Gun Review: Beretta A400 Xplor Shotgun

I must concede that if I were to go looking for a new shotgun my first instinct would be to head straight for a shop that handled Beretta.

I have owned more than a few makes and models from competition trap guns and high grade Over/Unders to my present three auto loaders. All have performed flawlessly; none have ever let me down, even under some less-than-friendly field conditions. Out of the box they just seem to fit me so well that I have yet to feel the need to fiddle with stock adjustments. This translates into both confidence and dead on bird-busting capability. I have simply had more success in competition and in the field with these fine shotguns than any other makes. So I never miss visiting Beretta and my longtime acquaintance John Mock, the General Manager of Stoeger Canada, at each and every SHOT Show just to see what Beretta has in the way of new shotguns. In 2010, again I was not disappointed, when I visited their walk-through display entirely dedicated to one new shotgun — the A 400 Xplor. I knew I would have to acquire this firearm for a full review.

A400 Xplor

My first and immediate impression was what a great pheasant gun this would make. It, like my other Berettas, fit me to a tee, was light in hand, and came on point quickly with total ease and, rather than having a synthetic stock, it had a traditional walnut wood stock. But that was not where this first impression ended, as not only did it have a walnut wood stock but the stock also had a fair degree of figure to boot and this upscale look was capped off with a uniquely grey/green receiver. With the price of high-grade walnut being where it is at these days, this level of figure is a rare commodity unless, of course, you are prepared to pay through the nose for a high grade gun. And when it comes time to head off for a day of upland bird hunting, I just can’t quite bring myself to shoulder a camo synthetic stocked shotgun. I realize that this is a very personal bias but it is a preference I’m stuck with and one I don’t expect will change anytime soon. The surprising conundrum in this preferential bias is that the converse does not apply as I have no problem climbing into a goose blind with a wooden stocked scattergun. Although, once I added the synthetic stocked Beretta Xtrema 2 to my inventory that seldom occurs any longer. But the figure on these Xplor stocks is a story onto itself, which I will discuss a bit later on.

A 400 Xplor Features

The Xplor is simply loaded with new and innovative features. Some have been around for a while, while others are right off the design table. Being very familiar with Beretta Kick Off recoil reduction technology from my Xtrema 2, I would like to start there.

A number of years back I put the Kick Off system through a very demanding field  test when on an Argentinean dove hunt I put 2,800 rounds through an Xtrema 2 with a Kick off. The results were as good as or even better than expected. In fact the only discomfort I encountered was to my fingers from constantly feeding rounds into the magazine. I literally wore out the fingertips on my shooting gloves whereas discomfort from recoil never even became a minute issue. So how does the Kick Off achieve this level of recoil reduction? As Beretta explains it, there are two peaks of recoil.

The first peak is the result of the explosion when the ammunition is discharged and the second is when the bolt impacts the receiver. It is the second peak that the Kick Off is designed to reduce. In doing so it uses two hydraulic dampers, not unlike automobile suspensions, in the stock to reduce the effect of the bolt as it impacts against the receiver. This dampening not only reduces recoil but also reduces wear and tear on the mechanical components adding to the potential life of the gun. Recoil reduction is stated by Beretta to have been reduced from 40.7 lbs. with no Kick Off to 16.5 lbs. with the Kick Off system. They further claim it is 70 per cent less than the nearest competitor.

While I can’t attest to either of these numbers, I can certainly affirm that felt recoil is significantly reduced and, every bit as importantly, muzzle jump is notably reduced as well, allowing for quicker follow up shots. Which, for a fleeing flock of Hungarian partridge or a potential double on a couple of roosters, is a real advantage. To further enhance the Kick Off system Beretta added a Micro-Core recoil pad that uses open cell technopolymer that is soft, light and more slippery than rubber,  making for quick and sure shouldering as well as affording additional recoil reduction.

I would now like to move onto what I consider is potentially Xplor’s true genius, what Beretta refers to as “Blink.” It is the guts of the Xplor technology that revolves around the new gas system, rotating bolt head lock up, and a new feeding system that is so clean and fast that it is the cleanest gas operated shotgun ever produced. It can also fire four rounds in less than a second making it, according to Beretta, 36 per cent faster than any other semi-automatic. It also makes it very field friendly as it breaks down into only five components.

The last two mechanical features that warrant discussion are “Steelium” and “Optima Bore HP.” Steelium is the technology from Beretta that transforms tri-alloy steel into barrels with optimum ballistic performance through deep drilling, cold hammer forging, and vacuum distension. The Optima Bore geometry is designed to provide the finest possible barrel and choke performance with lead or steel offering uniform patterns for every load or field situation.

Last, I just had to ask Beretta how they were able to obtain the level of figure in the stock and fore-end that I mentioned earlier, referred to as X-tra Grain. Well, as I expected, they were not totally prepared to give away any trade secrets but did indicate that they use a natural process to enhance the already existent grain in the wood and then they use a natural oil finish to give the stock its high quality and durable finish. While not quite competitive with a high grade piece of walnut, it certainly improves what may have otherwise been a very ordinary piece of wood.

Field Performance

While I did not have this shotgun long enough to test every potential field condition, I did put enough rounds through it to ascertain that it lived up to its billing. I pushed a variety of rounds from light 2-3/4 inch to heavy three-inch magnum loads through it back to back and it worked its way through them all as if I was shooting nothing but standard target loads. While I certainly could feel the recoil disparity between rounds, not a one caused a cycling glitch and all were comfortable to shoot.

But the gun really shone when it came time to bust a bunch of clay birds. It performed effortlessly, as seemingly all I needed to do was find the bird above my line of sight, pull the trigger as I swung through the bird, and it would disappear in a cloud of dust. It quickly became obvious that the factory gun fit was ideal for rising birds — a sure fire winner on any upland bird I wanted to hunt.

That was just half the story, as with this gun my hunting buddy was so fast on his recovery of a missed bird that it travelled but a few additional yards before he smoked it with a follow up shot. He was so impressed that his only comment after a session of busting birds was, “I want to own this gun.” For a dyed in the wool double barrel fan, that was certainly affirmation of just what a fine shotgun it is. Blink and its exceptional cycling speed in combination with the Kick Off system are sure to impress any hunter where follow up shots are required.

Beretta engineers have certainly crafted one fine field gun. The only minor complaint I had was the location of the safety. Being partially recessed as it is, it may create a problem for someone wearing heavy fall gloves but that is pretty small potatoes when taken in context of the overall quality of this gun. However all these features do not come without a fairly hefty price tag, so be prepared to spend a little to get a lot.

As I have made the leap of elevating this shotgun to the status of a sure fire pheasant gun, I would be remiss if didn’t mention a new innovative pheasant load from Federal that in combination with the Xplor are apt to be about as deadly a duo as exists. Prairie Storm is so new that it just hit the market in the fall of 2010. They combined a mix of copper-plated lead (70 per cent) and nickel-plated Flitestopper lead with its innovative cutting edge for better penetration (30 per cent). This combination of shot is then delivered with the proven Flitecontrol wad that opens from the rear and pulls itself off the shot in a controlled manner leading to exceptional patterns at varying distances right out to those late season birds that may be well beyond the range of a standard load. They will provide constant patterns with less choke. For example, they will deliver 80 per cent into a 30-inch circle at 40 yards with a modified choke. What a pheasant combo, as both are unquestionably designed to put a lot more birds in your freezer this year.

Specifications:

  • Gauge: 12
  • Barrel Length: 28 inches (available in 26-28or 30 inch)
  • Chamber: 2-3/4” or 3” or 3 ½ “
  • Choke: Optima-Choke HP
  • Length Of Pull: 14.5” (14.25 with Kick Off) with a 0.75 pad
  • Weight: 6.6 lbs. /3 kg with 28″ barrel

*The Xplor comes with its own hard case and with stock drop spacers, quick detachable swivels and 3 chokes with a wrench.

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