A Finish Fit for Waterfowlers

Benelli improves the durability of the Super Black Eagle 3 with its new BE.S.T. finish technology.

A Finish Fit for Waterfowlers

One of the great things about being a parent is there comes a time when your son or daughter begins teaching you about various parts of life.

Example: During the past couple years, my oldest son, Elliott (18), has passed along his love and knowledge for waterfowl hunting. As an avid big game hunter for four decades, I never spent a lot of time in the duck blind, but his passion for the sport has certainly lit a fire within me, too. 

For Christmas 2020, we decided to make a father/son memory and travel to western Oklahoma in pursuit of ducks. Our Minnesota duck season ended in early November, and I knew that he’d appreciate the opportunity to travel on a destination duck hunt. This trip would also be a chance for us to field test the new Benelli Super Black Eagle with the company’s proprietary BE.S.T. finish technology.

Advanced Protection

There’s no shortage of shotgun topics that’ll get opinions flying faster than a diver riding a tailwind. Gas- vs. inertia-driven semi-autos? Full vs. modified chokes? One topic everyone can agree on, however, is the importance of preventing rust and corrosion. 

Proper and regular cleaning is the key, but anyone who’s spent time in the duck blind knows that tender-loving care of firearms isn’t always possible in the field, or even in hunting camp. With this in mind, it only makes sense to begin the fight against rust and corrosion by starting with a gun that features the latest advancements in finish protection. 

Benelli’s Super Black Eagle 3 has a well-earned reputation among diehard waterfowlers as a semi-auto shotgun that won’t fail in the field, and according to Benelli, its ability to combat rust and corrosion has been improved tremendously due to the company’s innovative and proprietary BE.S.T. (Benelli Surface Treatment) finish. 

I’m not an engineer, so I don’t pretend to understand all the science behind this new finish and its application. According to the company, a hybrid PVD/PECVD machine applies diamond-like carbon particles with a high-vacuum plasma nanotechnology. Benelli can apply the finish at low temperatures, protecting the mechanical integrity of the steel. The process is environmentally friendly and produces no hazardous chemical by-product while delivering a layer of high-hardness for superior abrasion and corrosion resistance. 

The areas treated with BE.S.T. on a Super Black Eagle 3 include the barrel, barrel extension, bolt, bolt handle, extended choke, safety, stud, trigger and trigger pin. 

Benelli says it torture-tested an assortment of barrels with different finishes to see how each compared to the BE.S.T. treatment. “A blued barrel was subjected to four hours in a salt fog test (ASTM B117), resulting in rust accumulation over the entire barrel. The barrel coated with the BE.S.T. treatment underwent 200 hours in the same conditions with no signs of rust or corrosion. In fact, BE.S.T-treated barrels have been exposed to saltwater for more than three consecutive months with no sign of rust or corrosion. To test for abrasion resistance, Benelli subjected competitive barrels along with a barrel treated with BE.S.T. to rounds of abuse on a steel brush wheel (IL 279). The competitive barrels showed partial to complete removal of the finish while the BE.S.T. treated barrel only experienced polishing.”

Field Testing

Elliott and I put the treatment to the test pursuing Sooner State ducks with outfitter Troy Cunningham of Legend Waterfowl. Troy explained that Oklahoma is dotted with ponds, or what I call “stock dams,” and they provide water for cattle. Troy and his guides regularly scout the ponds on his leased land to ensure their clients are on ducks.

Over the course of three days, Elliott and I hid along the shoreline of various ponds while Troy or one of his guides called ducks into small spreads of decoys. Because I’m a rookie shooter on waterfowl, I missed far more often than I connected on. Thankfully, Elliott has serious wing-shooting skills, and he immediately fell in love with the Benelli. 

We killed a good number of ducks. The late-December weather was more nasty than nice, which is what you want when testing a semi-auto shotgun. 

Two highlights come to mind from our best morning hunt. The first was when a four pack of greenheads bobbed in the high winds and then dropped toward the decoys. Guns fired and not a single bird escaped. You know your teenage son is having a good time when you hear him yell, “Let’s go!” as he celebrates the result. 

The second was when two birds appeared straight overhead but didn’t look like they’d drop lower, and Elliott picked out drake from hen and dropped a beautiful pintail. While he’d tagged a handful of pintails in Minnesota during the past couple seasons, none of them had the chocolate-brown markings like this one. I knew Elliott was proud of that bird because he immediately put down his Benelli and spent a few minutes taking photos of the fresh bird in hand.


Perfect Seal

After a full day of duck hunting in challenging conditions (rain/sleet/snow, saltwater, mud, etc.), the real value of this new finish becomes apparent. 

“Any of those substances can be left on treated parts indefinitely with zero harm to the finish,” says Benelli Director of Product Management George Thompson. “If cleaning is desired, it would be cleaned no different than any other shotgun. It should be noted that, unlike bluing or other finishes, BE.S.T. requires no oil, or anything really to protect the finish. 

Even beyond the forces of nature, BE.S.T. stands up to other substances a hunter could encounter in the field, such as bug spray or gasoline. 

Not all of the gun’s surfaces receive the finish. The areas BE.S.T. is applied to are determined by a couple factors. First, is the material — aluminum or plastic won’t rust, so they really don’t need the protection. Second, is whether the finish can be properly applied. The rib is a good case in point. 

Standard ribs are attached by soldering or brazing, which is not a “perfectly” sealed method. BE.S.T. must be applied by line of sight, meaning if there is not a direct straight path to the surface, BE.S.T. can’t get on it. So with a standard attached rib not being perfectly sealed to the barrel, and BE.S.T. not being able to get in between the rib post and barrel, that area would be subject to rust over time. This was a problem Benelli addressed during the development phase. The solution was a robotic laser welding process that attaches posts to the barrel with a prefect seal. This allows the barrel, posts and welding to be properly coated by the finish. Then a carbon fiber rib is slid onto the posts in dovetail fashion.

Current Offerings

At this time BE.S.T. is available only in black. In Europe, Benelli does offer a shiny version in addition to the matte, which is the only option in the U.S. market. Thompson says he expects that over time more colors/textures will be developed. And while camouflage could be applied over the BE.S.T. finish, special care would be required to avoid tolerance stacking concerns since all finishes add some level of material. 

“Piling finishes on top of each other combined with the tight tolerances Benelli is known for could lead to some fitting issues,” Thompson says.

While the collection of Benelli firearms with BE.S.T. finish technology is likely to grow substantially, the current offerings are select models of the Super Black Eagle 3, Ethos and Ethos Cordoba shotguns. (The SBE3 with BE.S.T. will handle up to 3.5-inch shotshells; the Ethos and Ethos Cordoba with BE.S.T. are designed for 2.75- and 3-inch shells only.) 

The Super Black Eagle 3 BE.S.T. is available in 12-gauge configurations with 26- or 28-inch barrels for $2,199. The standard black synthetic SBE3 that will accept 3.5-inch shells is $1,899. Benelli also now offers its SBE3 in 12-gauge versions designed for only 2.75- and 3-inch shells, but these models don’t feature BE.S.T. In addition, the company recently announced 20-gauge versions of the SBE3, again without BE.S.T. 

For an extra $300, a duck hunter gets a BE.S.T. shotgun that Benelli says is ready to handle anything Mother Nature can throw its way. That’s peace of mind — and so is Benelli’s 25-year warranty on those parts treated with the finish.


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