By Bruce Buck
Photographs courtesy of Beretta USA
Sporting clays is certainly popular, and the gunmakers know it. In addition to several autoloaders, Beretta currently lists numerous over/unders as “sporting” models, including two lower-cost 686s; a high-end DT11; and the recent 690 series, consisting of the 690, 692 and new 694.
Five years ago (Jan/Feb ’15) I reviewed the then-new 690 Field III. Now it’s time to have a look at the 694 Sporting. It lists for $4,500 with a standard stock and goes up to $4,850 with an adjustable comb. This compares with $2,400 for the 686 Silver Pigeon Sporting and $11,000 for the DT11 Sporting. There are also earlier 69x sporting models at $3,000 for the 690 Sporting and $4,800 for the 692 Sporting.
When going from the 680 series to the 690 series, I was concerned that the classic 680 action would be abandoned for something new and unproven. Not to worry. I compared the actions of a 22-year-old 686S to that of the 694 and found them to be virtually identical mechanically. There are plenty of other changes, but the basic interior mechanisms remain unmolested. This is a clean and simple action and is proven by decades of success. The major action pieces sit on a triggerplate that is separate from the frame. Lockup is by the traditional conical Beretta high-mounted locking lugs, which engage further into the action as they wear. The receiver base has no opening to allow the entry of dirt or debris.
Where the 694—along with the previous 692—does differ is that the exterior of the action is a bit wider than the 686’s and a couple of ounces heavier. Beretta feels that this makes the gun more centrally balanced. The replaceable shoulders on the monobloc are retained but redesigned. The 680 barrels will not fit 690s. The 694 opening lever is redone, but I found the angle uncomfortable. The trigger on our test gun was adjustable for length of pull. The inertia-trigger pulls were a very nice 4½ pounds top and 4¼ bottom. They were extremely crisp, with absolutely zero take-up or slop. The safety has been slightly redesigned from the 692’s, but it still operates in the classic Beretta fore-and-aft, off-and-on way with a lateral toggle for barrel selection.
Cosmetically, the 694’s silver receiver has lost the curved Beretta exterior cheeks and instead has a more angular look. Particular attention also was made to reduce glare on the top of the receiver. Engraving remains minimal, with just some blue lettering on the matte steel.
When the 692 was introduced in 2014, it had ejectors that could be turned off. The 694 has returned to auto ejectors that are always engaged. This is more appropriate on a target gun. The ejectors also have been redesigned with more powerful springs.
The 694 Sporting comes in 12 gauge only with 28", 30" or 32" barrels and 3" chambers. It also is available in left- and right-handed models with or without the B-Fast adjustable comb.
Beretta lists the 694’s barrels as being “Steelium Plus” and “Triple Cone,” originally introduced on the upscale DT11. Steelium Plus is Beretta-speak for an interior barrel configuration based on a 14" forcing-cone taper from the chamber halfway down the barrel. I measured it going from the .800" chamber end to a short forcing cone ending at .755". Then it gradually tapered from .755" to .733" over the next 14", where it remained parallel at .733" until entering the screw chokes. This is what the company refers to as the Triple Cone.
Beretta claims that this barrel configuration treats the shot more gently, thus producing less pellet distortion and more consistent patterns. It also is said to reduce recoil and muzzle jump. The barrel bore is chrome plated for ease of maintenance.
On the outside the barrels have a semi-gloss blued finish. Solder seams were correct, with no holidays that I could find with my jeweler’s loupe. The top rib is a low, flat 10mm-to-8mm taper with a tiny central bead and a typical white Bradley bead-on-a-block front bead. The side ribs are ventilated for improved cooling and weight reduction.
While the trap version comes with fixed Full and Improved Modified chokes, our sporting 694 came with five snappy-looking Optima HP screw chokes. These chokes are a long 3½", with ¾" of that protruding from the muzzles. On the front of the chokes there is a colored band and a stamping of the choke’s constriction for easy identification. All chokes except the Improved Modified are OK for steel. The mostly plastic choke wrench is chintzy but adequate.
The interiors of the chokes have a gradual taper ending with about a 1" parallel at the muzzle. This parallel is supposed to stabilize the shot before exit. Constrictions are listed as Cylinder, Skeet, Improved Cylinder, Modified and Improved Modified.
The barrels are also subject to Beretta’s B-Fast Balancing System. Beretta says that the 694’s barrels are designed to accommodate a system of magnetic weights that can be positioned under the forend. These weights were not supplied with our gun.
The stock did include B-Fast balancing stock weights. They were screwed into place in the butt of the stock at the factory to achieve a balance point over the barrel hinge. You easily could add or remove the supplied stock weights to make minor balance adjustments.
The stock itself has been redone compared to the 692’s. It now is available as a fixed stock with a 35mm drop at comb and 50mm drop at heel or 35mm and 55mm. Our test gun had the higher stock and measurements of 14¾" length of pull (including a 5⁄8" pad), 13⁄8" drop at comb and 2" drop at heel. Other thicknesses of pre-fit Micro-Core recoil pads are available to adjust length. An adjustable-comb stock is a $350 option. Any 694 Sporting stock can be had in left- or right-handed versions.
Compared to the 692’s stock, the 694’s has a wider comb along with a lengthened pistol grip with palm swell. The way that the 694’s action has been mated to the stock also has been changed to provide, what Beretta claims is, a clearer field of view when shouldering the gun.
The oil-finished stock on our gun had moderately grained walnut. The machine-cut checkering was quite fine yet sharp enough to provide an excellent grip. The checkering pattern was very basic and covered the grip area. The smooth, rounded forend grip was almost entirely checkered, and its 9½" length provided ample room for varied front-hand placement. That said, a Schnabel forend is available for those who wish.
The forend iron on this 694 has been redone compared to the 692’s. It is now a two-piece system, with steel instead of aluminum pivoting against the front of the receiver. Beretta claims that the new system improves the feel when opening and closing the gun. That was nice and smooth. On the downside, I found that the latch needed a serious push to remove the forend.
The gun came in a nice ABS case that seemed suitable for air travel. The case contained the gun, chokes, wrench, stock weights, trigger screwdriver, stock wrench, generic six-language manual and a three-year-warranty form if the gun is registered.
As with any gun, fit is personal. Our higher fixed stock was probably a bit high and long for Joe Average, but I’ve always felt that people shoot higher, longer stocks better than they do lower, shorter ones, as such stocks provide a firmer mount.
The gun weighed 8 pounds 3½ ounces—6 ounces more than the catalog states. It was centrally balanced, with the weight fairly evenly distributed along the length of the gun. Some centrally balanced guns can have the weight at both ends. Central balance doesn’t change, but the gun handling certainly does.
The 694 Sporting was functionally correct in almost all respects. The inertia trigger had the good taste not to reset for a couple of my light 7⁄8-ounce reloads when the gun was not firmly cheeked. Shouldered properly or using factory ammo, performance was correct.
The gun had a heavy, steady feel, though the weight certainly was in the normal range for sporting clays. For me, the gun emphasized steadiness over speed. Premounted shooters should be right at home. Low-gun shooters might like to start the muzzles a little farther out.
With its price range right in the middle of the “second tier” of sporting clays guns, many will find this gun a natural progression up from the basic Beretta or Browning before hitting the Perazzis and Krieghoffs. The 694 Sporting does have some major competition in the excellent Blaser F16, but it holds its own and is definitely worth a close look. After 500 years, Beretta certainly has learned a thing or two about making guns.
For more information, contact Beretta USA.