Its basic design has been around since the 1950s but the Silver Pigeon is still the back-up of choice for many. When Michael Yardley got the chance to try one recently, he refused to give it back
Testing the Beretta Silver Pigeon 30in 12-bore came about as a happy accident for Michael Yardley, and ended in a purchase.
For more on Beretta, read Michael Yardley’s review of the Beretta 486 Parallelo EL.
BERETTA SILVER PIGEON 30IN 12-BORE
This month’s gun test came about by happy accident. I was in friend Neville Chapman’s gun shop when a pair of nearly new Beretta Silver Pigeon 30in 12-bore guns arrived. Many experienced shots brought up with best English guns now keep a pair – or single base-grade Beretta or Browning/Miroku – as back up (as some also go for Spanish workhorses). I know of many cases, moreover, where people ended up favouring the less expensive imports over the heirlooms and shoot with them all the time. This is nothing to worry about. In normal use, they’re almost indestructible; there are fewer concerns about what cartridges may be put through them or if they will break even when “hammered” with heavy loads. They can be useful for summer clays, too, and work well in hide or on marsh.
Returning to our test, when I picked up one of these base-grade Berettas, it genuinely impressed. It was a bit front heavy and quite low in the comb (Beretta needs to change its standard drop measurements for field guns) but form and finish were excellent and the view down the ventilated 6mm rib suited, too. The only significant negative was that the slimmish grip lacked depth forward (and thus did not anchor the rear hand quite as efficiently as it might). Nevertheless, weighing in at 7½lb with a point of balance about one inch or so forward of the hinge-pins, the gun felt both pointable and steady. It inspired confidence and I asked if I might borrow it.
Handling a lot of guns, you learn to pick up subtle variations and while they are perhaps less obvious in the products of Beretta than others, they do exist, particularly with regard to woodwork. This gun felt especially good, all the more so in do-anything 30in, 6mm rib guise (one of the biggest sellers). You see so many Berettas at shooting schools and elsewhere for a reason. They usually shoot well and are boringly reliable; they are made from excellent materials, even in the base grades. They continue to work even when severely abused. If they break – which is rare – or if they wear, they are easy to fix (and backed up by an excellent guarantee and a superb UK-based workshop). Most of the bearing surfaces are replaceable. Silver Pigeon hinge-pins, for example, have three over-sizes available and the conical locking bolts that emerge from the action face, two.
The design is first-class in all departments. The low-profile action is smart with neat scroll engraving (recently updated) and a matt nickel finish. The mechanics have been refined over the past 60 years since the original model 55 – the precursor to the 600 series – was first introduced after the Second World War. Not much has changed as the gun evolved, save that coil springs now power the hammer and gas vents have disappeared from the action face (the latest, and slightly more expensive, 690s have more significant modifications, including different barrel shoulders and ejectors and an alloy fore-end iron).
The barrels on the test gun are monobloc and made from chrome moly steel. They are as tough as any yet produced with 3in (76mm) chambers that will happily manage shorter 2½in (65mm) and 2¾in (70mm) loads as well. They bear Italian proof marks (Beretta has a branch of the Italian Proof House in its Gardonne factory). The flush-fitting interchangeable chokes are of the older, shorter, “Mobil” pattern but entirely satisfactory. Like most multi-chokes there can be some gas leak between the choke and the barrel wall if you don’t keep them tight (this should be checked regularly in any interchangeable choked gun). The bores are quite tight at 18.4mm though well suited at this diameter for fibre-wadded cartridges. The narrow ventilated rib is well suited to the gun although a solid pattern would work well, too, provided no weight was added.
The Silver Pigeon is a trigger-plate design, as are all Beretta 600 series guns (they are not properly termed a boxlock as the works are not within the box of the action). The low profile is made possible by trunnion hinging and bifurcated barrel lumps. The guns are a development of the mechanically and aesthetically similar 50 series guns, which first appeared in the 1950s.
In the Beretta museum in Brescia, one can see that the firm made a precise copy of a 12-bore Boss in 1933 and offered its own Boss-inspired sidelock “SO” in 1934. The non-sidelock ASE, visually an SO with the locks cut off, came before the Second World War (and evolved into the modern DT10s and 11s). There is also an experimental, rather spartan, sidelock 20-bore in the Beretta museum made during the war with an “ERGAL” (aluminium alloy) action. Probably a development of the SO/ASE project, it also looks much like the 500 and 600 series guns but with sidelocks. This is the missing link.
Beretta Silver Pigeons usually shoot well and this one was no exception. Handling might have been improved by an ounce of lead in the stock but the Silver Pigeon still performed above its pay grade. I struggled to miss anything. A single rising bird escaped, which might be explained by the excessive drop at heel (2½in on the test gun; 2⅛in would be a better shelf measurement). Apart from the shallow depth grip, you would struggle to fault this gun. Overall weight was about right for a machine-made over-and-under. Trigger pulls were better than expected; recoil with the usual Lyalvale Express 24g and 28g HV was not unpleasant. Bottom line? I bought the gun. I will raise and weight the stock and dispense with the schnabel beak to the fore-end. Shooters can only be delighted that Silver Pigeons remain in production. The gun sets a standard and offers performance and remarkable value.
Beretta Silver Pigeon 30in 12-bore
♦ Price: £1,725 (new)
♦ GMK Ltd, Bear House, Concorde Way, Fareham, Hampshire PO15 5RL
♦ 01489 579999