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The 10 Best Hunting Rifles: The Benelli R1 Rifle

The Benelli R1 is the “newcomer” to the list, being the youngest and most “unproven” rifle on it.  But with the flawless design cues and proven M1 technology built into this rifle from its older brothers and sisters of the Benelli line, it’s hard to resist the charm and technical prowess of always being fast, light, and strong.  Throw into the mix that just about everyone that lays a hand on it falls in love, and you have yourself a good precedent on which to build a hunting rifle legacy.

The Rifle: Benelli R1

The Caliber: .338 Winchester Magnum

The Animal: Various Big Game

The Rifle – Benelli R1

At about the price of a BAR you can get a gun made by a manufacturer with less history and more models in the semi auto range.  It’s about breakeven when you look at the two.  The BAR is such a major piece of American history and has such a good reputation of reliability that it’s hard to beat.  The BAR claims to be more accurate, but sometimes, there are reasons to get a Benelli over a Browning.

Each has its good attributes, and in many ways the Benelli is superior as a hunting gun.  Again, the goal isn’t a comparison, but it just so happens that these two guns are substantially similar in function and performance.

The Benelli is about the same weight as the BAR, but with with less recoil, and weighs in at 7.3 pounds in the .338 Winchester Magnum.  It has a 24-inch barrel with 46 inches in overall length and the furniture is either a Realtree APG camo, satin walnut, or black composite polymer.

The Benelli system has interchangeable barrels/bolts that change calibers and adjust gas feed to make the gun more versatile. Any of the calibers can be changed out quite easily, with the price of each barrel/bolt between $500 and $600 new and between $350 and $425 used.  Barrels are available as 20-inch (.30-06 and .300 Winchester Magnum), 22-inch (.30-06 and .308), and 24-inch (.270 WSM and .300 Winchester Magnum).  The barrels are hammer forged (like all of Heckler and Koch’s barrels) and are then cryogenically treated to relieve surface stress and increase accuracy.

A standard feature of the rifle is the patented A.R.G.O. (auto-regulating gas operating) system used on all of Benelli’s very popular, incredibly usable shotguns. The rifle is adapted to work with a smaller operating rod and lower mass recoil mechanism, which reduces inertia felt by way of recoil in the shooter.

A substantial rotary bolt, which absorbs a lot of the rifle’s recoil, and detachable magazines with 3 to 4-round capacity form the feeding system.  The barrel is drilled and tapped for a scope and comes with a picatinny rail to keep the rifle zeroed when changing barrels.  It means you will have to scope each of the barrels you use or remount and re-zero. A gel-style recoil pad (similar to the Pachmayer decelerator of old) and a set of shims come standard to adjust line of sight by manipulating drop and comb angle.  It’s a pretty all-inclusive rifle system.

Everything A New Hunter Needs To Know…

It carries well and shoots reliably, and perhaps the only reason (aside from a near perfect run of form since its introduction) that the BAR is still the top autoloader in the true hunting platform is the accuracy. A BAR nearly guarantees a MOA (Minute of angle, or 1-inch groups at 100 yards), whereas the Benelli only suggests about 1.5 MOA from factory, with little that can be done with additional “accurizing.” However, a good shooter should be able to get to 1-1.25 MOA with factory rounds.   Some shooters can get ½ MOA from factory and with factory rounds, which rivals most boltguns and even betters many.  You can expect better than 2.5” groups at 200 yards or so (and better with hand loads), which makes it a little less of a problem while hunting, but it is certainly not as accurate as the Browning.

The gun has some hidden “tactical” perks built in that are reminiscent of the M1, M3, and now M4 shotguns, all of which are made for more anti-personnel purposes.  The “AirTouch” checkering and the “Grip Tight” rubberized texturing combine for a good grip in inclement weather.  They seem to be minute additions, but in practice, they do actually add to the usability of the rifle in the field.  Perhaps the best part of the system is the “ComforTech” recoil reduction that knocks back the recoil on such stout calibers.  The .338 Winchester Magnum shoots almost like a .30-06 or maybe even a .308, which is pretty nice by comparison; the BAR doesn’t have nearly the recoil reduction on their .338 Winchester Magnum.

The Caliber – .338 Winchester Magnum

It’s simple: The .338 is comparable to the .375 H & H magnum in many areas of the ballistics, it has less recoil but feels snappier, and it has more muzzle snap.  It’s not as hardcore as the .338 Lapua (essentially a dedicated anti-personnel and sniping round), but costs significantly less.  It’s not as flat shooting as the .300 WM or the 7mm past 200 yards, with significant bullet drop and decreased long range ballistics (high percentage decreases relative to the others). What does all of this mean?  It means deadly results at moderate ranges and almost too much bullet for most of the game you are likely to face on a regular basis, without nearly the tame down capability as other rounds. It means that you probably have better alternatives from a versatility standpoint, but that it has a very specific range in which it excels.

This isn’t a bashing, rather an eye opening.  Many of the cartridges we feel are perfect for game hunting turn out to be overkill.  It is my opinion that the .338 is too fast and too big, without the “dial back” abilities for it to make perfect sense over a different round.  It was picked for the specific reason to add another cartridge to the mix.  Is it a poor round? No—not by any means is it a bad round, but how many animals can’t be taken with another cartridge that has a much better range of loads?  A .45-70, .375 H & H, .300 Winchester Magnum, 7mm, .30-06, .308, and several others offer immense opportunity (comparatively) to dial down their capabilities; the .338 Winchester Magnum just doesn’t do that as well.  By having a bigger range, a round has more versatility with similar top-end performance and better low-end capabilities.  Unfortunately, the range is narrow for the .338 WM.

The Animal – The largest game in North America (and most of the rest of the world)

It’s not a round that has many “cannots”.  That said, it can kill an elk, a moose, three kinds of North American bears, smaller dangerous game in Africa; larger Eurasian bears, and the list goes on.  In fact there isn’t a whole lot that this caliber cannot handle, but to what end?  It would likely blow up a fox or coyote and devastate most of the meat in a deer under 250 pounds. It’s got some long-range ability, but you must compensate for bullet drop due to the larger weights.

In the end, this rifle in this caliber is a powerful setup with just about any animal it faces.  If you truly have the desire to be the loudest, hardest-hitting, and biggest recoiling man on the mountain: this is your beast. If you secretly desire a good gun without overkill, go elsewhere.

A final note:  The gun is the highlight here, and despite my personal distaste for the overkill tendency of domestic hunters, this gun is no joke in this caliber. You shouldn’t be turned off by the information I included in this article.  It is true that this caliber is more than I feel necessary for most normal hunters, but it certainly has its place; if you decide that its place is inside of a Benelli R1, then you have made an excellent decision, capable of dispatching almost any game on the planet.

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