By Lewis Potter
Saturday, 11 June 2011
Less showy than its forebears, the lightweight and pointable Weatherby SA-08 performs comfortably as a jack-of-all-trades, says Lewis Potter
The big bang theory meant something different to Roy Weatherby, whose name is best known for adorning a range of rifles and cartridges. The cartridges were always bigger, faster and more powerful than the opposition at a time when the US seemed to revel in excess. What better to go with your 1960s monster seven-litre befinned shooting brake than a Weatherby rifle, decorated with skipline chequering and inlaid with white plastic diamonds?
Things have altered since those days; not only the realisation that rifle cartridges do not have to be big and pointed to be both powerful and efficient, but also that, in a competitive global market, a wider product base is useful in the commercial survival stakes.
So, we have on test a Weatherby SA-08 shotgun, a semi-automatic 12-bore, made in Turkey, that seems almost restrained in its looks compared with what has gone before. True, this model is in mean and moody black and only the name, in white signature script, seems to hark back to those days of bling and lavish decoration. For those of an even more conservative bent there is the walnut- stocked Upland, and for the dedicated wildfowler the Waterfowler sporting all-over camouflage, both of which come with a higher price tag.
Advertised as a lightweight gun, it certainly meets that mark. This 28in-barrelled synthetic-stocked gun weighs in at a little more than 6lb, though expect the walnut-stocked version to be a little heavier and the 26in barrelled gun a fraction lighter.
Handling and balance are always interesting with a light gun; get it wrong and it feels imprecise, choppy to use and a recipe for poking and missing. The SA-08 balances at the front of the long aluminium alloy receiver, meaning it is biased towards the muzzle but stops short of feeling barrel heavy. It certainly does, as claimed by Weatherby, give a smooth swing and good target acquisition.
The length of pull at about 141⁄2in is fairly standard for this type of shotgun. If it feels a bit short then moving the leading hand up the ample fore-end a bit makes up the difference. There is built-in cast to the synthetic stock and drop runs out very much at the average standard of 11⁄2in to 21⁄2in, meaning it will be a reasonable fit for most shooters.
Actually, the more you study the styling of both stock and fore-end, the more you appreciate the thought that went into the original pattern. It has a slim comb, some flare to the pistol grip, clean lines to the fore-end and moulded-in chequering that feels right. As for recoil, this is where a gas-operated gun comes into its own, smoothing things out, but just to be sure, the butt pad is especially well-designed to help tame the gun’s kick.
Superior proofed bore
A gun like this is almost inevitably destined to be a jack-of-all-trades, firing a wide variety of cartridges and shot loads. To that end it comes equipped with two gas valves or, if you prefer, a dual-valve system. Nor is there any possible confusion as to which is which, both being clearly marked. The bore is chrome-lined with a long chamber forcing cone, again a feature intended to help reduce recoil.
Three rather stubby chokes are supplied as standard, in this instance equating to cylinder, quarter and half choke. Superior proofed at the Birmingham Proof House for steel shot and 3in (76mm) Magnum cartridges, one can understand why to much effort has been put into recoil reduction.
Rather unusually there is only one action bar linking the bolt with the operating tube behind the piston, but it is of sturdy design. As for cleaning the lockwork, a single dowel pin retains the trigger-plate in place but it is necessary to hold the bolt-release arm down for reassembly. Otherwise there is little that the semi-auto aficionado would find different to many others of this ilk. The magazine end cap retains the barrel and fore-end and the usual trigger-lock safety is fitted in the rear of the trigger-guard. An alloy magazine completes the main assembly, crimped for two plus one cartridges and certified by the Birmingham Proof House.
Lively under load
Whatever one’s feelings towards semi-autos, whether you like them or despise them, testing is actually quite fun, especially the rapid-firesee-if-it-is-going-to-jam test. For this, the usual mixed bag of fairly new, old and grubby and almost ancient cartridges were pressed into use. Various loads, lengths of case and shot sizes were used, all of which I have to report fed almost faultlessly through the Weatherby. I say almost, as just one cartridge of obscure Continental origin and known to be more than 30 years old did not have quite enough power to send the bolt back on its full travel. I do not think we can blame that on the SA-08. Ejection varied quite a lot depending upon the power of the cartridge used and length of brass at the head. Most were deposited about six feet away, while light loads dropped at about half that distance.
Most of this testing was conducted with the light load gas valve in place, which proved forgiving on a wide variety of general use cartridges. With big loads the heavy load gas valve performed without fault, but you do have to remember to change this when lighter loads are used for reliable functioning.
One thing that almost caught me unawares but did come as a pleasant surprise was the trigger-pull. There is some take-up but this is short and smooth and it tripped consistently at 41⁄4lb, which is unusually light for a shotgun of this type. Recoil, though, was interesting. The design of the stock, butt pad and other features that have been built in to the SA-08 to help tame recoil do work; however, with the hotter loads it is still a lively gun. Not unpleasant — far from it — but quite a bit of muzzle flip that is more noticeable when going for a quick second shot. Otherwise, and especially with 30g loads, it can be fired as quickly as one’s trigger finger can work.
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