It could be easily and successfully argued that Benelli’s Super Black Eagle 2 (SBE2), which made its debut in 2004, is the most successful 3½"-chambered, 12-ga. semi-automatic shotgun of all time. Like its predecessor, the SBE2 was ultra-reliable (even when neglected) due to its simplistic, yet innovative, design. As good as it was, though, the SBE2 wasn’t perfect; when creating its replacement, the SBE3, which was covered in these pages in 2017, those criticisms were addressed. It makes sense, then, that after encountering wide acceptance of the SBE3 in its initial offerings, Benelli would continue to diversify the line. The latest option is the 3" 28 gauge reviewed here.
Like its brethren, the heart of the SBE3 (regardless of gauge) is Benelli’s uncomplicated Inertia Driven (ID) operating system. Here’s how it functions. According to Benelli, upon firing, all fixed parts immediately move rearward. However, non-fixed parts, including the (inert) bolt, briefly hold their positions. The difference between the two compresses the inertia spring within the bolt body. Once the payload has left the gun and the rearward force diminishes, the inertia spring rebounds, forcing the bolt body backward, which unlocks the rotating bolt head. In the process of the bolt traveling rearward, the empty hull is ejected, and the hammer is re-cocked. The recoil spring then returns the bolt assembly forward, collecting and chambering a shell as it does so. The rotating bolt head will then lock up with the barrel extension, ready for a subsequent shot.
Speed, reliability, durability and simplicity define the ID operating system. Concerning the latter, with only three main parts (bolt body, inertia spring and rotating bolt head), malfunctions are rare. What’s more, since there are no barrel ports re-directing gas (as with gas operation), all fouling and residue are kept in the barrel—not the action—making cleaning and maintenance quick and easy. The simple design also enables the shotgun to function with a wide variety of ammunition, ranging from light target loads to those purpose-built for hunting. In the 28 gauge, it’ll reliably cycle mild-recoiling 3/4-oz., 2¾" target shells to hard-hitting 3" magnums.
One of the grievances addressed in the Ethos and subsequent SBE3 series is the infamous “Benelli click.” Easing the SBE2’s bolt handle (and thus bolt) ever-so-slightly rearward for a loaded-chamber inspection and then immediately releasing it appeared to return the bolt to lockup. It didn’t, and when you “fired” at your target, you were rewarded with a game-alerting click—far from ideal. The same outcome resulted when easing the bolt into battery. A slight modification to the bolt prevents this from occurring on the SBE3; the dual-lug, rotating head easily slides into the barrel extension’s recesses.
Like Benelli’s other autoloaders, the SBE3 28 gauge has an aluminum receiver, though it is paired with a separate top cover also made from the metal. On the bottom is a beveled loading port, re-designed carrier and two-piece carrier latch—all of which improve and quicken loading. Further accelerating the process is a continuous groove that runs from the front of the trigger guard, down onto the receiver’s bottom, and spans the full length of the carrier’s base. The tubular magazine on the 28 gauge holds two rounds. Between the bottom loading port and ejection port is the oblong carrier control button.
The trigger guard assembly melds nicely with the receiver. Secured by a single pin, it contains an oversize, crossbolt-style safety rearward of the single-stage trigger, as well as the cartridge drop lever. The loading system enables the user to shift cartridges manually from the magazine tube to the barrel. According to a Lyman Digital Pull Gauge, the trigger on the test gun broke at an average pull weight of 6 lbs., 11 ozs. Like most shotgun triggers, there was considerable creep, however, it was also smooth and exhibited no overtravel.
The 28-ga. SBE3 wears a cryogenically treated barrel, available in either 26" (tested) or 28" lengths. The stress-relieved, hammer-forged Crio System barrels reportedly deliver denser patterns, with 13.2 percent more pellets on target, and are easier to clean; this process is employed on the screw-in choke tubes as well. The five included Crio tubes are cylinder, improved modified and full (flush-fitting) and improved cylinder and modified (extended). Topping the steel barrel is a 7 mm-wide, carbon-fiber rib ending with a red, fiber-optic pipette.
Although all semi-automatic shotguns reduce perceived recoil, those with ID operating systems aren’t as effective as gas-operated systems in doing so. That’s simply the trade-off for an operating system that’s easier to maintain and more durable. Fortunately, Benelli is well-versed in mitigating discomfort. For the SBE3 series, the company added the new Combtech System to the renowned ComforTech buttstock. The soft, pliable material reduces forces transferred to the cheek. Like the SBE2, the SBE3’s ComforTech 3 stock integrates shock-absorbing chevrons and a dense, yet soft, recoil pad to reduce perceived recoil. The top of the pad is smooth and rounded to facilitate faster, snag-free shouldering from a high-ready hold. Like the pistol grip, the black (various camouflage patterns are available for a surcharge) fore-end has molded-in checkering to enhance purchase. Gone is the persistent looseness of the SBE2’s fore-end as well. Lastly, the buttstock has an integral sling mount that corresponds to one on the fore-end cap.
Testing of the sample gun began with patterning at 40 yards—a lengthy poke for a sub-gauge, but less of a concern, given the shotgun’s 3" chambering. As for the test load, we opted for one of the few 3" options available—Fiocchi’s High Velocity, which features 1 ounce of No. 5 lead shot at 1,300 f.p.s. The combination performed exceptionally well when using the extended, modified choke, making it a solid choice for upland hunting where legal. From the light, 5-lb., 8-oz. gun, the recoil was surprisingly tame, thanks to the ComforTech 3 stock with Combtech System.
Perhaps the best endorsement possible of the new 28-ga. Benelli Super Black Eagle 3, one of our testers used the shotgun during a local National Sporting Clays Ass’n competition—connecting on 89 of 100 targets—after only a short period of time with the gun. He found it to be exceptionally well-balanced and natural to swing. Frankly, none of us found anything not to like with the gun; it remedied all the complaints lodged against its predecessor and performed as advertised. For those in the market for a semi-automatic 28 gauge, the SBE3 will be hard to beat.