Super Black Eagle 3 Shotgun Review: Hype or Rapid Semi-Auto Firepower?
I’m a fan of taking my personal Benelli shotgun into the field for a hunt, but mine is hardly a refined affair. I generally stick to my trusty, though large, Benelli Nova pump-action chambered for 3.5-inch loads. It’s rugged, affordable, and gets the job done, but I wouldn’t call it a speed shooter by any means.
So, when a lightly used Benelli Super Black Eagle 3 popped up in the Guns.com Vault, I just had to snag it for a test drive. It’s a gun that I’ve repeatedly heard about from other hunters while sitting in a blind, but I had yet to see one in action. Here’s what I found out when I finally got my hands on one.
Benelli’s Super Black Eagle is hardly new, having hit the American hunting scene in the early 1990s and helping to launch Benelli’s continuing success in the American shotgun market. Perhaps just as importantly, it helped kindle the now-common semi-auto hunting shotgun trend here in the states.
The gun had a bit of a wow factor when it was introduced, both for its synthetic features and speed but also for the sticker price, which came in at the then pricey $1,000 range. Still, with videos showing a string of shells floating in the air as the gun chewed through ammo, it had an obvious appeal.
It was a fast gun, sure, but it also offered a relatively light yet robust semi-auto platform that could devour everything from 2.75-inch trap loads to hard-hitting 3.5-inch hunting loads. When downing fast-flying ducks or hardy Canadian geese, the SBE had the speed and power.
The later Super Black Eagle II improved the grip texture and brought in Benelli’s ComforTech stock, enlarged the trigger guard, and increased the cycling speed. The SBE3 then added an improved, oversized bolt handle, bolt releases, and safety, with some additional changes for comfort and ease of operation.
My personal shotgun collection does not host any particularly pricey or refined guns. But I do get to spend a fair bit of time testing out nice shotguns that appear in the Guns.com Vault, and this SBE3 first struck me with the camo pattern. The layers of green complemented with white across a hexagon pattern just struck me as versatile and cool.
As it happens, Benelli offers quite a variety of similarly complex patterns complemented by more classic looks. Moving beyond the appearance, I discovered the overall slick functions, nicely textured grip points, and overall balance instantly appealing to my hands.
I did, however, also notice the button safety at the rear of the trigger guard – a personal dislike of mine – but otherwise the gun had the feel and appearance of a fine hunter. The bolt was ball-bearing smooth, and the whole platform shouldered nicely right out of the box.
Specs & Features
At the core of the Super Black Eagle line is Benelli’s well-proven Inertia-Driven System. In simple terms, the gun uses just three main parts (bolt body, inertia spring, and rotating bolt head) that rely on inertia during the initial recoil period to remain in place until subsequently unlocking the bolt, extracting the shell, recocking the gun, and chambering another round. The main point being that gas isn’t pulled into the action to operate the gun like many semi-auto shotguns.
This lends itself to a clean, smooth system that Benelli claims can and has reached the 500,000+ round mark while still functioning flawlessly. I can’t speak to – much less afford – that kind of round count. But over 200+ rounds of a mix of 2.75-inch trap loads and a smattering of 2.75 and 3.5-inch waterfowl hunting loads, I can say I have never experienced a failure of any kind.
I found the Comfort Tech 3/Combtech stock to be of particular merit. It shouldered quickly and the rubberized cheek rest was a great improvement over my normal affair. The rubber chevrons set at a diagonal through the stock are meant to act as a recoiling device that effectively turns the entire stock into a shock-absorbing, flexible recoil pad.
From what I could tell, it seemed to work great even with my Hevi-Shot bismuth 3.5-inch BB hunting loads. I’ll sometimes feel the recoil ring into my cheek while shooting those rounds, and I did not notice this with the SBE3.
While Benelli labels the bolt release and handle as oversized, I would caveat that by saying they are only slightly oversized. It’s enough to be an advantage, and I appreciate the fact that they ditched the round bolt release in favor of a long bar shape, which is great because it angles forward and allows you to slide your hand back over the release instead of searching for a button. There’s also a small cartridge drop lever, since merely cycling the bolt will not release a round from the magazine tube or allow you to lock the bolt back.
There’s also a relatively large loading port, and the gun comes with two sling-attachment points. I’ve dropped some additional specs below:
To get a better feel for the SBE3, I loaded up a box of clays, my clay launcher, 125 rounds of trap loads, a smattering of hunting loads, and some patterning paper for a hot but relaxing range day this summer.
The fact that it was hot is particularly notable, as I quickly drenched my shirt in sweat just setting up my shooting station at my local gun club. But when the time came to shoot, I discovered the aggressive texturing on the semi-pistol grip and the forestock were a godsend.
I have often found that synthetic stocks on many shotguns are a bit slippery, including my personal Benelli Nova. Not so for the Super Black Eagle 3. The texturing provided a positive grip even with sweat dripping down my arms and into my hands.
The actual cycling of the gun was fast – faster than I can shoot – but also remarkably smooth. The Inertia-Driven System is soft recoiling, though I still got a nice kick from my 3.5-inch hunting loads. But even for weaker 2.75-inch trap rounds, the gun cycled faster than I could pull the trigger, and the bolt itself has a smooth ball-bearing-like feel to it.
As for the clays portion, I noted a somewhat higher pattern while shooting. I could see my first clays deflecting downward from the pattern flying overhead. So, I began to hold a bit lower on the flying orange disks as they made a beeline for the edge of my trap range. After figuring out my hold, I found breaking clay after clay was smooth and easy even when shouldering the gun after firing the clay.
I burned through my trap loads, and then I headed to the patterning range to see why I felt like I was shooting high. Sure enough, I popped in my long-range Carlson choke tube and shot a patter over a foot high at 50 yards using Hevi-Shot bismuth 3.5-inch BB loads. To make sure I wasn’t just suffering from eye fatigue or a bump to the head, I popped the same choke in my Benelli Nova and shot a fairly predictable, centered pattern at 50 yards.
I’m not sure if the high pattern is intentional or not – I've heard rumors that it could be true, and I've also heard that newer SBE3s may not have that issue. Even given this gun's specific pattern, I found that I could pick up the front sight and mid-bead just fine, even with a high-noon sun, and hit targets with minor practice. The gun swung great, and it was a breeze to quickly down clays after my first handful of rounds. The high pattern just seems to be an off characteristic of an otherwise slick and fast gun.
On the other hand, I found that I really liked the trigger on the SBE3. At just 4.9 pounds, it’s smooth and light with a very short reset for rapid follow-up shots. It does have a bit of mush to get to the wall, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing for a hunting gun you will likely carry with gloves on from time to time. The short reset, coupled with low recoil, makes the gun a great option for getting rounds out quickly on fast-flying birds.
Pros & Cons
Given that the SBE3 is a few steps above my personal hunting shotguns, criticizing it almost feels like throwing stones inside a glass house. But for the things I really liked, there were some things I was disappointed by as well. Here are my top pros and cons:
Lightweight and nicely balanced
Fast shooting with a nice trigger
Low recoil and clean operation
Nice grip texture
Great camo patterns, with classic options available
Takes 3.5-inch shells
Benelli choke tubes are plentiful
Button safety at the rear of the trigger guard
The cons are a bit thin in number, but they are somewhat significant. The button safety is a personal pet peeve, and millions of hunters have no complaints. But I prefer a safety that's in front of the trigger guard or on the tang. Rear safeties require me to adjust my grip just before firing.
As for the price, well, it’s a reflection of what you are getting. Quality, speed, and versatility come at a cost. But that includes the promise of a lifetime of hunting service chasing everything from geese to doves, with the option to hit larger game with buckshot and slugs as well.
It's the high patterning that has me scratching my head. With some tweaking on my point of aim, the gun broke clays admirably, but it still feels a bit unnatural to hold low on my targets with a shotgun. If I get it out on a hunt, we’ll see if it can blow right past that complaint like the gun did on my test clays.
It’s not your cheapest option, but as a do-all hunting shotgun that’s balanced enough to be a fine clay buster, the Benelli Super Black Eagle 3 is fast, light, and easily controllable. It’s the kind of semi-auto shotgun that could very well be the only one you need for a lifetime of hunting. If that is the kind of gun you are looking for, then the SBE3 would be a fine option.
There’s a good reason the Super Black Eagle line is one of the most respected in the shotgun-hunting world, and the modifications to the controls on the SBE3 make it just a little easier to wield. The real test is to get one in your hands to try it out, because it’s the shooting that really reveals the best characteristics of the SBE3 and its Inertia-Driven System.