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(This is a reader-submitted review as part of our gun review contest. See details here.)

By D.J.

Blink and you missed it! Four shots in less than one second. Wait. What?! That’s what Beretta claims, or more aptly, names the gas system in the A400 Xplor Unico. Mendacity or veracity? Let’s break down a bangstick from the oldest active firearms manufacturer in the world and find out if it really can do 4 under 1.

In central Kentucky, about half an hour off I-75N, you will find the Elk Creek Hunt Club and Sporting Clays Resort. And Vineyard. They take their fun seriously. I’m no wino, bourbon is my poison, but this place is definitely worth a stop next time you’re in the neighborhood. There are several courses with various levels of difficulty: beginner, intermediate, and Miculek.

The sporting clay circuit(s) is 100 shots at 25 different stations that cover a multitude of terrains, angles and distances. I’ve been at least half a dozen times over the past three years. The first several trips I used my Remington 870. It performed fine, but my pride and scorecard suffered more than I could bear. I was missing clays because I couldn’t make follow-up shots fast enough working the pump action. And 100 shots on a 12 gauge pump in 120 minutes will humble you…or maybe just me. So I started looking for a semi-auto shotgun. I narrowed my search down to offerings from Benelli, Browning, Remington and Beretta. Let me show you how I got here.

The Beretta A400 Xplor Unico traces its roots back to 1960 when Beretta released the aptly named Model 60. They claim it was one of the first gas-operated semi-auto field shotguns in the world. Since then it has gone through many design changes, but the concept has always remained the same: a fast firing, self-cleaning, soft shooting, reliable semi-auto gas-operating system that can allow the shotgun to perform with a broad range of ammunition.

The A400 ships in a plastic case from the factory.

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Inside you will find:

The shotgun
Two extra choke tubes
Choke wrench
Lubricant
Shim kit
Drop/cast kit
Owner’s manual and product flyer

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The plastic case is a nice touch, with interior molds that allow each component to have a space. It can accept a pair of locks. However, as I have flown commercially several times with checked rifles, I can assure you the case would not pass the TSA requirements for checking the gun onto an airplane. The product flyer suggests the versatility of the Unico allows the owner the ability to hunt dinosaurs; or perhaps just their feet. Unfortunately, I don’t have a T-Rex on which to test out this claim.

Once assembled, the overall appearance evokes something between aesthetic and function. This is a shotgun straddling past and future. I admit that when I first saw it I wasn’t sure if I liked it. The wood was beautiful. The fit and finish were splendid. The blued steel was superb. But all of that set against the ultramodern colored receiver gave me pause. And something about it grew on me like a fungus.

Let’s take a gander:

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The European walnut stock is oil finished. When you look at it, you want to say aloud, ‘Hello gorgeous.’ The pistol grip is double diamond checkered and fills the hand well. The top has an ambidextrous finger rest; a very nice touch that exudes quality.

The gun ships with the aforementioned spacers and shim kit so you can adjust both the length of pull and stock drop/cast to your frame. Nice touch. Very personal. The recoil pad is a technopolymer Beretta calls Microcore, and it possesses magical powers. Not really. All the serious voodoo is inside the stock where you will find Beretta’s Kick-Off system.

The Kick-Off system works to mitigate recoil. I have not taken any quantitative measurements, but others have and if you follow this link you can view how the Kick-Off measures up against other offerings from Benelli, Browning and Remington.

In a semi-auto shotgun, there are actually two recoil impulses. Pull the trigger and a round is fired. The shot, wad and gasses explode out the muzzle; first recoil impulse. Pressure in the barrel bleeds excess gas into the cylinder below the barrel and begins the piston operation, slamming the bolt rearward to expel the spent shell. The bolt hits the most rearward point in the receiver; second impulse.

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The Kick-Off system has two twin hydraulic cylinders in the stock that mate against the recoil pad on the butt of the gun. A third hydraulic cylinder is located in stock bolt tube. It works just like the suspension in a vehicle, absorbing sharp impulses. 2¾ ” shells are downright soft. But the 3” and 3 ½” varieties are where one really appreciates the whole Kick-Off system.

My 870 will not accommodate 3 ½” shells. But in comparing the other two sizes, the Kick-Off system definitely works as advertised. I have shot 00 buck, turkey, 1-ounce slug, and several brands/weights of clay/birdshot ranging from 7/8 ounce to 2 ¼ ounce super magnum goose loads. The system absorbs much of the energy from the rounds without acting like a pogo stick. Beretta advertises a 70% reduction in felt recoil overall. Factor in the weight of the gun and the gas piston operating system and you’ll see why I’m a believer.

For comparison, I also ran the same courses at Elk Creek with a Benelli Montefeltro, an inertia driven action. If the 870 is a slam, the Montefeltro is a smack, and the Xplor Unico is a push.

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The smooth trigger is chrome plated. I’m getting an approximate pull weight of just over four pounds. The actual trigger mechanism sits in a stainless steel carrier. The break is crisp and the reset is tactile; both are short. Just when I think I’m detecting some take up the trigger breaks. It’s an excellent out of the box trigger. When your index finger is safely at rest outside the trigger guard it falls squarely on the large safety button. The button smartly clicks on and off. It can be reversed for southpaws.

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The anodized receiver is constructed from a solid piece of aluminum alloy. The color is model dependent. The Xplor Unico comes in a dark green while the Xplor Light comes in a light green. The Xcel comes in blue. The Xtreme comes in camo. You get the idea.

On the right side of the receiver is the bolt lever, appropriately sized for the gun’s purpose. Not so large as to be tacticool, but large enough to easily work the action. The bolt release button, however, leaves a bit to be desired. On a gun packed with positive controls, the bolt release is spongy but functional. Turn the gun over to the left side and you’ll find the cut-off. Press it and you can empty the magazine without loading a shell into the chamber.

Underneath the receiver is the chromed loading gate. Again, sized appropriately for the gun’s purpose. Shells load easily into the magazine, which holds two rounds in its shipped configuration or three if you want to remove the magazine plug. I don’t hunt with this gun so removing the plug is of no consequence.

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The chamber size is what designates this model as the Unico. This is Beretta’s fancy name for a chamber that accepts 2 ¾, 3 and 3 1/2” inch shells. Inside is the Blink bolt system. The rotating bolt has two locking lugs that fit snugly into the barrel breech. The bolt rides in a carrier connected to two operating rods just above the recoil spring assembly in the stock. Beretta claims the Blink system has a 36% faster cyclic rate that any other semi auto on the market. We shall see…

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Disassembly is easy and quick; the gun can be field stripped into five main components. Unscrew the polymer nut. Slide off the fore end, beautifully checkered with the Beretta logo, and you’ll find the auto regulating gas piston system. When a round is fired, the system uses excess gases to cycle the action, venting them through a small port in the barrel. This sets the whole gas piston system in motion.

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There is an elastic seal that scrapes excess powder from the piston, allowing it to “self-clean” every time a round is fired. The system also allows a bleed off of excess gas when higher-pressure rounds are fired. Said gasses escape through angled vents on the underside of the fore grip. I have had no issues with heat or burns while operating the weapon. In addition to being self-cleaning, the system is also self-regulating, allowing any 12 gauge rounds to be reliably cycled without interference from the user. Nifty, eh?

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The 28” barrel is cold hammer forged and chrome lined. It’s made from Steelium; that’s the same alloy used to construct an M1 Abrams Tank. Deeply blued, it sports a vented rib and single silver bead at the muzzle. The barrel features the HP Optima Bore choke system. Patterns are excellent. The choke tubes are nickel plated steel; three come with the gun (F, M, C). A total of five are available directly from Beretta. The barrel and choke tubes are rated for steel loads if desired.

So, finally, is it fast? Maybe shooting four shells under one second sounds easy, but it wasn’t. I took six splits on my Pocket Pro II and the fastest I got was .94 seconds. For perspective, the human eye blinks at .30 seconds (hey, they stole the name!). The verdict is: yes, Beretta speaks the truth! And I have no doubt that I was limiting the gun’s capabilities; a great many readers here could doubtless run it faster still. While you may not be destroying any dinos, the speed will quickly let you quash an entire covey of quail.

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So where’s the rub?

1. Beretta claims a 70% recoil reduction. Compared to what? Pump action? O/U? Barrett .50 cal? What size shells? What weight? Like I said, I’m a believer. But if you are going to toss actual data at me to make a sale then please provide me with some quantitative analysis to back it up. Because if you don’t, I’m going to go looking for it.

2. The trigger guard. It’s plastic. Really, Beretta? At this price point?

3. Paper owner’s manual. I get it; gotta be in the box. Liability, etc. But come on, somebody get creative. Please. And no, I’m not a millennial. I don’t know what Pokemen are (can I shoot them?). I learned to drive during a magical time when gas cost less than $1 a gallon and .22 ammo flowed through the aisles of Walmart like water. If you are going to design a gun marketed as the premier Italian technological marvel then make the owner’s manual fantastico, not ordinario.

4. Failures? One. The first box I ever ran through it was Federal Target Loads, 2.75”, 1 1/8 ounce, 7 ½ shot. I had a stovepipe. I quickly cleared it and have had no issues with reliability since. I’ve put almost 2000 rounds through the gun. The biggest testament to reliability was one day at Elk Creek. A friend and I decided to do the whole course sharing my gun. We put 200 rounds through the gun in about 120 minutes. No hiccups at all. Perfect feeding. Perfect ejection. No cleaning. Beretta recommends a break-in period with 1 1/8 ounce loads, but gives no indication of how many of these loads will constitute said break in period. I have fired rounds from Remington, Federal, Fiocchi, Sellier & Bellot, Winchester, Estate and Hornady…all without issue except for the one stove pipe.

5. Thankfully, I have not had need to use Beretta’s customer service so I cannot comment on it. I find their website to be very good and easily navigated. However, the aftermarket for this model isn’t that deep.

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Specifications: Beretta A400 Xplor Unico 

Caliber: 12 gauge
Capacity: 3 + 1
Operation: Semi-auto gas piston system
Recoil system: Kick-Off
Barrel Length: 28” (26 and 30 available) alloy steel
Weight: 7.1 lbs.
Sights: Single bead
Grips: Double diamond checkered walnut
MSRP: $1850, about $1500 street

Ratings (Out of Five Stars):

Accuracy: * * * * *
It’s a shotgun. If I do my part, the gun will perform. Groups are tight and consistent.

Ergonomics: * * * *
It balances well. It handles and swings smoothly. My hands fall naturally where they should; all the controls are easily operable and accessible. Left hand is not available. The Kick-Off system is excellent, but it isn’t standard. Minus one star for the mushy bolt release and plastic trigger guard.

Reliability: * * * * 1/2
One failure in almost two thousand rounds with only one cleaning. Righteous, but the one stovepipe keeps the fifth star at bay. Curses!

Trigger: * * * *
My uncle has two Italian O/U shotguns that I might be able to afford by retirement and those triggers are breaking glass. So, while this one is excellent out of the box, I do have something better to compare it to.

Customization: * *
There’s a little bit of aftermarket out there; slings and the occasional fiber optic front sight. Important to note that the receiver is NOT drilled and tapped.

Overall: * * * *
A fantastic shotgun that handles well, works reliably and is made from quality components. Beretta’s offering does not disappoint.

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11 Responses to Gun Review: Beretta A400 Xplor Unico with Kick-Off

  1. When I was a kid we experimented around a little. In those days we had access to autoloaders from Browning(my personal favorite) Winchester(didn’t like) Remington(actually had decent guns then). We also had the usual suspects in pump guns. Winchester model 12(my all time favorite of all shotguns) Remington(ditto above) Ithaca(great gun to carry, light weight) Mossberg(in those days the mossy was the cheap trick at the party).

    What we found was that semi’s were regulated to shoot at a certain speed. It didn’t matter how hard you pulled the trigger the gun wasn’t going to shoot faster. But a pump gun could be made to run faster than a semi with a little practice.

    Because of federal law most of us just left our guns at the 3 round plug limit year round. The real advantage the semi’s had(which the browning a5 didn’t have) was recoil reduction. If you were going to do high volume shooting(ducks, dove, geese) you wanted one of the softer shooting semi’s.

    We also ran tests with double barrels. If the gun had 2 triggers it could outshoot(speedwise) the pump or the semi.

  2. Mea culpa, people. There are more than five choke tubes available from Beretta. More like fifteen. Obviously, I can’t count…

  3. Like most in the Beretta line I’m sure it’s an outstanding performer. I have a couple. However, the “fastest shooting, fastest cycling” mantra is overblown and of little application in the real world. Unless you’re just sending up flack to and hoping something flies into it, nobody is going to be quashing “an entire covey of quail” utilizing the speed the gun is capable of shooting. I doubt there’s a bird hunter in the world who has missed a shot with any semiauto out there due to the inability to get off second and subsequent shots fast enough. Tom Knapp (R.I.P), Patrick Flannigan, the Gould Brothers, et. al., can show off the inherent capabilities of such guns during exhibitions but I doubt there’s any application of those capabilities to the guy walking through the woods and flushing that covey. Berettas, Benellis, Winchesters, Remingtons, etc., all shoot fast enough for that guy.

  4. I have an XCEL and a XPLOR action. A400s are fantastic! Only reason I didn’t buy a Unico is I have no reason to shoot 3.5″ shells. You can’t go wrong with these.

  5. Looks like a great gun. Nice review. My 870 Express Mag handles 3 1/2″ shells, but doesn’t look nearly as nice and the recoil is considerable.

  6. I bought this in the Light version with the Kick Off 3 years ago. I was rabbit hunting with an R870. That was one heavy tool to be lugging around all day in the fields. I love everything about to. The KO saves the day on opening day of dove also.

    Great review.

  7. Should be noted that the A400’s stock, with “xtra grain”, is just stained on figuring. The actual wood is on par with a pallet. I know, I own one. Also, the stain started to wear off on my hands after a range session or two.

    That said, as a lefty, Beretta offers an A400 in full left hand configuration that is absolutely awesome. True left hand action/ejection.

  8. Beretta is an absolute nightmare to work with. I bought the a400 unico back in September, and the barrel exploded before duck season even ended. This gun is poorly engineered and awfully built. The barrel was cleaned out, it had been shot two dozen times that morning, and then the barrel expanded and ripped into shreds. We sent the gun in after contacting one of the associates at Beretta, and then they come out blaming the shell manufacturer. I have shot Rio for years, but this is my first, and last Beretta. I am truly disappointed with this company. If you are looking for a company that cares about its customers and will stand behind their gun, then Beretta is not the route to take. I guess it will be a Benelli on my shoulder in the future. jfleming2638@student.wallace.edu

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