Tested: Benelli Super Black Eagle 3
August 21, 2018
The third generation SBE is more reliable than ever.
Waterfowlers are notoriously loyal to their home waters, their preferred brand of ammo, their favorite calls and dekes, and, most fiercely, their choice of shotgun. I know many a hunter who would likely rather throw a fistful of gravel at decoying birds than wield some off-brand of shotgun, and prying their beloved duck gun from their cold, dead hands may be a real possibility.
Among shotgun brands duck and goose hunters prefer, Benelli probably garners more love (and hate, as we'll see) than other manufacturers. Where Remington, Winchester, Mossberg, Beretta, and others have their followers, Benelli has a group of zealots. As proof, more than one duck hunter, upon hearing Benelli was upgrading to a new iteration of the Super Black Eagle, ran out and bought a second, or third, Super Black Eagle 2, in fears the new model wouldn't live up to the SBE2's reputation for unfailing performance. As it turns out, they needn't have worried. The SBE3, introduced last year, has proven not only as good as the second version, but also even more reliable.
Reliability and Comfort
If there's one thing haters base their anti-Benelli arguments on, it's the SBE2's infamous "click" that heartbreaking sound that's been known to occur as the trigger is pulled when the boltface has failed to rotate into battery. Engineers toeing the company line claim the problem doesn't exist, but anyone who's shot one extensively will tell you otherwise. Whether this failure to fire is fact or fiction, Benelli addressed the concerns with an upgraded Easy Locking System borrowed directly from the launch of the Ethos shotgun a few years back. This improved bolt features a special design with ball and detent, ensuring the boltface rotates into place, no matter how softly the shooter eases the action into position or accidentally bumps it out of battery. It would not be inaccurate to say the Benelli "click" has turned into a Benelli "boom."
Other than the slight hang-ups caused by an out-of-battery bolt, the reliability of Benelli's Inertia Driven system is without question. First introduced more than 25 years ago on the original SBE and only slightly tweaked since, this action honestly works without fail in nearly all conditions and now with nearly all loads. The SBE3 is built on a 3½-inch action, which is historically notorious for struggling to cycle lighter loads. Not the SBE3. It throws all but the lightest 2¾-inch, 7/8-ounce shells with each pull of the trigger. (Note: The lightest load Benelli guarantees the SBE3 will cycle is 1› ounces.)
I'm tempted to call the SBE3 the Super Black Ethos, as it takes the best of that shotgun which is one of the favorites in my arsenal and builds it into an almost bombproof package for waterfowlers. While the Super Black Eagle 3 isn't quite as nimble as the Ethos, it is trimmer than earlier versions of the SBE, but with enough heft in the two-piece receiver to handle those heavier, 3½-inch loads. It also has oversized controls, with a larger safety, bolt handle, and release that are easily manipulated when wearing bulky, insulated gloves.
Another Benelli innovation built into the SBE3 is the ComforTech system, which fits the buttstock with a series of chevrons and internal leaves that effectively absorbs recoil as the inertia-driven bolt slides rearward. This, along with padded shoulder and cheek inserts, mitigates felt recoil tremendously, especially under stout magnum loads. This is especially beneficial in the SBE3, which weighs in at a surprisingly light seven pounds when fitted with a 28-inch barrel.
SBE3 in the Land of Kiwis
To test the shotgun's reliability, a few industry friends and I traveled to New Zealand in hopes of adding the country's paradise shelduck to our life list. The wingshooting adventure on the South Island also held the opportunity for black swans and some winged vermin control in the form of high-volume pigeon shooting. That meant we'd be stuffing the SBE3's magazines with a variety of shotshells, from low-brass SP High-Power No. 6s to Falcon 3-inch Ultra Steel 2s and 3s.
While the birds landing in the decoys at first light looked a bit different from what I was used to, the actual hunting was like waterfowling anywhere in the world. We were hunkered in a grass blind set on an earthen dike surrounding a small pond. It didn't take long for a couple of paradise ducks to give the spread a look. It did take a few swings for me to shake off the rust of traveling to the Southern Hemisphere, but soon I had my drake pari, as our Kiwi guides called the strikingly plumed birds. A few shots later, I checked off the black swan. An hour into day one, my quest was complete.
The real test of the Super Black Eagle 3 came the next day, when we set up for pigeons in the rolling hills above the small town of Waimate. I've shot pigeons on four continents, and this was by far the most scenic spot I've hunted the challenging birds. The sloping hill dropped off into a deep ravine, and snow-capped mountains fell into the horizon. It didn't take long for the birds to lift from the lowlands, rising into our spread of decoys from the valley below. By sheer luck, I drew the hot seat on the downwind end of the blind and picked off bird after bird as they tried to escape out the right side.
Among our SBE3-armed group, we blew through several cases of shells, until we were fighting over whatever last few SP High-Powers we could scrounge up. Throughout that barrel-burning day, and the entire trip, there was not one misfeed, stovepipe, or failure to fire from the eight Benellis we had on hand.
The only issue that did crop up on the trip is one hunter in our group struggled to kill wounded birds on the water, sending his pattern well over ducks on a couple of occasions. Subsequent research has shown a few SBE3 owners having a similar problem with early versions of the SBE3. I've found I shoot the SBE3 very well on the wing, riding flying birds, both feathered and clay, on the oversized bead as I typically do. The board back home showed the proof was in the pattern, which averaged a bit less than four inches above point of aim. In my opinion, that, like the rest of the SBE3 package, is nearly perfect.
Benelli loyalists will find much love in the Super Black Eagle 3, which takes the reliability of the vaunted, and proven, Inertia Driven System and wraps in some modern upgrades. Haters will also note their one argument has been rendered invalid, as any chance of an out-of-battery boltface has been all but eradicated. That sets the Benelli SBE3 solidly in position as the preferred shotgun of waterfowlers looking for a reliable, no-fail package with a tough-as-nails reputation built over the past 25 years of service.