November 18, 2011
By Wayne van Zwoll
Benelli's R1 is a rifle intended for those who want some serious power in a semiauto hunting rifle. First offered in .30-06 and .300 Winchester Magnum, the R1 has taken a big step up in power with the introduction of a .338 Winchester Magnum chambering.
The heart of the R1 is the ARGO system, which stands for Auto Regulating Gas Operated, a design that originated in 1998. A gas orifice close to the chamber permits a very short piston stroke. The compact mechanism improves reliability while keeping rifle weight between your hands. That weight is kept manageable by the use of alloys and synthetics in the receiver.
The Picatinny rail provided with each R1 rifle affords great latitude in scope placement, fore and aft. My bore sighting put the first bullet a hand's width from point of aim at 50 yards. I adjusted and then went right to 100.
The rifle functioned smoothly, stripping rounds from the three-shot detachable box without a hiccup. But the third group was no tighter, and as I watched the Oehler 35 spit out velocities, I considered aborting.
I'd collected the fired .338 hulls in a box after the first shot or two. They flew predictably at right angles to the bore. Boxing them up, I noticed they were oily. An oily bore can affect accuracy. With the bore scrubbed relatively dry, I bent over the bags again and fired three more rounds. Better. It was then I remembered I was firing a .338 Winchester Magnum and was neither hurting nor flinching.
"The ComforTech stock takes a lot of bite from this rifle," Benelli's Steve McKelvain told me, explaining how the stock's 12 rubbery chevrons installed in a strategic diagonal line complement the buttstock's thick and cushy pad.
Actually, you can choose from three pads, which are easily interchanged. They give you pull lengths of 13 5/8, 14 and 14 3/8 inches. These pads are not flat but contoured to fit the pocket in your shoulder. The shape is so important, there are left- and right-hand versions.
The result of all this? Felt recoil is, dare I say it? about like that of a .308 bolt gun. As the R1 weighs a modest 7 1/4 pounds, it comes back much less violently than I expected. Part of the credit for that also goes to the GripTight textured material found on the grip and fore-end. It mitigates some recoil shock while affording a slip-proof surface when your hands are cold or wet.
The stock's comb is also of ComforTech material, and it's replaceable. Select standard, raised or extra-high. The raised version put my eye comfortably behind the scope. It would have worked as well with low rings. The standard comb should too — or give you quick aim with iron sights. While the R1 doesn't come with irons, its barrel is drilled and tapped, and you can order Benelli's iron-sight set — an adjustable rear and a fiber-optic front — for $235 if you're not going to scope it.
Light recoil wasn't the only surprise. This rifle has a good trigger. No, it's not icicle-crisp, but it's smooth and predictable, with modest creep. It feels lighter than the 4 3/4 pounds indicated on my Timney gauge. A crossbolt safety in the guard's front web lies below the bolt release; both are within reach of my trigger finger. The magazine latch is on the face of the guard. Press to release.
Improving groups kept me on the bench. By the time I'd run through several loads, I was getting used to the feel of the rifle too — always an assist in drilling tighter knots. This R1 preferred heavier bullets; Remington 250-grain pointed softpoints routinely printed 1 1/2-inch groups. That's very good accuracy for a powerful rifle, autoloading or bolt-action.
While the R1's stock lines won't please conservatives, the relatively steep grip is comfortable and textured to afford good control. Ditto the long but well-shaped fore-end. Unlike many autoloaders, this Benelli feels lively up front. Excellent balance puts you on target quickly and keeps you on moving targets.
Like I said, every once in a while you're entitled to change your mind, and in the end I was impressed by the R1.
- Type: gas-operated centerfire with three locking lugs, bolt face extractor, plunger ejector
- Caliber: .30-06, .300 Win. Mag., 338 Win. Mag. (tested)
- Capacity: 3-round detachable steel box (as tested)
- Barrel: 24 in. sporter weight (as tested)
- Weight: 7 .25 lb.
- Stock: black ComforTech synthetic stock (as tested) w/replaceable combs and gel butt-pads; shim-adjustable for pitch
- Finish: matte blue and black anodizing
- Trigger: 4 lb., 11 oz. as tested
- Safety: trigger-blocking crossbolt
- Sights: none; Picatinny rail for scope mounting; drilled and tapped for optional open sights
- Price: $1,109 (as tested)
- Manufacturer: Benelli USA
- Smallest avg. group: 250-gr. Remington Core-Lokt — 1.5 in.
- Largest avg. group: 225-gr. Hornady SST — 2.0 in.
- Avg. of all ammo tested (3 types) — 1.6 in.
- Accuracy results are averages of three three-shot groups at 100 yards from a benchrest.