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In this review, Drennan takes on the newest incarnation of Beretta’s 694 series - the beautifully made 694 Sport 31 - and finds those peculiar 31” barrels serve a logical purpose.
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So, Beretta has launched a new version of the 694, putting 31" barrels onto the tried and tested actions, and have also said that, moving forwards, the 694 Sport will only come with 31" barrels. Now, I'm not sure if the Beretta team made this decision late on a Friday afternoon, having had too many Limoncellos at lunchtime, but I will tell you that a 31" barrel has certainly raised an eyebrow or two across the trade, and I'll confess I was part of that group… before I got to grips with this beauty of a gun.
Before I get into the bells and whistles of the 694 Sport 31", I wanted to provide some insight and clarity into the differences between 32" and 30" guns, because those two measurements are important, and provide a base from which to launch into the review of the 694 Sport 31".
If you usually shoot a 30" gun and you've tried a 32", you perhaps reacted with one of the following observations: “It's too much barrel and too slow; I have to change the way I shoot; once it gets moving, I can't slow it down; it won't fit in my cabinet…”
On the other hand, 32" shooters, upon trying a 30” gun, are likely to counter this with statements like: “It’s way too fast; I don't like the flip of the barrel and the swing is too aggressive; it feels too short; I have to add more lead to my pictures…” and the list goes on!
When 30" shooters try to make the transition to 32, they often struggle with the difference in how the gun operates, and the same applies going from 32 to 30. I can assure you that those 2" make a huge difference, and whether its 2" longer or 2" shorter, the change in style can often be too much for people, especially if you’re a seasoned shooter, accustomed to those sight pictures and styles that your usual barrel length provided.
I'm a 32" shooter, and if I'm given a 30" gun, I have to be careful what I shoot as I can end up ringing the life out of the gun because, in simple terms, the barrel is too short for me and I move the gun very quickly; this isn't a lot of use on long-range targets, where a 32" serves me perfectly as it gives a nice steady glide and swing.
There are several reasons someone may wish to change barrel length. For example, someone who started shooting young and is now bigger, stronger and keen to try the more solid platform and controlled glide that comes with 32” barrels; or conversely, someone who is now getting a bit long in the tooth, and likes the idea of dropping some weight by shortening the barrels up.
So, we have some background on barrel length preferences, and now the question is: can 31" barrels provide an answer for seasoned shooters wanting to change length, be it longer or shorter?
As we seem to be moving ever closer to an almost minimalistic trend with an array of products, the mainly plain action of the 694 fits in well. The diagonal lines and blue graphic design on the side-plates give it a bold, sporty and robust appearance. The weight has been increased by approximately 25g, improving stability and balance. Things like this contribute to the 694 having a stable platform and being a competition gun capable of podium finishes.
The 694 Sport 31" stock has been modified with a broadened blade and comb, allowing maximum comfort from the oiled grade 2.5 wood. The new design gives a natural and stable hand and face posture. A lengthened pistol grip, palm swell, and fine chequering create that lovely feeling that the gun is an extension of yourself. Twenty and 40g weights can be added to the stock from Beretta's B-Fast system (purchased separately), if you require them, as I do for my style of shooting.
Slim and sleek, with a fantastic fullness of chequering applied to the woodwork, the fore-end sits perfectly in your hand, with an excellent positive grip and that feeling of quality that I'd expect from a higher-grade gun from Beretta.
Whoever at Beretta designed the safety catch should be awarded the 'Italian safety catch designer of the year award'. They have been to the ergonomics school and passed with a grade Nerd+! It's comfortable to operate, and the checkering blends beautifully making it feel like part of the gun, not an afterthought. It is functional, bold, and designed with quality in mind.
You can't change the barrel selector in the forward position (fire); you have to put the safety in the ON position (backwards) to change which barrel fires first. So, there’s no chance of the wrong barrel being inadvertently selected. This is a brilliant feature both on the clay line and in the field.
Obviously, as discussed, they are 31" in length and made from Beretta's famous Steelium Plus tri-alloy steel, which is cold hammer forged, and nicely future proofed with 3" chambers and fleur de lys marks, signifying it will take high performance steel shot.
The 10mm to 8mm tapered ventilated rib features an unusual shallow centre channel which gives the barrels a “runway” feel, but without the eyes being locked onto the gun, rather than the target... it’s very clever stuff, and I like it.
The 694 also features side ventilated ribs and Optima Plus chokes, with five supplied. It is still, in my opinion, the best choking system in the world as they are colour-coded to signify the size (restriction) they represent. Weights can also be added to the barrel if required.
The trigger group features a three-position adjustable trigger and a fixed lock served by two robust coil springs mounted on spring guides. This is a well-thought-out, solid design and is simple to adjust, but I recommend you do this in an environment where, should you drop the screw, you can find it easily, as the screw has to be removed entirely to adjust the trigger. I’m a huge fan of adjustable triggers, as you’ve probably gathered by the reviews and videos, so this gets a big thumbs up from me!
The top lever is low profile with an anti-glare finish, and is very easy to operate for both right- and left-handed shooters. No complaints here at all!
Well, it doesn't behave like anything else I’ve shot, that’s for sure! At first, it was a bit alien, but not because it was horrid and unfriendly, like Predator… no, this is definitely more of an ET! Alien yet familiar, and within no time at all, utterly adorable, comfortable, and lovely. It's a forgiving gun; it might take some seasoned shooters a bit of time to get used to it, but it's nothing like going from 30” to a 32”, or vice versa.
I think Beretta has pulled the rabbit from the hat here. This is a well thought-out, well-made competition gun capable of taking a shooter with the right skills onto the podium. Additionally, I would not hesitate to take this gun, which glides so beautifully, out into the field. Bumping an array of cartridges through it from 21g to 36g, I found it handled the recoil exceptionally well.
Those 31” barrels strike the perfect balance for the 30” shooter transitioning up to a 32” gun, or vice versa, and in my opinion could suit a lot of shooters considering making changes to barrel length; equally, there will be many, I’m sure, who would simply gel with and love shooting this beautifully made, very capable gun. So, to the Limoncello-fueled team at Beretta, Saluti!
Model: 694 Sport 31
Barrels: 31” Steelium Plus
Rib: Tapered 10-8mm, ventilated
Trigger: 3-position adjustable
Chokes: Optima Plus, 5 supplied
Case: ABS case supplied
Weight: From 3.7kg
Price: Non-adjustable stock, £4,000; Adjustable stock, £4,350
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