Maybe it’s just snobbery that stops us taking up a gun that shoots as well as this week’s Gun of the Week, the Beretta A400, says Becky McKenzie

Semi-auto shotguns are not everyone’s taste. They clunk, they clang, and they eject the empty shells everywhere. On the plus side, however, they are really quite pointable and relatively easy to use – I even have one myself! Mine is an old Beretta Teknys Gold.

I bought it a fair few years ago to shoot the semi-auto competitions which were originally held at West London. What fun these competitions are! John Dyson holds one every year. There are 120 targets, which can be report pairs with ‘full use of gun’ – which means that you load three shells, and can take two shots at the first target. 

You have to remember that once you have fired your first shot, the ref will send the second target. If you decide to shoot twice at the first target, that second bird is already on its way, and will not be in the place you thought it would be. It’s easy to forget you have three shells, which causes much laughter as your friends will be howling at you: ‘You’ve got another shot!’

My old Teknys is 12 gauge with 28in barrels, with some added bling from Briley USA. It really is a case of Pimp My Gun – you can do things like changing the little bolt release button for a Briley one in a choice of colours, and there are Briley bolt handles, barrel weights and more.

My Teknys is old hat. Its newer and better brother, the Xcel A400 Sporting, is cracking kit. The semi-auto I tried was loaned to me by Mark Neville from JF Neville in Alfreton. This gun had a 28in barrel. There are other sizes on offer – 30in and 32in. I have shot a 32in before, but it is a lot of barrel on a semi-auto. 

The A400 is an excellent 12 gauge competition gun that is much faster cycling, with softer perceived recoil, than most other semi-autos on the market today – including my own Teknys Gold. Beretta claim this semi-auto delivers a follow-on shot 36% faster than any other branded semi-auto, whilst its advanced recoil reducing system really makes it a pleasure to shoot.

Looks-wise the A400 has a nice bright blue receiver/action, and as with my old Teknys you can make this your own gun by adding Briley accessories.

Beretta A400 Xcel Sporting – tech specification

MAKE: Beretta
MODEL: A400 Xcel Sporting
BARRELS: Steelium, 28, 30 or 32 ins
RIB: Raised ventilated on this model, others available
SAFETY: Non-auto, push-through type in trigger guard
STOCK: 13¾ins on gun tested, with optional Kick-Off butt pad
WEIGHT: 2.85kg
CHOKES: Optima HP type multichokes
RRP: From £1,745

Am I a snob?

Beretta say its sleek lines and excellent ergonomics are designed with one goal in mind: letting the A400 naturally follow your eye to the target. This is one reason it has become a favourite among some top shooters around the world, including my good friend Diane Sorantino, who has won many a competition with this gun. Semi-autos are very popular in the USA, yet we don’t see a huge following over here in the competition side of things.

Personally I think there’s an element of snobbery around semi-autos in the UK – and I’d include myself in that camp. We do like our guns to look pretty, have a stunning bit of wood to be ogled at by our friends, and would rather shoot an over-and-under. I am as guilty as anyone. Every time I use my semi-auto I shoot really well, and end up wondering why I just don’t keep shooting it. Why indeed?

The A400 takes Beretta’s newer Optima HP chokes

The Xcel A400 action is the culmination of many, many years of Beretta’s experience and knowledge, and passion for the shooting sports. It reliably feeds most types of cartridges from 2¾in to 3in. I used both 28g and 24g cartridges with no issues at all – they all cycled beautifully. The A400 uses Beretta’s ‘Blink’ technology, a gas operated system that is capable of delivering two shots in less than half a second. I didn’t actually time this, but it did feel rather quick for sure!

Maintenance is paramount with an auto, as we all know. I clean my auto every time I’ve finished a competition. The A400 does have an easily maintained self-cleaning piston, however, which is good to know.

Comparing the A400 to my old Teknys, one of the main differences I noted was the recoil reducing system in the newer gun. The Teknys has pretty low recoil, but the A400… wow, this is something else! 

If you have a bad neck, look no further. Beretta explain that the A400 incorporates several recoil reducing systems operating simultaneously to make the perceived recoil virtually negligible, claiming a 70% reduction.

One part of the recoil reducing system is a hydraulic shock absorber that softens the backward energy when a shot is fired. That sounds similar to the Isis recoil system I had on an old Zoli. The A400 also has a Micro-Core butt pad, which also helps to reduce felt recoil. Beretta also say that the A400 is designed to recoil parallel to the comb, which basically means no thump to your cheek or shoulder, and minimal muzzle flip.

Barrel and choke

The A400 has a cold forged hammered barrel, made of nickel-chromium steel which Beretta call Steelium, as used in the DT11. This is a proprietary formula engineered for consistency, toughness and durability. The A400’s bore is chrome plated, which makes it much easier to clean, and reduces wear and corrosion on the inside of the barrel. 

The Xcel also has the newer Optima HP chokes, which I noted were particularly easy to remove and change, without the need for a choke key. The A400 also has a new and improved gas piston which makes it easier to take the A400 apart for cleaning and then reassemble. It’s certainly much easier than my Teknys, and many other brands of semi-auto.

So how does it shoot?

The first thing that struck me about this gun was how short the stock was. Length of pull on the one I borrowed was 13¾ins, which felt rather on the short side even for me. The short stock made the A400 feel somewhat barrel heavy initially. The stock had some half decent wood on it, with some neat laser chequering. The fore-end felt ok in my left hand, not too chunky or wide. 

On shouldering the gun, the sight picture was good. The streamlined design of the action seemed like it would give a good view of the targets.

So out onto the ground we went. Knowing how I liked my old Teknys, this gun had a lot to live up to. I felt mildly concerned about how the A400 would move, given the weight of the barrel and the short stock – but I was pleasantly surprised.

Becky needn’t have worried about the stock length, the gun shot well

The first target was a midi teal – not one of my favourite targets – followed by a steady right-to-left pink crosser. Choosing what I thought may be a suitable hold point for the midi teal, I called ‘Pull’, watched the clay pass my barrel, chased it, got to the bottom edge, and blew it away… followed by the pink, same result! Two more pairs and I already knew this gun was a proper little gem. 

The second stand was set in a small window in the woods with a pair of left-to-right crossers, one closer than the other, and one much faster. The A400 felt lovely to shoot. It seemed no effort to move the barrel, and I acquired the targets with the greatest of ease. 

Going round the practice targets at Garlands, this semi auto continued to impress me. Felt recoil for me was little to none. Using a variety of RC cartridges, from RC3 28g and RC2 28g to RC4 24gm, it never missed a beat, recycling shells like peas. 

This gun came with a very effective recoil reducing butt pad

Eventually I got round to the battue that I hadn’t touched with my Krieghoff. I wondered what the A400 would be like on these faster targets and the difficult technical angles on some of Steve Lovatt’s clays. Again, this gun smashed what I put in front of it, only missing when I didn’t give the target enough respect. The Steelium barrel alongside the Optima HP chokes produces a really impressive display of patterning at close and far targets alike.

I needn’t have worried about the weight of the barrel. It never entered my head once I started shooting, and I had no ache in my left arm, which I sometimes get when shooting a barrel-heavy gun. The movement of the barrel was smooth, kept a line on the clay, and the sight picture was as good as the Perazzi MX2000S that I tested alongside. 

The A400 was very pointable, meaning it went where I was looking, with an ease that not many shotguns can produce, at least not for me.

Summing up

To say I was impressed by this semi-auto would be an understatement. If I ever sell my Teknys, I will definitely be part-exchanging it for a Beretta Xcel A400. This gun would be suitable not only for a top competitive shooter but also, with some tuition on how to use a semi-auto, a novice shooter. 

The novice would have to be shown how to put the cartridges into the gun, as it’s not quite as simple as an over-and-under. They would also need to know how to remove any unfired cartridges from the breech and magazine tube, and use the little orange safety flag in the breech. 

Once you understand the safety aspects of a semi-auto, though, this is a very good gun that will last you for years. For a semi-  auto, I loved this gun. I’ll award Beretta 10/10 for the A400, good job!

The A400 I used from JF Neville was second-hand, costing £900 – an absolute bargain. New, one of these will cost from around £1,700. It comes in various models including the Sporting that I used here, the Xcel Black Edition for anyone who doesn’t like the blue action, a high rib Multi Target version, and a Trap model with a step rib, to name just a few of the variations of this gun. 

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