Upland bird guns are carried much more often than they are fired. My Fitbit tells me that on most days of pheasant season; I walk about two miles per bird in the bag. A light gun in hand makes those miles easier to cover. While the American solution to reducing gun weight is to shoot with small rims, hunters in other parts of the world lean toward lightweight 12 gauges.
Designed for the European market and now for sale here, the new Beretta Ultraleggero (“Ultralight”) O/U presents a unique solution for shaving weight from a 12 gauge O/U. Many lightweight 12 gauges reduce weight via a frame alloy. The Ultraleggero features a skeletonized steel frame with cut-out plastic inserts.
When I first heard about the Ultraleggero, and saw pictures of it, my reaction to the idea of a break-action selling for $3k and containing plastic parts was, whew. Now that I’ve gotten my hands on one, put some miles on it, and killed a few birds with it, I’ve felt and seen the light. I love this gun with every step I take on the field with it.
My sample, a 3-inch 12-gauge with a 28-inch barrel, weighs just 6 pounds, 6 ounces. That’s less than a lot of 20 gauge and about the same weight as the 20 I usually shoot with. The basis for the Ultraleggero is the Beretta 690 action, a proven, durable, low-profile design seen in all but the top-end Beretta O/Us. From that starting point, Beretta engineers removed weight throughout the gun, cutting ounces everywhere while maintaining strength and balance.
The weight reduction starts with the very thin Ultralight drag pad, and continues inside the stock. Tap your toes into the action and it sounds hollow. Pull back the recoil pad and you can see that a large portion of the wood has been removed in the butt, saving weight without compromising the integrity of the wood. Moving on to the frame, it’s easy to see where steel has been removed from the sides and bottom. This still does not compromise the durability of the weapon. Those cuts are filled with plastic plates that are 1/6 the weight of steel. The plastic parts are 3-D printed with a traditional swirling acanthus pattern. The design catches the light and, frankly, is deeper and more beautiful than the shallow laser engraving you see on many all-steel guns. Beretta plans to offer additional side plates and eventually allow customers to design their own. The look took some getting used to, but now I love it.
The shortened front holds a two-piece iron instead of the usual, longer, one-piece design. The bolt is a mix of plastic and steel parts and the entire forend assembly weighs about three ounces less than the similar forend on my Beretta 687. The front flap can be adjusted to tighten the fit if worn eventually. Finally, instead of a full-length mid-rib between the barrels, the Ultraleggero has only a few short rib sections, one at the muzzle and one under the front, to join the barrels.
The walnut has an attractive matte oil finish which helps hide any dings and scratches the gun may have in the field. The metal, except for the plastic plates, is equally painted and undecorated. The gun has an automatic safety with the typical Beretta barrel selector in the middle, and a trigger that broke at a clean 5 pounds, 10 ounces. The gun shot close to 50/50 for me, which is what I prefer in a bird gun, and both barrels hit the point of aim within inches of each other. The gun balances just forward of the hinge, giving it enough forward weight to swing pretty well for a light gun.
After a few rounds of skeet to get a feel for the Ultraleggero, I took it for a spin. The first day I shot Kent 1 ¼ ounce, 1350 fps bismuth loads, and I could definitely feel the gun going off, especially since the weather was warm and I wasn’t wearing many layers. While the recoil was by no means uncontrollable, I noticed a real difference when I switched to a lighter load, specifically Winchester’s new Fast Dove loads that weigh 1 ounce in 7 ½ shot at 1350 fps. The UItraleggero has 3 inch chambers, but I wouldn’t want to shoot too many 3 inch loads out of it. Or even one, for that matter. Something like a 1 ⅛ ounce lead field load or Boss 1 ounce bismuth Stingers would be a perfect match for this gun. And, if that was my weapon, I could replace the pad with something thicker and softer like a Kick-Eez.
No wonder a light gun hits a little harder than a heavier gun. This is physics. The Ultraleggero is not a gun you would choose to shoot a lot of doves or clays. It is designed for a lot of carrying and for that it is almost ideal. Whether you can accept an O/U with plastic parts is up to you. Turns out I can, especially when it’s a long walk from one bird to the next. It only comes in 12 gauge, although Beretta would be wise to make a 20 for the US market, which would fall on it. Meanwhile, the 12s are available with a choice of 26- or 28-inch barrels and include a hard case and five Optima HP chokes for $2,999.