Benelli MR1 Review: An Italian Coyote Rifle
We live in a global economy. My television was made in China, my new camo jacket in the Philippines, my truck was designed in Japan but built in Tennessee and now I have a coyote rifle from Italy. Of course, Italian firearms aren't anything new, some of the finest guns made originate from the land that gave us spaghetti. The US Marine's combat shotgun for more than a decade has been the semi-auto Benelli M4 (military name - M1014). Its reputation has been built on their ultra-reliable ARGO (Auto Regulating Gas Operated) system. That same gas system has now been adapted into a semi-auto rifle in 223 Remington and I've been successfully hunting coyotes with one. For this review, we're going to take a look at the Benelli MR1 rifle.
The rifle is designated as the MR1 and when mine arrived I was prepared to follow my normal routine of taking it apart to see how it works. That wasn't necessary with the MR1 as it arrives already field stripped. The assembly manual is well illustrated and printed in seven languages, so most people should have no problem putting it all together. Be warned, however, it is far more complicated than your bolt action rifle and if taking the bolt in and out of your deer rifle is a challenge for you, this may not be your gun.
With the Benelli MR1 assembled I recorded some vital statistics. These are my measurements, not factory numbers: weight with no scope and empty magazine - 8 lbs 2 oz; overall length - 41.5 inches; barrel length - 20.12 inches; length of pull - 14 inches; trigger pull - 5.5 lbs; rifling - 6 grooves with a 1 in 9 inch right hand twist. I also checked the barrel's interior with a bore scope and found a beautifully finished barrel with no tool marks and a cleanly cut chamber, throat and crown.
The rifle I received came with a five shot magazine patterned after the universal AR-15 design, which means most such magazines should fit. I tried three different brands, all with metal bodies, and all worked fine. Once you hit the appropriate button, the magazines drop free easily, but the rifle design is such that you won't be dropping magazines with your trigger hand unless you completely break the firing grip. Instead, the rifle seems designed to drop magazines with the thumb of the non-firing hand, while simultaneously catching them. This release is ambidextrous as is the bolt hold-open latch.
The MR1 comes with a competent set of iron sights that are probably best labelled as back-up sights. This is reinforced by the presence of an optical sight mounting rail along the top of the receiver. Considering I needed to do some accuracy testing with the rifle and wanted to take it hunting, I didn't spend much time with the iron sights, but moved straight to mounting a scope. The only snag in that plan was removal of the rear sight, which is held in place with two T-15 screws that proved to be so solid I broke three Torx drivers trying to get them out, with no success. Neither moderate amounts of heat nor impact helped budge them, and the rifle's loaner status prevented me from getting more violent. The good news is you don't really need to remove the rear sight to mount a scope, the bad news is the scope you want to put on may have to be mounted extremely high to clear the rear sight. Either that or you'll be making a small donation to your gunsmith's daily expenses and having him remove the sight.
As is, the MR1 is perfectly suited for a short, low magnification, red dot sight that fits completely between the iron sights. Not having one of those handy, I went the other direction and mounted a Burris 6-18X varmint glass. It worked great, because the extremely long tube of this model allows the ocular end of the scope to hang out beyond the rear sight and gets the optics down low where they belong.
The Benelli MR1 Rifle
I started shooting the Benelli with an assortment of six different factory loads, and with bullets ranging from 50 to 79 grains I figured on finding something the rifle's 1-9" twist barrel liked. Some days however, things don't work as expected and the MR1 didn't like any of what I had available. By my count that leaves at least fifty more 223 Remington loads from the major ammo makers to try, so I'm sure factory ammo shooters can find something their particular rifle might like. Instead of buying more ammo, I turned to handloads and things started to percolate when the diet became Nosler 60 grain Ballistic Tips, fuelled by Varget powder.
I'm of the opinion that fifteen recorded shots are needed to report a true indication of a rifle's accuracy potential. Although that's a tough standard, I am willing to go with any combination; such as one group of fifteen shots, three of five shots, or five of three rounds each. Using this standard, which is admittedly tough, the MR1 fired five consecutive three shot groups that averaged 1.26 minute-of-angle. If I took the single best three shot group I could report sub-minute-of-angle performance and maybe with a more finely tuned handload the rifle will do that. But I'll stick to reporting meaningful averages of what the rifle actually shot.
In any case, that's plenty good enough for coyote hunting so away I went. With the rifle sighted in at 200 yards, the results were entirely what I expected. Whenever I put the crosshairs on a coyote and did a good job of squeezing the trigger, the result was a pile of fur on the ground. The rifle handles and carries well and by the time I returned the rifle, I had taken seven coyotes with it; the furthest being a 220 yard female I missed with the first shot but dropped with a quick follow-up. It was a fine example of how a semi-auto can sometimes bail a guy out of a sloppy first shot. This is also a good time to mention the rifle's reliability, which in my experience has been perfect. With all the different kinds of ammunition and magazines used, there was never a single malfunction of any kind. The only time it stopped shooting was when it ran out of ammo.
The MR1 rifle occupies a unique position in that its design is based on a shotgun. Offhand, I can't think of any other rifle with that sort of lineage. But pigeon-holing this rifle is tough. Its matte-black color and sturdy build suggest military, but the shotgun style safety and other features indicate a sporting firearm. I think the answer lies in the modular nature of the rifle and the fact Benelli already has three different buttstocks, several barrel lengths and an assortment of rails and fore grips available. In short, the rifle can be whatever you desire. It can be configured into a tactical package or can be a sporting rifle.
The rifle I tested, was somewhere between those two. Like most modern semi-auto rifles, the receiver splits into two pieces, with the lower being the serial numbered part; therefore Benelli could theoretically make upper assemblies in different calibers and configurations and market those to people who already own MR1's. And beyond that, I'll bet the aftermarket industry is already measuring up this rifle for an assortment of parts. It'll be fascinating to watch what the future holds for this gun and even more fun to shoot it.
Al Voth is a lifelong hunter and shooter who recently retired from a career in law enforcement and now splits his time between forensic contracts and freelance writing. He is the author of two novels, B-Zone and Mandatory Reload; and blogs at www.coyoteschool.blogspot.com.