By Bryan Snyder
Like many who grew up in the late eighties watching action movies and shooting with family and friends, the Beretta 92 was a staple in our firearms viewing in movies and TV. I bought my first Beretta 92 about 6 years ago, a 92G Elite. It was and still is an utterly fantastic handgun with a buttery smooth action, exceptional accuracy, and a host of other facory custom touches that just make it extremely easy to shoot . . .
Beretta was founded in 1526 and is the oldest continually operated fireamrs manufacturer in the world. Most people know them best for the model 92 9mm, one of the earliest and best known of the “wonder nines” and the adopted 9mm replacement for the US 1911A1 .45 ACP for widespread U.S. military forces, much to the lament of the 1911 fan boys.
Based on my experience with the Elite 9mm, I’ve kept my eyes open for the next Beretta. And in the last couple of months I was lucky to come accross not one, not two, but three new-to-me Beretta 9mm and .40 cal handguns that I just felt like I couldn’t pass up due to their relative rarity, their performance, and overall “cool factor.” This review is for one of these pistols, the Beretta 96 Combat, a 40 cal. SAO pistol with a 6″ barrel.
This is a special competition model made in limited numbers by Beretta in both 9mm (Model 92 Combat) and 40 cal. (Model 96 Combat). Beretta, for a very short time, imported a relative handful of special edition and competition semi-autos based on the 92F(S) models including the Combat, the Billennium, the Steel, and the Stock models. Due to their rarity and exceptional handling and features, these models command a hefty premium over their base 92FS cousins.Most of these were, unlike all of the “everyday” 92s SAO and some like the Billenniums and Steels had frames made from steel rather than alloy.
My particular find was discovered in a LGS in Buffalo, NY in their used gun cabinet. I almost didn’t buy it as I had already bought another pistol on my bucket list two weeks before and my cash-flow had already been pinched. But the more I thought about it, the more it ate at me, especially knowing that they apparently didn’t know what they had and therefore had priced it to move FAST for the first person who knew what they were looking at.
Luckily, a week later when I called to see if they still had it, it was still there and I drove up the next day to put it on lay-a-way. Six weeks later, I picked her up and it gave me goose-bumps holding it again.
The fit and finish is typical Beretta, very good. The only unusual wear is located directly under the slide release area of the slide when the slide is retacted. The pistol’s finish is even and absent of tooling marks.
When people have seen it, the first thing that strikes them is what appears at first glance to be a muzzle compensator/brake.
It’s actually a barrel weight that’s held in place on a 6″ non-ported barrel by a muzzle nut resembling a type of castle nut and uses a special, included spanner wrench to tighten and remove it for dissassembly and periodic replacement of the special barrel bushing that Beretta uses to improve the lock-up and repeatability of muzzle placement to increase accuracy.
The barrel bushing that uses the weight and nut to hold it in place, is tapered and available in five sizes IIRC, so they may be replaced after tolerances loosen and accuracy suffers. Luckily, as I have read, if the pistol is well maintained, this takes MANY MANY thousands of rounds to even wear out the smallest bushing (10k-15K rounds). As you can see from the pictures, the barrel is stepped ever so slightly to make room for the barrel nut and bushing. The recoil rod also portrudes from the front of the slide into the barrel weight to keep it aligned and
presses against a spring housed in the weight.
Usually, the second thing noticed about the 96 Combat is the lack of the slide mounted safety/decocker and what looks like a more commonly known 1911 style safety. It is well placed, comfortable, easy to manipulate, and has a nice audible “click” into and out of engagement and is firm enough to be confident in its placement but easy enough to move that one with smaller or weaker hands will not fumble or fight with it.
The slide the COMBAT series of handguns uses what may be recognized by some, especially Beretta shooters, as the “D” slide, and more specifically, the D “Brigadier slide”.
The “D” model slide lacks any slide mounted controls on slide and is used for Beretta’s DAO line of pistols based on the 92/96FS series. THe Brigadier nomenclature indicates that this model uses the beefed up slide that came into being when Beretta introduced the 40 cal. models. This heavier slide was also subsequently used on select 92 FS 9mm models. The slide is thicker in is side rails and around the locking block area, enough that it is easily visible to the eye.
It makes an already durable handgun even more so and is, for the casual shooter, “overkill”.
If you shoot higher pressure rounds or shoot “extreme” amounts though, it is nice to have for the piece of mind and well…it just looks cool. For the Combat series and other models Beretta made that were SAO, the standard “D” Brigadier slide was used but with a notch cut out for the safety lever and the “dot” pictogram above the cut-out. As an aside, readers should know that MOST holsters, especially kydex or other thermo-molded holsters for the standard 92/96 F/FS series will NOT fit a model with a Brigadier slide, they are simply to wide. SOME leather holsters, depending on the level of attention given to the molding and retention will accomodate the Brigadier slide, but even then will likely need a good break in period. Be sure to ask BEFORE you buy, if you have a brigadier slide.
When compared to a more standard model 92/96, Other notable changes that are visible are the extended beavertail on the combat and the slightly curvier, elongated trigger guard. Only the more limited edition pistols have these with the standard models either having the “hook” style of the 92FS or M9 or the oval of the older 92SB and newer A1 series.
The beavertail, IMO, is for looks only. I can’t imagine how you could hold a Beretta 92 style handgun and get “hammer bite”. It does look cool though…Same for the trigger guard, IMO, it was done for looks and served only to differentiate from the more standard models.
Something you’ll notice as soon as you pick up a COMBAT or other special model is the MUCH more aggressive checkering. It is such that adding or modding the stock grips for more grip is, IMO, a waste of time. While the grips are smooth and very comfortable, you really have nothing to worry about as far as losing your grip IMO. When you are holding this pistol, you are aware of it. Both front and back are very well done, with neat, crisp lines that come to sharp points.
Also, there is a factory mounted, oversized magazine button that is also checkered, larger in diameter, and longer to promote positive release and ejection of the magazine with minimal, if any, shift in your firing grip. I have hands that on a scale of 1-10 for mens size hands would fall in as a “5” and can eject the magazine with no shift in grip, something I cannot do with the standard factory button.
Next up are the obviously target orientated sights.
The rear is fully adustable for windage and elevation and the front sight is a dovetailed, raised blade that has a bold white dot. There are, IIRC, 3 various heights of blades available from the factory.
Included with the pistol is a Beretta marked sight key and allen wrench. The wrench is used for another feature that the standard Beretta, and most other pistols on the market don’t have, pre and over-travel adjustment screws for the trigger.To adjust them one unlocks the slide through the typical Beretta method and slides it forward enough to expose the magazine well from above, from there one can use the wrench to adjust and fine tune the trigger.
Looking at the underside of the trigger you can see the adjustment screw and how it interacts with the rear of the trigger. The trigger is very nie and I would say it is about 90-95% as good as the best 1911 trigger I have experienced. It has a very short, light take-up and very crisp, short break. Mine is set as close to zero over travel as I can manage in order to get a positive reset.
When it comes to shooting it, it took some getting used to as all my other semi-auto pistols are glocks or SA/DA and none with a trigger as light or as short as this. With this trigger it is possible to get off very past pairs, to the point where I will need lots of practice to take advantage of the speed advantage this pistol offers. The weight and balance of the pistol is overall pretty neutral, with a full magazine, it swings well and the large front blade is easy to pick up on the move. The smooth, straighter trigger feels very good and manipulates easily.
AS a competition gun, this would do well IMO, in the hands of a skilled shooter. I will need more time to really take advantage of the features this offers. It COULD be used as a defensive CCW but it is fairly large.
My favorite feature is the SAO. It takes a great pistol to the next level of shootability. My least favorite feature is well….I’m not really sure. At this time, I am really hard pressed to find something I don’t like. If forced to choose, I guess I would have to say the lack of the Elite style skeletonized hammer.
For accuracy testing, I shot a target from 35 yards using winchester white box ammo from sand bags on a table. At this time I have about 400 rounds through it and it has been completely 100% reliable. I fired 30 rounds. Temp was 76 degrees and we are at about 1500ft ASL. I fired at another target to get it on paper at that distance and fired for record at the target shown.
With more time and familarization, I think I can do better but it is a good start.
Beretta 96 Combat
Caliber: .40 S&W
Length: 8.5 to 9.5
Barrel length: 4.9 to 5.9
Capacity: 10 + 1
Weight: 38 to 40 oz.
Ratings (out of five stars):
Style * * * * *
It’s a sexy bitch. Unique and easy to use. Demands attention when you have it out at the range.
Ergonomics – Shooting * * * *
Everything is in a nice easy to locate and use spot. Feels excellent in the hand. Only thing one may gripe about is it doesn’t have the 1911 grip angle.
Ergonomics – Carry * * *
You better be a big guy or dress around your gun at all times to carry this as a CCW option. Doable but not easily.
Reliability * * * * *
NEVER had a malfunction with this pistol at all, nor any of my other Berettas.
Customizable * * * * *
Most of the stuff is factory done. Can change sights, adjust trigger etc.
Overall * * * * *
I’m thrilled with this and it is my favorite handgun at this time. Planning on shooting alot more 40 cal.