Gun test: Breda B3.5 SM semi-auto

Mike shooting the Breda B3.5 SM

Mike shooting the Breda B3.5 SM - Credit: Michael Yardley

This month, Mike Yardley is testing the Breda B3.5 SM – a reliable workhorse that’s smart, well-proportioned and easy to clean, all at a competitive price point. An ideal shotgun for keepers!

This month, the magazine had a keepering theme, so I thought I would find us an all-round gun that might appeal to keepers and others who work in the country. I came up with the Breda B3.5 SM – the initials standing for Super Magnum. It's a 3½" (89mm) chambered, inertia-action semi-auto. It comes in various guizes, but the model I chose, imported by Viking Arms of Harrogate, is only available in the UK in black synthetic form with a 30" barrel (there are all sorts of other models and barrel options made by Breda, however).

Breda B3.5 SM semi-auto

Everything on the gun is black, even the trigger! - Credit: Michael Yardley

First impressions of the B3.5 
...are that it is very black! Everything is black, even the trigger blade. It might be mistaken for some Benellis, although the point might also be made that Breda, a long established firm nestling in the hills above Gardonne, have long been innovators in the area of inertia-powered guns. I believe they hold 
(or held) some key patents in this area too.

I remember many years ago (40+) having the Breda version of the Browning A5 as a very enthusiastic and very young user of repeating shotguns. It was a well-made thing reminiscent of a Browning A5 with old-style collet-type multi-chokes. It’s a long time ago, but my memories of it were positive. I soon made my way to a Webley 701 though (a lovely gun that I should never have parted with).

I am not usually a great fan of ‘black guns’; nevertheless, I liked the Breda from first handling it. I was struck by its smooth lines and surprisingly good balance for a repeater. It hits the scales at 7½ lb – ‘medium’ in the 12-bore weight stakes. It all felt and looked right, moreover. Although utilitarian in its appearance, it gave an impression of being solid and business-like, which some cheaper repeaters don’t. The plain black styling suited it.

The gun comes up to face and shoulder well, with a slim fore-end and a tightly radiused but ergonomic grip, which secures the rear hand efficiently and is not too big. There is no palm swell, but the rubberised finish on all stock surfaces gives excellent purchase without any sense of stickiness. I also liked the 6mm raised and ventilated sighting rib, the position of the bar type safety to the rear of the trigger guard, and the generously proportioned bolt-release handle and over-sized bolt release catch. Both bolt handle and release would be ideal for use with cold fingers or gloved hands.

The barrel is superior steel-shot-proofed with a CIP S (the new Superior mark) and fleur-de-lys markings. The forcing cone is of medium length and the bore is marked at 18.3mm, which might be a little tight but is the old European standard 1(8.3 equates roughly to 720 thou, whereas most guns today are 18.4, 5 or 6 (.724-732 thou)). I have always harboured the prejudice meantime that ‘over-bored’ guns are a little softer in recoil. They work best with plastic skirted wads though, so if you are venturing out on very cold days with fibre loads, a tight bore may serve you better.

The Breda is multi-choked as you would expect (5 longer pattern tubes are supplied), and the barrel is very sligthly flared at the muzzle to accommodate them (you would not easily tell without the vernier gauge I used to check them).

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The stock on the test gun is made of fibreglass, according to Breda’s advertising literature as far as I can decipher it, and coated with a polymer coating that improves purchase. The shapes, as mentioned, are particularly good. 

The length of pull is a little short for mid-year use at 143/8", but probably fine for most when wearing bulkier winter clothing. The drop measurement on the butt was 1½" relative to the rib axis at the nose of the comb and 2¼" to the rear, where you will also find a soft 
black recoil pad about an inch (25mm) thick.

Breda B3.5 SM semi-auto

This is an intertia-operated gun with rotating bolt head, similar mechanically to a modern Benelli - Credit: Michael Yardley

Technical
This is an inertia-operated gun with a rotating bolt-head. As such, it is quite similar in mechanical specification to a modern Benelli (earlier Benellis did not have a rotating bolt head). My memory with Breda guns goes back a long way, as discussed. The men generally credited with inventing the inertia gun, however, are Carl Sjogren circa 1900 and Bruno Civolani who partnered with then motorbike makers, Benelli, in 1967.

The inertia mechanism here is well evolved, and beyond that the Super Magnum is well put together and handles nicely as mentioned. The inertia mechanism allows for less weight forward. Rearwards here, there is a breech-block with ‘rat’s tail’ which compresses the usual tube-return spring in the butt. I am told, moreover, that the mechanism may be gunsmith-adjusted for lighter loads by removing a coil or two of the recoil spring (I am not advocating you experiment). But as you will note, I had no issues with 28g, 70mm case loads. 

Breda B3.5 SM semi-auto

The generously proportioned bolt release handle and over-sized bolt release catch would be ideal for use with cold fingers or gloved hands - Credit: Michael Yardley

Shooting impressions
I shot the 3 1/2” Breda at my usual test venue - Fennes in Essex - with my usual partner in crime, longstanding shooting pal, Paul Payne, a former airline pilot, all-round good egg, and keen clay shot and wildfowler. We started on a teal and driven stand, before moving to the Skeet layout. The day was made a little special because it was our first clay shoot since since January. Nice to be pulling a trigger again, and the sun was shining!

The Breda, which had a half choke in it, shot really well, better than I expected. On a quite tough, long-range Sportrap sequence I managed to go straight, which was comforting, especially as I had not shot for a while. The balance was good and the gun with a 30” barrel pointed exceptionally well. The grip and fore-end were well shaped too and purchase and muzzle control were excellent.

Any issues? This long chambered gun did not like 67.5mm cartridges, but recycled 70mm Lyalvale Express shells without problem. I did note that recoil was a little higher than with a gas operated repeater. Overall, though, I thought this an excellent working gun, built to last. It was smart and well proportioned, easy to take-down too, and, competitively priced at £1,299.

My thanks to Lyalvale Express for the cartridges used in this test.

Breda B3.5 SM semi-auto

This long chambered gun did not like 67.5mm cartridges, but recycled 70mm Lyalvale Express shells without problem - Credit: Michael Yardley

We like
* The balance and pointability
* The easy to clean inertia mechanism
* The first class handling

We don’t like
* It won’t cycle with 65 and 67.5mm cases, it’s dedicated to 70mm and longer.
* Recoil is a bit higher than gas operated guns (but not uncomfortably so)

Tech specs
Make: Breda
Model: 3.5 SM (Super Magnum)
Bore: 12
Barrel: 30” (only option on this model in the UK at the moment)
Chamber: 3 1/2” 
Proof: latest CIP superior for steel
Action: inertia with rotating bolt-head
Multi-choked: yes, 5 longer type tubes supplied
Rib: raised and vented 6mm
Weight: 7 1/2 pounds

RRP: £1,299