With partridges on the menu this month, Mike looks at the Beretta 486 EL 20-bore round action – a lively, well-balanced side-by-side, perfect for those little French missiles

Partridges will soon be on our sporting menu, so I looked for a traditional-looking gun that might suit this month. I came up with a Beretta 20-bore, round action side-by-side. It has a concave rib, single-selective trigger, pistol-grip stock and flush-fitting HP multi-chokes. All this makes it relatively uncommon (and particularly well specified) for a side-by-side 20. It weighs in at 6lb 9oz. This is mid weight for a gun of this type. For me, moreover, it’s just about right – I don’t like my 20s too light because they can become uncontrollable.

First impressions
First impressions are OK. I liked the shapes of the 486 EL, and the rounded bar is especially good looking. The perfectly fitted and inletted side-plates give more space for decoration and put a bit more weight between the hands. I doubt if it would work as well in 12. The wood is a little plain for the price point (£8,550) and could do with a bit more oil and perhaps staining down. The barrel surface preparation is good, but the blacking lacks sheen (which can actually be an advantage in a hide). 

The decoration itself is well conceived – tight scroll engraving with simulated colour case hardening. It looks classical but is not enhanced by the chemically applied colour. This is thin in places and I wouldn’t expect it to be as durable as traditional bone meal colour hardening. That said, I have always liked a coloured action and there are huge production advantages to doing colour chemically without extreme heat. There is a bright nickel-finished action option too.

If I have any other aesthetic criticism, it is that the trigger blade is quite short, and that the trigger guard bow is relatively small – it might be difficult to get a gloved finger through it in the winter. I liked the slim top lever, and the safety thumb-piece with combined barrel selector was excellent as well. The barrels of this 486 are well put together too and are chambered for 3" cartridges. They are fleur de lys proofed for high performance steel in Beretta’s own branch of the Italian proof house. The white metal bead was good. The concave rib was adequate, but a flat pigeon rib might be a better option on this single-trigger, pistol-grip gun.

The stock of our Beretta measures a whisker over 145/8" for length: perfectly useable, but a little longer would be good. The gun was a bit low in the comb too; there was almost 2½" of drop at heel, which is too much. If you mount with normal cheek pressure, you lose the bead. Happily, I picked up on this immediately, but someone less experienced might carry on regardless and could easily find the left eye taking over in some situations (the remedy is to raise the stock or use a comb raiser).

The pitch was a little eccentric as well. At heel, there is about 1/16" extra length, which isn't quite enough for most people IMO (and potentially creates a tendency to slip at the shoulder). At the heel, there is almost ½". Nothing wrong with that – it was the Purdey standard – but if you have man-boobs, it may need reduction. My advice would have been for 1/8" at heel and 3/8" at toe, which is now the industry standard. 

The comb here is relatively thin; with the right-hand cast off, I tended to come up to the left side of the rib on mounting. The grip did not suit me too well either. The radius seemed a bit tight and my hand tended to slip forward; the grip's cross-sectional profile at its mid point is quite square. The beavertail fore-end was excellent, however, and filled the hand well without being too wide or deep.

credit: Mike Yardley

Technical overview
Mechanically, the design is conventional – a trigger plate mechanism combined with Purdey bolting – but especially neat. The rounded action body accommodates a trigger-assembly which is secured by two fixing screws, one concealed underneath the safety combined barrel selector, the other forward of the trigger guard. 

The 486 series is actually manufactured in collaboration with Fausti, who produce the actions, whilst Beretta provide the barrels and other components, including wood. Barrelled actions are passed to Beretta for the production process to be completed. The test gun certainly bears a distinct resemblance to some Fausti production, not least in the unusual method of barrel construction – a modern take on the through lump where two tubes sit in recessed upon a platform underneath which the lumps are machined – the barrels are not chopper lump or monobloc. 

I have heard nothing but good reports on these guns mechanically, meantime (I own one too). They seem to be reliable and about the only thing that may need adjustment is the inertia mechanism where the spring is quite strong and may not suit lighter loads out of the box. 

credit: Mike Yardley

Shooting Impressions
I love side-by-sides, and I love 20 bores! I shot this one with shooting pal Paul Payne at the Fennes Shooting Ground in Essex, our usual testing venue. The little Beretta side-by-side feels lively even with its 30” tubes and is nicely balanced right on the hinge pin. It moves quickly too. The comb was low as noted and I made an allowance for it.

This was a pity in a way, because it meant I couldn’t explore the full potential of a fundamentally sound design (and a better one than the old 471 Silver Hawk). Recoil was moderate but trigger pulls were heavy (not hugely so). The only other issue I had was that there was some vibration going through the hand on firing. I suspect that this relates to the thin grip and stock bolt design. I don’t want to damn the gun with faint praise, though, with the right measurements and a slightly higher comb and thicker grip forward this could be a really good side-by-side (as all the other 486s I’ve tested have been).

My thanks to Lyalvale Express for the Supreme Competition 21 and 24 gram cartridges used in this test

credit: Mike Yardley

We Like

  • The balance
  • The elegant rounded action

We dislike

  • The slightly heavy trigger pulls
  • The low comb

Tech Specs
Make: Beretta
Model: 486 EL
Bore: 20
Chambers: 3”/76mm
Proof: Fleurs de lys for steel
Barrels: 30”
Choke: multi – Beretta HP flush fit.
Weight: 6lbs 9 ounces
RRP: £8,550 (£8,400 for silver finished version)