June 16, 2020
It’s remarkable how quickly your luck can change while hunting. We’d spent the afternoon chasing a bachelor herd of impala rams through fearsome thorns in South Africa’s Eastern Cape in the hopes Benelli’s George Thompson might get a shot at one of them, but as the herd of rust-red antelope disappeared over a distant ridgetop so did our chances of success. When our tracker, Atti, returned with the truck to pick us up, he pointed frantically to the west. He spoke in Afrikaans to my PH Lammie Ferreira of Africa Anyway Safaris, and while I missed most of the conversation I did catch one word: swartwitpens, sable antelope.
Sable and roan were the primary objective on that hunt, and we immediately set off in the direction where Atti had seen three mature sable bulls feeding moments ago. I’d always hoped to get to hunt a sable someday, and my chance finally came when the team at Benelli asked me to join them in South Africa to test the company’s first-ever bolt-action rifle, the Lupo. In the relatively short amount of time I’d spent with the Benelli, I’d grown confident in the rifle’s capabilities, and I knew if we could find those bulls in the open, the Lupo would perform.
We found them, and I could see the distinct black and white facial markings and one tall, sweeping black horn—features that set the sable apart from other African antelopes. I pushed the Lupo onto the sticks and centered the crosshair of the Steiner scope where the sable’s leg and chest met.
When I pressed the trigger, I heard the shot land. The bull staggered, the 180-grain Hornady GMX .30-06 bullet striking just where intended. The sable faltered as he ran, and we found him in a clump of trees less than 50 yards ahead.
Roughly 45 percent of semiauto shotguns sold are Benelli guns. That’s a pretty commanding share of the market for a company that competes with much older domestic brands. Benelli won over shotgunners by introducing Inertia-Driven technology to America, and the company hopes its new bolt-action Lupo (Italian for wolf) can win over rifle shooters by offering the same type of outside-the-box design features and class-leading performance in a centerfire bolt-action hunting rifle.
Marco Vignaroli, Benelli’s technical director, joined us on the Lupo’s South African debut event, and he made it clear the company wanted the Lupo to be a different breed of rifle than anything on the market.
“The Lupo wasn’t built around a price point,” says Vignaroli. Instead, it was a from-the-ground-up bolt-action reboot. It utilizes a two-piece stock where the tubular steel receiver mounts to an aluminum lower receiver, essentially making it a chassis rifle dressed as a sporter.
The Lupo also features steel recoil and barrel lugs, and the barrel lug insert in the aluminum lower receiver is also made from steel. An intermediate barrel attachment provides perfect headspacing and doesn’t require any reaming after manufacturing is complete.
Benelli’s Crio barrel technology involves cryogenically freezing the barrels to reduce stress on the steel that results from manufacturing, and according to Benelli, the process makes the bore easier to clean and more accurate. The barrel has a 0.66-inch sporter contour and is free-floated. It measures 22 inches for standard calibers and 24 inches in magnum calibers, and all Lupo barrels have capped 5/8x24 threaded muzzles.
There are three initial caliber choices: .270 Win., .30-06 and .300 Win. Mag., but more cartridge offerings are certain to follow. The .30-06 comes with a 1:11 twist.
Italian stylist Marco Guadenzi penned the Lupo’s design, but the rifle shares many design elements with Benelli’s shotguns. For starters, the Lupo features Benelli’s Progressive Comfort recoil-reduction system that uses internal baffles—which look like interlocking fingers in cross-section—to absorb rearward impact. However, the Lupo’s Progressive Comfort setup has been optimized for rifles rather than shotguns.
Also carried over from the shotgun family is the CombTech design. It uses an internal leaf spring and dense, interchangeable foam inserts in the comb to reduce the rifle’s impact on the shooter’s face—a major cause of flinching.
What’s more, the Lupo offers a level of modularity impossible to find on other sporting rifles. Not only can shooters adjust length of pull from 13.8 to 14.7 inches with the standard recoil pad and 14.2 to 15.2 inches for the optional extended pad, but also they can adjust comb height. A standard CombTech insert is included, but high and extra-high inserts are also available.
A shim kit allows the shooter to adjust cast, pitch and drop, and there are even inserts that allow you to adjust the trigger’s length of pull. Trigger pull weight is adjustable from 2.2 to 4.4 pounds, and altering the trigger weight is simply a matter of removing the magazine and adjusting an internal screw.
Speaking of magazines, the Benelli’s drop-out polymer magazine is superb. A latch of the forward portion of the mag well drops the magazine into your hand, and a lip inside the magazine divides the cartridges into two columns. The .30-06 magazine holds five rounds, and it fits securely into the aluminum lower without much finagling.
Like so many new hunting rifles, the Lupo is equipped with a minimized ejection port that adds rigidity to the rifle, but unlike other guns of a similar design, it’s actually possible to top-load the Lupo quickly and efficiently.
Benelli’s three-lug stainless steel polished bolt is fluted, and the fluting reduces weight and friction and also makes room for the fifth round in the magazine. The bolt knob is football-shaped and free from checkering, and the bolt handle is flat and features a serpentine curve.
There’s a two-position safety that’s located on the tang and is easy to access from field positions. A small cocking indicator juts from the rear of the enclosed bolt shroud, and there are three sets of holes drilled on top of the receiver for mounting optics.
That’s two more holes than you’ll customarily find on sporting bolt actions, but the additional holes allow some flexibility in optics mounting and offer added rigidity for the optional one-piece rail mount. The Lupo will accept two Remington 700 rear bases in a pinch, but the rifle comes with two-pieces bases.
One of the primary objectives for the Lupo’s design, Vignaroli says, was perfect fit and maximum comfort. In addition to the recoil-damping features and near-infinite adjustability, the Lupo’s two-piece synthetic stock offers complete control over the gun. The pistol grip features fish-scale texturing all around, and the flat-bottom fore-end is equipped with a full-length finger groove.
Dual sling studs are molded into the polymer stock, and the front stud is positioned so it won’t interfere when shooting off bags. There’s a pre-drilled, plugged hole in the underside of the fore-end for mounting a bipod.
European firearms manufacturers are required to proof test their barrels. While 4,500 bar is standard for hunting guns, Benelli decided to subject its heat-treated Lupo barrels to 6,500 bar, and the barrels held up.
The company also subjected the Lupo to drop testing, barrel obstruction tests and precision tests. It’s a much more rigorous battery of examinations than is required for sporting firearms, but Benelli wanted to ensure the Lupo was safe.
As tested, my .30-06 rifle weighed in at seven pounds unscoped, which is manageable for a sporter. Overall length is 44.6 inches, and trigger pull came set at 3.2 pounds from the factory. As Vignaroli says, the Lupo was built around features and not cost, and when the dust settled the suggested retail price was set at $1,699, which is reasonable for a gun capable of this level of performance.
Initial range tests prior to my African hunt inspired great confidence in the Lupo. With the Benelli top rail in place and a Steiner H4Xi 3-12x56mm optic aboard, the Benelli averaged sub-m.o.a. accuracy for three shots with Hornady’s 180-grain GMX ammo, and the lone five-shot group I fired—the final verification shots before boarding the plane to Johannesburg—still held under an inch.
The gun is comfortable to shoot, and the recoil-reduction technology worked as advertised. Prior to sighting in, I tinkered with the gun’s various length of pull, pitch, cast and drop adjustments until the gun fit me perfectly.
The trigger and trigger guard are angled for a more comfortable shooting hand position and improved accessibility, and the Benelli trigger is excellent for an off-the-shelf production gun. The magazine was easy to operate, and, as I mentioned, it was simple to top-load the gun in the field.
It’s worth noting that upon arriving at the lodge, all eight rifles we’d brought shot well, and none of the guns required adjustment—a rare occurrence considering the beating and abuse that airlines dole out during long journeys. In addition to my sable, I took four other animals with the Lupo from 45 to 335 yards without any tracking or lost game. The Lupo’s matte blue finish and polymer stock held up well to life in the field with no thinning on the finish or excessive wear.
After returning to the States, I wanted to see how the Lupo would perform with various hunting loads, and it shot very well. All three groups fired with Hornady’s 178-grain Precision Hunter ammunition grouped between 0.9 and one inch, and with Hornady GMX bullets the groups ranged from 0.65 to 0.94 inch. Federal’s Nosler Ballistic Tip load produced the best group of the day at 0.41 inch, one of the best three-shot groups I’ve seen from a production rifle with factory ammunition. The Benelli is a tack-driver.
It also happens to be comfortable to shoot off the bench. The soft CombTech insert prevents the karate chop to the cheekbone that you get from some rifles, and the Progressive Comfort system does a good job calming recoil. The trigger and grip angle are comfortable, and the flat fore-end sits squarely on shooting bags. And, of course, the trigger is smooth and crisp. All factors that lend to improved accuracy. The tang safety is easy to access, but on one occasion I did accidentally disengage the safety when grabbing the rifle by the pistol grip.
There are lots of bolt guns on the market, and that makes it difficult for a new rifle to stand out. The Benelli Lupo does so thanks to its smart design elements, quality construction and excellent accuracy. Could the Italian company that rewrote the rules on semiauto shotguns be poised to claim its share of the bolt gun market? Perhaps. With everything it offers, the Lupo has the potential to become the new leader of the hunting rifle pack.
Benelli Lupo SpecsType:
.270 Win., .30-06 (tested), .300 Win. Mag.Capacity:
22 in. (as tested), Crio treated, threaded 5/8x24Overall Length:
Adjustable, 3.2 lb. pull (measured, as received)Sights:
None; drilled and tappedPrice:
Benelli Lupo Accuracy Results