Gun Review: Benelli R1 Comfortech Field Rifle

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I have long been a fan of autoloading shotguns and presently own a half-dozen shotguns in this configuration. But that was where I have ended my ownership of autoloading firearms.

There are a number of reason for this tendency but two of the most important, from my perspective, are predicated on the recovery time for follow up shots and the reduction in recoil when compared to either a pump gun or even an over-and-under when hunting with heavy loads. While I inherited one such .22 calibre rifle, I have yet to own a centrefire rifle that could push cartridges through the chamber as fast as you could pull the trigger. So when the opportunity arose to test an autoloader, I looked for the best the market had to offer, the Benelli R1.

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Managing Recoil

When the R1 was first introduced in 1993 it gained popularity particularly in Europe on wild boar hunts where multiple shots in rapid succession were often required — the R1 was able to deliver. While the original stock was wood with a good butt pad, Benelli realized that they could do even better. Benelli engineers used computer modeling and high-speed photography to build a synthetic stock, dubbed the Comfortech. They actually extended their research beyond the firearms industry to include computer specialists, materials scientists and design engineers all in an attempt to better understand and subsequently reduce recoil. The Comfortech stock was originally designed for the Benelli Super Black Eagle shotgun but was later added to the R1. Benelli research claims it reduces felt recoil by as much as 48 per cent over its competitors. For comparison sake, they likened the recoil of a .300 Winchester Magnum in the R1 to that of a standard .270 Winchester or a .30-06 to a .243.

Benelli used a number of techniques to achieve this level of felt recoil reduction. Chevron shaped inserts that run diagonally across the buttstock absorb and direct recoil energy away from the shooter’s face. They also added a super soft gel recoil pad and a one-inch gel pad to the comb. Both were designed to lessen the impact to the shoulder and the face where punishment from heavy recoil can often be felt the most.

Another given is that autoloaders, such as the R1, develop less recoil because the cycling process and gas porting contribute to recoil reduction directly. However, Benelli also realized that if they were going to design an autoloading rifle, they had to take a hard look at what most hunters perceived as inherent problems with this type of rifle — that they were generally inaccurate and would foul up too easily when compared to a bolt action rifle. Benelli therefore designed the R1 with a three-lug rotary locking head that locks into the steel barrel extension, thus creating a much tighter lock up which is more akin to that of a bolt action rifle. They, additionally, placed the gas port just ahead of the chamber where the gasses are hotter and cleaner thereby reducing potential fouling.

But, from this hunter’s point of view, an even more important feature of this autoloader is its recovery time, which is said to be as much as 51 per cent faster than other rifles. For a fast follow up shot on a monster whitetail buck that is headed for pastures beyond, this is a real plus.

I would be remiss however if I didn’t mention some of the other fine features of this rifle. The first of these that caught my eye and sense of appeal is the AirTouch surface on the checkering. This innovation takes advantage of the polymer in the stock and forend to create a surface that gives a better grip under wet or dry conditions. It felt to me like it was rubberized and offered a sure grip. The Comfortech stock also comes with a Shim Kit that allows the hunter to customize the fit to their personal requirements for both drop and cast. Next, each R1 barrel is cryogenically frozen to -300 degrees Fahrenheit, which changes the steel at the molecular level thereby creating better barrel harmonics that ultimately results in better accuracy. It essentially relieves all the stresses caused by hammer forging creating a more even grained and slicker surface.

I also liked the rifle’s quick detachable magazine, as it offers the hunter the opportunity to remove a loaded clip from the rifle without having cartridges fall into a foot of snow. The R1 receiver is also drilled and tapped for mounting a scope with the accompanying Picatinny Rail, which I will discuss in more detail later in this review.

Last, I should mention that there are any number of options available for this rifle from barrels of various lengths, three distinctive finishes, sight packages to various sizes of recoil pads and comb inserts all designed to meet the customized requirements of each individual hunter.

Putting It All Together & Scoping Up

When my R1 arrived disassembled in its own hard case, the first thing I did was take the various parts out of their storage wrap and lay them out where I could begin assembly. After referencing the manual, I proceeded to follow each step as highlighted in the manual to ensure I got it right. In the end, I was glad I did and would highly recommend the same course of action to anyone putting a R1 together for the first time. In other words, I got it right the first time. I then decided to remove the storage plugs out of the base screws on top of the receiver only to find that they did not have a screw slot for easy removal. Once I determined that they were plastic, I took a small jeweller’s screwdriver and after carefully centering it on the plug head, proceeded with a small hammer to tap a slot into the top of all five-plug heads. Removal then just became a matter of unscrewing each plug. I then followed up by mounting the Picatinny Rail.

I was now ready to mount the Burris Euro Diamond 3-12x-50mm Scope. With its 30mm tube, matte finish and illuminated 3P#4 reticle, it was an ideal match for the R1. There are any number of features that make this a quality scope such as top of the line lenses, HiLume coatings, and sturdy construction that provides water-fog-shock-proof integrity equal to scopes costing considerably more. I found it to be bright, sharp and I particularly liked the reticle that essentially looks like a duplex but with a dot that illuminates. For low light situations I have become a big fan of an illuminated reticle. It simply provides greater certainty of a quality shot under those circumstances. The new Euro Diamond scope’s illuminated reticle is controlled by a Digital Dimmer that is equipped with a time delayed shutoff switch and new circuitry that triples battery life rather than the old cumbersome analog switch. With the use of Burris ZEE rings and their synthetic self-aligning inserts, I had the scope mounted and range ready in a matter of minutes. Not only do these inserts provide incredible gripping power but they also protect the surface of the scope as well. A real positive step forward.

Range & Test Results

With the scope in place, the rifle came on point quickly with no searching for an aim point in the scope. Of note, the rifle and scope weighed in at nine pounds and four ounces, which no doubt added to the balance and my ability to stabilize the rifle when shooting. The trigger took a bit of getting used to as it could almost be referred to as a two-stage trigger. I found that I had to pick up notable slack before the trigger would engage and then it broke quite consistently at four pounds, four ounces. As for two of the primary selling features of this rifle, recoil reduction and recovery time, I found both to be identifiably improved over a bolt-action rifle of the same calibre and ammunition. For me, the recoil of this .270 WSM was somewhere between that of a .243 and a standard .270. There was also notably less muzzle jump allowing me to make immediate follow-up shots, which was exactly what I was looking for in this autoloader. As to accuracy and velocities of the various loads tested, they are listed in the sidebar. While it did not group quite as well as a top of the line bolt-action rifle, it still delivered good accuracy but, as with most rifles, it had its likes and dislikes.

If one is to consider a cartridge in this rifle for deer and caribou sized game, I would be hard-pressed not to include Federal Premium 130-grain Barnes Triple Shock cartridges. They are not only a very good bullet choice but delivered both fine accuracy and velocity. For a bit larger game, Winchester 150-grain XP3 cartridges are worthy of consideration.

Test Results

Cartridge

Velocity (feet per second)

Accuracy

Federal Premium 130-grain Nosler Ballistic Tip 3,233 1½”
Federal Premium 130-grain Barnes Triple Shock 3,233 1¼”
Federal Fusion 150-grain 3,034 1-1/8”
Federal Premium 140-grain Bear Claw 3,078 2”
Winchester 130-grain Power Max 3,173 1¾”
Winchester 150-grain Power Point 3,130 2½”
Winchester 130-grain XP3 3,240 2¼”
Winchester 150-grain XP3 3,072 1”

NOTE: All groups were averaged 100-yard, three-shot groups and all velocities were averaged and measured on a Chrony Gama Master Chronograph.

Spec Sheet

Benelli R1 .270 Winchester Shot Magnum
Barrel Length: 24 inches
Overall Length: 46 inches
Weight: 7.3 pounds
Magazine Capacity: 3 + 1
Stock: Black Synthetic

Burris Euro Diamond 3-12x-50mm
Field of View: Low-High 34-10 feet at 100 yards
Weight: 21 ounces
Eye Relief: 3.5-4 inches
Overall Length: 13.7 inches
Tube Diameter: 30mm
Reticle: 3p#4 Illuminated

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