Printer Friendly

Black rifle, Italian style: got all the ARs you can handle? How about something with a distinctive look and an unusual operating system?

There are literally dozens of manufacturers producing and assembling AR-15-type rifles, gas-operated either by means of the original direct impingement or short-stroke piston systems. Most of them look at least superficially the same.


The most common calibers are 5.56x45mm NATO (.223 Rem.) or 7.62x51mm NATO (.308 Win.) and in a few cases 6.8 SPC (6.8x43mm). The newly introduced 5.56x45mm NATO Benelli MR1 neither looks like an M16/AR-15 derivative nor operates like one. It can truly be said that the MR1 is distinctive in almost all regards. In fact, at first glance it looks like a Benelli shotgun modified for use in a Star Wars movie. And, it was indeed derived from one of their shotguns.

For many years Heckler & Koch distributed the Italian Benelli shotgun product line in the United States. Together, they developed the U.S. military's gas-operated M1014 Joint Service Combat Shotgun, which was first adopted by the Marine Corps and is now also being successfully deployed by the special operations community.

Previously, all semiautomatic fighting shotguns had been little more than relatively simple modifications of sporting guns. The M1014 was designed from the ground up for deployment on the battlefield. As Benelli built a highly regarded reputation on a series of recoil-operated scatterguns using what they called their "Inertia Recoil System," the first question to be asked is: why gas operation?

One of the M1014 shotgun's most conspicuous features is a MIL-STD-1913 rail interface attached to the receiver directly in front of the rear sight. Shoulder-mounted weapons are no longer just "rifles" and "shotguns" on today's battlefield. LAMs (Laser Aiming Modules), red dot sights, and high-intensity flashlights are now de rigueur.

Mounting these devices compromises the rigidly fixed weight specifications required to maintain total functional reliability with a combat shotgun using recoil operation. Gas operation was the only alternative if the military was to finally move beyond slide-action mechanisms and their operator idiosyncrasies.


Benelli calls the M1014's method of operation the ARGO (Auto-Regulating Gas Operated) Twin System. Propellant gases, traveling through two gas ports just in front of the forcing cone, impinge upon dual, stainless steel, and "self cleaning" pistons.


The bolt system, however, remains essentially that of the famous recoil-operated Benelli shotguns. A rotating bolt head with two locking lugs that engage recesses in the barrel extension rides in a linked bolt carrier. The bolt group's rearward recoil stroke is generated by the dual pistons.


Benelli USA (Dept SGN, 17603 Indian Head Highway, Accokeek, Md. 20607-2501; phone: 301-283-6981 or 800-264-4962; fax: 301-283-6988; website: recently sent an MR1 to SHOTGUN NEWS for test and evaluation. Overall length of the rifle is 37.1 inches (942.3mm) with a barrel length of 16 inches (406mm). The bore and chamber are hard-chromed lined with six-groove rifling and a 1:9 right-hand twist. The empty weight is 7.9 pounds (3.6kg). The steel components carry a black phosphate finish and the aluminum alloy parts have a hard coat black anodized finish. The manufacturer's suggested retail price is $1,299.


The MR1 uses the ARGO System and further, it has the same rotating bolt head with two locking lugs that engage recesses in the barrel extension, riding in a linked bolt carrier as the M1014, but of course, re-dimensioned for the 5.56x45mm NATO cartridge.

It's interesting to note that the linked rod at the rear of the bolt carrier drives the recoil spring, which is housed inside the buttstock, rearward in a manner almost identical to that found in the Steyr-Solothurn Model 1930 submachine gun. This demonstrates once again that just about everything with regard to firearms has been "invented" and we are at a point now where designers combine elements from previous concepts to create "new" firearms. Israel Galili, the late designer of the Galili assault rifle (a clear Kalashnikov derivative) expressed that thought to me many years ago.

The polymer, blade-type front sight rests between two large protective ears that, are integrally molded into the forearm assembly. The peep aperture rear sight also has substantial protective ears that are integral with its aluminum alloy housing.

The rear sight can be adjusted for both windage and elevation zero. The windage adjustment screw is on the right side of the rear sight assembly. Turning the windage adjustment screw counterclockwise moves the point of impact on the target to the left and visa versa.

There is a windage scale directly in front of the peep aperture. The elevation adjustment screw is at the front of the rear sight assembly and is clearly marked with an arrow and "UP," indicating that rotating the screw counterclockwise will raise the point-of-impact. Directly in front of the rear sight is a 5-inch MIL-STD-1913 rail interface for attaching optical sights;

The magazine catch/release is ambidextrous and located on each side of the lower receiver directly above the magazine well. Depress the button to release the magazine. The crossbolt manual safety is pressed to the left to place the trigger mechanism in the fire position and expose a red ring around the crossbolt. Press the crossbolt to the right to engage the safety.

The bolt catch is directly in front of the trigger guard. Withdraw the retracting handle and bolt group with an empty magazine in place and the bolt will stay retracted. With no magazine in place, slide the bolt catch down to release the bolt. The trigger pull weight on our test specimen was a consistent 4.25 pounds, with only a slight amount of creep prior to letoff.

The black polymer buttstock and pistol grip are exactly those of the Benelli M4 tactical shotgun, with a pull length of 14.25 inches. Likewise, the rubber buttpad has been taken from the Benelli shotgun series and is excellent. There is a sling mounting point on both right and left sides of the buttstock. The bottom front of the forearm is slotted to attach the front portion of a tactical-type sling.

The Benelli MR1 does not come equipped with a flash hider, muzzle brake or bayonet lug, nor is it possible to install one. This is a consequence of the rifle's design and configuration, as the forearm and what's inside and in back of it, in other words all of the rifle's major components, are retained by a barrel nut that must be unscrewed and withdrawn off the muzzle end of the barrel in order to disassemble the rifle.

The Benelli MR1 comes equipped with a five-round, staggered column, detachable box magazine. It will also accept M16/AR-15-type magazines of larger capacity, and during the SHOTGUN NEWS test and evaluation we found it to operate flawlessly with those of all types, including original Colt 20- and 30-round metallic M16/AR-15 magazines, the highly respected Magpul 30-round polymer magazine frequently employed by special operations personnel in the Middle East and a new 40-round polymer magazine for those who have no desire to look politically correct, manufactured in Bulgaria and imported by Key II, Inc. (Dept. SGN, 9404 Gunston Cove Road, Lorton, Va. 22079; phone: 1-800-336-4572--$39.95 each).

The recoil impulse, never a problem with the 5.56x45mm NATO cartridge, is exceptionally mild on the MR1. A useful option is the tri-rail MIL-STD-1913 adapter for the forearm that permits the installation of lights and lasers. There were no stoppages of any kind during the SHOTGUN NEWS test and evaluation of the Benelli MRl.

Red Dot for Home Defense

Red-dot-type sights are very popular with special operations personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan. And, they also have valid applications for home defense when mounted on the Benelli MRl's MIL-STD-1913 rail interface. Red dot sights provide rapid target acquisition and more than adequate accuracy at ranges less than 100 meters.


And, in fact, no matter what the terrain, the average distance to contact with the enemy is less than 100 meters throughout the world. I learned this in Angola in the mid-1990s when I interviewed South West African Defense Force platoon leaders who were at that time engaged in heavy combat with SWAPO terrorists. They informed me that even in the relatively open landscape encountered in South West Africa (now Namibia) and Angola, their troops rarely fired at enemy personnel at distances greater than 100 meters.

And so it is also today in both Iraq and Afghanistan, where-rapid acquisition red-dot-type sights of one type or another are found on most of the M4 rifles fielded by Coalition troops.

In my personal opinion, the very best of all those available is the EOTech HOLOgraphic Weapon Sight (HWS) manufactured by L3 Communications EOTech (Dept. SGN, 3600 Green Court, Suite 400, Ann Arbor, Mich. 48105-1570; phone: 734-741-8868; fax: 734-741-8221; e-mail:; website:

Recently introduced is the Model 552 HWS with an EOLAD-IV visible laser aiming module (LAM). The LAM itself is manufactured by Laser Devices, Inc. (Dept. SGN, 2 Harris Court A-4, Monterey, CA 93940; phone: 831-373-0701; fax: 831-373-0437). Two AA batteries power the M552 HWS, and it interfaces directly to a MIL-STD-1913 rail interface for perfect co-witnessing with the GG&G flip-up front and rear emergency sights, as well as complete compatibility with generation 1 to 3 night vision devices.

It includes a rugged aluminum hood assembly and a knobbed, tool-less mounting bolt. The Model 552 HWS comes with a black anodized finish that has been beefed-up to meet Type III, hardcoat anodization standards.

Partially as a consequence of its easy-to-locate AA batteries, the Model 552 is far and away EOTech's most popular HWS model. This new EOLAD unit is supplied with two AA batteries, a 10-inch remote cable pressure pad switch, pattern generating optics, instruction manual and a black nylon pouch. Infrared models are available to law enforcement and military organizations only.

Without doubt, this is the best EOTech unit of all. It is destined for total dominance of the rapid-acquisition-sight market. The manufacturer's suggested retail price with a visible laser (635nm-5mW) is $1,441. If you don't need or want the laser feature, you can obtain an EOTech Model 552.A65/1 for $539.


The EOTech HOLOgraphic Weapon Sight is a transmission-type hologram and thus projects what appears to be an illuminated reticle pattern directly on the target. Yet no forward light is actually projected. To me, the HWS's most important salient feature is the operator's ability to acquire the target without regard to a cheek weld or consistent alignment of the shooter's eye, the sight's reticle pattern and the target.

No matter how you move your head and eye about, the reticle pattern will always remain in exactly the same place on the target. This is an incredibly important phenomenon, especially when rapid and accurate target acquisition under stress becomes literally a matter of life and death during a firelight.

Mud or other obstructions do not affect the operator's ability to effectively see the reticle pattern and engage targets, even if the display window is almost completely covered. The heads-up display window is 3/8" thick, with three panes of glass bonded together to form a shatterproof laminate. The two outside panes have an anti-reflective coating.


The Model 552 HWS with EOLAD-IV sent to SHOTGUN NEWS for test and evaluation was "equipped with the standard reticle, which is a two-dimensional ring (65 moa in diameter) with tick marks and as center 1 moa dot. Custom reticle are available. The exit aperture is 45[degree].

After adjustment of elevation and windage zero, you simply look through the sight assembly's window; place the reticle image on the target, and fire. The eye relife on the Model 552 HWS with EOLAD-VI is an incredible 1-inch to infinity. Both the elevation and windage adjustments are in 1/2 moa click increments.


In a tactical environment, the operation's peripheral vision is almost unlimited and up to 50% on each side of the target. That's because there is no tube, the reticle window remains close to the eye, and the large reticle pattern neither covers up nor obscures the target. As no light is cast upon the target, there is no signature to compromise the operator's position. Glint screens (sometimes referred to as Anti-Reflection Devices) are not necessary.

The Model 553 HWS has 20 levels of brightness adjustment in the normal visual spectrum. When the sight is turned on, the brightness level is automatically set at the factory to level 12. There is also an auto shutdown mode and the unit will automatically shut itself off eight hours after the last push-button control has been pressed. The user can also program the HWS for a four-hour shutdown mode. As the batteries run down the reticle brightness will remain at the set intensity and then shut down abruptly.

The various components of a tactical weapon system should be matched, each at a level no higher or lesser than any other element in the system's equation. Starting with a relatively lightweight semiautomatic rifle with an 16-inch barrel, designed for self defense scenarios in short-range urban environments, it would clearly be bad judgment to mount a heavy 22X optical sight designed for extreme long range shooting on its MIL-STD-I913 rail interface.

Optics for Accuracy Testing

I have had extensive experience with, and can recommend without qualifications, the riflescopes of three different manufacturers for both tactical applications and benchrest accuracy testing: Leupold & Stevens, Inc. (Dept. SGN, P.O. Box 688, Beaverton, Oregon 97075-0688, phone: 503-646-9171; fax: 503-526-1475; website:; Nightforce (Lightforce USA, Inc., Dept. SGN, 1040 Hazen Lane, Orofino, Idaho 83544; phone: 208-476-9814; fax: 208-476-9817; website: and Schmidt & Bender, Inc. (Dept. SGN, 438 Willow Brook Road, P.O. Box 134, Meriden, NH 03770; phone: 1-800-468-3450; fax: 603-469-3471; E-mail:; website:

All of the above riflescope manufacturers catalog optical sights that match the Benelli MR1 rifle's accuracy potential. I selected the relatively new Nightforce 2.5-10x32mm NXS compact tactical scope, simply because it was on hand and I had never tested it before. This variable-power scope's exactly 4X magnification range (from 2.5X magnification to 10X magnification) closely matches both the MR1 rifle's and the caliber's tactical capabilities, especially so in urban scenarios. Its 32mm objective lens slightly improves the light gathering potential at twilight over the previous model, which has a 24mm objective lens.

Although all Nightforce scopes are set at the factory for average eye strength, the ocular can be focused, if necessary. Turn the power ring in front of the ocular to its highest setting. Briefly, look through the ocular at a beige or white target. If adjustment is required grasp the eyepiece and rotate it counterclockwise, loosening it away from the focus lock ring. Rotate the eyepiece until the reticle is clear and in focus. Lock the ocular by threading the focus lock ring back against the eyepiece.


I used a set of Nightforce Ultralite rings to interface the scope to the Benelli MR1. To clear the MR1 rear v sight, I was forced to use a set of high rings that made a proper cheek weld on the stock quite difficult. These rings - feature CNC-machined 7076-T6 hard-anodized black aluminum bodies and titanium beta series crossbolts and jaws.

This unusual selection of materials provides exceptional strength quite uncharacteristic of most lightweight scope rings. Tests have demonstrated that this combination of materials results in a scope ring stronger than steel. Using a torque wrench purchased from Brownells (Dept. SGN, 200 South Front Street, Montezuma, Iowa 50171; phone: 800-741-0015; fax: 800-264-3068; website:, the ring crossbolts were tightened to exactly 65 foot-pounds. A set of the Ultralite rings cost $160. The Nightforce 2.5-10X24. NXS scope carries a manufacturers suggested retail price of $ 1,345. Nightforce scopes used to be equipped with rubber protective lens covers that were difficult to remove and install in high stress, environments. They are now supplied with see-through, dark neutral density, flip-open lens caps.

Twist and the 5.56x45mm NATO Cartridge

There is still a great deal of confusion about the Ml6 series of rifles, their ammunition and the subject of "twist." What exactly is "twist?" Rifling is the process by broaching, cutting, button pressing, hammer forging or flow forming, by which spiral grooves and lands are formed in a barrel's bore in order to impart a spin to a bullet around its long axis.

The projectile's spin acts gyroscopically to stabilize it, enhancing its aerodynamic qualities and accuracy. Rifling is defined by its rate of twist, which is the distance the projectile must travel down the bore to complete one full revolution. A longer distance means a "slower" twist; meaning that for a given muzzle velocity, the bullet will be rotating at a lower rate.

The combination of weight, length and geometry of a bullet determines the rate of twist needed to stabilize it. Thus, bores designed to propel short, large-diameter projectiles, such as round lead balls, require a very slow rate of twist, like one turn in 48 inches. Barrels designed to fire long, small-caliber projectiles need a very "fast" rate of twist.

The original Colt AR-15 and M16A1 rifles were equipped with barrels having a 1:12 twist to properly stabilize the 55-grain M193 Full Metal Jacket (FMJ) projectile used during the Vietnam War. On 28 October 1980, NATO approved the standardization of a second small caliber cartridge for use within the alliance (STANAG 4172), based on the Belgian SS109 5.56x45mm ammunition.

Three different calibers were represented in the NATO trials: the British 4.85mm (never a serious contender), the German caseless 4.7mm (withdrawn because of cook-off problems) and three 5.56 projectiles (SS109, US XM777 and M193, the latter for control).

Three considerations were paramount: increased long-range effectiveness, semi-armor-piercing potential and a bizarre concern that high velocity projectiles of the M193 type might be restrained by international agreements.

The SS109 projectile, with its more sharply tapered form (ogive), greater weight (62 grains) and hardened-steel penetrator frontal core, offered armor penetration superior to the M80 7.62x5lmm NATO projectile at greater ranges, boring right through the three NATO penetration targets (3.5mm of mild steel plate at 640 meters, and the West German and US steel Ml helmets at 1150 and 1300 meters, respectively).

As the use of body armor on the battlefield was expected to increase, this loomed as an important parameter. Furthermore, improved exterior ballistic stability, which provided greater long-range capability through improved wind drift performance, was not offset by any somewhat anticipated loss in lethality. Extensive tests at Aberdeen Proving Ground indicated that, if anything, the M855 (SS109) projectile had slightly greater lethality than the M193 bullet at ranges past 100 meters.

Ml93 ammunition will perform adequately in the M16A2 with slightly increased long-range potential and little effect upon tumbling a breakup, since the change in barrel twist (from 1:12 to 1:7) has less effect on ballistic stability (yaw in flight) than does the bullet's geometry.

In fact, the barrel twist was principally changed to stabilize the much longer M856 (L110) tracer projectile, which started to keyhole in less than 100 meters through 1:12 barrels and provide an exterior ballistics match between the ball and tracer cartridges.

Eventually, it was determined in the Middle East that bullets up to 77 grains in weight offered superior wound ballistics performance at the longer distances encountered and the 77-grain Sierra MatchKing is now often used by special operations teams.

Bullets weighing above 70 grains will not perform with acceptable accuracy in bores with a 1:12 twist and it's best to use barrels with either 1:7 or 1:8 with these heavier bullets.

The MR1's Accuracy Potential

Gun writers all too often promote the false idea that rifle/scope/ammunition combinations that are capable of .5 moa are relatively common. This just isn't so and so-called "rack grade" rifles such as the Benelli MR1 and almost all others designed for the same application in 5.56x45mm NATO are generating exceptionally accurate results when they shoot 2.0 moa off the bench at 100 meters using a scope of fairly high magnification.

Furthermore, (and I have mentioned this several times in the past and will keep doing so until I'm convinced that the message has been delivered) in the physical sciences, you are not justified in using any more "significant digits" to the right of the decimal point than the least precise measurement in your equation.

Thus, if you cite an accuracy result in Minutes of Angle (or more precisely Arc) for a rifle/scope/ammunition combination out to thousandths (three digits to the right of the decimal point), it signifies that you measured the distance from the muzzle of the rifle to the plane of the target with the same degree of precision. In addition, if a steel tape was used for this measurement, it indicates that you included a correction for the catenary (the curve or bend) in the tape and an additional correction for the steel tape's coefficient of expansion. This is highly unlikely.

For this reason I never quote accuracy figures with a precision greater than one digit to the right of the decimal point (tenths). Professing a degree of precision not warranted by the actual measurements borders on the fraudulent.

Five different loads, featuring projectiles weighing from 55 grains to 77 grains, were used in SGN's test and evaluation of the Benelli MR1 rifle. American Tactical Imports (Dept. SGN, 100 Airpark Drive, Rochester, N.Y. 14624; phone: 800-290-0065 or 585-328-0945; fax: 585-328-4168; e-mail:; website: sent us a small quantity of ammunition with a 62-grain FMJ bullet and a green primer annulus indicating it to be SS109-type ammunition.

The headstamp is "MKE 08," which means it was manufactured by Makina ve Kimya Endustrisi, Kuruma, Turkey in 2008. This is undoubtedly standard Turkish armed forces issue and it generated 2.7 moa groups.

Hornady Mfg. Co. (Dept. SGN, 3625 West Old Potash Hwy, Grand Island, Nebr. 68802-1848; phone: 800-338-3220-or 308-382-1390; fax: 308-382-5761; website: provided three types of its highly regarded TAP (Tactical Application Police) ammunition with 55-grain, 60-grain and 75-grain bullets.

Overall, these loads were the most accurate and consistent, producing group sizes of 1.8, 1.5 and 1.2 moa, respectively. In addition, the point of aim and point of impact were almost identical with all three loads, I prefer the 75-grain TAP load, as it works well with short barrels and demonstrates deeper penetration in soft tissue than the 55- and 60-grain TAP bullets.

Black Hills Ammunition (Dept. SGN, P.O. Box 3090, Rapid City, S. Dak. 57709-3090; phone: 1-800568-6625; fax: 605-348-9827; website: was used to test the 1:9 twist's ability to handle the heaviest 5.56x45mm bullets. Black Hills 77-grain Boattail Hollow Point (BTHP) Special Match using the Sierra MatchKing bullet, and currently in use in Iraq and Afghanistan by special operations personnel, shot to an excellent 1.6 moa.


Caliber: 5.56x45mm NATO (.223 REM).

Method of operation: Gas operated and firing from the closed bolt position, using the ARGO (Auto-Regulating Gas Operated) Twin System of the M1014 combat shotgun having the same rotating bolt head with two locking tugs that engage recesses in the barrel extension, riding in a linked bolt carrier.

Feed: 5-, 29-, and 30-round staggered-column, two-position-feed, detachable box-type magazines.

Weight, empty: 7.9 pounds (3.6kg).

Length, overall: 37.1 inches (942.3mm).


Hornady Mfg. Co., Dept. SGN, 3625 West Old Potash Hwy, Grand Island, Nebr. 68802-1848; phone: 800-338-3220 or 308-382-1390; fax: 308-382-5761; website:

Black Hills Ammunition, Dept. SGN, P.O. Box 3090, Rapid City, S. Oak. 57709-3090; phone: 1-800-568-6625; fax: 605-348-9827; website:

American Tactical Imports, Dept. SGN, 100 Airpark Drive, Rochester, N.Y. 14624; phone: 800-290-0065 or 585-328-0945; fax: 585-328-4168; e-mail:; website:

Optical sights:

Lightforce USA, Inc., Dept. SGN, 1040 Hazen Lane, Orofino, Idaho 83544; phone: 1-800-732-9824 or 208-476-9814; fax: 208-476-9817; website:

Barrel length: 16 inches (406mm).

Barrel: Six grooves with a 1:9 right-hand twist. Bore and chamber are hard-chromed lined.

Finish: The steel components carry a black phosphate finish and the aluminum alloy parts have a hard coat black anodized finish.

MSRP: $1,299.

Importer: Benelli USA, Dept SGN, 17603 Indian Head Highway, Accokeek, Md. 20607-2501; phone: 301-283-6981 or 800-264-4962; fax: 301-283-6988; website:

Holographic sights and magnifiers:

L3 Communications EOTech, Dept. SGN, 3600 Green Ct., Suite 400, Ann Arbor. Mich. 48105-1570; phone: 734-741-8868; fax: 734-741-8221; e-mail:; website:

Gunsmithing equipment:

Brownells, Dept. SGN, 200 South Front Street, Montezuma, Iowa 50171; phone: 800-741-0015; fax: 800-264-3068; website:


Magpul Industries Corporation, Dept. SGN, P.O. Box 17697, Boulder, Colo. 80308-0697; phone, toll free: 1-877-462-4785; fax: 303-828-3469; website:

Key II, Inc., Dept. SGN, 9404 Gunston Cove Road, Lorton, Va. 22079; phone: 1-800-336-4572.

T&E summary: Derived from the Benelli M1014 combat shotgun. Flawless operation, acceptable accuracy potential and exceptionally mild recoil impulse. A well-executed rifle version of a highly successful combat shotgun.

Text and photos by Peter G. Kokalis
COPYRIGHT 2010 InterMedia Outdoors, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2010 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:Benelli MR1; assault rifles
Author:Kokali, Peter G.
Publication:Shotgun News
Article Type:Product/service evaluation
Date:Apr 1, 2010
Previous Article:Deciphering the Court deciphering your rights.
Next Article:Saudi Arabia: from Bedouins to billionaires!

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2022 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters |