By Chris Jennings
The white beams of our headlamps knifed across the frost-covered pea field as 10 of us, counting the camera crew, began setting decoys in the predawn darkness. We had come to Alberta to kick off Beretta’s Torture Tour, a five-stop odyssey through North America’s finest waterfowling destinations with the goal of putting the new Beretta A400 Xtreme Plus through the rigors of duck and goose hunting in all kinds of conditions.
We were hunting in the parklands, a transitional landscape where the Prairie Pothole Region gives way to the Boreal Forest. The area is a patchwork of rolling hills, large and small wetlands, scattered woodlands, and the first agricultural fields—mainly of wheat, barley, and peas—that ducks and geese flock to as the fall migration gains momentum.
The owner and operator of Ranchland Outfitters, Rob Reynolds has guided waterfowl hunters here for nearly 25 years. Throughout much of the year, he serves as a realtor, cattle rancher, and energy company contractor, but he always takes time off from September through November to share the bounty of Alberta’s abundant waterfowl with visiting hunters, many of them from the United States.
“A half-hour north of us is the beginning of the Boreal Forest, and from there it’s nothing but forest, lakes, and wetlands all the way to the tundra,” Roberts explained. He also pointed out that wolves, bears, and moose are prevalent in the area, but it’s the ducks and dark geese that have his attention in the fall.
“People come up here for the field hunting, which is pretty good,” Roberts added in his typically understated manner.
Digging through the decoy trailer, Alex Lang, a Missouri native and avid duck and goose hunter, handed me a slotted bag of full-body Canada goose decoys. As I turned toward the goose silhouettes already placed in the field, Lang yelled out to Reynolds, “Where do you want us to put these full bodies?”
“Put them back in the trailer,” Reynolds replied. “The ducks are going to be in here. I really don’t think it’s going to matter.”
Lang and I chuckled as Reynolds went back to positioning silhouettes, but we soon learned that he was right—it really didn’t matter.
With the wind at our backs, flocks of mallards and pintails poured into the decoys before shooting time. Silhouetted against the red early-morning sky, swarms of ducks put on a show the likes of which few of us had ever seen.
As the spectacle unfolded, I snatched a box of 3-inch 3s off the blind floor, dropped a round into the A400 Xtreme Plus’s chamber, and sent the bolt home. I fed two more shells into the magazine just as Reynolds called to check if everyone was ready. The bird-watching part of the Beretta Torture Tour was over. Moments later, a flock of more than 50 mallards and pintails squared up on the spread, half of them reared back on their tailfeathers as they pitched into the decoys at close range.
“Okay, everybody . . . kill them if you can!” Reynolds yelled.
Designed for Waterfowling
The new Beretta A400 Xtreme Plus is a gas-operated autoloader, which at 7 pounds, 10 ounces is slightly heavier than many contemporary duck guns. Personally, I like the added weight and the gas system. For me, the heavier gun swings more smoothly and offers greater barrel stability, and the gas system eats up recoil. These features helped me put more follow-up shots on target. The A400 Xtreme Plus is chambered for 3 1/2-inch loads, but on that beautiful Alberta morning, we could have gotten by with 2 3/4-inch ammo.
Erik Stern, product manager for the A400 Xtreme Plus, played a pivotal role in the gun’s development. He joined us in Alberta to watch the gun go through its first field test. “This has been a very personal project for me and being able to be here makes it even better,” Stern said. “I knew this group was full of experienced shooters who had handled many different shotguns, so when I started hearing immediate positive feedback about some of the changes, it was very rewarding.”
Between flights of ducks, Stern walked us through the gun’s modifications and upgrades. Beretta basically took the A400 and rebuilt it from the ground up, always keeping the gun’s ultimate purpose in mind: waterfowling.
We got in plenty of shooting as flock after flock of mallards and pintails, mixed with a few Canada geese, dove into the field spread. It took less than two hours for all of us to fill our individual limits of mallards and pintails.
After the hunt, Justin Leesman of Gunpowder Inc., who was hosting the hunt on Beretta’s behalf, asked, “Have you ever seen ducks commit like that? That was just unbelievable. Talk about a strong start.”
A Goose Gun
The afternoon was set aside for geese. Boxes of 3-inch BBs were handed out and silhouettes were spread in a U shape, with the blind centered just upwind of the decoys. Skeins of large and small subspecies of Canada geese crisscrossed the horizon, and the first few flocks decoyed in close. With wings cupped and feet down at 25 yards or less, the geese didn’t offer us many difficult shots, but switching to slightly heavier loads provided a good opportunity to test how the Beretta Kick-Off system reduces recoil.
As the afternoon sun moved through the patchy clouds and across the sky, the scales tipped in the birds’ favor. Approaching flocks began veering right or left of the spread as shadows grew behind the blind. Our shots became sportier and the ranges extended to 40 yards. By luck or pure genius, Reynolds managed to decoy a few small flocks of lesser Canadas, and we rounded out our dark goose limits well before the end of shooting time.
Our group spent the next few days hunting ducks and geese in swathed wheat and barley fields, taking full advantage of the area’s incredible numbers of waterfowl and becoming more familiar with the Beretta’s many features. The diverse landscapes and hunting styles—from layouts to trailer blinds—allowed us to bag a variety of species, including white-fronted geese, lesser snows, and even a few confused scaup that mistakenly buzzed our field spread.
“This was impressive,” Reynolds said of the gun’s performance at the end of the trip. “I’ve seen so many guns malfunction up here, especially with the high volume of shooting, and adding layout blinds to the mix introduces a new layer of issues. It can get hectic, and there’s nothing worse for a guide than for hunters to have gun problems. I asked everyone on the hunt, and no one had an issue. I look forward to putting the A400 Xtreme Plus through the ringer for a full 60 days next year.”
Ducks Unlimited Gun of the Year 2020
The Beretta A400 Xtreme Plus has been selected as the Ducks Unlimited 2020 Gun of the Year. The DU Gun of the Year will be available at DU events nationwide beginning January 2020. Find a DU Event near you.