The Italian gunmaker’s latest claybuster offers technical improvements, but will Becky McKenzie like how it shoots?
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I feel rather spoilt for choice now I am doing these gun reviews for Clay Shooting magazine. I’ve been wanting to try a Beretta, and this provided the perfect excuse. There’s a huge range of Berettas to choose from of course, but I fancied taking a look at the Beretta 694 – a 12 gauge with 32in barrels.
I own a Beretta myself, an old Teknys 12 gauge 28in semi-auto. I really like that gun, and shoot it very well indeed. People sometimes ask why I don’t shoot it as my main gun, and there’s no easy answer. I think it’s probably down to a snobbish reluctance to shoot a good old cheap semi-auto!
That aside, I was interested to shoot the 694, as I haven’t really shot a more modern style Beretta. My husband’s son had a Beretta 682 Gold E, a solid gun which I used when my old Winchester packed up. It was a very nice gun, but I couldn’t hit a barn door with it – and yes it did have an adjustable comb, and we set it up to suit me!
Beretta 694: specifications
MODEL: 694 Sport
BARRELS: Steelium, 28, 30 or 32 ins
CHAMBERS: 3ins (2¾ ins Trap model)
RIB: Tapered 10-8mm
SAFETY: Non-auto, selective
STOCK: 15ins on test gun
WEIGHT: Nominally from 3.5kg (7lb 11.5oz)
CHOKES: Five Optima tubes supplied
RRP: £3,645 as tested
Enough about me – let’s take a look at the 694. This is what I think of as a mid-range gun price-wise. It’s priced around £3,325, in-between the White
Onyx at £1,745, and the DT11 at £8,275 for a non-adjustable version.
Beretta’s engineers are always trying to improve their guns, and on the 694 they have re-designed the stock and fore-end to give it a better feel, and also to improve the contact between shooter and gun. The stock fits smoothly into the action, improving your peripheral vision.
Mechanically, the fore-end now has an all-steel mechanism which is said to maintain a smoother opening pressure with an increase in longevity. The fore-end catch is located centrally underneath as you’d expect, but it has a new sliding catch release instead of the familiar latch that you lift and pull. I liked that, and felt it made removing the fore-end much easier.
The 694’s action has a really eye-catching new look which I really liked; it’s quite different from the other Beretta models. It has a Nistan nickel coating which gives it a matt silver finish, with a thin blue line around the edge. It’s nothing too fancy, but it’s angled in such a way that it jumps out at you from a rack of other guns.
The top lever is distinctive too, with an angular fin-like shape. It catches on the thumb well, has a nice smooth surface, and opens smoothly and easily.
The 694 action is 25g heavier than the previous model, which is said to improve stability and balance. There’s a subtle change in the action shape, with smaller ‘fences’ – that’s the part where the rear of the action body flows into the breech ends of the barrels when the gun is closed. This is said to give you a better view of the target, much like a high rib would do.
I borrowed the test gun from JF Neville’s at Alfreton. This one weighed in at 8lb 11oz, although on the GMK website I see that the standard weight of a 694 is ‘from 3.5kg’, or 7lb 11½ oz.
The barrels are described as ‘Polished Steelium’, with elongated forcing cones. This gun has a rather unusual tapered bore, which is in three sections.
This is similar to the DT11 when that gun first came out. Beretta say the tapered bore produces more uniform and denser patterns, as well as a quicker and more accurate second shot. I read this as meaning less muzzle flip from the first shot.
The barrels are built on the monobloc system, and like most Berettas they are chrome plated inside. The 694 is offered with a choice of two barrel lengths: 30 and 32 ins and, on request, 28 ins. I chose to try the longer barrels.
This was the Sporting version with a 10-8mm tapered top rib. Both top rib and side ribs are vented. Length of pull on my demo gun was 15 ins, and it balanced slightly in front of the hinge pin. The stock was fitted with a Micro-Core recoil pad.
There are many different variations available within the 694 range. As well as the different barrel lengths, the Sporter comes with or without an adjustable stock.
Then there’s a Trap version, with or without adjustable comb, with fixed chokes or multichoke. There are even left-handed models too. I must note here that the Sporting gun comes with a 3in chamber, while the Trap chamber is 2¾ ins.
The gun that I tested came with five of Beretta’s High Performance Optima Chokes. These are all nicely colour coded, which is a great help in identifying what you have in the end of your barrel without having to screw them out. Blue is for cylinder choke, red for Skeet, gold for improved cylinder (¼), green for modified (½) and black for improved modified (5/8).
These are all the chokes you’ll ever need. The tubes are about 3½ ins long, and protrude out of the barrels about ¾in from the muzzle end – not too long, although you may still get the odd ‘funny’ comment!
The 694 has a three-stage adjustable trigger. It felt quite adequate and not too heavy when I was testing it. Trigger pull was around 4½ lb. There’s the standard Beretta barrel selector built in to the safety catch.
How does it shoot?
Enough of the technical specifications, how does the 694 shoot? On the day I had three guns to try: this 694, a Perazzi MX2000S, and a Beretta Xcel 400. If you read last month’s edition, you will know I was totally smitten by the Perazzi, so this Beretta really had to be good to impress me!
As I put the gun together it felt quite solid. I liked it better than assembling a 692, which to me feels a little light and tinny, for want of a better word. The extra weight of the 694 gives it more of a ‘quality’ feel than its cheaper counterparts, although I am not knocking them in any way.
Putting the 694 into my shoulder for the first time, it felt a tad barrel heavy, and rather light in the stock. The quality of wood on the gun was perfectly OK. It had rather straight grain, indicating strong wood but not especially pretty to look at.
Time to attack the first set of targets: a standard, slightly quartering teal, and a crosser. The stock was a little long for me, but not enough to be a problem. The gun moved OK, but somehow it didn’t quite feel part of me. I like my guns to feel like an extension of my arm, smooth, and effortless.
The barrels were certainly throwing good patterns, sootballing the closer crosser. Opening and shutting the action, was smooth, and effortless, in contrast to the older Perazzi which had recently been serviced and was a bit of an effort to open.
The second set of targets were left to right crossers at speed. Again I smashed the clays on the first set, but whipped past the first target twice on the following pairs.
The gun moved well enough, but I would have liked to experiment with the B-Fast balancing system to get the gun to feel a little more responsive. That’s why Beretta have the B-Fast of course, so you can add weight to the barrels, or the stock, or both, to make this ‘your’ gun. There are barrel weights that fit under the fore-end, and stock weights that fit into the stock.
With the 694 back-bored, the felt recoil was pretty low, and the patterns were really impressive from my RC4 24g cartridges through the Steelium Plus barrels.
Would I buy one?
There’s nothing wrong with this gun; it does what it says on the tin – it just didn’t thrill me. It’s a personal thing, and another shooter might feel completely differently. But for me the 694 didn’t have the same wow factor as the Perazzi I tested alongside it.
That’s not a fair comparison bearing in mind the price difference between the two guns, of course. The 694 is perfectly adequate to smash all the clays presented to me at Garlands, it just took a little more effort and a different style of shooting to achieve the kills.
It is difficult to explain what I’m saying about a gun feeling ‘part of me’ but many shooters will understand. When I first shot my K80 Step Rib it surprised me with the way it moved for a big, heavy old thing. I felt that as my eyes followed the clay, so did the gun, with little conscious help by me.
The 694 did not give me this feeling. I was conscious of holding a piece of wood attached to some steel tubes. That might sound harsh but it’s the only way I can express what I mean.
I’m sure many readers will know that feeling of picking up a gun, and after shooting the first few targets, you know you love it. It just feels effortless to move, pointable – that’s what we all strive for, and the Perazzi MX2000S did it for me.
With the Beretta, I needed to think hard about a suitable hold point. If I got that wrong, and moved the 694 how I usually push my own gun, then I was swinging past the target, or over the top.
To sum up then, the 694 is a very popular gun, it looks really nice and it does the business. Beretta fans will love it; it’s just not the gun for me.
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