If you have ever finished a day’s hunt with one arm stretched longer than the other due to carrying a gun for many miles over hill and dale, a lighter gun would seem most attractive. Usually lighter means a smaller gauge, but in some hunting situations a 12-bore really gives you what you want when a bird flushes at 30 yards. Most field 12s weigh around seven pounds and up. To make them lighter, aluminum receivers are often employed. The Beretta Ultralight was a good example. Even though such guns are meant more for carrying than for high-volume shooting, many gun owners would still prefer steel receivers.
Enter the new Beretta Ultraleggero. That means “ultralight” in Italian, but it really should translate as “acciaio ultraleggero,” or “steel ultralight,” because this lightweight 12 has a steel receiver, not aluminum. Our test Ultraleggero over/under came with 28" barrels, although 26" tubes are available. The gun weighed 6 pounds 5 ounces. That’s 20-gauge weight. (The 26" would be even lighter.) The MSRP of the gun is $2,999, which is higher than the previous Ultralight.
The Ultraleggero’s gun mechanics follow those of Beretta’s new 690 series, whereas the Ultralight was a 686. The basic differences are rather small. The interiors of the safety mechanisms differ a bit and the ejectors, too, but that’s about it. The big difference is the Ultraleggero’s lightweight steel receiver. The light weight is accomplished by skeletonizing the receiver and removing a good bit of steel from pockets in the sides and bottom of the action. Those reliefs are filled in with engraved techno-polymer inserts.
The interior of the action sports an aluminum trigger housing but with a steel trigger guard. Trigger pulls on our test gun were five pounds for the bottom barrel and 5¾ pounds for the top. There was a little bit of take-up, but then the pull was quite crisp. The trigger is inertia operated and requires the first barrel to fire to enable the second barrel. Double triggers are available in the European market but not yet in the US. More’s the pity. As mentioned, the interior is pretty standard 690, with horizontal coil springs moving the hammers. The safety remains standard Beretta, with a lateral barrel selector built into the switch. The safety goes on automatically when the gun is opened. For some, this is handy in the field and an inconvenience when practicing on clays. A gunsmith can easily convert the safety to manual, if you prefer.
Lockup is unchanged and uses the well-proven Beretta dual conical locking lugs emerging from the breech face and engaging recesses halfway up the back of the monobloc. There are also the usual trapezoidal shoulders as passive locks. The gun hinges on two stubs on either side of the receiver engaging recesses in the sides of the monobloc. It is interesting to note that many gunmakers use much more involved locking systems with both active and passive locks, but none have proven more durable than Beretta’s simple system.
Up front the ejection system has been slightly redesigned but basically uses the same mechanics as in the 686 series. What is different in the Ultraleggero is that the locks in the forend that hold it on are made of aluminum, not steel. Aluminum weighs a third as much as steel. This saves a bit of weight up front, but it results in the aluminum rear of the forend pivoting on the curved steel front of the receiver. This will certainly cause wear over time. However, Beretta has that covered in that the forend fitting pressure is adjustable, so you can keep the pivot pressure where you want it if it wears.
The weight of the barrels is reduced by omitting side ribs. The untapered 3⁄16"-wide vented top rib is flat and scribed on top to reduce glare. As befits a field gun, there is a small brass bead up front and no center bead. The barrels are screw-choked using Beretta’s flush-mounted steel Optima HP chokes. Five come in the kit. They are notched on the front rims to designate constriction while in the barrel. Constrictions are also scribed on the sides of the chokes. The chokes are Cylinder, with a .002" constriction; Improved Cylinder, with .012"; Modified, with .021"; Improved Modified, with .030"; and Full, with .040". These constrictions are close to the nominal designations for 12-gauge chokes. Full and Improved Modified are marked “No Steel,” but the other three are OK for steel. The Optima HP chokes are 2¾" long and threaded toward the front. Most of the choke from the rear forward is a constant tapering constriction, except that the last ⅜" or so is a parallel.
The interiors of Beretta’s Steelium Optima-Bore HP barrels are chrome plated. The barrels have 3" chambers and are approved for steel. After the chambers there is a modest forcing cone of about ¾" in length. But what is different is that after the taper of the forcing cone the barrels continue to slowly constrict in the next four inches to a .732" bore. Usually the bore of the barrel starts right after the end of the forcing cone. Here the .732" bore doesn’t come into play until 7" into the barrel. It is sort of a very long two-step forcing cone. Perhaps this was done to better adapt to steel shot. It slightly reminds me of Fabarm’s Tribore barrels, but those have a much longer relieved constriction before tapering to a short standard bore.
The walnut on our gun was carefully selected, not for its grain but for its weight. The interior of the stock is hollowed out to a great extent, and the half-inch-thick black rubber recoil pad is lighter than standard. The checkering is conventionally machine cut in a minimalist pattern and with a medium lines-per-inch count, to provide a proper field grip. The wood was oil-finished in dark stain that, like on most Italian guns, did not quite fully fill the grain of the wood—although the finish should make it easier to fix field dings than would a hard synthetic coating. Stock dimensions were 14¾" length of pull, 1⅜" drop at comb and 2¼" drop at heel with a slight right-hand cast and the usual 4° of pitch. The full pistol grip is slightly more open than it would be on a target gun, but it is perfect for a field gun. A left-handed stock is not yet available. These stock dimensions are a touch longer and higher than those of a basic Remington 1100 or 870, but they are typical for many European guns. The stock has the same feel as that of the immensely popular standard-weight Beretta Silver Pigeon.
The forend deserves special mention, because it is so nicely shaped. It is just thick enough to provide a good grip. It has a smoothly rounded front end that would permit easy placement of an extended forehand finger.
The Ultraleggero comes in a nice PVC take-down case that might survive the airlines. Inside the gun comes in simple plastic sleeves. As mentioned earlier, you get five screw chokes. Two come in the gun, and three are in a plastic box, which also holds a decent choke wrench, a bottle of gun oil and some sling swivels. The manual is minimal and refers you to the more complete manual on the Beretta website. The warranty is three years to the original owner.
Shooting the gun was a pleasure. The balance point was about 1½" in front of the hinge, giving the gun a bit of weight-forward bias. The lighter the weight of a gun, the more it seems to shoot best with a forward balance. The 28" barrels felt great, but for close-range hunting it would be worth looking at the lighter 26" barrels. The gun was mechanically correct in all respects. Everything worked as it should. Shell ejection was properly paired, and empties went eight feet.
Recoil shouldn’t be an issue for the few shots fired in most hunting situations. A typical 7½-pound O/U shooting a 1¼-ounce, 1,200-fps field load will have 25.8 foot-pounds of recoil, while the Ultraleggero would have 30.5 foot-pounds. The difference with 1-ounce, 1,200-fps loads would be 17.8 foot-pounds versus 21.1 foot-pounds. You won’t want to shoot a lot of clay targets with this gun, but that’s not what its main purpose is. It is a field gun. In the field its light weight will be most appreciated by the end of a long day of carrying. In all, the Ultraleggero is pure Beretta, and it shoots like a Beretta. That’s a good thing.
Make & Model: Beretta Ultraleggero
Action: Boxlock over/under
Finish: Blue with engraved techno-polymer action inserts
Barrel Length: 28"
Weight: 6 pounds 5 ounces
Chokes: Five flush-mounted screw chokes
Stock: 14¾" x 13/8" x 2¼", 4° pitch, cast-off
Accessories: Case, chokes, choke wrench, oil, sling studs, owner’s manual, three-year warranty
Price as tested: $2,999
Bruce Buck’s most recent book, Shotguns on Review, is available for $30.