Photos by: Rab Cummings
I’ve lost track of the number of Benellis I’ve shot and owned over the years. But I remember the first one very well. When Benelli rolled out the Super Black Eagle in the early 1990s, I was smitten. It was the company’s initial foray into the 3 ½-inch market and it was reliable, fast, elegant, and versatile, with the ability to cycle all 12-gauge shells from 2 ¾ inches up. It became my do-everything shotgun and represented a substantial investment on my part.
That model put Benelli on the map with American waterfowlers, though the company at that point already had a small but loyal following among upland bird hunters who had purchased the Hunter Super 90s or the even older SL-80s.
Common to those models is Benelli’s excellent inertia-driven operation system, which the Italian company has continued to employ over the years and which is at the heart of its new Ethos shotgun.
The inertia system has remained unchanged over the decades, so much so that when I compare the bolt assembly from my Super Black Eagle, which I still have, and the Ethos, they are nearly identical, other than the slightly longer “tail” hanging off the bolt of the SBE.
The engineers did make one small, though critical, alteration to the system. They added a spring-loaded ball detent in the bolt carrier body that helps nudge the bolt head into battery. This fixes a minor but persistent problem that has plagued Benellis. In the past, if a shooter went to check whether a shotgun was loaded by easing the bolt back, there was a chance the bolt head wouldn’t fully rotate back into the locked position afterward, resulting in the “Benelli click,” as it has been called, when the shooter pulled the trigger.
With this new system, it is supposed to be impossible to keep the bolt disengaged no matter how gingerly it is closed on the chamber. During my evaluation I did my best to cause this malfunction but couldn’t. The gun went bang every time. Problem solved.
The Ethos has a number of other refinements in its design as well, all of which enhance the shotgun and make it a joy to shoot. The recoil reduction system, located in the buttstock, is particularly notable (see below), but its exterior upgrades are significant too.
I spent quite a bit of time with the Ethos for this evaluation, but it was also part of the annual Outdoor Life gun test, so it was shot by the whole panel of judges and these observations include their feedback.
In general, we liked the way the shotgun handled. It is nimble and well-balanced, though I found it just a tad butt-heavy for my taste—perhaps due to the presence of the aforementioned recoil reduction system. If I had my druthers, I would add some weight to the grip cap to help with how it swings.
But the other shooters raved about the speed with which it broke targets and how smoothly it cycled. We fed it a steady diet of light target loads but I also threw some high-brass pheasant loads and 3-inch magnum shells into the mix. It had no issues with any of them.
We all gave good marks to the swooping forend, which is narrow and comfortable and has an effective panel of laser-cut checkering. I also really appreciated the hollowed-out portion on the forward slope of the trigger guard, which acts as a kind of guide to direct shells into the magazine. Shooters familiar with the “load two” technique used in action-shooting competition will be able to get the Ethos back in action in a flash.
The mechanical controls on the Ethos all worked well. The large bolt-release tab is much better than the round button on my SBE, though I wish the Ethos had an oversize safety like the one on the old SBE.
One area where the Ethos has the SBE beat hands-down is in the fit and finish of the metal and wood. Where the metal meets the stock and the forend, it flows gracefully into the rounded contours of the wood and gives the Ethos a svelte, purposeful look.
The wood on our sample had a rich luster and contrasted well with the glossy finish on the barrel and the high-tech look of the carbon-fiber rib.
An Elegant Hammer
As an upland bird gun, especially for high-volume shooting, it would be difficult to do better than the Ethos. It delivers rock-solid reliability and lively handling. At two grand, it’s a substantial investment, as was my Super Black Eagle 23 years ago. But the Ethos is the kind of gun you’ll want to hang on to for decades.
The recoil reduction system in the Ethos consists of a series of overlapping plastic fingers hidden in the stock that flex when the shot is fired. The heavier the shell, the more they bend, spreading out the kick over a longer period of time, and reducing felt recoil.
The moving parts of the bolt assembly are chrome-lined to make them more slick and resistant to corrosion. The slightly oversize bolt handle is easy to manipulate during unloads and when the shooter wants to swap out a shell in the chamber for a different load.