Benelli Ultra Light 12-Gauge Shotgun review

Benelli Ultra Light 12-gauge shotgun
Benelli Ultra Light

I’m not a spring chicken but I’m not dead yet, either. Still, I find lugging a heavy over-under up 2,000 feet of 60% slopes all day a pain in the butt. And the arm, and shoulder. I lift weights and try to keep a little strength going on in this aging body, but my gun was bumming me out.

I like the aesthetics of a nice over-under with some lovely engraving and beautiful wood. They’re fun to shoot and in the right hands can be deadly. But I’d always wondered about the repeaters and one day did a little Internet research on “best chukar gun” and came across the Benelli Ultra Light in some of the forums. The price tag ($1,599 MSRP) nearly ended it then and there, but I kept it in mind. Then I went out for chukar with my trusty over-under and afterward my arm felt like a lead pipe. The next day I traded it in toward the purchase of a Benelli Ultra Light 12-gauge, and have not looked back.

A limit of chukar
Angus, 6 chukar, and my Ultra Light

This gun gets light primarily by shortening the magazine to accommodate a maximum of three 3″ shells (actually 2 in the magazine, one in the chamber). It saves over a pound for me from my previous gun, which might not sound like much but it makes a big difference. My arm did not hurt after hunting all day with it the first time out.

The action is incredibly quick and, after hundreds of rounds, has never once jammed. It uses Benelli’s patented “Inertia Driven” mechanical action so there’s no gas injection voodoo there. Loading and unloading is intuitive and as simple as any other system I’ve used.

Aside from the weight savings, my favorite thing about the Ultra Light is that it fits me perfectly out of the box (I’m just shy of 6′ tall). It shoulders quickly and swings easily. As it’s my first auto loader I can’t compare it with any other guns, but being able to get three very quick shots off at a rising covey gives me a 50% advantage over my double-barrel gun, and – in one case so far – yielded me three birds with one flush. I couldn’t have done that with my 870 pump or my over-under. But then, you can get a new 870 for under $300…

Benelli Crio Chokes
Chokes and wrench for the Ultra Light

The chokes that came with the Ultra Light are fine for how and what I hunt: Cylinder, Improved Cylinder, and Modified (the latter is what’s almost always in my gun). The Benelli website shows that the Ultra Light guns (which now come in 20-gauge – 5.2 pounds – and a freaky light 28-gauge nudging the scale at a mere 4.9 lbs.) come with Full, Modified, and Improved Cylinder. I’m not sure if they changed the standard choke spec in the last year but if it matters to you which chokes you get with the gun, definitely ask your retailer.

Benelli makes a fuss over their Crio Chokes, which they claim are longer and harder (at least that’s what she said) with an engineered taper that results in much greater pattern consistency and accuracy than other chokes out there. I don’t know enough to validate this or comment on it, other than to say it sure sounds cool and I’ve shot as well or better with this gun than any other shotgun I’ve used.

Dusky grouse, chukar, Brittany
Dusky grouse, chukar, Angus

The gel recoil pad is soft and durable, and nicely dampens the kick, which you feel on this gun because of its lightness. I was experimenting with some of the chukar loads recommended by folks on a forum and when I fired a Kent Ultimate Fast Lead #6 (2-3/4″, 1-3/8 oz., 1475 FPS) I was stunned by the severity of the recoil; seriously overkill, in my opinion, for any upland bird at any time of the year. I’ll stick with my cheap 7-1/2, 1-1/8 oz. shells, which have gotten me lots of chukar, a quite large blue (“dusky”) grouse at long range, and several pheasant at pretty far out, and I barely feel the kick shooting these.

The Ultra Light comes with a respectable owner’s manual, a nicely designed shim kit, and a surprisingly nice plastic case on which you can install a padlock.

UPDATE: See my updated review, Benelli Ultra Light Round Two

Basic Specs

  • Barrel lengths: 24″ and 26″ (I chose the 24″)
  • Overall lengths: 45.5″ and 47.5″
  • Weights: 6.0 and 6.1 pounds (I verified this; mine weighs exactly 6.0 lbs. empty)
  • Magazine capacity: 2+1
  • Shells: 2-3/4″ and 3″
  • Crio chokes: CL, IC, M
  • Sights: Red bar front sight and metal bead mid sight
  • Length of Pull: 14-3/8″
  • Drop at Heel: 2-1/4″
  • Drop at Comb: 1-1/2″
  • Minimum Recommended Load: 3-dram, 1-1/8-oz.
  • Warranty: 5 years to original purchaser from an authorized Benelli distributor
  • MSRP: $1,599

10 Replies to “Benelli Ultra Light 12-Gauge Shotgun review”

  1. I am a guy your about age and I love Chukar hunting. Your website is outstanding! I own a Benelli Montefeltro 20 gauge. It holds 5 rounds and does well in places that allow unplugged shotguns. I like light shotguns for chukar hunting. During my youth, I shot a Ithaca model 37 20 gauge(still have it) and killed lots of Chukars in Owyhee county. My grandfather used to own a ranch on McBride, Creek Idaho side on Highway 95. A year or so back, I met a man in Missouri who had a new 12 gauge ultra light, like you have. He told me that older Benelli shotguns could carry a extra shell under the bolt and on top of the carrier. Sure enough I can open the chamber and place a shell under the bolt and in the chamber at the same time. Then fill the magazine for a total of 6 shells. My gun functions perfectly like that. Benelli found out about this neat trick and machined a grove on the bolt underside of their newer shot guns. What it does is cause the floating shell to hang up and stop the shell loading cycle. This older fellow in Missouri shot a lot of skeet, with a Benelli 12 gauge ultra light, 3/4 oz re-loads and sometimes like to shoot double doubles on station 7. He needed his ultra light to hold 4 shells. He said he simple beveled the grove on both sides 45 degrees. This allows the floating shell’s brass to not get hung up in the groove and functions perfectly. He told me some guys also just use good epoxy and simply fill the groove in and smooth it down. I saw your video and noticed a couple of times you sure could have used a 4th shell (don’t we all?). I know you love that gun and if you hadn’t heard this little trick, I thought you might like it! Have fun and remember each day chukar hunting adds two to your life!

  2. I own a 12Ga. Benelli Ultralight with a 24″
    barrel which I absolutely love.
    Bought it in 2006 and have hunted bobs and
    blues in west Texas and it has never given
    Me any problems whatsoever.
    A really nice gun when walking all day!

  3. What do you gain with a light gun and what do you loose with a light gun? The gains are they are easy to carry all day. The losses are they don’t do not swing smoothly. Most light guns have no weight foreword especially Benelli, target guns are heavy with weight foreword making for a smooth mount and swing this is important in all shotgun shooting clays or live birds. I have couple of 6lb 28ga guns I added a 6oz barrel weights to them GRACO makes a nice clamp on with 4/6/8oz weights this fixed the problem by putting weight in my front hand making for a smoother mount and swing. Benelli is over priced and actually its old recoil technology with a rotary bolt and pushes this light weight thing to those who do not understand shotgun shooting completely.

    1. My present chukar gun is a Benelli Cordoba in 20 gauge which is about the same weight as the 12 gauge (6.3 vs 6.1 pounds) Ultralight but has a 28″ barrel, sling swivels which I insist on for a chukar gun, and a synthetic stock which holds up well for chukar hunting and also mitigates recoil well. I made a couple of other changes. I put a Taran oversize safety on it and a Briley trigger.

      The Benelli inertia system has to be the most misunderstood system no going on a gun. You can read all sorts of “experts” that just repeat the same things they read. The two most common are that the gun will not cycle unless it is firmly against the shoulder. All one has to do to counter this is Google Tim Knapp and watch him shoot a Benelli off the shoulder and even upside down. Still these people insist it won’t cycle unless firmly against the shoulder.

      The antithesis of this position is the one that explains the theory of how a Benelli recoils and restates what Benelli and Stoeger say, that the bolt doesn’t move, rather the whole gun moves and the bolt stays put on firing. Many people translate this to the gun won’t work if held against something solid like a tree. In a way it sounds true but then think about it. What happens to the bolt when you pull the trigger? Is it going to just stay there? No, it not only moves, it cycles perfectly. How do I know? Because I have tried not just against a tree but against a petrified tree. You can’t get much more solid than that. And, yes, I have a video of me doing it. That’s called proof.

      The amazing thing is that one guy said he tried it “many times” and his gun wouldn’t cycle. Either the guy has a mendacious streak or there is something seriously wrong with his gun.

      One problem with Benelli is that many of the owners are so loyal towards the gun that they cannot admit that there is something wrong with a particular gun and blame it on the shooter. “He is not holding it firmly enough or he is holding too firmly.” Whatever. Usually the problem can be found inside the stock with the recoil spring. Changing that takes care of most cycling problems and is easy to do and costs a few dollars. The inertia spring is likewise easy to change and cheap.

      Someone mentioned loading a round on the carrier. This is most often referred to as ghost loading a round. The commenter is correct about how to make it work as originally designed. The notch can also be welded up and it will work as designed. Oh, BTW, the Benelli M4 (M1014) a gas gun which was adopted by the US Marines not only will ghost load a round, the USMC Operator’s Manual (pages 24-25) explains this feature as a positive.

      BTW, Benelli is not the only gun that will do this. Besides it is so easy to remove the plug on a Benelli if a person wanted to cheat that is how they could do it more efficiently.

      I like that extra capacity of the Cordoba over the Ultralight because I do hunt where there is no limit on the number of shells you can load. Yes, there are such places in the US.

      A few weeks ago I met a guy chukar hunting with a Benelli Ultralight 12 gauge. Beautiful gun. It would look like hell after a season of me toting it around! I fall too often! For me anyway, the Cordoba 20 gauge is the better bet. I usually shoot 1 ounce loads which are enough but or course can go all the way to 1 1/4 ounce which are too much for a little bird like a chukar. However, the comfort tech stock handles even those wonderfully. Really, the recoil isn’t much even with the heaviest loads.

      The Ultralight is a nice gun though. That 28 gauge looks tempting! Finding the perfect chukar gun is a fun search.

      1. Thanks for your comment, Jim. I realized the comment about the gun not firing unless it was mounted was incorrect when I accidentally fired it while trying someone’s suggestion to flick the safety off when the dogs go on point. Turns out my index finger grazes the trigger while mounting (or it did that time) and the butt was free, and it scared the hell out of me. I don’t do that anymore. I’ll check out the Cordoba; my wife’s gun is the Montefeltro 20 gauge, which I love, and has the 5-shell capacity. My Ultra Light hasn’t misfired this season, despite running many, many more rounds through it than ever (mainly from practicing much more often). So I’m still not sure why it misfired the couple times (on the same day) last season.

  4. Bob,

    One can indeed make the gun not cycle when not shouldered just like it can be done purposely or accidentally with any recoil operated handgun but it is rare. If the gun doesn’t cycle I would take a look at the recoil spring. That is where most of the problems lie with the Benelli recoil system.

    I am guessing by misfire you mean not cycling. If the shell in the chamber doesn’t fire when the trigger is pulled then of course the problem is the firing pin and spring. If it doesn’t cycle the problem is elsewhere and elsewhere is most likely to be the recoil spring.

    The springs do where out and despite what Benelli says “The Benelli never needs cleaning” it does indeed need cleaning, just a lot less than a gas operated gun. A lot of the unburnt powder residue goes right back into the entrance to the recoil spring tube and thus can work its way into the housing slowing the spring. This is especially noticeable in cold weather.

    It isn’t difficult to remove the spring and clean it. Most people I know lube it with a dry lube such as Eezox because it doesn’t attract gunk like traditional lubes.

    You can also replace the spring with an new Benelli spring or an aftermarket spring but you have to pick carefully. The temptation is to get the Wolff +25 spring. They indeed work no matter how cold it is but there is a price to pay besides the $12 they cost. I have found that the gun will not cycle 7/8 ounce loads and all and is picky about 1 ounce loads requiring hot loads. Wolff does sell a standard power replacement spring.

    The Sure Cycle is expensive, $165. It includes a replacement tube made of stainless steel and a stainless steel spring. Sure Cycle claims it never needs lube. Well maybe but I would put some Eezox on it anyway on the belief that all moving metal parts on a gun need lube.

    Some people just replace the spring every year or every other year instead of waiting for it to stop cycling in the belief that the $12 is good insurance. The spring can be tested somewhat by holding it pointing straight up with the bolt locked back. It is best to test this when the gun is cold. Release the bolt. It should move just as fast as when the gun is held horizontally. If it doesn’t it is time to clean or replace the spring. Once you get the hang of it taking the spring out takes less than 10 minutes.

    Oh, The Benelli shooter that one can google shooting the gun upside down and unshouldered is Tom Knapp, not Tim Knapp as I mistakenly wrote before.

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