Review: Benelli Ethos 12 Gauge Autoloader

Above: the Ethos violin girls play, as part of the NRA 2014 Benelli display in Indianapolis. Photo by Randy Wakeman.

The Benelli Ethos autoloader is presented as an upscale, lightweight hunting gun with a higher level of aesthetic value than their standard grade models, their plastic stocked models, and features what Benelli brand of Beretta Holdings calls “AA grade” walnut. Initially, in the U.S., it is offered in two flavors: a silver engraved version at $2199 MSRP and a black anodized receiver model (the tested model) at $1999 MSRP. It is the same gun, the same action, and the same features either way.

Benelli calls out the basic specifications as:

26 inch barrel
AA-Grade Satin Walnut, Anodized
47.5 inches OAL
6.4 lbs. weight
$1,999 MSRP

Additional Specifications
Magazine Capacity: 4+1
Chokes: C, IC, M, IM, F
Type of Sights: Red-Bar Front and Metal Bead Mid-Sight
Length of Pull: 14-3/8 inches
Drop at Heel: 2-1/4 in.
Drop at Comb: 1-1/2 in.
Minimum Recommended Load: 2-1/2 dram, 7/8 oz. loads

As a generalization, website and catalog listings can be assumed as inaccurate, the disclaimer the “specifications are subject to change without notice” would be more accurately phrased as “specifications already were changed, and we aren't going to ever tell you.” However, just as assembled out of the box, the 26 inch barrel Ethos weighs 6 pounds, 7 ounces via calibrated electronic scale. The Ethos is a light gun, very light for a 12 gauge, and only a quarter pound heavier than the shorter-barreled (24 inch) Benelli Ultra Light 12 gauge previously reviewed. The weight of the Ethos is as promised, however, the "14-3/8 inch length of pull" isn't. The Ethos stock felt a bit short, and it is . . . having about 14-1/8 inch length of pull as supplied, a half inch off from published specification. With no thicker recoil pads available or even listed as yet from Benelli, this is going to be a stopper for some potential buyers.

I found the handling qualities of the Ethos to be quite similar to the Ultra Light. The Ethos does not have the “Weathercoat” fake wood of the Ultra Light, either, and retains the carbon fiber rib. When I reviewed the Benelli Ultra Light, I found the trigger to wonderfully adequate, breaking at 5 lbs, 7 oz. Sadly, the Ethos trigger is worse, breaking at 6-1/4 lbs. or a bit more. The Ethos trigger break is just marginally lighter than the weight of the gun and that is a disappointment.

The wood is “real walnut,” and attractive, with well-cut checkering. However, while there is some figure, the “AA” random designation Benelli assigns to it is wishful thinking. While above average, with the forearm and buttstock even matched in color and tone, it is only that, looking pretty sad compared the wood of the reviewed Fabarm XLR5 LR, the Browning Citori 725 20 gauge Field, the Weatherby SA-08 28 gauge, several Ithaca Model 37s, and so forth. Your own eyes can be the judge of that, but the Ethos wood is quite pleasant, but not at all breathtaking or deserving of AA ratings.

More downside: though Benelli promises interchangeable ribs, thicker recoil pads, etc., they aren't available. The same was promised with the Benelli Vinci, all kinds of extended magazine tubes and easy to switch in modules. Many have never appeared after five years. Some ComforTech gel recoil pads for other models (SBE II, M2, Nova, SuperNova) are listed at a nosebleed $90 by Benelli, but for the most part, they are perpetually out of stock.

The pistol grip of the Ethos is poorly placed, making the reach for the trigger excessively long for a hunting gun. It is workable, some will get used to it, but unless your index finger is as long as Bigfoot, you'll be hitting the trigger with the tip of your finger, whether you want to or not. While the "Progressive comfort system" is touted as high-tech, plastic leaf springs aren't. There is only so much you can do in a finite range of rearward stock movement to slow it; several of the latest recoil pads (Inflex II) are just as effective as the "Progressive Comfort" array. Why wouldn't they be? Recoil pads have long used different internal baffles to control compression rate, progressively, and putting plastic fingers in the stock doesn't hugely change much of anything.

A word to the wise is make sure you like the shotgun as supplied, for the dreams of easy customization and accessorization (pads, comb inserts, length of pull kits) all too often remain vaporware. In my specific case, the Ethos fit well enough right out of the box, there are the usual drop / cast stock shims included, and according to the good folks at Benelli the length of the buttstock can be adjusted a bit, by moving the Progressive Comfort unit out from the butt a bit. Many will need that as much as possible, for the buttstock feels short and it is shorter than claimed.

Benelli has reworked the action a bit; the bolt is less inclined to produce the “Benelli Click,” exactly what you want if the bolt is out of battery. I'll call it an improvement, however . . . I have yet to have a single “Benelli Click” while hunting, inclusive of M2's, the Vinci, and other inertia type guns. The bolt release button is now a bit more generous rectangular affair, another slight modification that I'd call an improvement. No help for the safety, however, which is a dinky button behind the trigger guard and excessively stiff (10 pounds) at that. The plastic case the Ethos is supplied in is an upgrade as well, with at least a small amount of padding and studier construction than the Vinci box which two of three arrived cracked, the third one I was able to destroy myself with no effort.

The Ethos promised to cycle 7/8 oz. loads, loads I'd personally never use out of a 12 gauge hunting gun. Factory one ounce loads are more plentiful, less costly, and other prior Benellis have all handled them, although cycling was weak on the tested SBE-II, it still handled them. Nevertheless, it is worthy of being called a slight improvement as well, for some folks are obsessed with minimalist reloads, apparently. I don't understand the appeal, personally. Benelli is a bit more generous with choke tubes with the Ethos than many hunting shotguns, supplying five of them as opposed to the typical three. Benelli has added a new, easier loading shell carrier. Again, it can be considered a minor improvement, but it is the 20 gauges (M2, Franchi Affinity) that are in great need of significant help in the stiff loading department, not the 12 gauges.

Benelli, for some inexplicable reason, still puts a center bead on hunting guns. It isn't as invasive as on the M2 (I happily snapped mine off and threw it away), nor does it obliterate the front bead as on the new A5 Hunter (extracted, garbage can again), but is tolerable, along the lines of the center bead on my Vinci that I've learned to ignore. It's worthless on a hunting gun, for a pheasant hunter that thinks he needs to “check his gun mount” is going to go hungry.

Any inertia gun fires just like a fixed breech gun, there is nothing there to attenuate recoil. So, it is all down to what recoil pad, special stock, or a springy stock thing you tack onto the end of the shotgun. In the case of the 12 gauge Benelli Ultra Light (6 lbs. 3 oz. as tested), the recoil is brutal with the loads I want to shoot. The new Browning A5 Hunter (6-1/2 lbs.), at essentially the same weight as the Ethos, has an excellent recoil pad, but it sure wasn't enough. It was “huntable,” but not close to what you'd want for an afternoon on the dove field wearing a short-sleeve shirt. The Benelli ComforTech stock approach (Vinci, M2) really does work and impressively softens the recoil pulse: one of the rare gimmicks that is no gimmick at all.

There is a limit as to what can be done with light field guns and springy stock things, of course. So, it was time to head to the field to make the obvious comparison, this 6 lb. 7 oz. Benelli Ethos vs. the 7 lb. 1 oz. Benelli Vinci. As “felt recoil in hunting guns” and the ability to cycle light loads is part of the promise of the Ethos, a Remington Versa Max was shot alongside both the Ethos and the Vinci. Previously, the Vinci has been compared against the new A5, , and the Vinci is easily the more enjoyable, versatile, well-rounded, usable shotgun of the two.


The Ethos and Versa Max cycled the worst 1 oz. loads we had available: the nasty Winchester white box 1180 fps 1 oz. loads. No malfunctions with either, but the Vinci did fail to cycle these shells a couple of times.

In the felt recoil department, there was no doubt. The softest shooting gun was the eight pound Remington Versa Max (by a huge margin), followed by the seven pound 1 oz. Benelli Vinci, with the lighter Ethos coming in dead last.

As the Ethos has been touted as “super-easy” to load the magazine with, we compared. Actually the easiest, smoothest loading shotgun of the three was the Benelli Vinci, though none were at all difficult.

The shotgun with the best factory trigger was the Vinci, with the Ethos trigger excessively heavy by comparison.

The hardest safety to get off was also on the Ethos, it is not only small but overly stiff. Both the Vinci and the Versa Max had dream safeties, by comparison.

The Ethos is a lightweight field gun, quite comfortable with 1 oz. loads, but not as soft shooting as the Vinci. Neither compared favorably to the Versa Max in shooting comfort. With 1-1/8 oz. loads, the difference was more pronounced: the Benelli Vinci is clearly more comfortable to shoot than the Ethos.

Where the Ethos delivers is a better, more positive ejection with extremely light loads than prior Benelli's. While the “Progressive Comfort” recoil system is not nearly as good as the marketing hyperbole suggests, the Ethos itself is a softer-shooting alternative and generally a more desirable gun than either the Benelli Ultra Light. It is a better-looking alternative, as well, by most standards, but the “Grade AA Walnut” is generously over-graded on the tested article.

The heavy trigger, heavy safety, heavily over-rated recoil reduction, and heavy price all combine to make the Ethos a lackluster shotgun, though, not comparing favorably to Benelli's own M2 and Vinci as a general hunting shotguns, both which retail for $500 - $600 less and are a lot more fun to shoot. Nor is it as practical a hunting gun as the Franchi Affinity 12 gauge, for that matter, which is available for a fraction of the price as the Ethos and is notably better in other obvious ways as well, such as the trigger.

After spending some quality time with the Ethos, it makes it more apparent why any number of twenty gauges rate as better upland hunting options, as they are lighter still, slimmer, even faster-shouldering, and in the case of gas-guns, softer-shooting as well with similar 1 oz. lead loads.

Copyright 2014 by Randy Wakeman. All Rights Reserved.


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