The Battle of the 20 gauge Autoloading Shotguns
Part One (Mossberg SA20 and Weatherby Element)
I love to hunt with twenty gauge autoloaders and have done so for fifty years. Here, we are going to look at two affordable models with familiar nameplates, Mossberg and Weatherby. The Mossberg SA-20 is tested in the walnut / blue trim, with a 2017 discount retail price of just under $500. While the Mossberg is gas-operated, it goes up against the recoil-operated (inertia) Weatherby Element Waterfowler (camo) model that runs about $650. Both are made in Turkey: the Mossberg by Armsan, the Weatherby by ATA. Both are three inch chambered twenty gauge autoloaders tested with 26 inch barrels.
THE TALE OF THE TAPE
The Mossberg SA-20 weighs 6-1/4 pounds and has a 6-3/4 pound trigger pull. Although Weatherby claims on their website that this model weighs 6-1/4 pounds, it is actually over a quarter pound heavier at 6 pounds, 9 ounces and has a 6-1/2 pound trigger pull.
The Mossberg SA-20 comes in a foam-lined hard case, with gun sock type sleeves inside for both the barrel and the action / butt stock. The Weatherby is shipped in a cardboard box.
The Mossberg comes with five Mobil-choke style choke tubes. The Weatherby comes with three standard Invector style choke tubes.
The Mossberg has a brass front bead; the Weatherby has a green tubular bead. Both the Mossberg SA-20 and the Weatherby Element are offered in cheaper, black plastic stocked models. The Element is also available with a high grade walnut stock that retails for approximately $820.
Weatherby has no written warranty, but promises to stand behind their products. Mossberg has a one year written warranty on the SA-20.
Both the Mossberg SA-20 and the Weatherby Element are easy to load. While perhaps unremarkable in the case of the Mossberg, many 20 gauge inertia guns are real thumb-busters, as is the case with the previously reviewed Benelli M2 and the Franchi Affinity models. The Weatherby Element does not have this obnoxious problem.
The Mossberg has a thin, soft durometer pad with a hard heel insert. While the Weatherby has a bit thicker, curved pad.
SAFETIES AND TRIGGER GUARDS
Both shotguns have small safeties, however the triangular Weatherby safety is truly dinky. The trigger guards on both shotguns are plastic.
STATED LOAD CAPABILITY
The Mossberg SA-20 manual oddly states, "This 20 gauge semi-automatic shotgun is chambered for 3 inch magnum shells. It is designed to be used with factory loaded shot shells between 2-3/4" (15/16 oz.) and 3" (1-1/4 oz). The standard 20 gauge target load is 7/8 ounce, not 15/16 ounce.
Weatherby says nothing specific, only that the 12 and 20 gauge models are capable of feeding and firing both target and hunting loads up to 3 inches in length (unfolded).
Armsan and ATA are two of the better Turkish makes, as far as autoloaders are concerned. Weatherby uses primarily ATA, but also uses Armsan in their SA-08 28 gauge. Mossberg uses Armsan in this SA-20.
Both shotguns are well balanced and fit similarly; both fit me well, as supplied. The Weatherby Element has a bit longer overall length, to be expected with a conventional inertia gun that typically has a longer receiver than gas guns. Weatherby has done a good job with the grip panels that they call Griptonite, just as on the previously tested 12 gauge Element.
My expectations for a good hunting 20 gauge are pretty basic. I expect a modern 20 gauge autoloader to function with 7/8 ounce, 1200 fps loads for some clay target fun and also to function flawlessly with 1-1/4 ounce pheasant loads. In part two, we will see what happens.
Part Two (includes Benelli M2 Comfortech and Browning B-80)
Due to a large number of requests, the original Mossberg SA-20 / Weatherby Element comparison has been expanded to include the Benelli M2 Comfortech and a vintage Browning B-80. Both the Browning B-80 and the Benelli have been well-used, part of my regular group of pheasant hunting shotguns, where the Mossberg SA-20 and the Weatherby were factory new.
The lightest of the group is the 24 inch barreled Benelli M2 at six pounds on the nose. The Mossberg and Browning B-80 both weigh 6-1/4 pounds and the Weatherby Element hits 6-1/2 pounds.
FUNCTION WITH TARGET LOADS
The target load used to test function was Remington American Clay & Field 7/8 ounce, 1200 fps loads. The Browning B-80 has a three inch chamber and normally needs one ounce or heavier shells for perfect function. It did work with the Remington Clay & Field loads, but failed to hold the bolt open after the last (third) shot and failed to eject the third shell a few times. This is to be expected with Browning B-80 / Beretta 302 / Beretta 303 series 20 gauge guns. If you want reliability with 7/8 ounce loads, use a 2-3/4 inch chambered barrel.
The Benelli M2 and the Mossberg SA-20 had satisfyingly strong ejection with 7/8 ounce target loads. The Weatherby Element had no failures to feed or eject, but the ejection was on the weak side, which improved a bit the more it was fired.
FUNCTION WITH PHEASANT LOADS
Fiocchi 1-1/4 ounce, 1200 fps Golden Pheasant three inch (unfolded) length shells were used in all four shotguns with no failures to feed or eject.
The Mossberg SA-20 was the softest shooting 20 gauge of the bunch, edging out the Browning B-80. This is attributed to the better recoil pad supplied on the SA-20, as B-80s come with a rubber butt plate that I would hesitate to designate as a recoil pad at all. The two gas guns won in the soft shooting department.
Only the Browning B-80, no longer in production (made from 1981-1988), has a good factory trigger, breaking at just under four pounds. The Benelli M2 had an excessively heavy trigger. Both the Mossberg SA-20 and the Weatherby Element have factory triggers that exceed the weight of the guns themselves.
The Weatherby Element has a tiny triangular shaped rear of the trigger guard cross-bolt safety that is excessively stiff. All of the other shotguns' cross-bolt safeties are easier to use.
LOADING THE TUBULAR MAGAZINE
Benelli 20 gauges have a history of being thumb-busters and my example was no exception. Benelli suggested I take a hammer to the shell-stop! I asked them to do it and they did, significantly improving the situation. Still, the M2 is stiff-loading compared to the other three shotguns in this comparison, as is the Franchi Affinity.
Mossberg and Benelli have the best of this group. The curved pad of the Weatherby Element would be difficult to replace, as is the goofy notched pad of the Franchi Affinity. The B-80 has a stiff rubber butt-plate, not much of a pad at all.
OVERALL VALUE and A SURPRISE WINNER
The Mossberg SA-20 is not only the most economical of the current product 20 gauges, it is also the best value and the best overall. It is blued and walnut, comes in a padded hard case, has factory shims included and five Mobil-choke style choke tubes. The bolt closes briskly and with authority, with no suspicion of sluggish bolt syndrome. Prices do vary, of course, the individual dealer sets the price, but I have recently seen them selling for around $500 and there is no 20 gauge autoloader from a name-brand company that competes with it.
Mossberg in conjunction with Armsan has really upped their game with the SA-20. If the nameplate on the gun was Browning or Beretta it would be a $1200 shotgun. The Benelli M2 Comfortech 20 gauge, a shotgun I have extensively hunted with and very much enjoy, has a current retail price of about $1450.
It is a very rare, but fortuitous, circumstance when the most affordable shotgun tested turns out to the most desirable. This is indeed the case with the Mossberg International SA-20.
Copyright 2017 by Randy Wakeman. All rights reserved.