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I can always tell how nice a gun is by the way the staff at my FFL, Chesapeake Gun & Pawn, react when I walk in the door to pick it up. This time, I didn’t even need to go to the store to know. When one of the girls called me to inform me it was ready for pick up, she was already gushing about how beautiful the gun was and jokingly suggesting she wasn’t going to let me have it so she and the rest of the staff could take it out for a round of clays. That gun was the new Benelli Ethos.
I got more of the same when I showed up at the store. When I told the young lady behind the counter I was there to pick up the Ethos under my name, Heather Cole, another associate at the store, immediately responded about how struck she was by the shotgun’s finish and styling.
“I would love to take that one out to the range,” the avid shooter said. “It’s just gorgeous. I bet it handles great.” I promised when I got done with reviewing it for this article, I would bring the shotgun back and allow her and anyone else there interested to shoot it. Oh, and Heather, it does handle as great as it looks.
For anyone who appreciates performance, for anyone who appreciates beauty, for anyone who appreciates quality, for anyone who appreciates value, Benelli has done what many companies have attempted but just couldn’t quite achieve—they ‘ve figured out how to bring truly high-end features to a firearm the average man or woman can afford. And that my friend, is no small feat.
- Chambering: 12 ga., 3-inch
- Barrel: 28 inches
- OA Length: 49½ inches
- Weight: 6½ pounds
- Stock: AA-grade engraved satin walnut
- Sights: Red bar fiber-optic front, metal bead mid-sight
- Action: Semi-auto
- Finish: Engraved nickel-plated receiver, cryogenically treated blued barrel
- Capacity: 4+1
- MSRP: $2,199 ($1,999 with anodized receiver)
Art Meets Function
Ethos means “the characteristic spirit of a culture, era, community as manifested in its beliefs and aspirations.” And when Benelli introduced the Ethos, they definitely captured in it the boldest culmination of their many years of refined gun design and technological advancements. This shotgun is the sum total of today’s top firearms engineering aspirations.
Let’s start with the action, which mimics the simplicity and smooth-operation of the company’s redefining Vinci and utilizes Benelli’s long-proven Inertia Driven System. Again, simplicity in design as well as function are key to the Inertia Driven System, which is made up of only three key parts: The bolt body, the inertia spring and a rotating bolt head. Fewer parts usually equals less mass, which also translates into a quicker return to battery for a lightning-fast operating system. It doesn’t require heavy, tight springs common to recoil-operated systems, nor a need to cycle gas, smoke and burnt powder back into the gun for cycling like gas-operated systems do. The result is a cleaner-shooting, rapid-cycling shotgun no matter how many shots are fired.
The system offers additional benefits as well. With no heavy springs, gas cylinder or action-bar linkage needed beneath the forend, the shotgun is lighter than a typical 12 gauge, tipping the scales at a mere 6½ pounds, and balances like a custom clays gun to boot. The forend is also slimmer than what is common to most 12-gauge-sized shotguns for a more comfortable fit and surer grip in the hand. Think nimble 20-gauge weight and handling able to deliver a 12-gauge-sized payload and downrange patterning, and you get the gist of it.
It is also capable of cycling some of the lightest field loads and hardest hitting magnum loads without switching a thing. In running more than 100 rounds through the action and barrel, I didn’t have a single shot hang-up or hesitate.
Every aspect of the Ethos is designed to improve performance. Barrels and choke tubes are treated with Benelli’s patented Crio System, a method for cryogenically freezing barrels at -300 degrees Fahrenheit during the manufacturing phase. Freezing relieves stresses placed on the steel that can be caused during the hammer-forging process. The result creates a smoother, more uniform surface for reduced friction on shot and wads traveling down the barrel. Like the barrel, shot patterns are more uniform as they leave the muzzle for a more even spread across the target and often translates into tighter patterns as well depending on the choke used. The Ethos comes with five choke tubes—cylinder, improved cylinder, modified, improved modified and full.
The gun assembles securely using an anti-seize mag cap, knurled for easy gripping and outfitted with a special integral bushing to prevent it from binding. It screws easily onto a single threaded rod instead of needing to be screwed onto a tube like most shotguns. Disassembling the gun is easy by simply unscrewing the cap and sliding it and the narrow forend free of the receiver. The barrel then slides right out. Again, there are no gaskets, seals, springs or anything else you need to worry about falling free when you separate the barrel from the receiver.
The oversized trigger guard protects a gold colored trigger and provides ample room for shooting with gloves. The long angled front side of the guard slopes gently toward the cartridge drop lever where shells are fed into the magazine for easy reloading, even when keeping your eyes on targets out in the field.
A lighter gun, while nice for swinging on target and toting in the field, can also translate into a bigger punch on the shoulder end of recoil generated by firing heavy 12-gauge shells (and for some shooters, any 12-gauge shell). Weight tends to dampen vibration as there is more mass for it to travel through. But Benelli engineers considered that and have come up with what feels like a game-changing solution. In addition to a soft, rubberized comb that mitigates vibrations traveling up through the stock to the cheek, the rear of the Ethos stock features the Progressive Comfort recoil reduction system. The system employs interlocking rubberized buffers of varying elasticity inside the rear of the wood. When a shot is fired and the recoil travels toward the shoulder, depending on the load fired, the vibration is radically dampened. During test firing at targets, I don’t actually recall noticing any recoil, even when firing hard-thumping Winchester Blind Side waterfowl loads while wearing just a t-shirt. Maybe I was too caught up on how simply beautiful the gun performed and looked.
Coming into the shooting game as a hunter first, the firearm, to me, has always been more of a means to an end…a highly effective tool used to help me achieve my goal. But if it works well and looks nice doing the job, all the better. And this gun looks nice; real nice. In fact, it’s reminiscent of a fine custom-made or configured shotgun, something the folks in Benelli’s Performance Shop know a thing or two about.
My test gun, like all Ethos variants, came with a beautifully satin finished AA-grade walnut stock and forend. AA-grade woods are high quality woods, typically with 50 percent of figure. Figure is the amount of grain design consistent throughout the surface of the wood. The wood was smooth, almost silky, to the touch and boasted textured checkering at the pistol grip and along the bottom of the forend, which also had a contoured rib running lengthwise for improved grip.
The barrel with its raised vent rib was luxuriously blued for a flawless shiny black finish and served as a sharp accent to the nickel-plated receiver, complete with a refined engraved surface and mirror-finished bolt. The recoil pads integrated into the stock are black and pair nicely with the attractive grain in the walnut.
Looking at the fit of the various components of the shotgun, there were no gaps between the stock and the receiver nor loose play in the forend when attached to the receiver and barrel. The barrel locks firmly into the receiver with zero space between the abutted steel and again, not even the slightest hint of wiggle, which can occur in the sometimes imperfect joining of a barrel made to be removed from its receiver for cleaning or packing into a hard gun case. It was truly the most beautiful shotgun I’ve fired since shooting sister company Beretta’s DT11 upon its introduction four years ago.
I guess I’ve always been a sucker for beautiful things … even when I can’t afford them. Of course, unlike the over/under DT11, which retails for upward of $11,000, the Ethos, despite its custom-grade construction and features, at $2,199. Don’t mind foregoing the nickel-plated receiver for an anodized one? Then you can slip in at right under the $2K mark for a cool $1,999. When you figure a Vinci or Super Black Eagle II will set you back around $1,500 to $1,600, a gun of this quality and Benelli’s impeccable pedigree for just a few hundred dollars more is phenomenal value.
The Ethos is available in seven variations. The 12-gauge nickel-plated receiver with a 28-inch or 26-inch barrel, a 12-gauge anodized receiver with the same barrel lengths (all 12-gauge models are chambered to accommodate 3-inch and 2¾-inch shells), a 20-gauge model with nickel-plated or anodized receivers and the option of 28-inch or 26-inch barrels and new for this year, an incredibly nimble (and light at 5.3 pounds) 28-gauge model with an engraved nickel-plated receiver and 26-inch barrel.
At the Farm
I grew up hunting with shotguns, though at the time it was mostly for small game—rabbits and squirrels—and whitetail deer and the occasional duck. That soon grew to include turkeys. In all of these environments where thick woods and southeastern cutovers dominate, briars and devil’s walking sticks are a constant threat to a shotgun’s finish; especially the stock. Quite often, I hunted with good, but still somewhat worn shotguns. An extra scratch simply gave them character.
The Ethos has enough character and while I have no doubt it would perform admirably in thick cover hunting situations, there is no way I would carry this thing anywhere near a tangle of briars. That would just be disrespectful. Where this gun is designed to flourish is on the clays course, the skeet or trap range and the open or crop-filled fields where pheasants, quail or even dove are apt to fly by. Give it a shot on some ducks and geese too, but whether journeying by boat or simply setting up in a cold, muddy blind, take a good soft-sided (and padded) case to protect that finish.
I tried shots through several of the different choke tubes before settling on an improved modified to provide an apples-to-apples comparison of various loads to see how they patterned. I went with a 25-yard range, which seemed like a good average range for many shots I’ve encountered with feathered game over the years.
To test the Ethos, I fired 12-gauge, 2¾-inch Winchester Super Speed Game Loads with 7/8 ounces of No. 7½ shot, Federal Premium Target Loads (12-gauge, 2¾-inch as well) filled with 1 ounce of No. 7½ shot and, to try the opposite end of the recoil and shot size spectrum, Winchester Blind Side waterfowl loads. The 3-inch hulls were packed with 1 3/8 ounces of hexahedron BB-sized shot. See the chart below for results:
With the Ethos, Benelli has built a shotgun that combines the best of Old World craftsmanship with a lengthy list of modern innovations and technology, a combination we would typically suggest was reserved for the wealthier shooters, hunters and collectors among us. However, with a price point hovering right at the $2,000-mark, it’s a gun that remains within the very real grasp of even the most working-class sportsman’s paycheck, even if it might take two or three of those checks to make the gun a part of his collection. Take a look. I am sure you will be as impressed with it as I am.