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Beretta - A391 Xtrema2
The debate arises because, despite years of research no one has been able to produce a material that can match the ballistic characteristics of lead for a comparable price. Steel is the closest in terms of price but is considerably harder and lighter (68% per unit of volume).
Hardness is an issue because of the potential risk of increased wear of the barrel(s) and choke expansion (bulge) resulting from steel not deforming as lead does when it meets the restriction of the choke. Neither of these need concern most owners of modern guns although manufacturers advise that the pattern will deteriorate if more than 1/2 choke is used.
If concerned, owners of older guns should check with a gunsmith before using steel cartridges but choke expansion is unlikely to be a problem in barrels with less than 1/2 choke. Concerns over barrel wear have been largely eliminated due to improvements in the design of the wadding in cartridges loaded with steel.
The lower mass of steel is important because assuming all other factors are equal, lead shot will carry more energy at range than steel. This gives rise to the claim that steel is not as effective as lead and increases the chances of wounding, not killing a bird.
Ballistics is an extremely complex subject but generally speaking, the solution is to increase the shot by two sizes. If you used to shoot with number 4 lead shot, use number 2 steel shot. The increased size of the shot compensates for the reduced mass and therefore sufficient energy is maintained at greater ranges. This however leads to a further problem, less shot per cartridge and a correspondingly poorer pattern density.
The obvious answer to this is a bigger cartridge and in the USA where lead has been banned since 199, guns that can handle the 3.5" Super Magnum cartridges with shot loads of up to 64 grammes have become very popular. It was therefore inevitable that these guns would start to appear in the UK shortly after the various bans came into effect.
The response from Beretta was the introduction of the A391 Xtrema to the UK in 2002. This was based on the popular Urika but featured a black synthetic stock and forend with matt black metal work. The differences were not just cosmetic however. The gun had been extensively re-engineered to enable it to handle the size and power of the largest cartridges and featured a number of technologies specifically designed to reduce the amount of recoil felt by the user. The Xtrema was a big success and won a number of awards but Beretta believed that they could do better and in 2006 introduced the Xtrema 2.
In designing the new gun, Beretta have focused on further reducing the felt recoil by introducing a total of six recoil reducing features. They claim that this is more than any other shotgun on the planet and that the combined effect is 44% less recoil than that of its closest rival. Other improvements over the original Xtrema include an over bored barrel, completely re-designed trigger mechanism, simplified disassembly, slimmed down stock and fore end and even greater corrosion protection from Berettas patented Aqua technology. Three versions of the gun are available; black synthetic and Hardwoods, Wetlands camouflage. There is also a choice of 24", 26", 28" and 30" barrels.
When it came to testing the gun, my initial impression was that it seemed very long. Despite having the relatively short 26 inch barrel, the test gun stood two inches taller than a Silver Pigeon with 30" barrels. This is partly because of the recoil reducing Kick-off system that is built into the butt of the gun. This works on the same principle as a car's suspension, consisting of two small hydraulic shock absorbers.
Once I actually picked up the gun it did not feel unwieldy but was well balanced and at 7.8 lbs, not particularly heavy for such a big gun. The soft rubber panels that have been over-moulded onto the stock and forend were extremely comfortable to hold and would really come into their own in the cold, wet conditions that many of these guns will encounter.
The first time I actually shot the gun was on the sporting layout at a clay ground with a maximum load limit of 28g. The instruction manual advises owners to run the gun in before using such light loads so I was expecting a few jams but in the course of that afternoon I got through more than two hundred cartridges without encountering a single problem.
The following day, I tried the gun with the most powerful cartridges that I could get hold of, Gamebore's 3.5" 'Mammoth Steel', loaded with 42g of steel shot. Shooting such heavy loads was a totally new experience and I was amazed at the distances that it could regularly break the clays. As for the recoil reducing features, after more than a hundred cartridges had been fired my shoulder was only slightly red. I also took the opportunity to test Beretta's claim that the gun can handle a mixture of cartridges by introducing the odd 2.75" cartridge, and again the gun performed faultlessly. My only gripe was that at some point in the day the tru-glo sight fell off the gun.
Beretta market the Xtrema2 as a 'do it all' shotgun and, given its ability to handle everything from the smallest loads to the heaviest, it's a valid claim. Its natural home is of course the foreshore but its also a great gun for clays. To see just how good it can be in the right hands, take a look at Beretta's demonstration videos.........
* No bans are currently in place in Northern Ireland
Beretta Xtrema 2 Demonstration Video
Second Xtrema 2 Demonstration Video
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