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Drennan Kenderdine extols the virtues of an unusual gun with what he feels is an unfair reputation for unreliability - enter the Beretta UGB25 Xcel!
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If there’s one gun in the world that best suits the title ‘Marmite’, it is the Beretta UGB25 Xcel break-action semi-automatic. The UGB, as I call it, sadly is no longer imported into the UK, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be found for sale in gun shops and on sites like Gun Trader.
The UGB certainly has a reputation with both trade and shooters as the most unreliable gun imported into the UK. You probably wonder why I’m reviewing a gun with a poor reputation? Well, it is simple. The UGB, which is my go-to everyday gun and has been for at least 15 years now, doesn’t deserve the bad press that it got... and still gets. I’ll argue that the UGB is actually one of the most reliable guns on the market. I know; I’ve sold enough of them, and I use them professionally. So, what caused such a negative bias towards a gun that I only have positive experience of?
It all starts with the shooter. If you own (or owned) a UGB, you’ve probably experienced the gun jamming – in most cases, the gun won’t open. It’s then shipped back to GMK for a repair. This is bonkers to me, as it only takes seconds to open a jammed UGB. I have never been able to fathom why this information wasn’t made available to everyone, right from the start. It’s like everything in life; if you know, it’s easy! If you don’t, it’s a total minefield.
So, what causes the UGB’s cycling and jamming issues? Without question, it will be the choice of cartridge that the shooter uses. If you try to feed 65mm cases into one, it will jam. If you shoot poor quality ammo, it will jam. If you shoot anything less than 24g competition grade cartridges, it will jam, jam, jam!
I put thousands of shells through my UGB every year, and the most I’ll get is perhaps three jams in a year. I won’t put anything shorter than 70mm cases through it, and I certainly won’t use cartridges designed for low recoil or entry-level club shooting.
Apart from cartridges, the only other downside to the UGB’s reliability is again down to human error – they haven’t put it together correctly! If you haven’t put it together correctly, you’re definitely in for a bad day and an eyewatering bill. Of course, other things can go wrong with the UGB, such as parts like springs failing, but these things can and do go wrong on any gun, from any manufacturer.
So, now we’ve dealt with all the perceived negatives of the UGB, let’s have a look at the positives and find out a bit more about this gun. The UGB came in five models:
The Trap and Sporting versions also had slightly different fore-ends, with the Trap version featuring a somewhat more beavertail style, whereas the Sporting was a more rounded version. However, they all shared the same receiver, barrel and working parts.
Two different chrome-lined barrel lengths were available (28" and 30"), with a 2¾" chamber and featuring the Optima choke system. The Trap versions had higher-grade wood than the Sporting versions, but both variants had good quality walnut with a unique concave style of chequering.
So, what do I love about the UGB? Well, the shooting characteristics of the gun are a dream. Beretta named it the UGB for “Ultimate Gun Beretta”, so even Beretta knew they had something special. But as I mentioned above, the cycling issues many users experienced due to feeding it the incorrect ammunition was enough for the UK to say bye-bye to the UGB.
The UGB is a gas-operated break-action shotgun. The break-action is undoubtedly one of its many party pieces, and even all these years later, every time I get my UGB out someone will comment on how it looks and operates. The break-action aspect also allows me to use my gun on game shoots. Sometimes this prompts comments about safety, which makes me chuckle – considering that when the gun is open, just like an over-and-under, one of the cartridges is on full display as it sits on the side of the receiver. The people making these unfounded comments are often still living in the Victorian era anyway, and still think game should only ever be shot with a side-by-side. All I can say is, poor them! Their rigid views will hold them back while the rest of the world moves on.
Considering the number of cartridges I can shoot in one day, the UGB (like its cousin, the semi-auto) soaks recoil up very nicely, and let’s face facts here – a semi-auto will handle recoil at a superior level to any over-and-under or side-by-side. Recoil for me is an issue, as I have an old injury, hence I shoot the UGB. On occasion, I still shoot 1,000 cartridges in a day during simulated game shoots, and I know without testing the theory that if I did that with an over-and-under, even using 21g shells, I would be suffering at the end of the day.
The UGB was a fully competition-grade shotgun, with heaps of versatility designed to cope with all aspects of clay shooting, along with field use. The UGB is what earned me my British Champion Title (team), Coronation Cup of Great Britain and a host of other titles. So, it does make me smile when people say the UGB isn’t a capable gun.
If you are lucky enough to own one or find one for sale, I will give you this advice: feed the UGB well with 70mm, competition-grade cartridges of 24g and up. If you do this, you’ll have a unique gun that recoils with the softness of a down pillow, and trouble-free shooting for years. The gun is a dream to shoot, and as reliable as a Swiss timetable... if you treat it right and feed it right!
(We may create a video showing how to un-jam a jammed UGB25, so keep an eye out on Shooting & Country TV for that one!).
Model: UGB25 Xcel
Action: Break-action semi-automatic
Barrels: 28” or 30” chrome-lined
Rib: Flat, high vented
Chamber: 2 ¾”
Stock: Adjustable and non-adjustable available
Chokes: Optima system
Butt pad: Gel Tek
RRP: Average price for secondhand models varies
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