When Beretta New Zealand suggested a testfire for their biggest selling over/under shotgun, the Silver Pigeon 1, I reminded the editor we’d reviewed that model in depth back in 2016. However, Marketing Manager Chris Watson assured us the 2020 model had some modifications and that he’d send two versions of the gun for comparative purposes: the standard Sporting model and the Vittoria, a version of it designed specifically for female shooters. This new version will be of interest to many readers, so instead of repeating an in-depth review, this article concentrates on showing the difference between the two models. To enable an accurate comparison, each of the guns would be sent with 30-inch barrels.
Beretta’s family of 680 over/under shotguns first appeared in New Zealand around 1980 and proved to be an immediate success. The range of models was an extensive one, catering for field and competition shooting and ranging from entry-level shotguns to highly expensive variants. It’s claimed that, to date, over 1.8 million examples of the 680 range have been sold worldwide, which bears testimony to the quality of its design and manufacture. Now, of course, the 680 family has been largely superseded by the 690 models, but it survives at opposite ends of the price structure. The various 687 EELL models are expensive, premium-grade shotguns with highly engraved side-plates and select walnut stocks. At the other end of the scale, the 686 Silver Pigeon 1 stands as Beretta’s modestly priced entry-level over/under. The 12-gauge Silver Pigeon is offered in three versions – Field, Sporter and Sporting Vittoria.
These latest versions of the Silver Pigeon 1 feature a completely new engraving pattern which extends over the walls and floor of the nickel-finished steel action. It’s a floral pattern showing grapes and leaves on the vine. This is a complex design which has been expertly done – a good example of the kind of work that can now be achieved using laser engraving techniques. The quality of the engraving and its generous coverage far exceed what you’d normally expect on an entry-level shotgun.
Beretta are constantly refining their models, and the changes on the 2020 version go beyond the mere cosmetic. The Silver Pigeon now incorporates the barrel technology found in their more expensive models: Steelium barrels with Optima bore HP profiles. With a bore diameter of 18.6mm and forcing cones extended to 80mm, the chrome-lined barrels are proofed for steel shot and come with five Optima HP internal choke tubes.The model we reviewed in 2016 had a ventilated top rib and solid side ribs. This new version now features a ventilated top rib which tapers slightly in width from 9mm at the breech to 7mm at the muzzle and which has two sighting beads – a small metal mid-bead and a white bead at the muzzle end. The side ribs are now ventilated. The 30-inch barrels weigh in at 1415 grams, which is lighter than those we tested on the 2016 model and which results in slightly livelier handling.
As a nice little touch, the Silver Pigeon 1 now comes with a neat plastic storage box to contain those items that used to rattle around inside the ABS carry case that’s supplied with the gun: choke tubes, wrench, and oil bottle.
For the rest, this model retains all the qualities that have made it Beretta’s biggest selling over/under, offering Beretta quality at an attractive price. Although you won’t get highly figured walnut in the stock and it may lack some refinements such as adjustable trigger length, the basics of the action are the same as are found in much more expensive models in Beretta’s range of trigger-plate over/unders, offering time-proven design and reliability. And the good news is the Silver Pigeon 1 Sporter now costs less than it did back in 2016 when the RRP was $3399. This year, the equivalent model has a suggested retail of $2999 (which climbs to $3499 if you want the version with an adjustable comb). The Vittoria shares the same base cost but is not available with an adjustable comb.
Until recently, most shotguns have been designed to suit the build of Mr Joe Average. Anyone not average had to either adapt to poor gun fit or modify some of the critical measurements such as length of pull, cast, drop at comb and heel. The past few years, though, have seen a great increase in the number of females taking part in the shotgunning sports with the result that manufacturers have responded to what has become a significant growth area in the market. Their response has seen the rethink of some elements of stock design to suit the very different physical structure of Ms Average. Length of pull has been shortened to suit women’s smaller frames; combs have been raised to accommodate their longer necks and higher cheek bones; pistol grips are slimmer to give greater comfort and control for smaller hands; and pitch has been altered to better suit their different chest contours. Of course, there’s as much variation in the build of women as there is in men, and these modifications cannot guarantee perfect gun fit for every shooter, but they do provide a good starting point for any subsequent modifications to suit individual requirements. It’s worth noting that the Vittoria is available in a left-hand version which takes care of one of the most common reasons for stock adjustment.
So, let’s take a look at the differences in the vital statistics of the guns designed for Mr and Ms Average.
The Vittoria is lighter, weighing 3.4kg (7lb 7oz) against the Sporter’s 3.5kg (7lb 12oz). It’s also shorter, length of pull being 350mm (13¾in) compared to the Sporter’s 375mm (14¾in). The Vittoria has a much slimmer pistol grip than the Sporter and its radius is more suited to smaller hands. The greatest difference is in the comb dimensions. The Sporter is quite conventional having a drop at comb of 35mm and 60mm at the heel. The Vittoria sports a very different comb – a Monte Carlo-style, almost parallel, with a drop in front of 35mm and 45 at the rear. Drop at heel is 55mm. Although the presentation of each model in terms of engraving, wood quality, etc. is the same, the differences in the stock dimensions are very significant.
Jude Manton, an experienced sporting clays shooter, agreed to test fire the Vittoria at 5-stand sporting during a practice day at the Hutt Valley Clay Target Club. She had no difficulty in adapting to this new gun which was quite different to her own. The Vittoria suited her well. She liked the weight of the gun. Its length of pull was spot on for her and the higher comb gave her a very comfortable sight picture. Jude was impressed by the Vittoria’s handling and she made special mention of its soft shooting qualities. The stock dimensions seemed to ease the felt effect of recoil for her.
I took the opportunity to shoot the Vittoria myself and found to my surprise that I could cope with the unfamiliar comb quite well if I pushed my cheek firmly into the stock. The only drawback for me was the pistol grip which was far too small for my hand. On firing, the front of the comb dug painfully into the pad of my thumb, but I wondered if the style of this Vittoria with its short length of pull might well be as suitable for a slightly built young male shooter as it is for its target market.
I can’t imagine a more enjoyable venue to test a shotgun than a relaxed, country-style sporting clays shoot. The Blue Rock Gun Club shoot at Okawa, South Wairarapa, provided an ideal opportunity to enable a number of shooters to put the new Sporter through its paces. I enjoyed shooting this Beretta. Although it’s lighter than my serious competition gun, it’s well balanced, points quickly and, with its 30-inch barrels, swings smoothly. As you’d expect from a time-proven design, everything worked as it should. Trigger pulls were firm but crisp. The ejectors were well timed and popped empties out in a very positive manner. Experienced sporting clays shooter and keen pheasant hunter, Eddie Ng, also enjoyed shooting with the Sporter which he used to powder clays in impressive style.
Beretta’s Sporting model shotguns are an ideal choice for shotgunners who want a model that’s versatile enough to serve as a hunting gun and as a competent performer on clay targets. Although the Silver Pigeon 1 could be classified as an entry-level shotgun, it’s a higher quality shotgun than this designation suggests and is offered at an attractive price that’ll recommend it to many shooters, coming as it does with a full range of accessories, a sturdy ABS case and a three-year warranty.
The Vittoria version is a successful response to a need that’s been slow in being recognised. I think the gun deserves to be popular. However, if a female shooter should prefer a higher-grade shotgun than the Silver Pigeon, Beretta offer the same stock design in the Model 691 Sporting Vittoria. It’s clear that stock design aimed specifically at the female market will now be an option permanently featured in the catalogues of many manufacturers.