Beretta AL391 Urika 2 Gold 20 Gauge Shotgun: A Non-Review
One of the typical comments directed at gun-writers is that they, “never met a gun they didn’t like.” Sure, you hear it all the time, although the people saying it apparently do not have the will, the skill, or the passion to take it upon themselves to right (or write) the perceived wrongs. I cannot tell you that I enjoy writing less than flowery prose about any firearm, or any firearm company, for that matter. I suppose reviewers have to make that decision on their own. It is very rare when a company shows callous disregard to the safety of their customers, as in the sad case of CVA muzzleloaders, but they are a sordid anomaly when it comes to an industry that rightfully takes great pride in what they produce, an industry all too often under wrongful attack by an ungrateful government and culture that their products help to protect.
As a matter of course in evaluating firearms, I tend to receive many problematic firearms. Bad triggers, bad wood, Tupperware stocks, shotguns that do not shoot to point of aim and poorly finished wood that often does not match. New guns have arrived with bluing that isn’t all there, forcing me to wonder how such a gun could ever rate “99% condition,” when it is only 90% before use.
Beretta’s rather expensive (the 2009 MSRP is $1,550.00) AL391 Urika 2 Gold 20 gauge autoloader with a 26-inch barrel was obtained in September 2008. Over the years, I have had very good success with Beretta gas operated shotguns and I have reported just that in "Beretta Urika 2 Shotguns" and "Beretta AL391 Urika 2 Gold 12 Gauge Autoloading Shotgun." The 391 Urika 2 Gold in 12 gauge configuration was a fine performer with no issues, despite some puzzlement about its over-engineered forearm nut and certain other design features. There was no reason to expect a dramatic change in the 20 gauge version, but was I ever wrong.
After a normal light cleaning, it was off to the range with the 20 gauge Urika 2. Though Beretta claims their autos do not need to be shot-in, many of them do. Not unique to Beretta, virtually all semi-autos tend to smooth out with a little use. Immediately, this Beretta was a single-shot. Not with promo loads, ultra-light loads, or “managed recoil” loads, but with 1 oz. Super-X (high brass) 20 gauge loads. It was jam-o-matic city, shot after shot. It was easy to take photographs of the Beretta’s failure to feed, as it did little else. It jammed a dozen consecutive times.
A visual inspection revealed nothing obviously wrong, so my suspicion turned to the ammunition. A bad lot of ammunition cannot be ruled out. Therefore, several other 20 gauge guns were fired with the same lot of ammunition. Among these were a Browning B-80 (made for Browning by Beretta), Browning Gold and a Beretta A303. Zero malfunctions with all of these 20 gauge shotguns, including a Browning A-5 Mag 20.
Therefore, it was back to breaking-in, this time with 1-1/4 oz. Fiocchi Golden Pheasant loads and beefy Winchester 1-5/16 oz. three inch shells. Ejection was fierce, as was the recoil. After the potpourri of heavy loads, it was back to the 2-3/4 inch, one ounce Super-X loads. I cannot tell you that the Urika 2 jammed with every shot; it did not. However, it still jammed with amazing regularity, more often than not failing to feed the next round. The second round typically just laid on the shell carrier while the bolt slipped past, missing the base of the shell and stopping while still three-quarters of the way open.
All right, time to get in touch with Beretta. After several phone calls, where I was assured that someone would be getting right back to me . . . you guessed it, no return calls. I eventually talked with many nice people at Beretta, but received no help. As a result, this 20 gauge Urika 2 missed dove season and missed pheasant season languishing in its blue box, awaiting instructions from the Company that were coming “any day.”
September turned into November, then December, and 2008 turned into 2009. In January, at the SHOT Show in Orlando, the situation was discussed with the always friendly Beretta folks. I was assured that as soon as they got back from the SHOT show, I would be told to whose attention I should send the malfunctioning gun. After that, more silence.
Finally, after another month of inactivity, I received a phone call from someone at Beretta with whom I had not previously spoken. I was told that this jamming was not normal and the gun would be turned around a day or so after I sent it in. The AL391 Urika 2 Gold was delivered to Beretta (in Accokeek, MD, USA) on 03/10/2009 at 9:33 A.M. The package was signed for by “ATKINS.” Naturally, it was well-marked to the proper person’s attention with a detailed letter enclosed describing the problems along with supporting pictures. Unfortunately, no further communication from Beretta was forthcoming.
On 3/24/2009, I received a form letter from Beretta dated 03/12/2009, informing me "An evaluation will be performed to determine if your firearm is or is not under warranty." The letter continues, "If your firearm is no longer under warranty, you will be charged a $70 evaluation fee." Finally, "Please allow two to three weeks from the date of receipt for repair and delivery. **Please note**: This time frame may change without notice due to circumstances beyond Beretta’s control."
Maybe you wonder why sending guns to gunwriters for review is generally a good deal for the manufacturers. A full page color-ad in American Hunter magazine may set you back $50,000 or so, whether anyone reads it or responds to it. Full-color catalogs and mass-mailings cost a lot of money and not everyone believes ad-copy or catalog hype. Sending out a firearm that is consigned and returned (or that you hope the writer buys for his personal use) is not much of an investment. Consider that the manufacturer pays no range fees, buys no clays, buys no ammo, supplies no gasoline and contributes no great amount of time to the review. If the result is a glowing review from a trusted source, the upside is obvious. For the writers that have never had a firearm malfunction or a problem of any kind, well, you can draw your own conclusions.
No firearm company is perfect; we are all fallible in this fallible world. I have had as many “fallibles” as most people—maybe more. Good customer service sells guns. It’s the difference between buying a lottery ticket and buying with confidence. Browning, Ithaca, Remington, Ruger, Savage, all of these gun companies have had guns come off the production line that were not completely right. However, they have moved quickly to make things right, to their great credit.
When it comes to the Beretta family of companies, there is a problem. I don’t believe that my little example is an isolated instance; there is just too much evidence to the contrary. I cannot blame the individuals I know at Beretta, they do their job as best they can and try to pay the bills, as we all do. There is a limit to what can be done without adequate resources. Beretta Management has apparently found that limit. It looks to me like that "500 Years, One Passion" is in peril. It is one thing to admire the Trident, but quite another to be pricked by one.
I promised you a “non-review” and hopefully you feel I have delivered on that promise. To those who spew that "gunwriters have never met a gun they didn’t like" I can only comment: Oh, really? In any case, I do not think anyone would be delighted with this level of customer disservice. Here at Guns and Shooting Online it is our responsibility to write for our readers, the people spending their hard earned dollars and pulling the triggers. My experience with the 20 gauge Beretta AL 391 Urika 2 Gold needs to be reported, and so it has been.
Copyright 2009 by Randy Wakeman. All rights reserved.