decided it could improve on a few things.
The Easy Locking System
â€śHave you ever had your M1 come out of battery?â€ť the Benelli folks asked. Well, yes, as a matter of fact I had.
If you can find a hiccup in the Benelli inertia-driven system, it is the possibility that it may come out of batteryâ€”hit the bolt with your hand or set the gun down too hard on the butt, and the bolt can disengage from battery, thereby stopping the gun from firing. It is something I learned early on, and like all Benelli users, I regularly check to make sure the bolt is engaged. Checking has become a habit.
â€śWhen you load your M1, do you slam the bolt closed?â€ť I was asked. Of course I do.
â€śWell, neither is an issue anymore on the ETHOS.â€ť
Called the Easy Locking System, which enhances the Inertia Driven System, Benelli slightly changed the bolt body on the ETHOS and added a detent mechanism that allows the bolt to engage when closed slowly as well as to re-engage itself if it comes out of battery. To demonstrate this feature, the bolt was slowly closed, and at the moment where normally the bolt would hang up just out of battery, it rotated clockwise and locked into the receiver. Itâ€™s a pretty slick system and a major improvement on a nearly perfect design.
The Progressive Comfort System
Next to the new easy-locking action, the stock is the most notable difference on the ETHOS from previous Benelli shotguns. It melds gorgeous AA-Grade walnut with a recoil-absorbing technology usually found only on synthetic Benelli models. Benelli calls it the Progressive Comfort System, and it has some very unique traits.
To begin with, the soft rubber buttpads are interchangeable to adjust the length of pull from 13.8 inches to 15 inches. The comb of the stock also features a soft rubber interchangeable insert for adjusting comb height and reducing felt recoil imparted to the cheek and vibration to the inner ear. Only Benelli offers this system on wood stocks.
In addition, the Progressive Comfort System incorporates more than just a replaceable buttpad; it has a series of flexible synthetic â€śfingersâ€ť inside the stock that compress at a variable rate depending upon the load, so the pad absorbs recoil regardless if the load is a 2 3/4-inch light, 2 3/4-inch magnum, or 3-inch magnum load.
The Easy Loading System
The Easy Loading System essentially is a a two-part carrier latch, a beveled loading port, and a redesigned carrier. I have done similar treatments myself on my 3-Gun competition shotguns, but I wasnâ€™t sure it would make much of a difference on a bird gun. I was wrong. Itâ€™s a small thing, but after a day of shooting, especially on high-volume targets like doves or pigeons, you notice that your hands are still comfortable.
Instead of using a traditional blued-steel vent rib soldered on the barrel, the ETHOS incorporates an interchangeable carbon-fiber rib. This allows the user to do a couple of things. If you want to change the rib height, it is easy to do. If you damage the rib, it is easy to replace (not the case with metal ribs). And best of all the carbon is far lighter, adding to the overall dainty feel of the gun. Each ETHOS comes with three high-visibility fiber-optic beads (red, green, yellow), so shooters can change out colors to fit the conditions. Plus, no tools are required to make the change.
The Field Test
To test the ETHOS we headed to my old stomping grounds in the Orange Free State of South Africa. We hunted with Grasslands Safaris, which is owned and operated by Carel Coetzer and his wife Carine.
I have done quite a bit of wingshooting across Africa, and for the most part it is all good. But it was exceptional on the Coetzersâ€™ property. While I was prepared for the diversity (doves, pigeons, seven varieties of waterfowl, francolin, and guinea fowl), I was not prepared for the high volume of shooting.
While not as fast and furious as dove shooting in Argentina, it was close, and the conditions were quite a bit tougher on the guns. It was an ideal place to test the ETHOS. Over the course of a week, 14 shooters fired nearly 17,000 rounds. Mainly light 7/8-ounce dove loads, but enough 1 1/4-ounce heavy loads thrown in to complete the test. We walked cornfields for guineas, sat along tree rows for doves, and waited in blinds in plowed dirt fields for pigeons.
The walking guinea shoot was just like pheasant hunting in South Dakota. It was an easy place to catch a bolt handle on a cornstalk and yank the gun out of battery. Numerous times we had to open the bolts to cross a fence and reload on the other sideâ€”never once did any of the actions fail to automatically return to battery.
On the dove shoot, we tested the Easy Load System and the ability to cycle even the lightest loads, burning through thousands of rounds of light 7/8-ounce loads in the course of a day. The light loads cycled flawlessly, and everyone commented on how easy the ETHOS was to load.
During the pigeon hunt, we faced some of the most grueling conditions I have ever seen anywhere. The wind was howling, and the fine dust from the plowed fields coated every surface of the gunsâ€”inside and out. The â€śgrit test,â€ť as we soon began calling it, should have been enough to stop up any gun, and if it had, we would have forgiven it.
But the ETHOS just kept chugging through the cases of shells. After all the smoke cleared, with a massive pile of spent hulls around my blind and a tiny pile of pigeons (can you even call less than a Bakerâ€™s Dozen of pigeons a pile?), I was grinning from ear to ear. I had nothing to be proud ofâ€”my shooting on pigeons was embarrassing. It wasnâ€™t the gunâ€”it was me, not to mention the 60-yard birds cruising in the high wind. I had a ball anyway.
The ETHOS passed all the tests with flying colors. It was a pleasure to shoot, and recoil, perceived as well as actual, was nearly nonexistent. That final dayâ€™s shooting was pleasure mixed with a bit of sorrow, as I knew my M1 was going to be relegated to the gun safe because the new ETHOS was just that much better.