Elite Shotguns of HK: Benelli vs Fabarm
HK has long been on the cutting edge of small arms in the western world and their marketing partnership choices in shotguns often reflect thoughtful innovation along with the use of proven technologies.
For most of the last thirty years, HK has partnered with the Italian firm Benelli to market that company’s combat and hunting shotguns. Both respected names in the gun business profited from this partnership which only recently dissolved with Benelli marketing their own guns through an independent distribution network and HK gaining exclusive rights to the Farbarm combat shotguns and some distribution of their hunting shotguns.
Rumors in the industry are that the arrangement between HK and Fabarm are going to be short lived because the executives at Fabarm are not satisfied with the sales numbers HK posted last year. HK civilian market share dropped drastically since their voluntary withdrawal of most of their semiauto rifle product lines from the US market which in turn was in response to HKs marketing of semiauto rifles that were grossly overpriced and lacked enough desirable compatibility with their “government” product lines to create a demand in the “civillian” (read survivalist) market which was the driving force behind their success in the 1980s. Long gone are the days when the most fashionable survivalists and aspiring mercenaries would strut around the hotels of the Soldier of Fortune convention carrying the latest rendition of what was commonly regarded as the “Mercedes of assault rifles”.
Both guns follow what is now a fairly well proven format that is still an adaptation of the technologies used in sporting shotguns rather than purpose built combat weapons. The basic technology behind these guns is a throwback to the 1930s, although they are built with modern enhancements and modern materials. True radical innovations in shotgun technology like the HK CAWS, Hi-Standard 10B, Stryker-12, SPAS-15 and USAS-12 have been largely unsuccessful due to cost, complexity and hostile legislative action against the manufacturers.
Combat shotguns by their nature are relatively short range imprecise weapons but that is a “relative” relationship with rifles and submachineguns. Most people oversimplify these factors and underestimate the range and precision of a well tuned enhanced shotgun that is specifically set up for combat use.
Good ergonomics and suitable sights will enable a shotgun user to engage point targets out to 100 yards although this can remain tricky and will require specialized slugs, not regular shot ammunition. It is also stressed that the action speed of these guns along with the power and width of the impact downrange makes them optimal for short range use against multiple opponents where you absolutely need to be certain that the bad guy is going down when you hit him. This is enhanced with the use of fast aiming sights like the Eotech and the Ghost ring sights that usually come on these guns. I found the Eotech to be the most appropriate electronic reflex type sight for shotguns because the ring and dot reticule is superior for shorter ranges where speed of target acquisition is more important than precision. If you want precision, you simply slow down a little bit and use the center dot as your sight. The Eotech allows the shooter to focus his eyes on the target and is thus readily compatible with those of us who wear eyeglasses and contacts.
Of these two guns, only the newer Fabarms comes with a sight rail as a common optin, but you don’t even get it standard on all models. Thankfully, it comes on most of them. The Benelli is not even drilled or tapped for mounting an optic, but the main reason this was overlooked so much in the past was that very few optics could withstand the recoil of any shotgun, not to mention lightweight shotguns that would be subjected to hard use and rapid fire. Now there are a limited number of appropriate optics on the market, but definitely enough to warrant the factory installation of a Picatinny rail on top of a shotgun receiver. The people at Fabarms also use this as an opportunity to simplify their sighting system so that it is directly mounted on the rail and removable. The now 20 year old Benelli system had been the top of the heap but the Fabarms sights definitely demonstrate evolutionary progress. Another bonus is the light gathering bar system built into the Fabarms sights on this particular gun, but this feature has been offered from time to time as an option on the Benellis.
The effective range of one of these guns with shot ammunition is at best, half that. Realistically, the most common buckshot and BB shot loads are not going to have much of a predictable effect on target beyond 25 yards, however that effect is usually devastating against unarmored targets. Slugs at closer ranges also produce very positive results against several types of armor and hard cover.
Both the Benelli and Fabarm shotguns are much lighter weight than most of their sporting gun counterparts. This is due to the extensive use of lightweight alloys in their construction with only the barrels, bolts and some small parts being made of steel. The rest is aluminum alloy and plastic. This makes recoil a serious issue to contend with and the guns were set up with some similarities and some differences in dealing with the serious recoil you get from using a lightweight 12g shotgun. Both guns feature pistol grip stocks that are ergonomically designed to spread the rearward recoil accross both the butt pad and the palm of the shooting hand of the user. Due to the two surface areas being comparable in size, this reduces the shock of recoil that would normally be felt on the shoulder of the user, or if shooting “from the hip” would make the gun jump backward in the users hands. This picture illustrates the light weight of the Benelli where the user is able to keep it on his shoulder and on target with just one arm, however the gun would not be steady for follow-up shots without holding the fore grip with the other hand. In a pinch though, an injured person can operate these shotguns one handed and still be fairly effective with it. In comparison, it is nearly impossible for a person of normal strength to effectively wield a heavy steel slide action shotgun with one hand.
The Fabarm shotgun further dampens recoil with a gas operated system that incorporates a slight delay in the cycling of the gun so as to spread the movement of the parts, and thus the felt recoil into stages happening moments apart from each other rather than one big push like what happens with the Benelli or its downright painful to shoot cousin, the Beretta 1201 series which has such severe recoil that it will humble even the hardiest of big shooters.
The differences in the mechanics of the two guns are not readily apparent until you set them side by side and then it is subtly visible. While both guns have the same length of barrels, the Benelli is longer overall because it has a longer receiver and action. The Fabarms has a slightly shorter stock. Between these two factors, the Fabarms gun ends up about two inches shorter with what are otherwise all of the same functional specifications. The controls are in most of the same places so a Benelli user who is transitioning over to the Fabarms shotgun does not have much to relearn.
Feature for feature, the Fabarms is the superior gun, but in handling and examination of the materials and fit and finish, it is evident as to why the Benelli is usually the more costly of the two on the new gun market although they are comparable on the used gun market. The Benelli simply has a higher class fit and finish and is a well known name in the industry and among elite tactical operators. Some will also argue that the Benelli may be more suitable for use in rough environments where the operating system is not as vulnerable to water and dirt as the Fabarms action. This is not often an issue to the target markets of these guns which are primarily law enforcement, security and home protection. Survivors and military personnel on the other hand who are looking for maximum utility and the potential for the gun to hold up to long term use with no access to service facilities may still favor the Benelli.