I’ll admit I was confused when I received the invite from Benelli to join them on a plains game hunt in South Africa. I’ve long been a Benelli shotgun customer and am a fan of the company’s products, but I couldn’t see myself chasing sable and roan with a slug gun. Things quickly became clearer when I was informed that Benelli would be introducing its first bolt-action rifle: the Lupo. The rifle was released at the 2020 SHOT Show, but I was fortunate to be among a small group of writers who were able to shoot and hunt with the rifle many months before its release.
“Lupo” is Italian for “wolf,” Italy’s most fearsome predator. The Lupo spent at least four years in development. Rather than rushing an inferior product to the market, in typical Benelli fashion they took their time to get it right. The Lupo combines traditional big-game rifle styling with some unique and modern twists. The rifle is a bolt-action repeater that feeds from a detachable box magazine and wears a two-piece synthetic stock. Even though it is an entirely new product, with one glance you can tell it is a Benelli.
At the heart of the Lupo is an aluminum chassis that provides a stable and lightweight framework for the rest of the rifle. The chassis extends beneath the forend to ensure the barrel is free-floated, and it provides a rigid mounting surface for the steel receiver. The best part about the Lupo’s chassis is that it doesn’t look like a chassis, providing all of the benefits with none of the ugly. The overall weight for this rifle is right at seven pounds unloaded.
The bolt is a three-lug design that requires a 60-degree bolt throw. The bolt body is chromed for easy maintenance; carbon and other deposits can simply be wiped off with a paper towel. The bolt’s profile narrows significantly in the center, which allows the magazine to sit higher in the receiver, thereby creating a more compact vertical dimension while maintaining a four-plus-one capacity. The bolt handle is unique and was part of the rifle’s original concept sketch. It is comfortable to operate and sits right where your mind wants it to be. I’m not completely sold on detachable box magazines for hunting rifles, but the Lupo allows the user to top-load the magazine through the ejection port, which offers the best of both worlds.
The Lupo will be offered initially in three cartridges: .270 Winchester, .30-06 Springfield, and .300 Winchester Magnum. Our test rifle was chambered in .30-06, which is pretty hard to beat for the varied plains game we were after on the rifle’s maiden hunt. All three chamberings use 22-inch cryogenically treated and matte-blued chromoly barrels with 5/8-24 threads at the muzzle. Rifling twist rates will be 1:11 for the .30-06 and .300 and 1:10 for the .270. Using Hornady’s 180-grain GMX Outfitter load, my test rifle had a muzzle velocity that was as advertised, coming in at 2,600 feet per second.
If there’s anything on this rifle that screams “Benelli,” it is the stock. The Lupo uses the black synthetic ComfortTech3 two-piece stock, which is packed with features and options. For starters, the stock is adjustable in length of pull from 13.8 to 14.75 inches, using the included spacers, and an optional large recoil pad is available that extends that to 15.2 inches for the giants among us. Drop and cast can also be adjusted.
The soft CombTech cheek pad softens the blow to the face, and a highly effective Progressive Comfort recoil-reduction system makes the rifle very comfortable to shoot overall by distributing the forces of recoil laterally through the stock. The technology of this system is very impressive and has a significant effect on recoil—I fired the Lupo hundreds of times both on the range and afield and found it to be quite pleasant.
The final adjustment point is the trigger reach, which can be altered using a series of spacers. The net effect is a rifle that can be custom-fit to the shooter without a trip to the gunsmith. The stock also has sling swivel attachment points molded-in, and the forend is tapped for installation of a bipod stud.
The trigger on the Lupo is adjustable from 2.2 to 4.4 pounds, and our example came set from the factory at just over three pounds of pull. The trigger break was very clean and certainly went a long way in increasing the practical accuracy of the rifle. The ambidextrous safety sits at the comb where the thumb can easily access it, pushing the lever forward put it into the “fire” position. The detachable box magazine locks into the receiver securely and is removed by actuating a lever at its forward edge.
Our Lupo came with a Steiner H4Xi 3-12x56mm scope, mounted to the rifle’s included Picatinny rail. Equipped with the rifle, optic, and an ample supply of ammunition, I was excited to get the rifle to the range. I was pleasantly surprised when the first three-shot group landed at the center of the 100-yard target and measured well under an inch. I adjusted the zero to 200 yards and immediately abandoned the bench to better prepare for my upcoming safari. Firing the Lupo from my homemade African-style shooting sticks as well as from the seated position produced hit after hit on steel targets out to 325 yards. Things were looking promising.
August came and it was time to give the Lupo story a proper beginning. After two full days of travel, our group arrived at the Port Elizabeth Airport in the Eastern Cape of South Africa where we met our PHs from Africa Anyway Safaris. Our first stop was to the range where, despite rides on UPS trucks, multiple aircraft, and safari vehicles, it was determined that all eight identical rifles and scopes had maintained their zeros throughout their respective journeys.
I wasn’t the first hunter to use the Lupo on game. I was paired with Benelli engineer Marco Vignaroli, who had led the rifle’s design team. Knowing that Marco had spent years on this project, I deferred to him when the first trophy animal was spotted. I didn’t have to wait long for my chance, and I was soon sneaking up a hill, following PH Mark Hudson toward an old roan bull we had spotted. Mark placed the sticks gingerly on the reverse slope of the hill, and I peeked over the crest and put a single GMX through the bull’s shoulders at 60 yards, dropping him instantly.
That afternoon found me on the sticks once again, where I took an impala ram on a riverbank at 220 yards. Like the roan, the impala didn’t take another step. After a few days hunting on the high hills overlooking the Indian Ocean, we traveled several hours by land to a second camp near the town of Graaff-Reinet in the Great Karoo.
The Karoo is a high desert with wide-open plains scattered with scrub brush bordered by steep rocky red cliffs. I’d long wanted to hunt in this region, and this gave us a change in scenery and species as well as an opportunity to stretch the Lupo’s legs a bit. Mark knew where a stud of a sable antelope bull was spending much of his time, and we began combing the area. The tracker’s sharp eyes kept lookout from the high seat in the bed of the Hilux. A bachelor herd of bulls was spotted, and we stalked along a mountainside to close the distance. A few minutes later, my dream of taking a sable became a reality.
My longest shot of the trip came when a wary zebra mare gave me my only opportunity after several days of trying at 375 yards. That’s a long shot from the sticks, and my hit was slightly lower than I would have liked. We sprinted 100 yards forward to a hilltop overlooking the draw the zebra had galloped into, and I sent a second bullet through her heart, ending the ordeal within a few seconds. After some springbok culling due to the unprecedented drought conditions, it was time for our journey to come to an end.
I’d used the Lupo on seven total animals representing five different species, which provided me with a great deal of insight about how the rifle would perform in the real world. Needless to say, I came away very impressed.
Unremarkable at first, the subtle design features of this rifle quickly grew on me. In the field, when things mattered, the rifle performed flawlessly. The controls worked without conscious effort, and the rifle continued to function despite the dust and dirt. The rifles, optics, and ammunition all stood up to the abuse of hunting and travel with no one in camp experiencing any issues whatsoever. After spending several weeks with this rifle, I am confident that longtime Benelli customers and newcomers alike will appreciate the form, function, and quality of the Lupo.