A semi-automatic big-game hunting rifle that’s sleek, slender, and ultra-accurate, Benelli’s R1 Big Game is ready to meet the needs of any hunter on any adventure.
by Jace Bauserman
I cut my teeth waterfowl hunting, and there was a time when I wouldn’t trade a pump-action shotgun for anything. I loved having to manipulate the dual forearm slides between each shot.
Having to pump between rounds slowed the shooting process down and made me lethal.
Then, 12 years ago, I picked up a semi-automatic shotgun. Wow! The semi-automatic was a game-changer. I loved the feel, the balance, and the shotgun’s ability to cycle spent shot shells quickly. The gun rarely jammed; if it did, it was my fault. I need to get better at cleaning my waterfowl guns. The bottom line: I shot my semi-automatic shotgun more accurately than my pump. I could drop more doubles and triples, and because I learned to be patient with a pump shotgun, I could take my time.
Just The Opposite
My experience with hunting rifles was the exact opposite. The first rifle I shouldered to prepare for my first elk hunt was a semi-automatic .300 Win. Mag. I liked that rifle. It was light and streamlined, but with no muzzle brake and its airy build, it kicked like a mule. Plus, there were times, twice that I can recall, when the action malfunctioned and the rifle jammed.
I found with a semi-auto rifle, I shot too fast, and because the caliber abused me, I shot faster. I wanted the experience to be over.
Then, I found bolt-action rifles. Like my old pump shotgun, I appreciated having to work the bolt between shots to manipulate the action and push a round from the magazine into the chamber. I discovered I was more accurate with a bolt-action rifle, and aside from owning and testing a few AR-style rifles, I haven’t fired a semi-automatic hunting rifle since my .300 Win. Mag.
I have tested and hunted with several of Benelli’s Lupo Bolt-Action Rifles and have been impressed, especially with the BE.S.T Lupo line. The Lupo rifles are uber accurate and shoot well off the bench, from shooting sticks, prone, and offhand.
Naturally, I was excited when Benelli’s model 11778 R1 Big Game Rifle arrived at my FFL. Who doesn’t want to test and tinker with a new firearm?
What I was nervous about, as I digested some of Benelli’s online ink about the R1, was its semi-automatic build. Again, I’m a blot-action rifle lover, and it would take some serious performance to sway me back to a semi-auto, or even consider one for hunting.
The Benelli R1 Big Game Rifle
Several things demanded my attention when I put the R1 Big Game in my hands. First, the rifle was short, compact, and light. Second, the look of the stock, the build of the action, and the rounded and gridded forearm reminded me of Benelli’s flagship shotgun, the Super Black Eagle 3.
I didn’t hate that. The Super Black Eagle 3 is one of the best semi-automatic shotguns I have ever shouldered, and it’s a nightmare for waterfowl and other game.
I also appreciated the oversized trigger guard with a slim, curved trigger. The safety sits in front of the trigger and is in a solid location for easy manipulation. The action-release lever is located directly in front of the safety, and the magazine release makes up the front of the trigger guard. I love all that functionality situated in one place.
The Stock & Forearm
The stock on the R1 Big Game is a ComfortTech design. I cheer the stock’s narrow throat and gridded grip, and you can’t beat the integrated-into-the-stock shock-absorbing chevrons. These shock absorbers work with the ComforTech Gel Recoil Pad and Comb Pad to reduce recoil and keep you glued to your scope or sights.
The forearm is slim and sleek and matches the rifle’s build perfectly. The forearm helps support the free-floating cryogenically treated barrel, and I love the gridded underside of the synthetic forearm. The design promotes a good grip and excellent fit and feel. The stock and forearm are fitted with sling studs.
Ready … Action!
The R1’s action resembles and functions like Benelli’s M4, a military-style shotgun used by the United States Marine Corps. If the design of an action is good enough for combat-ready Marines, it’s good enough for any in-the-field situation.
The action features an auto-regulating, gas-operated (ARGO) system that works successfully with centerfire rifle cartridges. The gas-operated system features a three-lug rotary bolt, and the gas cylinder is positioned to allow for a shot operating rod. This design means flawless cycling each time you pull the trigger and reduced recoil.
Magazine & Action
Chambered in .308 Winchester, I slid four Norma BondStrike Long-Range Hunting cartridges into the magazine’s steel body. I love the Matte Black Base design with the steel body, and injection and extraction of the magazine are a breeze.
Be sure to have your hand on the bottom of the magazine when you press the release button. If you don’t, the magazine will squirt out and hit the ground. When you re-insert the magazine, there is a positive click.
With my magazine loaded and inserted, I worked the action by pulling the action lever back toward the stock. The action is smooth and exact. After pulling back, I let the lever go, and the bolt head grabbed a round and slammed it firmly into the chamber.
If the magazine is empty and you manipulate the action lever, the action will hold in place and not come forward until you pull back on the action lever while pushing down on the action-release lever.
Recoil & Accuracy
Benelli went to great lengths to reduce felt recoil. Although the rifle lacks a muzzle break and weighs 7.1 pounds without optics or sights, the ARGO system and CombTech stock configuration negate it.
Chambered in .308 Win., this rifle is enjoyable to shoot, and I applaud the ComforTech Comb Pad. This pad feels excellent when in your optics, and at the shot, reduces face slippage, and while working to negate felt recoil, keeps you in the scope.
I shot model #11778 out to a distance of 325 yards. The rifle is highly accurate, and every shot from this distance, once sighted-in, was within three inches of the bullseye, which means Sub-MOA accuracy. I chalk this accuracy up to the rifle’s overall build. Still, I promise the free-floating barrel and its attachment to the steel upper receiver are the main reasons for this rifle’s tack-driving ability.
The trigger breaks crisp — there is no creep — so there is no pre-shot anticipation.
I worry when I can’t manipulate an action between shots. However, I put 75 rounds through the R1 Big Game after sighting in, cleaning, and fouling the barrel. I didn’t experience a single jam, and several times, for testing’s sake, I pulled the trigger as fast as possible. Each time I pulled the trigger, the action functioned flawlessly.
I did give the rifle a good cleaning after 75 rounds, and though dirty, it wasn’t terrible. However, taking excellent care of your R1 Big Game Rifle is essential. When you can’t work a bolt, you must take extra special care to ensure you’ve giving the semi-automatic action a chance to work as advertised.
A Great Spot-and-Stalk & Saddle Gun
I shot Benelli’s R1 Big Game prone, offhand, from a bench, etc., for over a week. The rifle carries well, shoulders brilliantly, and has uncanny accuracy.
Slim, light, and sleek, this rifle is ideal for toting around the Rockies or the deer woods. I also like it for a saddle gun because of its 22-inch barrel and 44-inch overall length. The rifle will fit in about any sheath or scabbard, and when you have a firearm with a slim build, it pulls effortlessly when needed.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m still a bolt-action rifle guy. However, time behind the R1 Big Game taught me some things. First, semi-automatic hunting rifles like the R1 Big Game have come a long way in design and function. Two, Benelli has taken its success with its SBE 3 shotguns and poured that technology into its semi-automatic rifles, which is brilliant. Third, I would have zero objections to taking this rifle on any big-game hunt.