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Rifle Magazine
January - February 2004
Volume 36, Number 1
ISSN: 0162-3583
Number 211
On the cover...
The Hill Country Rifle Co. Winchester Model 70 .300 Winchester Magnum features a AAA Turkish fiddleback walnut stock with 23 lines per inch checkering. Metalwork includes Lilja stainless steel barrel. Williams one-piece bottom metal and Al Biesen steel tr
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Be it rifle, pistol or shotgun, autoloaders seem to be the bane of all shooters. Most complain they are not accurate, have a tendency to malfunction at the drop of a 10-gallon hat, and handloaders don't like the idea of chasing their brass into the pucker brush. There is nothing like the semiautomatic to lead the charge in controversy.

Years ago, I could see the reasoning behind all the fireside chat, but today the game has turned around. The case for accuracy has surely improved, and with modern locking systems and hammer-forged barrels, these rifles can and will perform as well as off-the-shelf bolt actions. All rifles will malfunction if not properly maintained, and surely the autoloader is a bit more finicky, but that's the nature of the beast. Finally, if you shoot that much on a big game hunt that you are worried about a few shell casings, then perhaps you should look at something other than a semiautomatic sporting rifle.

New products come and go, and it's refreshing to see something up to date appear on the market within the narrow confines of autoloading rifles. Quite by surprise Benelli introduced a gas-operated rifle that is called the R1. Complete with all the latest in modern technology, this rifle has been engineered with the serious big game hunter in mind. Presently it's only available in .30-06 and .300 Winchester Magnum in both a standard and carbine version.

The Benelli R1 is a striking rifle. The lines make it look like a very talented Italian design team got hold of it - which they did - and upgraded it to the way turn-of-the-century firearms should look. The overall styling is certainly unique with its rakish forend, scalloped recoil pad and very unusual receiver profile. In effect, it's a very clean and uncluttered design and will move you right into the twenty-first century.

The two-piece stock is equally impressive. Profiled from hand-picked wood, the buttstock and forend match in color and relative grain patterns. For the purpose of this report, I had two rifles to compare and both sported wood I'd be proud of no matter where I traveled. It is finished in a low-luster, almost satin hue that is not at all gaudy but fully functional.

Length of pull is 13 3/4 inches from the face of the trigger to the rear of the recoil pad. This pad is very stylized and has a very forward rake toward the receiver. While it looks like it’s made to absorb a lot of the recoil, only the top center of the pad is made of soft, pliable material.

One interesting feature of the R1 is that the stock is adjustable to most any physique. For instance, if the length of pull is wrong, the recoil pad can be changed for a longer or shorter pull. While this is an extra cost item (parts), it invites the owner to customize the rifle to his own shooting preferences. Still other innovations are the spacers that can be employed between the buttstock and receiver to raise or lower the comb (pitch) for a line of sight through the scope. Removal and subsequent replacement of these parts are as easy as removing the pad, then a stock retaining nut and experimenting with the bag of shims that comes as standard equipment with the R1.

There is a moderate monte carlo type comb at the top of the stock for scope use that is so well done you hardly know it's there. After the finish is applied, the stock is checkered in 20 lines per inch and contains a modest flair at the rear of the pattern to compliment the overall lines. There is no pistol-grip cap, but a Benelli logo is neatly laser etched in its place. For shooting comfort a palm swell has been incorporated on both sides of the pistol grip, and a sling-swivel stud has been included at the toe of the stock for field carry.

The forend shows the same amount of detail and care in both fit and finish. It is tapered forward to allow a comfortable grip on the weak hand and has deep finger grooves for control. The base of the forend is broad, allowing it to fit the hand comfortably or allow for use as a field rest. The same finish has been applied: Checkering covers both sides and surrounds the bottom of the forearm in the same modern pattern as on the buttstock. There is a finely executed S curve in the wood where it meets the receiver. Up front at the attachment nut, the wood is rounded off and finished smartly.

The receiver bears a strong family resemblance to other rifles in the company lineup. Carefully polished and finished in a matte black, the receiver is almost a dead ringer for those used on current Sport or Executive shotgun models. With an upper and lower receiver, this allows ease of maintenance and/or parts replacement if necessary.

The lines of the R1 aluminum-based receiver are unique, to say the least, measuring about 2 inches in depth, sans magazine. Including the stylish magazine, there's only another inch in depth. The bottom of the magazine serves as a bumper of sorts in that it allows plenty of purchase when inserting it into the receiver, even with heavy gloves on. The magazine itself is double column in design with a capacity of four standard cartridges and three magnums.

Shooter controls are handy. A cross-bolt safety that locks the trigger and sear is located in the trigger guard. It is reversible so left-handed shooters need not be left out. Forward of that is the bolt release, which upon pulling back on the open bolt while pressing this lever downward allows the bolt to move forward. Just below this lever is the magazine release. Pulling it back allows the magazine to drop free of the receiver.

The R1 was obviously made for both barrel and cartridge interchangeability providing the head size of the cartridge (and bolt face) is the same. While the basic offering presently includes one standard (.30-06) and one magnum (.300 Winchester Magnum), I'm sure there will be more choices in the future. For instance, in the standard bolt face, cartridges like the .260 Remington, .25-06 Remington or the .270 Winchester might be possibilities, and with the magnum rifle the .338 Winchester Magnum or even some of the more recent beltless magnums might find their way into the lineup.

In its present form, to assemble the rifle out of the box may seem a bit awkward at first, but after a few rehearsals the drill gets easier. The first thing to do is unscrew the forend by removing the forend nut. Pull the forend wood forward and off the gun. Now remove the barrel locking cap, and if the trigger is not cocked to the rear and down into the receiver, do that now.

Holding the barrel and bolt assembly, you want to position it so this part of the rifle just starts to ride back on the cylinder plunger pin located just forward of the main receiver. Now draw the bolt to the rear, drop the bolt-barrel assembly onto the rails of the receiver, pushing it to the rear until it retires under the lip at the very rear of the lower receiver. Place the barrel-locking cap back on the cylinder plunger pin, slide the forend back on, then secure the whole assembly with the forearm nut. The first or even the second time requires some patience, but after that it becomes just a matter of course to either assemble or disassemble the rifle for travel or maintenance.

On the right side of the receiver are the letters ARGO. These four letters stand for auto-regulating gas-operated, which is a proprietary system Benelli engineers first used on its M4 military shotgun. Unlike other autoloaders that may use a long system of double rods that activate the bolt, the R1 has its gas cylinder located more to the rear and close to the receiver. The end result Benelli claims is to reduce the recoiling mass, thus making it more pleasant to shoot.

It's sometimes difficult to imagine the thinking of an engineer when he sits down at the drawing board, but the Benelli R1 certainly had a long thought process to get it right. To make the rifle work properly the first time and every time after, Benelli installed a "gas collector cylinder" directly on the barrel with eight screws. Into this goes the cylinder plunger and guide pin. Upon firing, the bullet moves forward, the trailing gases move downward into this "enbloc" assembly, which then moves the short-stroke piston to the rear.

Upon moving back, the piston assembly makes contact with a pair of bolt follower pins that then set the bolt body itself rearward. The unique three-lugged rotary bolt releases its hold on the barrel extension, pulling the spent case out the chamber. On the way back, the case is ejected, the bolt moves to the rear against the recoil spring, halting its rearward movement. From here the bolt cycles forward, strips another round from the magazine, rotates about a quarter-turn to lock up tightly into the barrel extension.

Looking closely we notice the Benelli R1 has a very distinctive bolt head. Its overly large locking lugs go a long way in keeping the rifle from malfunctioning by simply ignoring small amounts of debris if they get lodged in the breech. Three rather large locking lugs are much better than six or eight smaller ones, a fact I'm sure Benelli learned from its military spec shotgun designs. Inside the bolt face, a plunger-type ejector and a claw extractor help keep the R1 running smoothly during rapid firing sequences.

The upper receiver and barrel need some mentioning. The former is all steel, making scope mounting very secure without the fear of stripping threads as might be the case with an aluminum assembly. According to the information I have, open sights seem to be the order of the day for European models only, while guns shipped to the United States are drilled and tapped for common, readily available bases. Benelli has wisely drilled and tapped the hole spacing on the receiver to accommodate the popular Browning BAR one-piece base.

Barrel lengths include 22 inches for the .30-06 and 24 inches for the .300 Winchester Magnum. A carbine version of the R1 is now available with a 20-inch barrel in either cartridge. To enhance accuracy potential, all barrels are free floated from the gas cylinder forward, are cryogenically treated to remove stress, hammer forged, polished brightly and blued to match the upper receiver.

For additional maintenance possibilities, the trigger assembly complete with the magazine and bolt release can be removed without tools. I've never done that in the field with similar rifles; but with the rather large openings around the bolt and ejection port and all the firing mechanism directly inside and underneath, it might be a good idea, especially after a good dunking. Other than that, removal of the upper receiver, barrel and possibly the bolt, all maintenance can be accomplished in very little time once everything is laid out on the bench.

I mounted a Burris Black Diamond scope for its outstanding clarity and 30mm tube. With its 44mm front objective and 2.5-10x range, this particular scope represents one of today's premium models. Two additional features include the generously ribbed power ring, which moves easily even with gloves on, and the convenient reticle focus adjustment on the eyepiece. Beautifully finished in a matte black, installed on the rifle with Signature Rings made by the same company, I was ready to head to the range.

At the range the rifle worked perfectly. With factory ammunition it didn't balk, stall or malfunction even when doing repeat shots in rapid succession. The only thing I did find is the barrel did heat up rapidly in just six rounds during sighting in, but with a five minute cooling off period between shots, the barrel stayed within what I call moderate temperatures.

Recoil on this rifle did not seem soft, but I think most of this was in part due to the recoil pad. I feel Benelli should look into either redesigning the pad so as to get rid of that hump at the top part or make it out of softer rubber. When firing the rifle offhand, I had no trouble placing the recoil pad in the right position on my shoulder and no problems associated with getting the rifle to fire tight groups.

Groups were on par with modern centerfire rifles with a few notable exceptions. First, the rifle did not like light bullets. I fired four magazines full of Winchester's 125-grain pointed softpoints with groups that went between 3 and 4 inches. While I sometimes think luck might play a part in extraordinarily small or large groups, these were all consistent. The rifle really liked the midrange bullet weights available in the .30-06 (150 to 165 grains), and groups with Hornady or Remington loads all fell within the preferred 2 inches and below. Heavier weight bullets from 180 to 220 grains again started to scatter but not enough to worry about. Any rifle, especially a semiautomatic, that can shoot all bullet weights under 2 1/2 inches goes right to the top of my list. Furthermore the rifle is new, and I really want to try my hand at some reloads.

Like any other gas-operated firearm, maintenance takes top priority when you get back from a hunt or testing session. This rifle was dirty around the gas system, which was easily whisked away with some bore solvent. A quick check of the inside of the forend showed, like other rifles of its ilk, it starts to load up with a black, powdery residue. While I don't imagine this would hinder the operation in any way, it is unsightly and should be looked after when you get home.

Other than that, I can't really find any serious criticism. Aside from the recoil pad, which is probably because of my particular body shape, the rifle looks great, is carefully put together and shoots well. The trigger pull could use some handwork (5 pounds is a little much), but in this age of mass production and liability suits, you really can't get much better than that.

I admire Benelli's sense of adventure in producing a rifle like this; I look forward in seeing other cartridges chambered in the rifle, and hopefully it will be a model in which other rifle designs are considered. For more information, drop a line to Benelli USA, 17603 Indian Head Highway, Accokeek MD 20607.

The Original Silver Bullet
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