The Benelli Vinci Shotgun: An In-Depth Look

The massively hyped Benelli Vinci is not what I thought, likely not what you think, and also not as advertised. I'm generally not inclined to discuss a product at this length unless there is something remarkable present-- there is with the Vinci, but not what it seems.


The tested 26 inch Benelli Vinci weighs 7.1 pounds. Its action, a delayed-blowback recoil action, produces a sharp recoil pulse consistent with any 7.1 pound fixed breech gun and is not comparable to gas operated actions. In fact, if the Vinci did not produce significant rearward movement, it would not work. Its floating bolt body action requires substantial rearward movement of the rest of the gun to function. If Benelli wants a gun that has 72 percent less recoil, we can help. All they have to is make a gun that weighs 72 percent more and that little problem is solved. Benelli states, "Advanced ergonomics assure fluid gun movement. Combine that with the ComforTech™ Plus recoil reduction system, and Benelli puts in your hands the world's softest-kicking shotgun." There is nothing ambiguous about "the world's softest kicking" statement at all. There is also nothing truthful about it, either. If we want the world's softest-kicking shotgun, a good place to look is for the "world's heaviest shotgun." I suspect we will find the softest-kicking shotgun in very close proximity.


Let's get to the really important stuff: semi-auto shotgun design. With most all autoloading shotguns, from the Browning A-5, the Beretta 300 series, the SKB 900s, the Remington 1100 / 11-87, and through present day offerings we have a lurking issue-- the mainspring in a tube that resides in the buttstock that closes the bolt and finishes cycling the action. The term "out of sight, out of mind" applies. Many fifty year-old A-5's have mainsprings that have never seen the light of day. Competition shooters know that it is a good idea to replace that spring at regular intervals, every 5000 rounds or so, as the spring weakens with time and use. The tube that houses it often becomes a repository for powder residue, coagulated old oil, grease, and other interesting materials. Aside from spring-set, the spring itself is prone to rusting. The spring itself is often indequate to properly regulate bolt speed. This mainspring in semi-autos is an Achille's heel of sorts. Hard to monitor, not easy to access in the field, and no precise or easy way to measure its wear.

Non-compensating actions (A300 Beretta series, Remington 1100) increase bolt speed faster and faster until the gun just tries to beat itself into pieces in concert with the rise in gas flow through the ports. That mainspring must be a compromise, light enough to cycle target loads-- yet strong enough to try to protect the gun from "baby magnums" and similar. It's not an easy task. It does get a lot of help from gas systems that do compensate for gas flow (390, 391, Browning "Active Valve") but these systems also have their limits. None compensate for mainspring weakening, and in the case of the Berettas we have aftermarket springs that control the secondary gas bleed (Cole Gunsmithing) to try to keep the bolt speed at a reasonable rate for a specific shell.

As testimony to this, we can see the bolt buffers added in the case of the old Winchester Super-X Model 1, and on several other models including the Beretta 391 as well. In the case of early production of the SX-1 and the 391-- the bolt buffer itself caused its fair share of problems. It would be an overstatement to say that the pinned link at the back of the bolt, stock-based mainspring, and mainspring tube doesn't work-- sure it does. It is hard to monitor, though, and something that is often ignored as a result. The Vinci does away with the mainspring tube, spring, and vertically moving bolt link in one fell swoop. Everything is self-contained in the barrel, so all of the added complications of tube, spring, link, and sacrificial parts such as bolt recoil buffers are taken out of the equation. At the same time, it frees up stock design parameters, so now the stock can be whatever is desired without having to accommodate mainsprings and mainspring tubes. This is the "in-line action" of the Vinci, and though it isn't the primary focus of marketing-- it likely should be. The Vinci's inline barreled action changes things for the better.

The Vinci inline barreled action also takes other negatives right out of the equation. Welding or brazing things to the center of a barrel can produce all kinds of problems-- and, it has done just that. We wouldn't dream of tacking on barrel rings to rifles-- all the goodies that we enthusiastically braze, solder, or sometimes glue on to shotgun barrels don't help repeatability or consistency one bit. We don't think of consistency or accuracy in shotguns very often, but we probably should-- as shotguns can be used very consistently and accurately.

Bend a magazine tube on an A-5, you can have point of impact problems. With the barrel ring riding up and down the magazine tube on an A-5-- it is easy to see why this is. Remington 1100's sometimes have POI problems-- my recently tested Sporting 20 sure did. The culprit was the barrel ring brazed to the barrel out of alignment with the barrel itself-- easy enough to do. We have no such hangar tacked on the to Vinci barreled action. Here, the barrel is essentially the gun.

Cranking down a forearm nut threaded to a magazine tube extension creates problems. Barrels heat-up rapidly when fired and they grow in length accordingly. This can result in point-of-impact shifts. A known issue, this is why the Beretta 391 has an ridiculously over-engineered forearm nut consisting of seven parts and itself is spring-loaded-- to allow for barrel growth without bending the barrel. In so doing, we still have a forearm nut that can seize onto the shaft it threads on to and yet another spring we can't see inside the nut that can rustlock itself into non-working mode. Can't happen with a Vinci-- as these components don't exist in its inline action. Other issues appear when you shove a barrel into a receiver. The first Remington gas autoloader, the Model 58 had them. Receiver cracking was an issue with heavy use or heavy loads, the inletting changed on later models to address this. With a self-contained inline action, the stress and vibration that would normally be injected into the rest of the receiver and its parts, often made out of dissimiliar metals, is largely taken out of the system as well.

The forearm cap or "barrel nut" prevalant on semi-auto shotguns creates all kinds of issues itself. In some models, there is very little purchase to secure it-- the Remington 1100 is an example, with annoying loosening of the barrel always at the wrong time. Flipside, if not tightened properly (and the forearm floated) you may get cracked forearms as in the A-5. In other applications, they tend to weld themselves on (Beretta 391) so some end up looking for a pipe wrench to get their forearm nut off. Beretta goes to the extent of suppling a red plastic bushing shipped with current 391 models to prevent issues when the shotgun is taken down and cased. All of this is necessary, of course, as with no magazine cap your gun comes apart: the barrel just falling to the ground. A forearm cap and barrel ring does not compare favorably with the more robust construction of threaded barrels and receivers.

This is far from the end of potential issues, it is just the beginning. Most barrels are sloppily fitted to recievers in semi-auto shotguns. It is a slip-fit, of course, not an interference fit. Slide a barrel into the receiver of most semi-autos and twist it by hand. It is easy to discern what a loosey-goosey fit it has. Not only does the barrel not properly interface with the receiver, but only a section of the barrel normally enters it: the "barrel extension." Some are better than others, of course. When a slip fit barrel goes into a reciever, we have all kinds of vibration and stress inflicted on that reciever. The barrel wear is easy to see after a few cases of shells-- you can see the external rubbing and scraping where the barrel is forced rearward upon ignition. The Browning A-5 (and its long-recoil action offspring) takes advantage of this to cycle the gun. Most current offerings do not.

There are things we can do to help delay problems, like lightly greasing barrel extensions before assembly of the gun. Nevertheless, in many semi-autos we are continually pounding a steel barrel into a comparatively soft aluminum hole. Steel tends to win this encounter most every time. The Vinci eliminates all this-- no more slip fits, no more vibration and stress.

Perhaps some of folks at Benelli disagree, but as far as I'm concerned a quick release buttstock or an improved recoil pad is all sub-text; trivia compared to what the inline action accomplishes. It is the inline barrel action that obsoletes most other autoloaders manufactured today-- including other Benelli models. That's the intriging and exciting aspect of the Vinci, as far as I'm concerned-- the rest is just frosting on the inline cake. Some of it is tasty frosting, though.

Much ado is made about the "modularity" of the Vinci. For the reasons stated, the in-line action is by far the most valuable. The quick-removable buttstock means little-- as the inline action eliminates the need to inspect, repair, or replace any components inside the buttstock-there are no wearing parts inside. The ability to remove the "lower" which contains the trigger group is of value, though. A push of a button and a quick inspection, light lube, and an airhose on the trigger group is just seconds away.


Cycle rate is touted as important. A fast cycling shotgun is supposed to be good. Is it? Beretta Xtrema2 spots show Tim Bradley firing 12 rounds out of an Extrema2 in 1.73 seconds. Tom Knapp shot a (then) world record with a factory Benelli M2 in 2004, breaking ten hand-thrown clays with ten shots-- about 2.2 seconds for that feat. That record didn't last for long, as on July 6, 2005, it was eleven clay targets hand thrown, individually shot, from the shoulder and without assistance with a Winchester SX3 by Patrick Flanigan. Patrick Flanigan cracks off 12 rounds with a Winchester SX3 in 1.442 seconds in another widely seen spot-clearly, quite a bit faster than the Xtrema2 managed. I've met Tom-- he's quite a gentleman and a fine spokesperson. I know Patrick, like him, and consider him a friend.

The point of all this is my masterful observation of the facts, observations so very obvious that I am compelled to point them up myself. Though prominent gun companies have a sad trend of paying for ads that contain meaningless "information"-- there is no such thing as a "slow" autoloading shotgun, in fact many of todays models are slower than the original, John Browning's A-5. In all of my years I've never been forced to wait and twiddle my thumbs while an autoloading bolt closes to take a second bird on any semi-auto from High Standard Supermatic Trophies to SKB XL900's to Browning Double Autos, B-2000s, and A-5's. This vaporware issue never did exist. It is necessary to note this solely because there are salient differences in action types-- but cycle speed is just not one of them, unless you are running a marketing campaign and just have nothing of substance or value to talk about.


No through discussion of a shotgun is complete, so it seems, without the omnipresent mystery of recoil. Since recoil is brought to the forefront both by manufacturers claims-- and spurred on by shooters, lets consider a few things. In W.W. Greener's The Gun & Its Development, ninth Edition, page 686, Mr. Greener discusses the "12 bore Game Gun." Greener writes that the best all-round gun for sporting purposes is the 12 bore . . . weighing about seven pounds. Greener comments further that 12-bores much under 3-1/4 drams and 1-1/8 oz. of shot with comfort to the shooter. If 7-1/4 lbs., 3-1/4 drams and 1-1/4 oz. of shot is the Greener suggestion for reasonably comfortable shooting. While they can be no really wrong answer, Greener's notion is pretty much as on target today as it was one hundred years ago. A better way to look at the shootability aspect of the Vinci is practical, hunting level shooting comfort. At the risk of sounding too esoteric, the shotguns that works the best is a system. No one facet is omnipotent; it is the synergy of all the factors that makes wingshooting effortless that is the goal, or should be. Chokemakers might like to you to think it is all in the choke, recoil pad sellers might tout it is all in the pad, those who provide aftermarket forcing cone work and barrel porting might like you to believe that that's what really counts. They are all wrong, of course, completely absolutely wrong.

Alright, as a practical matter, there are three primary factors to consider in actual recoil. The first, and foremost is gun weight. A 12 pound trap gun is going to have 50% as much recoil as a 6 pound field gun, assuming the same load and action type. Beyond that, it is shot payload mass (including wad, powder) and muzzle velocity. That's all there is. The recoil pulse is a very brief one in a 12 gauge shotgun. The shotgun "recoil event" was recently studied at the Department of Mechanical Engineering, University of Texas at Austin. The duration of shotgun recoil was found be very, very short: about ten milliseconds. That's 1/100th of a second. It is a far, far faster pulse that most of us might realize. That 1/100th of a second that fascinates us is roughly equivalent to two flaps of a honeybee's wing. One frame of 30 fps (full motion) video is 3.33 times as long as the recoil pulse. A human takes ten times as long to react as our recoil pulse; the blink of a human eye is thirty to forty times as long as the recoil pulse at 300-400 ms. So, the recoil we muse about doesn't just happen in the blink of an eye, it happens 35 or 40 times quicker than it takes a human eye to blink. More directly put, recoil happens so fast we cannot possibly react to it directly, nor is the human body equipped to measure it with any precision. It happens far, far too fast for our senses to appreciate in progress. If you consider the actual 10ms speed of the entire recoil event, you will quickly come to the conclusion that some of the most famously championed "features" are false on their respective faces. Soft recoil powders, soft recoil wads, soft recoil forcing cones, and so on are uncheckable lies. So, to arrive at shooting comfort, we have to dig a bit deeper.

Feisty Elmer Keith used to say, "it's all in your head." There may well have been a lot of things in Elmer Keith's head that were hard to understand; perhaps he always packed a little recoil up there as well? Fixed breech guns do nothing to address recoil. They are the hardest kicking actions around-- and always will be. That doesn't mean they are unusable, of course-- it is just the fact of the action. "Attenuate" is one of those three dollar words tagged on to recoil. It originally meant, "to make thin"-- or reduce. Today, it is a backhanded way to attempt to say something reduces recoil, whether it does or not.

Gas-operated shotguns do kick less, of course, as they transmit the rearward thrust of the shotgun into fragmented components rather than the singular rearward movement of a unitized doublegun. Most of us have a good grasp of the force equals mass times change in velocity general concept. In a gas gun, what is often overlooked is the reverse recoil. The gas piston, action bar, and breech are fired in reverse-- right back at your shoulder. It is a good thing, a very good thing, as we now have forward thrust added to a section of the rearward thrust event we call recoil. The mass and velocity of the reverse recoil components serve to partially counteract our conventional kick. Though significant, it is limited by a couple of things. Our reverse recoil event cannot be initiated until we have gas flow through barrel ports and the reverse recoil event ends when the gas array motion stops-- that is, when the breechbolt is fully rearward. The net effect is to reduce the peak skin pressure by flattening out the skin pressure trace; it lengthens the overall recoil event.

It hardly stretches out the recoil event by a great length of time, but it does not have to. Just a 1 millisecond elongation of the "skin pressure curve" against your shoulder flattens the peak pressure exerted against the skin-- something that properly set-up long recoil action autos (A-5) can do to some extent, and something that gas operated autos are capable of doing better. No such peak skin pressure reduction is possible with an O/U or SxS-- nor is it possible with a delayed-blowback action such as the Vinci. That doesn't tell the full story however.

The notion of recoil absorption merits further mention. We have astoundingly dishonest ad-brags in this department. A prominently puzzling claim is by Remington, with their "Supercell" recoil pad. Remington says, "Ten years of rigorous R&D has produced a recoil pad far superior to anything the world has seen before. So effective in fact, our Model 870 pump shotgun now produces 54% less recoil than competing autoloaders with their factory pads." This remarkable level of hoax defies both explanation and common sense. To search for the real story in this matter, our research led us straight to the U.S. Patent Office.

U.S. Patent 6,305,115 of October 23, 2001, by Todd B. Cook was assigned to R.A. Brands, 870 Remington Dr., Madison, NC. The testing included as part of this patent, using Kistler dynamic load cells and a high resolution accelerometer, is quite revealing. These gel pads of various durometers were precisely measured using a Remington 870 pump and both Nitro 27 target loads and heavier turkey loads. These "super" pads reduced recoil force by 19% with target loads and just 6% with turkey loads. Comparisons were done against both solid rubber and vented pads. Now, the differences become subtle. For example, during qualitative testing, a group of 200 pound shooters actually found the vented rubber pad to be superior than two out of the three "super" gel pads. It appears that the claim of "54% less recoil" fails in every way, much less the added insult to intelligence that it is"less than competing autoloaders with their factory pads." The maximum recoil reduction shown was 19%. The apparent preferred rendition of the pad, using 90 Shore Hardness (00) material managed roughly 15% reduction against a generic rubber vented pad with trap loads and less than a 2% reduction with turkey loads. Somebody should be really ashamed of themselves. Perhaps it is this same level of intellectual rigor that would lead a company to recently buy Chrysler for $7.4 billion, thinking it was a really good deal?

Recoil takes on directions that aren't readily apparent. Shooting comfort is comprised of many things, including isolating the sportsman from unwanted vibration. No shotgun action is immune from this, not even heavier gas-operated autos that are generally softer shooting than the Vinci with trap or dove loads. A friend of mine in the industry related his high volume shooting experience in Argentina with a popular gas auto. A right-handed shooter, his left hand became numb after a couple days to the point of affecting the trip. Well, as it turns out the culprit was the gas action itself. Shoot a gas piston at a high rate of acceleration and high speed down the inside of an autoloading forearm, vibration may result. In this case, the gas array vibration was more than sufficient to cause pain and numbing discomfort that was both surprising and unwanted.


Recently, I spent several days focusing on comparing recoil from a field perspective. The exemplar shotgun chosen to compare against a 26 inch barreled Vinci was a Browning Cynergy Euro Field 28 inch version. The Cynergy was not selected as a harsh shooting shotgun. To the contrary, this 7-1/2 pound "Inflex" pad equipped Cynergy is one of the softest shooting O/U's I've ever tested in its weight bracket. All of our shooters felt that the Cynergy is quite comfortable to shoot with 1-1/8 oz. 1230 fps loads, no doubt about it. With the Cynergy as our control unit, we began a long series of tests versus the 7 pound Vinci.

While the Cynergy was and is a comfortable shooting shotgun with B & P F2 Legend 1-1/8 oz. shells, it became clear that the Vinci was a softer shooting shotgun, despite its half-pound lighter weight. Not by leaps and bounds, not by a huge amount, but with no question-- a little bit softer shooting. The next step was to change the intensity of our test loads, this time to 1-1/4 oz. Federal Hi-Power 1330 fps loads. We used the same cycle of comparative testing: one shot from a gun, switch, repeat. Then two shots, switch, and repeat. Then six shots, switch, and repeat. Now, the comfort level changed immediately, and dramatically. The Cynergy had a pronounced jolt; while the Vinci's recoil increased, it was by a very small amount by comparison. The Vinci was a creampuff compared to the Cynergy.

Next up were 1-3/8 oz. Fiocchi Golden Pheasant loads. Now, the Cynergy recoil was up to the point where repetitive shots were no fun at all, the jolting becoming invasive enough where none of our test shooters made it through a full box of Golden Pheasants. Recoil increased somewhat with the Vinci, but still a very small increase compared to the previous batch of 1-1/4 oz. Federals. It was fun breaking clays a foot off the ground at eighty yards, though.

The final stop was a box of vintage Winchester Super-X Mark V 2-3/4 inch Magnums, featuring the "new" (for 1962, that is) Mark V collar and 1-1/2 oz. of #4 shot. All of our shooters declined to shoot them out of the Cynergy, already having the benefit of all the recoil they cared to enjoy from it courtesy of the Golden Pheasants. There is a reason these shells were still in our arsenal-- that was the shell that bent the mainspring tube of a Belgium Browning standardweight A-5 with the first shot; the remaining shells placed in storage ever since. We ran half a dozen shells through the Vinci with what we expected-- no problems whatsoever. Recoil was to point of uncomfortable, though, so these old Mark V magnums would not be the shells we'd want to shoot all day wearing a light short-sleeved shirt at clays, to be sure. Note that three inch steel loads are actually lighter payloads than either the old Mark V or even the Golden Pheasant loads-typically 1-1/8 (1500 fps) or 1-1/4 oz. (1400 fps), having scant little more recoil than the traditional 1-1/4 oz. "high brass" 1330 fps high brass load our Federal Hi-Power loads took the place of in this test.

From our qualitative analysis we discovered that the Vinci became dramatically more comfortable and more shootable as the intensity of the loads increased. Another way of phrasing it, in this case a bit ironically-- the Vinci has far more synergy than the Cynergy was able to demonstrate. The Vinci's ability to dampen the recoil pulse scales vividly with its increase.


At the beginning of this four thousand three hundred word missive, I mentioned that the Benelli Vinci is not what I thought, likely not what you think, and also not as advertised. Hopefully, the reasons for those comments are a lot more clear by now.

What the Vinci is, is the most significant advance in the autoloading hunting shotgun in the last fifty years, certainly the most inspiring and important autoloader I've witnessed in my lifetime. It dwarfs the designs of many fine autoloaders (including some of Benelli's own product) substantially.

The Vinci accomplishes this not by living up to its hyperbole, but in several ways that define balanced hunting performance and reliability. Forearm nut issues are gone. Barrel ring and barrel hangar issues are gone. Unwanted stresses to the receiver and receiver wear are gone. Barrel extension issues are gone. Stress to the magazine tube is gone. Forearm vibration inflicted on the shooter is gone. Cracked gas pistons, fractured struts, and broken breechblock links are gone, as are rusty mainsprings and bent mainspring tubes. Balance issues and rattles associated with long underbarrel linkages, rods, and action parts are gone as well. They are all gone for good, and all associated issues are now off the table as well. The inline action, integrated with the barrel itself, does all this.

The Benelli stock system introduced on the Vinci is significant as well. As our comparative testing with the Cynergy showed, the current "ComforTech II" stock is an advance. The recoil pad and its softer durometer have been changed to better compliment the range of payloads actually used in hunting: 1-1/8 oz. - 1-3/8 oz. The larger and softer chevron pieces integrated with the stock clearly do some good-- of note in particular are the larger sections appearing on top near the butt and below near the receiver. For too long the ground-up garbage can lids presented as "synthetic techno-polymers" have done nothing functional in shotgun stocks. Here, the Vinci showed us that the stock and the recoil pad may combine to dynamically adjust to load intensity-- something that wood is just not equipped to do.

The Vinci is not the fastest action. The Vinci has more speed than you can use, though-- an important distinction. It isn't the softest shooting shotgun, either. That characteristic will likely go to a ponderous 14 pound trap gun, not to a responsive 7 pound field gun. More to the point, it is exceedingly comfortable to shoot for its weight-- and gets even more impressive as the payloads and velocities are upped beyond the wimpier clay target loads. This again substantiates the field prowess of the package.

It is an inspired design, destined to be amplified and further explored. I'd not be at all surprised if the Vinci gave birth to an entirely new line of shotguns using this platform as a springboard; it well should. The Vinci achieves a real-world, practical system of combinatorial excellence. For those that feel that statement is quite a mouthful, I tend to agree. I'm happy to just call it just a really great shotgun. It eliminates the weak spots of other autoloaders without adding new issues of its own. In the process, the Vinci brings the field autoloader to a whole new level. It is for all of these reasons, cited here in detail, that the Benelli Vinci has been awarded "SHOTGUN OF THE YEAR" for 2009 by myself, and the Guns and Shooting Online Staff. The Vinci is the best new hunting shotgun introduced in modern times.


Copyright 2009 by Randy Wakeman. All Rights Reserved.




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