Off the Porch: Beretta's new 690 at Castel Monastero in Tuscany, Italy

Jul. 11, 2014 @ 05:54 PM

A small, single star is the icon the Castel Monastero. The ancient 1,000 year old buildings of the Castel take a commanding view of the olive groves and vineyards on the rolling hills of Tuscany that surround it. The small, eight pointed star is understated, never prominently displayed, but always within sight, on towels, china, or even the Italian leather “Do not Disturb” hanger on the inside of the door of each room. It is a graceful reminder of the excellence of service the hotel offers.
Since the mid 70s, Beretta’s 686/687 line has been the star in the line of excellent over under shotguns from the oldest continuous gunmaker in the world. The 686/687 has been a reliable, quality gun offered in a variety of grades from higher grades with beautiful engraving and excellent wood to base models, quality guns at a price almost anyone can afford. The 686 line has been a mainstay gun in a company with a diverse line, but a strong focus on quality shotguns for hunting and sporting competition.
The over under shotgun is arguably the most effective action type for wing and clay shooting. As a confirmed side by side man, I truly love the older style of double gun, but reality is reality and the advantages of the over under simply outweigh the beauty and grace of a side by side. First, the lower barrel is located much more in line with the axis of recoil than any other action type with the exception of some specialty guns designed for competition. The low first barrel gives the shooter less muzzle rise and allows quicker acquisition of the next shot. Second, the stacked barrels afford the shooter a much less restricted view of the target than a side by side. One of the most common wingshooting targets, both in hunting and competition is a rising, quartering bird. With a side by side, the barrels of the gun must obscure the target for the shooter to hit it.
True, it could be argued that the semi-auto has now eclipsed the over under, but most high level wingshooting competitions still see over under guns winning the laurels. Semi-autos admittedly do a better job of spreading the recoil out over a longer time, thus making it more comfortable, but they have never managed to acquire the graceful feel and balance of the over under.
Of course, with shotguns, a great part of the attraction is simply in the proper implementation of the gunmaker’s art, and few guns offer a better palate for this than the over under shotgun. Beretta has been making beautiful and functional shotguns for many years and their over unders are the guns they are best known for.
The 687 line has probably been their best sellers and while it’s still in the line, it appears that the replacement action is here, as introduced this week in Berardenga, Italy. About 40 gun writers from all over the world convened on Castel Monastero, a 1,200 year old Monastery in the Tuscany region. The official break out day, already reported here, was on July 7. Of course, the proof of a shotgun is in the shooting, and Beretta had a competition event planned for the writers. The event was composed of six man teams consisting of writers and editors from two countries in each team. There were six teams and once the winning team was established, its members would shoot a shoot-off to determine the winning shooter.
My team consisted of shooters from the United States and Ukraine, with Bruce Buck, John Thames, John Ryan, and myself representing the U.S. We managed a respectable second place as a team, with the Brittish/Italian team beating us out by nine targets. In the shoot off, Michael Yardley distinguished himself by shooting a 24 of 25 targets for the win with Joe Dimbleby taking second and Alistair Balmain rounding out the podium with the U.K. sweeping the individual event.
As for shooting the 690 Field III, it was exactly what I would have expected from Beretta, a high quality, lively feeling, reliable and affordable shotgun. I’ve owned two 686 guns, one Onyx and one Silver Perdiz. While a direct comparison wasn’t available, my impression was that the 690 is probably a more lively handling gun. The new fore-arm metal is aluminum, in the desire to make the gun lighter. The 690 is available in two stock comb and heel conformations, one higher and one lower. Both versions were available for our testing. I found the lower of the two to be slightly lower than the comb height of my older 686 guns. The 690 is also available in cast off and cast on versions, making it easier for left handed shooters to get a great fit from a factory gun. I really liked the idea of the Eco Ejectors, because I’d normally rather pull and drop my hulls, rather than have them kicked out on the ground.
The triggers were crisp and clean, recoil was easily manageable, and the gun swung well, fast enough for a field gun, yet with enough muzzle weight to keep it moving on crossing shots. In the appearance department, the Beretta certainly is a beautiful gun. The receiver is as thin as we’ve grown to expect and graced with double fences that, combined with the rolled game scent engraving and the coin finish, set off the premium walnut wood. At 7.3 pounds, the 690 is light without being whippy. It’s available in three barrel lengths, 26” 28” and 30” and comes with five Beretta screw in chokes.
I’ll be doing a full field test of the 690 Field III in the near future. I’m excited to learn what it can do on some North Carolina doves.
Dick Jones is an outdoor writer who lives in High Point. He also teaches shooting at Lewis Creek Shooting School. If you'd like him to speak to your group, he can be reached at