Sub-gauge shotguns are all the rage, and when you shoulder one like Benelli’s Super Black Eagle 3, you’ll know why

Jace Bauserman

My first experience with a 28-gauge shotgun wasn’t good, and the reason was entirely my fault. I was young and dumb and, at the time, wouldn’t trade my 12-gauge duck and goose killer for all the tea in China. 

When the man at the trap and skeet club asked me to give his 28-gauge over/under a try, I did. Sure, I was young and dumb, but not disrespectful and gladly took him up on his offer. The gun was light and airy, and when I cracked the barrels open, I scoffed at the diminutive size of the red shotshells. Then, I half-heartedly yelled, “pull,” and swung and missed a clay. 

That was my 28-gauge experience, well, until a week ago. I promise you my 17-year-old, a certified shotgun-aholic, was more excited about the arrival of the sub-gauge than I was. I love to test new shotguns, and over the years, my must-have 12-gauge for ducks and geese mindset has changed some, but I couldn’t wrap my brain around slinging bismuth and TSS at waterfowl with anything less than a 16.

That’s changed. 

Enter Benelli’s Super Black Eagle 3 28-Gauge. I’m a Super Black Eagle fan, and if Benelli makes it, I want to shoot it. The manufacturer has a stalwart reputation for producing some of the finest waterfowl guns in the world. 

The fit and finish were simple yet brilliant. The shotgun sported a Black Synthetic finish, and the Comfort Tech 3 stock, oversized bolt handle, and safety jumped out at me from the get-go. Further inspection showed the 26-inch barrel’s vented rib was crafted from carbon and topped with an ultra-bright Red-Bar front sight. The package was so light, yet I knew being branded an SBE3, it would be tough as nails. 

A feather in the hands, this 5.5-pound shooter shouldered quickly, and I appreciated the studded grip on the forearm and throat-end of the stock. 

Assembly was simple. Remove the forend cap and slide the forearm onto the barrel. Lock the action back, and make sure the forend goes over the magazine tube. Line up the barrel and push until the barrel and forend are flush. Simple and straightforward — the way a working man’s shotgun should be. 

That was my first hour with Benelli’s newest 28-gauge creation. I wouldn’t say I like to get in a hurry, and I prefer to go over any gun I test inch by inch and learn as much as possible about it before I head to the field or range. 

My son, however, couldn’t wait. When I returned home from a quick trip to Walmart with my bride, Hunter was cleaning doves in the backyard near the barn. Yes, he was legal. In Colorado, we have an invasive dove species called the Eurasian collard dove, and the season for these birds is year-round; Hunter takes advantage of this often. 

As I walked out the back of the house shaking my head, his first words were, “Dad; you have to shoot this thing. I killed two doves at least 40 yards away. It doesn’t kick at all, it’s fairly quiet, and it fits me. Can I keep it?” 

His description was what I expected, and not one to turn my nose up at an early-season dove shoot, I grabbed the Super Black Eagle 3 and went to work. Wow! 

The gun shoulders with silky grace and boasts a balance that I can’t put into words. The shotgun feels like part of your body, not a large, clunky machine that’s a chore to work. It glides across the air from right to left, left to right, up and down, and down and up. My cheek welded to the padded cheek comb pad, and because the Comfort Tech 3 stock uses a chevron system that makes the entire stock a giant recoil pad, recoil was virtually nothing. I expected the shotgun’s recoil to be light, but I had no idea how light.

The design of the Combtech-style Comfort Tech 3 stock also promoted a seamless transition to the raised carbon-fiber vented barrel rib. The gun fits me like a glove, and when a 30-yard Eurasian made his pass across a standing hay grazer field, I let the lead fly for the first time. Of two things I was sure the first time I pushed the oversized safety to fire, wrapped my index finger around the slim trigger design, and pulled. First, it was buttery smooth. Second, I was impressed with how the shotgun felt throughout my shot process. It promotes excellent swing and follow-through. 


With two doves down, I sent my trusty lab and worked the oversized bolt to exercise the action for testing’s sake. The action was easy to manipulate and silky, and with the shotgun empty, I locked the action in place via the red-dot, sliver locking mechanism at the front of the trigger guard. Then, I quickly depressed the bolt release to better familiarize myself with the shooter and check for flaws. There were none, and I like the elongated bolt release bar below the oversized bolt. 

I applaud the loading port. Too many shotguns are too difficult to load, and as in many areas with the shotgun’s design, Benelli went the extra mile. The loading port is beveled, and only the front section of the Easy Loading System’s two-piece carrier latch moves, allowing you to load shotshells quickly and never having to worry about jamming issues. Grooves in the loading port also help guide the shells, so you can load by feeling and not look down with your eyes. This is critical when the action is hot and heavy. 

Over a week, I put 450 rounds through Benelli’s SBE3 28 without a hiccup. I shot light target loads and heavy-duty bismuth and TSS loads — loads I plan to use for ducks and geese — and the shotgun cycled them all with ease. Chalk this up to the Easy Locking Bolt System and Interia-Driven System, which Benelli designed to work flawlessly with all shotgun loads.  

The Inertia-Driven System has been a Benelli staple, and I don’t see the manufacturer drifting from it anytime soon. It’s one of the most reliable, consistent, and simple systems ever crafted. With three main working parts, which include the bolt body, inertia spring, and rotating bolt head, this system stays super clean and promises reliable cycling of light and heavy loads. The SBE3 28-Gauge accepts and handles 2 3/4- and 3-inch shotshells. The gas, smoke, and burnt powder remain in the barrel, where cleaning is the easiest.  

My Benelli SBE3 28 came with five chokes — two extended and three flush with the barrel. While I took time to pattern them with various loads from Fiocchi, Federal, Hevi-Shot, Winchester, BOSS, and others, the big story with these chokes is that they are by no means standard. Each reminds me of a custom choke, my absolute favorite being the Extended Crio Steel Shot Modified. When I paired this choke with BOSS’s 3-inch Bismuth Copper Plated #4s, the pattern was remarkable — numerous pellets in the kill zone at 40-plus yards. 

My son spent most of his time burning through boxes of Fiocchi’s Gold Pheasant Nickle Plated # 7 1/2s. His choke of choice for Eurasian doves beyond 40 yards was the Flush Crio No Steel Shoot Improved Cylinder. 

Not only was I blown away by the shotgun’s performance, but I was shocked by how clean it was. After 450 rounds, the barrel was still semi-clean, and the inside of the action was spotless. This type of waterfowl shotgun will answer the call and perform flawlessly season after season. If you’re looking to save some shoulder abuse or are simply entertaining the idea of dropping to a sub-gauge shotgun for the 2022-2023 season, you won’t find one any better than Benelli’s Super Black Eagle 3 28-Gauge. 

Benelli Super Black Eagle 3 Specifications

  • Gauge: 28
  • Barrel Length: 26 in.
  • Barrel Finish: Matte, Black
  • Grip: Standard
  • Stock Configuration: Comfort Tech 3
  • Size: Standard
  • Chokes: Flush Crio C, IM, F/Extended IC, M
  • Chambered For: 2 3/4 & 3 in.
  • Min. Recommend Load: 3/4 oz.
  • Magazine Capacity: 2+1
  • Sight: Red-Bar Front
  • Action: Semi-Auto
  • Drilled & Tapped: No
  • Length Of Pull: 14 3/8 in. 
  • Overall Length: 47.5 in.
  • Average Weight: 5.5 lbs. 
Hiviz 23

Born and raised in southeast Colorado, Shoot-On contributor Jace Bauserman cut his hunting teeth chasing ducks, geese, quail, and pheasants near his southeast Colorado home. The seed that was planted stuck, and Bauserman’s outdoor pursuits grew. He started chasing elk and mule deer in the Colorado mountains with his 7mm Rem. Mag., and coyotes, fox, and bobcats across the plains. In 2003, Bauserman started writing about his adventures. Today, Bauserman is an accomplished outdoor writer. He has served as editor-in-chief of Bowhunt America and Bowhunting World magazines and has penned thousands of articles for top-tier outdoor publications.

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