If you do the math, you’ll find that 1 1/2 ounces of HEVI-Shot No. 2s at 1450 fps fired from a 7-pound shotgun generates a head-jarring 55 ft.-lbs. of recoil energy—slightly more recoil than a 10-pound .416 Rem. Mag. rifle. Yet recently when I pulled the trigger on the aforementioned load pointing at a Canada goose skirting my decoys I felt nothing more than a bump against my shoulder. Unjolted by recoil, it was easy for me to swing from the first bird to a second goose climbing out of the spread at 40 yards. Twenty-five pounds of giant Canada geese collapsed into the snow and corn stubble.
That I felt almost no recoil while making that double could be attributed to excitement and focus. It can also be attributed to the many layers of clothes I wore in that December snowstorm, but mostly, it can be attributed to the gun that was in my hands that day. Beretta’s newest semi-automatic shotgun, the A400 Xplor Unico, combines gas operation with a stock-mounted recoil-reducing system to make it one of the softest-shooting field guns I’ve ever tried. The A400 is a gun for nearly all seasons and purposes: easy to carry in the uplands, reliable with very light loads, yet able to absorb the recoil of heavy goose loads, even 3 1/2-inch shells.
The Green Monster
A while ago I wrote in another magazine that the A400’s predecessor, the A391, was so great there would never be an A392. I was so wrong that I was right. Beretta skipped numbers A392 through A399 and designated this new semi-automatic “A400” with good reason: The Xplor shares many traits of the long-running and successful 300 series, but it borrows even more heavily from the Xtrema/Xtrema 2 line. The result is a gun that differs enough from both the 300s and the Xtremas to merit its own numbered series.
The A400 Xplor is a gas-operated, 12-gauge semi-automatic with a 3 1/2-inch chamber. The receiver has the familiar lines of a Beretta 390/391. In fact, the Xplor’s receiver is the same length as the 390/391’s receivers despite accommodating 3 1/2-inch shells. The new gun’s receiver is taller, however, measuring 1/8 inch more than my 390 and a 1/4-inch taller than a Remington Model 11-87 receiver.
The stock and fore-end have Beretta’s Xtra wood grain enhancement, giving the furniture an appearance of dark, highly figured grain at a distance. The Xtra wood has an oil finish and a checkering pattern with Beretta’s trident logo on the fore-end. The trigger guard and fore-end tip are polymer, as is the magazine cap, which is the same complex seven-piece design of the 391 (it helps dampen vibrations), but 3 ounces lighter and made of non-seizing polymer and Ergal (performance aluminum). The gun is decorated with some of the usual swoops, accent lines and other concept-car-style touches that afflict modern guns, but overall, the A400 is handsomely contemporary without crossing over the line to radical Euro styling.
Although the return spring and bolt resemble the Xtrema’s, the rest of the gas system is clearly derived from the 300 series, especially the exhaust valve consisting of a short, stout spring on the front of the barrel ring. Part of the goal set for the A400’s engineers was to simplify the internals of the gun; the exhaust valve of the 391 was such a chore to take apart and clean that there are aftermarket wrenches made specifically for the task. While the A400’s exhaust vent looks similar, it has been redesigned so you don’t have to take it apart. The manual reads: “NEVER DISASSEMBLE the exhaust valve assembly.” That alone is almost reason in itself to trade your 391 for a 400.
Inside the barrel ring you find a redesigned piston, which has neither the O-rings of the Xtrema nor the nooks and crannies of the 391 piston that make it so difficult to scrub. You can clean this one in seconds with a few swipes of a brush. The A400 piston omits the little feet of the 391’s piston that sometimes broke. There’s only one gas port into the barrel, and it’s smaller than the 391’s twin ports because of the new gas system’s better efficiency.
Softening The Blow
The buttpad Kick Off system is an option that adds $100 to the price and, according to my shoulder, is worth every penny. Already found on Xtrema2s and Prevail over-unders, Kick Off consists of a buttplate that under recoil compresses two hydraulic shock absorbers in the stock, turning the peak jolt into a mild shove. To further soften the blow, the A400 has Beretta’s newest recoil pad, the soft Micro Core. The Kick Off reducer adds some weight, so my 28-inch-barreled gun weighs right at 7 pounds, somewhat more than the 6.6 pounds advertised. Despite the light weight, the A400 was comfortable to shoot both with magnum waterfowl loads and with stout 3-dram, 1 1/8-ounce target loads on the skeet field.
The forcing cone features a lengthened taper for improved patterns and a bit more recoil reduction. The barrel is slightly overbored, again for patterning and to cut down on kick, albeit slightly. The barrels are made of nickel-chromium-molybdenum alloy, deep drilled, hammer forged and vacuum distended by a process Beretta insists on calling “Steelium” technology. While that sounds like marketing-speak to me, let’s remember that Beretta was founded by maestro da canne (master barrel-maker) Bartolomeo Beretta in 1526. The company’s first known product was arquebus barrels. I am willing to believe that after 484 years in the business, Beretta quite possibly knows more about barrel making than I do.