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If you want to be a real duck hunter, you must be a tough son of a gun. Along with your bushy, duck commander beard and lifted truck, you must possess a hefty 12-gauge shotgun. It must have a 3.5-inch chamber and should be loaded with the heaviest BB payloads available. Afterall, the ducks you’ll be hunting are tough, and they require maximum firepower to bring down. This is at least what a lot of marketing around duck hunting would have you believe—until recently. Happily, the introduction of the 28-gauge Benelli Super Black Eagle 3 is a clear indicator that duck hunters are getting smarter about their gun, gauge, and shotshell selection—if not necessarily facial hair grooming.

The 28-gauge version of the SBE 3—which is one of the best duck hunting shotguns of modern times—is a light (5.5 pounds) and lovely gun. When I ran the first few loads through one on a clays range in South Dakota, the word that sprung to mind was not “tough” but rather “joyful.” The gun swung nimbly from target to target, cycled shells enthusiastically, and soaked up the recoil of the 3-inch, ¾-ounce loads so effectively that I’d burned through a box of ammo in no time, and promptly asked for another. As I would find out later in the week, with the right hunting loads the shotgun also flat-out crushes ducks. It’s no wonder that more and more hardcore duck hunters are putting up their 12-gauges and switching to svelte 28-gauges like the new SBE 3.    

28 Gauge Benelli Super Black Eagle Key Features

Benelli

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  • Gauge: 28
  • Action: Semi-auto, Inertia Driven
  • Capacity: 2+1
  • Chamber: 3-inch
  • Barrel type: Steel (cryogenically treated), carbon fiber vent rib
  • Barrel length: 26-inch, 28-inch (tested)
  • Chokes: IM, M (Ciro)
  • Front sight: Red bar
  • Length: 47.5 inches
  • LOP: 14.38 inches
  • Trigger pull: 4 pounds, 3 ounces (measured average)
  • Weight: 5.5 pounds
  • MSRP: $1,799 to $1,899

About the SBE 3 in 28 Gauge

super black eagle 3 28 gauge
Field stripping the SBE 3 is simple. Alex Robinson

Think of this shotgun as the little brother to the 12-gauge SBE 3, which was introduced in 2017 with a 3.5-inch chamber It uses the same simple inertia-driven design, which employs the recoil from the shell in conjunction with the mass of the bolt to compress a powerful spring that then cycles the action, tossing the spent hull and loading a new shell. This has proven to be an incredibly reliable and clean-running system that duck hunters love. In the 28-gauge version, Benelli says the SBE 3 will cycle everything from light 3/4-oz., 2¾-inch target loads to magnum 3-inch duck loads. Like all SBE 3s this gun is also very easy to field strip and clean.

Also like its big brother, the 28-gauge Super Black Eagle uses the Comfort Tech 3 system in the stock to minimize recoil. Since recoil mitigation systems are boring in general, I’ll keep the summation short: there’s a series of chevrons in the stock that flex to absorb felt recoil, plus there’s a nice cushy pad on the comb to keep your cheek from being bruised.

Overall, the recoil from this little gun is less than mild, like a good friend giving you a pat on the shoulder. This, of course makes the gun fun to shoot but I think it also helps add to the mystique of why the 28-gauge is so “deadly.” More on this later.

The shotgun has a steel barrel with Benelli’s proprietary cryogenic treatment, which the company says improves patterning. The trigger guard and trigger assembly contain a lot of molded plastic, which old-timers will grumble at but hasn’t hurt the SBE’s durability. The rib is made of carbon fiber, for lightness and cool factor, but mine wobbled ever so slightly against the barrel. A small miss, but still a miss for a gun that costs $1,800.

The trigger had an average pull weight of 4 pounds, 3 ounces on my Wheeler digital gauge. Like most shotgun triggers, there was plenty of creep, but it was unnoticeable in the field or on the range.

Fit and finish on the gun are typical of Benelli, which is to say as good as it gets in the duck gun category.

Pattering the 28 Gauge Benelli SBE 3

Benelli Super Black Eagles are known to hit high. My go-to duck gun is an SBE 3 12 gauge and with some loads and the standard Z shim, it patterns almost 100 percent high. So before doing any pattern work with the 28 gauge version, I swapped in a different drop shim to lower the stock and lower the point of impact. Benelli ships each SBE with a shim kit, which most hunters probably ignore, but they shouldn’t. Dropping in a new shim is incredibly easy. Simply pull the pad off the buttstock, unscrew one nut, slide off the stock and drop in a new shim.

The only tricky thing about Benelli’s shim kit is their labeling system (it’s a bit confusing). But if you watch the video above and spend five minutes with the owner’s manual, you’ll figure it out. I swapped in a D shim and then got to patterning. I shot Hevi-Shot’s Hevi XII, 3-inch, No. 4, 1 oz. loads. I used the standard modified choke that was screwed into the gun. I shot five patterns at 40 yards under classic duck hunting conditions: 20 degrees with a 15 mph crosswind.

I’ll admit, I had planned on also shooting 30-yard patterns because I didn’t think the little 28 would produce effective patterns at this range. I was wrong. The gun put plenty of pellets on target, averaging 107 hits inside a 30-inch circle (83 percent patterns).

As you can see from the pattern below (which was the best I shot) the gun hit a bit high and slightly to the left. Benelli promotes a 60/40 pattern, which means 60 percent of the pellets hit above the target, so we’re pretty close there. I could also easily adjust the cast of the shotgun (same process as swapping in drop shims) to shift the pattern to the right if I really wanted to get nitpicky.

patterning the benelli 28 gauge
Patterning the Hevi XII No. 4s at 40 yards. Alex Robinson

What’s most interesting to me is the number of pellets the 28-gauge put on target. For reference, my 12-gauge SBE 3 put 121 steel No. 2 pellets on target from 35 yards in our test of the best duck guns.

The takeaway? With these Hevi XII 3-inch No. 4s the 28-gauge Benelli is an effective 40-yard duck gun.

Hunting with the 28 Gauge Benelli SBE 3

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The author shoulders the Benelli 28 gauge on a field hunt. Alex Robinson

I hunted with two different 28-gauge SBE 3s on field hunts for ducks and geese in South Dakota earlier this fall (with Federal’s Black Cloud No. 3s) and also in my backyard duck marsh with the Hevi-Shot load. In all cases, the gun functioned flawlessly.

During the South Dakota field hunts we were mobbed by big flocks of mallards at close range. The light little gun helped me pop from of my layout blind faster than my partners (at least most of them) and the minimal recoil of the 28 allowed me to quickly transition from one crumpled greenhead to the next. The Federal Black Cloud No. 3s performed impressively. Along with our ducks, we also killed several snows and specks mostly at close ranges. However, in one case, I watched another hunter shooting the same 28-gauge gun and load drop a lesser Canada with a 40-plus-yard crossing shot.

lesser goose retrieve
The author’s dog retrieves a lesser Canada goose that was dropped on a long crossing shot. Alex Robinson

Our guide on this hunt was very restrained with his shot calling. He let the birds work in close (20 yards or in) before calling the shot for our crew. With that discipline and our 28-gauges, loaded with No. 3 steel, the ducks we hit fell dead. There were very few cripples for my lab Otis to chase down. 

On my home waters, I shot the Hevi XII No. 4s on late-season greenheads with excellent results. This was more close-range shooting, with headshots on greenheads backpedaling over the last open water in the pond—and more short retrieves for Otis. I especially liked the 28-gauge in this scenario because it’s noticeably quieter than my booming 12-gauge, meaning it’s a little less disruptive to my neighbors.

The only quibble I could find was that the bolt slid forward a bit sluggishly when I hit the bolt release to drive a shell into the chamber (this was even after cleaning). It never resulted in a malfunction (I’ve burned through about five boxes of ammo without a single jam). But I’d like to see the bolt snap home with authority the way it does with my 12-gauge SBE 3.

benelli sbe 28 gauge
Black Cloud No. 3s out of the SBE 28 gauge were plenty effective on pintails, mallards, and specks. Alex Robinson

Everyone seemed to shoot the 28-gauge Benelli SBE 3 well. Though the gun was light, it did not feel whippy or jumpy. Fast transitions to secondary targets felt natural.

Pulling the trigger on a duck, watching it fall, swinging to another bird, and then watching that duck fold as well inspired confidence. Confidence breeds even better shooting. And I think this is one of the reasons that some hunters talk about the 28-gauge being somehow deadlier than it should be. It’s not, they just shoot it well. For me, it all comes back to the minimal recoil.

Getting rocked by 12-gauge magnum duck loads day after day degrades shooting. I’ve seen it in my own shooting and with other hunters. Maybe you stop getting your head all the way down on the gun, or you quit following through with your swing. Even the ducks you do hit, are hit marginally with the edges of your pattern. But recoil is not an issue with the mild 28. With less recoil, it’s easier to stay down on the gun and really focus on the target with follow up shots. Shooters end up maintaining their fundamentals and crushing birds with the core of their pattern, which makes the 28 feel extra effective, but really, it’s just good shooting at work.

So, forget about all talk over the ¾-ounce payload in a 28-gauge being “square,” and patterning better, like somehow there’s a magic formula packed into these little shells that makes the 28 punch above its weight class. Real shotshell experts will tell you this is not the case.

28 Gauge Effectiveness on Ducks and Geese

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Hevi XII loads and the SBE 3 28 gauge. Alex Robinson

Shooting a 28-gauge for waterfowl is not some trendy stunt. With denser shot material, like bismuth or TSS, the 28-gauge is an incredibly effective gauge for ducks and even close-range geese.

Let’s look at those Hevi-Shot No. 4 pellets I pattern tested. They have an advertised density of 12 g/cc. Steel has a density of 7.86 g/cc. Because of their higher density, these No. 4 pellets have the same lethality (ability to penetrate) as steel No. 1s, according to the company (and to shotshell expert Tom Roster).

The key is understanding “penetration energy” says Adam Moser, a shotshell product engineer from Federal (whose parent company owns Hevi-Shot).

“Pellet energy density is a measure of pellet energy per cross sectional area. In other words, it is the kinetic energy of the pellet divided by the 2D area of the pellet,” Moser says. “This gives us a better idea of how well a pellet will penetrate a medium, better than just pellet energy and is particularly helpful when comparing shot made of different density materials.”

If you got lost in the math of that statement, the takeaway is this: Smaller, denser pellets penetrate better than larger, less dense pellets. Part of the reason is because they have less surface area to push through a medium (like a duck).

Now, if you’re used to shooting steel, look at that pattern board photo and imagine each hit was made by a No. 1 steel pellet. You’ll have an idea of true effectiveness of these 28-gauge loads.

Plus, there are more and more ammo options becoming available for duck hunters looking to shoot the 28-gauge. Some of the top choices include:

Am I advocating for long range shots on big honkers or divers with the 28-gauge? Absolutely not. Waterfowl hunting at its best is about tricking birds in close and then killing them cleanly over the decoys. Deciding to shoot a 28-gauge should be a commitment to that style of hunting.

READ NEXT: The 28-Gauge Shotgun Can Kill Ducks as Effectively as a 12-Gauge (At Modest Ranges)

What the Benelli SBE 3 28 Gauge Does Best

This shotgun ramps up the fun factor in waterfowl shooting. I think it’s an ideal option for new hunters who don’t want to get rocked with recoil and develop poor shooting habits. It’s also perfect for veteran hunters who are looking to rekindle that romance of shooting greenheads up close. For SBE 3 fans, of which there are many, this is simply a scaled down version of the gun they already own—it’s just more enjoyable to shoot.

Where the Benelli SBE 3 28 Gauge Falls Short

I couldn’t find anything to not like about this gun except for the price. At almost $2,000, it’s spendy for a gun that probably won’t be your only duck gun (some days you’re just going to need that 12 gauge). Plus, living the 28-gauge lifestyle means buying pricier shells season after season. Those Hevi XII loads I keep pumping up? They cost $80 for a box of 25. The Black Cloud steel loads, which will start shipping this year, will be more affordable but still not cheap.

Final Thoughts on the 28 Gauge Benelli SBE 3

This shotgun (plus the shells I shot through it) made me a believer in the 28-gauge as a duck gun. Is it the best choice for all waterfowl hunting applications across the four flyways? Probably not. But it is a serious shotgun for serious waterfowl hunters who don’t mind buying premium ammo and want to mix up their shooting a little. If you spend some time shooting the 28-gauge Benelli SBE 3, you’ll become a believer too. 

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