A prairie hunt with a good dog and a Benelli Super Black Eagle 3 in 28 gauge is the perfect day. Andrew McKean Photo
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I was dumping wind-driven mallards with enough consistency to quietly praise both my ability to visualize the crazy amount of lead required and the snappy 12-gauge Franchi I was swinging.

But for every bird I sent cartwheeling into the Nebraska Sandhills pothole, my buddy Scott Turner crushed another, and both of us were reaching out to 40 and 45 yards for some of the wariest greenheads and teal. Only Turner was shooting a 28-gauge and laughing after every shot. It just appeared that he was having a lot more fun than I was, so when he offered to switch guns I jumped at the invitation.

The SBE3 in 28 gauge is more than adequate for pot hole docks when using today’s premium waterfowl loads. Andrew McKean Photo

It took me a few shots to get the feel of the load and lead, but then I started connecting with teal, and became an instant convert to the cult of the 28-gauge. It helped that Turner is the product manager for HEVI-Shot, so I didn’t feel too bad about shooting all his shells. But it also helps that the 5.5-pound gun isn’t overly whippy. Instead it points with authority and swings smoothly, but the lithe figure of the gun and its light weight make it a joy to shoot, even during extended volleys.

That evening shoot for mid-season Nebraska ducks last fall convinced me to get my own copy of the 28, and within a couple weeks I had my own Benelli Super Black Eagle 3, wearing the all-purpose Gore Optifade Timber camo pattern. I used it for Montana waterfowl and pigeons, but it got most of its work in the prairie, where I deployed it for sharptail and sage grouse and twitchy little Hungarian partridge.

My year in the field with the SBE3 gave me some insights into the capabilities of the 28-gauge, but also some perspectives on its limitations.

The New 20 Gauge

Fundamentally, I’d describe the 28-gauge — regardless of platform — as the new 20-gauge. That’s because shotshell innovations have elevated payload performance, giving 28-gauges new reach, new lethality for a wide range of winged game and more variety in payloads. You can use the same 28-gauge for spring turkeys, then for opening-week doves, pheasants and most waterfowl.

Using HEVI-Shot as an example, the HEVI-18 payload in No. 9 shot is a devastating turkey load, and the HEVI-XII size 6 tungsten load will take care of pheasant-sized game, and I’m a fan of the No. 4 shot for mallards and close-in geese. Other shotshell manufacturers have similarly upped their 28 game, increasing capacities and introducing a wide variety of metals and shot sizes.

While I’m tempted to say the SBE3 is the perfect all-around 28 gauge, it’s only an adequate turkey gun. The gun’s receiver isn’t tapped to accept an optic, and its carbon fiber rib doesn’t easily accept aftermarket sights. I planned to use HIVIZ sights to at least give me a two-sight plane for shooting tight groups out to 30 yards, but the rib is fairly fragile and I didn’t want to risk cracking it with set screws. With only a front bead, the SBE is somewhat limited as a turkey gun.

The Benelli Super Black Eagle 3 in 28 gauge. Andrew McKean Photo

I should note that I got lethal 30-yard groupings with that front bead, mainly thanks to an aftermarket choke. Benelli includes Cylinder, Improved Modified and Full with the gun, and while the factory Full grouped all three turkey loads pretty well, I was looking for a tighter choke for TSS loads. Scott Trulock of Trulock Chokes came through with a new TSS-specific choke that tightened groups by about 20 percent. I settled on APEX Ammo’s 2 3/4-inch, 1 3/8-ounce load of No. 9 tungsten, but at the end of the day, I left the SBE3 in its case as I pursued turkeys with a shotgun that I felt confident shooting out to 40 yards.

But any shortcomings the Super Black Eagle 3 has in the turkey woods are eclipsed by its performance on flying birds.

Ultimate Fall Gun

I started my fall with tune-up pigeons and found myself laughing like Turner with every bird I dropped. The 28-inch barrel is optimized for crossing shots (the SBE3 is also available with a 26-inch barrel) and the ability to chamber either 2 3/4-inch or 3-inch shells allowed me to shoot light field loads for both pigeon and doves.

The gun was at its best on early season doves. With a short-sleeve shirt, the 14 3/8-inch length of pull was perfect. I noticed that the LOP was a little long for later-season hunting, when I had a sweater and a coat. I struggled a little with snap shots at doves, but any longer crossing shot was lights out.

The oversized trigger guard allows for late-season glove wear without tripping up shots. Andrew McKean Photo

Benelli has done remarkable work with both its controls and its lock-up action. The oversized charging handle is easy to operate, even in the heat of an incoming dove squadron. And gone are the days of the dread “Benelli click,” when the bolt wasn’t completely locked up. I found myself constantly bumping the charging handle forward to ensure the bolt was seated, but didn’t really need to; it was just a habit left over from the old days when light-cycling shells sometimes didn’t have quite enough gas to seat the bolt.

The trigger guard is overlarge, but it’s perfectly sized to accommodate late-season gloves. The beveled loading port is also much easier to manipulate with gloved hands, making in-the-moment reloads a cinch.

The 28-gauge version of the SBE3 has all the recoil-mitigation technology of the bigger-bore Benellis. They include the shock-absorbing chevrons of the Comfort Tech stock and a synthetic cheek pad that reduces vibrations. Inside, Benelli’s patented Inertia-Driven System runs smoothly and cleanly for a semi-automatic.

Do you need the recoil-absorbing features in a 28 gauge? Probably not for lighter field loads, but they’re nice for heavy turkey loads, and because the recoil with some of the stouter waterfowl loads have a cumulative effect, the gun is equally a pleasure to shoot at the end of a good duck day as it is in the beginning. I can’t say that about every 5.5-pound shotgun.

The oversized charging handle is easy to operate, even in the heat of an incoming dove squadron. Andrew McKean Photo

This is a premium semi-auto field gun, and the retail price of the SBE3 — $2,049 — will keep it as an aspirational purchase for most hunters. But given the rise in 28-gauge shotshell availability and the wide versatility of the platform, the Benelli remains a solid alternative to a 28-gauge side-by-side or over-and-under.

If I could recommend one significant change to the Super Black Eagle 3, it would be to replicate the outstanding design in a left-handed version. The righty action is fine to work, but it’s such an established design that I think Benelli could win over an entirely new population by extending the product line to us southpaws.

The single bead sight is great for flying birds, but will leave turkey hunters feeling just a little lacking. Andrew McKean Photo
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  1. The last time I saw a 28 gauge anything was well over 2 decades ago for NRA training related to camp programs. I don’t doubt that it works well especially with modern ammo improvements but unless 28 just got distributed in the last month it is virtually non-existent in the Northeast to Mid-Atlantic regions from anything I have seen or heard from. With that said awesome and hope it continues to grow in availability.

      • As much as I enjoy reloading I only have so much space/time for new stuff and while pistol and rifle are all on the same area shotguns will be a new section that I am still figuring out how well I can switch out gauges for the same machine or store multiple machines. So 12 and maybe 20 for now and maybe 28 if I need a challenge or my wife takes an interest in trap.

    • I’m down in the Deep South and aside from a box or two at the occasional gun show I have NEVER seen a box of 28 gauge shells. And those were years ago.

  2. With modern high-performance adhesives, I wonder if it would be possible to bond a simple metal optic mounting plate onto that fragile carbon fiber rib. The plate would have to be custom made, but it wouldn’t need to be anything more than a rectangular piece with a couple of threaded holes. (I am not a gunsmith, and my idea may well confirm that!)

  3. I’ve shot 28guage mostly for trap. It’s okay but isnt 20guage.
    28 guage shells are harder to find and more expensive.
    Besides it’s an EnglishUK guage, ugh yuk.

    • 20 ga is a little more costly here in CA than 12. .410 is way overpriced. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a box of 28’s on the shelves.

      That heavi shot stuff was ghastly overpriced when last I shopped for shells. Steel works, not as well as lead, but it works.

      When I bought my Benelli it was in 12.

    • Yeah but your Remington doesn’t have a carbon fiber vent rib. That’s some high tech sht right there I tell yah. Long after the gunm has turned to rust the high tech carbon will still be in a fishes guts.

  4. So 28 ga. has developed to the point that it equals 20? For much more $$ per shot? And extremely hard to find? Well, let me just jump right on that bandwagon!! On second thought . . . Nah.

    • I had a Remington 58 16 gauge with a Cutts Compensator.
      Felt recoil was on a par with 5.56 w/20″ barrel.
      Had great dawg engraving too. Gave it to a niece so she could hunt with her husband.

      • Around here all public land is steel shot only. That law closet queened a lot of my favorite shotgunms.
        I’ve read that shuting small steel shot won’t ring the barrel, only cosmetic when it does, I’m not taking any chances with what I consider to be classics.

    • Mass production. The 16 used to be built on its own frame size. Then the bean counters figured they could save a buck by using the same frame for a 12 and a 16. Made the 16 a shade bulkier and heavier.

      And Americans like their horsepower. The 20 went to a 3 inch chamber and you can get a 12 in 3 and 1/2.

      16 stayed at 2 and 3/4. Nobody wants a short round.

      • I’ve got a 3n1/2 12guage, it dont pattern for shit compared to 3inch.
        Best just to get a 10 if you need more.

  5. My left handed SBE2 in 12Ga is like a magic sword. Anything I point it at drops.

    Semi auto shotguns are the only guns I prefer to shoot a left handed version of. Everything else, the small cases aren’t even noticed as they zip across my field of view.

  6. Hey not to hijack this thread but I’m going to hijack this thread. The bond stock cz75 is the finest handgun ever made. Oh and Debbie should get bent. Merry memorial day friends. Did I say get bent Debbie?

    • “Oh and Debbie should get bent. Merry memorial day friends. Did I say get bent Debbie?”

      If it would make her a nicer person and less of a total b!tch to get bent, I’ll volunteer to ‘Stand and deliver’… 😉

  7. *Breaking*

    The SCotUS just granted cert. in the VanDerStock v. Garland 80% lower receiver case :

    • OK, this case is not strictly to do with 80% lowers, it’s about the ATF inventing law out of thin air, instead of the Congress, so it may also deal with pistol braces, as well.

      (That also means the Congress can screw us in the ass the next time the Leftist-Fascists hold the reins of power… 🙁 )

      • That will always be the case until it is ruled a constitutional amendment is needed to change a constitutional amendment. At least we wouldn’t have capricious nonsense from the bureaucracy changing laws.

  8. Dumping wind driven Mallards? Is the limit that much higher in Nebraska than the Pacific flyway?

    I mean how many shells are you shooting in a legal day?


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