By Todd Burgreen –
What comes to mind if a hunting or sporting rifle is mentioned? This author would venture to say an image of an exquisite wood stock and high blue finish bolt action appears. An alternate image that may come to mind is the popular Modern Sporting Rifle (MSR); i.e., an AR. AR rifles are versatile, easily accessorized and suitable for a wide variety of recreational, sport shooting and professional applications. While ARs were quickly embraced for varmint hunting, caliber expansion has steadily grown in popularity with hunters for larger-sized game as well. However, each thought would be wrong.
A manufacturer that is developing into a noteworthy force in the United States for multiple firearm types is Benelli. The recent introduction of the LUPO (Italian for wolf) bolt-action rifle surely served notice to existing hunting rifle providers. That’s right: Benelli, the noteworthy shotgun maker, is now offering a bolt-action rifle. To be clear the LUPO is not Benelli’s first foray into the centerfire cartridge rifle genre; the Benelli R1 semi-automatic rifle holds this distinction. The R1 was definitely influenced by Benelli shotgun ergonomics in its design. Frankly, the R1 did not take hold in the AR-dominated U.S. market; however, the Benelli LUPO is a different animal.
The Benelli LUPO is not intended for the tactical/sniper role—hunting is its realm. The Benelli LUPO is a well-balanced, 7-pound bolt action. The LUPO tested herein was chambered in .270 Win. with a 22-inch barrel. Other current chamberings are .30-06 and .300WinMag, with 6.5 Creedmoor, .308 Win. and .243 Win. also planned. Benelli invested 4 years into the LUPO’s birth. While graceful, stylish Italian lines are clearly present on the LUPO, Benelli’s design elements require an in-depth exploration to appreciate what the LUPO offers.
The LUPO’s two-piece stock puts you on notice something is different with the Benelli bolt action. The buttstock is attached behind the trigger guard à la shotgun. No surprise here considering Benelli’s background. The LUPO utilizes a vibration-absorbing, slightly compressible, rubber insert for the comb. Benelli labels this a Combtech System cheek pad. A bit of give in the Combtech cheekpiece mitigates the recoil’s slap against the shooter’s cheek and jawbone. Different height inserts are available as an accessory for the cheekpiece.
Benelli’s Progressive Comfort® recoil reduction system is found within the buttstock. This is a series of recoil-slowing baffles, in addition to the rubber pad on the butt. All are very effective at minimizing perceived recoil. The Progressive Comfort recoil reduction system incorporates three sets of patented, interlocking, flexible buffers that absorb recoil at different stages. If you cut away away the outside of the stock, you would see the three sets of polymer interwoven fingers that interact during recoil cycle. Lastly, the LUPO’s stock can be adjusted for drop, cast and trigger reach via included shims. Spacers are also available for different length of pull requirements. Shooters can achieve a customized fit out-of-the-box with the LUPO without requiring expensive gunsmithing.
The LUPO’s stock is a blend of machined-aluminum chassis and composite furniture. A mini-chassis serves as an anchor for the upper receiver containing the action and extending out the forend, securing the free-floated barrel. With its Italian flare for design, the LUPO does not come off as a blocky, unwieldy affair as most chassis-based designs do. The trigger guard is set at a distinctive angle compared to other more traditional bolt actions. Benelli feels this positions the shooting hand and wrist at an angle more conducive to accurate field shooting.
The LUPO three-lug bolt requires a 60-degree bolt throw. Several important nuances surround LUPO’s bolt. It is chrome-lined for easy maintenance. The sleek profile of the bolt narrows in the center giving the detachable magazine more space underneath. This allows for a five-round capacity versus the more typical four rounds. The detachable magazine fits neatly inside the chassis, not protruding out the bottom. This decision was made to maximize the ergonomics of the LUPO. How many times afield do you carry your rifle with your hand under the action? A lot. The LUPO’s detachable magazine can be loaded while still being in place inside the rifle. This is a nice touch. The curvy bolt handle adds to the LUPO’s graceful lines while maintaining functionality of scope clearance and fast functioning.
LUPO barrels are cold-hammer forged and then subjected to Benelli’s proprietary Crio® System deep-freeze treatment that makes the steel’s surface structure more uniform. The barrel interfaces with the action via an oversized 1.205-inch-diameter barrel extension found on the receiver. The barrel tapers down to 0.655 inch at the threaded 5/8×24 muzzle.
This is where the .270 Winchester (.270 Win.) comes into the story. The .270 Win. has been around since 1925 and has generated a dedicated following. What is not to love about a 130-grain bullet at 3,100+ feet per second? While the 6.5 Creedmoor is certainly the hottest-selling center-fire going currently, in my opinion the 6.5 Creedmoor does not equal the soon-to-be, 100-year-old .270 Win. as a pure hunting cartridge. The difference lies in case dimensions which allows for higher velocities to be obtained with .270 Win. 130- or 140-grain bullets. Simply put the 6.5 Creedmoor cannot equal velocity or downrange energy yields of the .270 Win. at typical game engagement distances thanks to the .270 Win.’s larger case dimension.
The Benelli LUPO was put through its paces in a triumvirate testing format: square-range accuracy; fluid, interactive jungle-walk scenarios; and in-the-field hunting. While each provides useful data, the ability to use the LUPO for an extended amount of time in the field is what solidified its high standing for this T&E.
An important part of the accuracy equation is a quality optic to go along with the cartridge and rifle. A Leupold Mark 5HD™ 3.6-18x44mm was chosen for use with Benelli LUPO. While, certainly not inexpensive with a $2,300–$2,700 MSRP, comparative searches with other manufacturers with similarly featured front focal plane (FFP) optics show the Mark 5HD coming in about $800–$1,000 lower in cost. The Mark 5HD is designed for the multi-discipline shooter, not just tactical applications. Let us get into the details of what distinguishes the Mark 5HD from other optics. First off, the size and weight of the 35mm tubed Mark 5HD 3.6-18x44mm stands out in a positive way. The Mark 5HD 3.6-18x44mm weighs in at 26 ounces. This is 20 ounces lighter than many competitors’ offerings with the same features. The Leupold Mark 5HD measures 12.6 inches long.
Another important optic feature that is hard to quantify is “eye box.” Without getting into the minutia of technical definitions researched, eye box is a scope’s tolerance to side-to-side, up-and-down and eye-relief misalignment. This is a very important consideration for real world applications when an optic mounted on a rifle is taken afield, and the sterile range atmosphere disappears into more chaotic scenarios. Leupold has created an eye box with the Mark 5HD allowing for superior edge-to-edge clarity and showcasing details at longer ranges in the widest spectrum of weather and lighting conditions. Eye relief and generous allowance for head position eye box is a top Leupold priority when it comes to user/optic interface with the Leupold Mark 5HD.
LUPO to the Test
Good marksmanship in the field starts with confidence. Confidence is built through firing a rifle that is not overly punishing and is inherently accurate as demonstrated from the bench. A rifle that shoots well off the bench offers the shooter no excuses or alibis when serious practice includes using field shooting positions or shooting in the woods. LUPO accuracy testing was conducted using Black Hills Gold 130-grain TSX, SIG SAUER® Elite 140-grain Controlled Expansion Tip, Sierra 140-grain TGK and Hornady® 130-grain SST® Superformance® and GMX® Superformance loads. Bench testing was done off of a Caldwell® tripod front rest and rear sandbag. All of the various ammunition loads produced groups no larger than 1 inch with most in the ¾-inch range. This is impressive and reflective of LUPO quality. The accuracy figures are based on firing five, three-round groups and averaging group sizes. Not a lot of time was spent at the bench on Echo Valley Training Center’s (EVTC) 100-yard range. There are more indicative evaluations for a hunting rifle than merely firing from a bench at a 100-yard target.
The LUPO’s buttstock allows for a good cheek weld that aids in handling recoil by preventing a “slap” of the face that is more typical of the jaw welds found on a lot of rifles when scopes are used. The Benelli LUPO proved potent on the EVTC “Jungle Walk” range at Echo Valley Training Center (EVTC) with targets placed at 30 yards and out to 240 yards. The ability to move through its varied terrain and engage randomly placed targets hidden within cover suited the Benelli LUPO perfectly. Multiple shots were fired at most of the targets. The emphasis was on accurate shot placement and how the LUPO’s smooth recoil impulse facilitated follow-up shots. If lucky, the hunter will be able to adopt a kneeling or sitting position in lieu of shooting purely offhand. A BOG™ DeathGrip tripod proved invaluable for this part of the evaluation. It was eye-opening how stable this author could make a sitting or standing position using the BOG tripod.
The 7-pound, 22-inch barrel LUPO proved easy to handle with no searching for a target required when the rifle was brought up to the shoulder. A spare magazine on the belt or pocket allowed for efficient reloads by simply releasing the empty LUPO magazine and swapping a loaded detachable magazine. Another option was to insert rounds directly into the empty magazine after exposing it via opening the bolt. The LUPO proved to be at home on EVTC’s Known Distance Range #2. Steel targets out to 520 yards were engaged with the LUPO from the prone position.
The timing worked out for using the Benelli LUPO during the recent whitetail hunting season along the West Virginia/Virginia border. The rugged/steep terrain is ideal for the lightweight, yet accurate LUPO bolt-action rifle. The rifle is highly accurate for hunting from stands or ground blinds with shots across wide open clearings, yet handy for spot/stalk techniques. Most do not realize that even with the relatively short ranges involved in thick timber hunting, pinpoint accuracy is crucial to find a shooting lane. A month in the field with the LUPO served notice that it is worthy.
The Benelli LUPO is the cutting edge of bolt-action rifle technology, combining many innovative features with time-proven, accuracy-producing enhancements. The LUPO’s distinctive aesthetics immediately puts one on notice that this is not an ordinary rifle.
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|This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V25N4 (April 2021)