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Shotgun Review: Benelli Ethos

This year Benelli made a splash with the introduction of another new inertia-operated semi-auto model. This one is dubbed the Ethos.

Ethos essentially means “character” in Greek, and this shotgun certainly has plenty of character. While at first glance the Ethos might seem too pretty to the eye of many hard-core waterfowlers, it possesses several attributes worthy of a second look.

The first is the new Easy Locking system. Inertia-operated autoloaders have a reputation for being tough and reliable. But if there’s one chink in the inertia system’s armor, it’s that the bolt might not fully lock up with the barrel if released slowly by hand. It might also disengage out of battery if the stock is inadvertently bumped against the ground or a blind floor. While rare, it can happen. By adding a detent mechanism to the bottom of the bolt body, the Easy Locking system ensures bolt lock-up each and every time. I also had a Franchi Intensity on hand for testing (also Inertia Driven) at the same time, and easing its bolt forward could prevent lock-up if done slowly enough. However, the Ethos’ bolt would automatically move itself forward and lock into battery every time, courtesy of the detent mechanism.

That detent mechanism, by the way, is very similar to the little spring-loaded ball found on a socket wrench that locks sockets in place. This is a very simple yet important modification, and one I can foresee Benelli incorporating into its other semi-auto models.

Another innovative attribute is the new Progressive Comfort recoil management system housed entirely within the Ethos’ wooden stock. It consists of three interlocking, flexible, polymer buffers, which compress in varying degrees to absorb recoil based on charge weight.

The Progressive Comfort stock also has a soft, polymer comb insert to protect the cheek — a first for a Benelli wood-stocked shotgun — and an ultra-soft recoil pad that’s contoured so it won’t snag on clothing. The Ethos also comes with a shim kit for adjusting drop and cast, and interchangeable accessory cheek pieces and recoil pads should also soon be available for further customizing comb height and length of pull.

The Ethos’ wooden forearm is shaped similar to the synthetic Vinci’s, only thinner, and is very comfortable to hold. Checkering on both the stock and forearm is extremely crisp.

The bolt release button has been enlarged, again reminiscent of the Vinci’s but not as dramatic. The beveled loading port has also been enlarged for easier loading, and the shell carrier is longer so it won’t pinch fingers or thumbs when filling the magazine. Another nice touch is the red magazine tube follower, which is metal, not plastic (and appears to be the same one found on sister-company Franchi’s Intensity).

The large trigger guard accommodates gloved usage, and the trigger group can easily be removed for cleaning by punching out a lone retaining pin. The safety is conveniently located behind the gold-plated trigger, and the bolt hold-back/cartridge drop lever has been rounded so it won’t cut into fingers when depressed.

The Ethos currently ships from the factory with a flat, carbon fiber vent rib, but additional interchangeable ribs will soon be available. The rib can be removed by a single screw located near the muzzle. Sitting atop the rib is a red fiber-optic front sight and steel mid-bead, but additional green and yellow light pipes are provided. The carbon fiber rib really heated up during target shooting, but shouldn’t be a problem during normal hunting situations.

The Ethos comes in two receiver finishes. My test gun had the fancier nickel receiver with partial-coverage engraving, but waterfowlers will likely prefer the more subdued all-blued receiver sans scrollwork. The receiver is of a two-piece design. The barrel locks into the top portion (which is blued on both models), while the bolt rides on the bottom portion. Removing the barrel and top portion of the receiver allows the bolt to be easily lifted out for cleaning. Likewise, bolt reinstallation is simple with the receiver top off, unlike other semi-autos which often require complicated finagling to line everything up properly.

The firing pin retaining pin has been moved up higher on the bolt body so it’s completely covered by the receiver top, so there’s less chance it’ll work loose during operation.

Five choke tubes are provided: cylinder, improved cylinder, modified, improved modified and full, although the latter two aren’t rated for steel. My test gun came with the IC tube installed, and the choke tube was filthy. Evidently, many rounds had been fired through the gun before I received it.

For most of my testing, I used that factory IC tube (after cleaning it). Since I received the Ethos in the spring, all testing was relegated to clays. I had a variety of light loads on hand for testing, mostly Winchester, which included Super Target 1 1/8-ounce 7½s at a modest 1,145 fps and three rounds of Super Speed 7/8-ounce 8s at 1,350 fps left over from dove season, all of which cycled the action. Ditto for Winchester’s International Target loads with a mere 24 grams of 9s at 1,325 fps, which cycled, ejected and hit their intended targets with virtually no felt recoil thanks to the Progressive Comfort system.

I also fired 10 rounds of Kemen 7/8-ounce 8s at 1,200 fps. I was only going to fire five rounds, but couldn’t believe I’d finally found a semi-auto that would reliably cycle this light, low-velocity load. All 10 rounds ran through the Ethos perfectly.

The only hiccup came when I tried Winchester’s Low Recoil, Low Noise “feather” load with 26 grams of 8s at a sedate 980 fps. I gave up after three rounds, as none ejected. However, this load states right on the bottom of the box that it’s not intended for use in semi-autos, so the Ethos couldn’t be faulted for not cycling it.

For trap, I screwed in Rob Roberts’ T1 choke tube and used the Winchester Super Target load. I wanted to see how the Ethos would do with Roberts’ popular waterfowl chokes, which seem especially suited for Benelli scatterguns. With the flat rib, I had to cover targets and couldn’t float them above the muzzle, but after getting used to that nuance, I started posting more hits.

For handicap trap, I screwed in Roberts’ mid-range T2 tube and, using Winchester AA TrAAcker 1 1/8-ounce 7 ½s at 1,250 fps, fared even better, with everything cycling perfectly.

I also shot skeet with the Ethos, running RC4 Red Shot 1-ounce 9s at 1,345 fps and Kent Velocity spreaders with 1 1/8-ounce of 8s at 1,250 fps through it. Again, everything functioned flawlessly. The Ethos is designed to handle light 7/8-ounce charges up to the heaviest 3-inch magnums, which it does with aplomb. 

To see how it would handle 3-inch loads, I tried Environ-Metal’s newest waterfowl offering, Hevi-Steel 1 ¼-ounce 2s at 1,500 fps. After three rounds, I quit. Everything cycled fine, but recoil from this high-velocity load was quite noticeable in the feathery Ethos, despite the recoil management system’s best efforts.

The Ethos is exceptionally light for a 3-inch 12-gauge autoloader. With a 28-inch barrel, my test gun weighs just 6.5 pounds — the exact same weight listed in Benelli’s catalog. With a 26-inch barrel, weight drops even more to 6.4 pounds.

With its finely finished wood and fancy receivers, the Ethos is obviously not a die-hard fowling gun. However, its light weight and load versatility make it a great combo gun choice for those who chase upland game birds and jump-shoot the occasional puddle duck. The easy-carrying Ethos allows both to be done in comfort and style.

More importantly, the Ethos’ refinements, specifically the Easy Locking and Progressive Comfort systems, are likely to carry over into future Benelli offerings. It’s those refinements, those subtle and distinguishing attributes, which give this appropriately named semi-auto its character, making it worthy of consideration for a variety of hunters and shooters.

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