Weatherby SA-08 Deluxe 20 Gauge Autoloader
This is the first Weatherby brand autoloader I've had the chance to review in many years. It is apparently made in Istanbul, Turkey, by Armsan or ATA. Armsan has been defined as collaboration between Khan and ATA. Although I was advised that this model was from Armsan, that seems unlikely, as it is clearly not a version of the Armsan A620, but instead appears to be essentially an ATA “CY Walnut” model using the captured forearm and the ATA trademark pair of gas pistons, one for light loads and one for heavy loads.
The test gun sent along by Weatherby is a media pool gun, quite obviously previously reviewed, with very small scratches and handling marks on the wood finish, a prominent barrel line from normal wear, wear to the barrel extension and a flagrantly fouled “heavy” gas piston. It is not unusual for Weatherby test guns to be used, as they set aside a limited number for media reviews. Three choke tubes were supplied; the IC and MOD inscribed tubes from stainless steel, the FULL choke apparently from carbon steel. On the test gun, the barrel is threaded for standard Browning Invector (WinChoke) type choke tubes.
This Weatherby SA-08 26 inch barreled twenty gauge is light for a gas-operated auto at six pounds on the nose. Many of the autoloaders I've tested, Turkish and otherwise, have been equipped with ridiculously heavy triggers: triggers with a pull weight far heavier than the gun itself. Thankfully, that isn't the case here, for after substantial initial take-up the trigger breaks at an average of 4 pounds, 1 ounce. The SA-08 Deluxe has a 2013 MSRP of $799, but actual retail prices are in the $650-$675 area. The synthetic version is $599 MSRP, with the typical retail price about $100 less. There is, in general, a lot to like about this shotgun.
The walnut stock, which is getting increasingly hard to find in affordable guns, is attractive. The forearm and butt stock are evenly matched in color and grain. The barrel blued finish is evenly applied and a very nice change from the rough, unfinished matte barrels that are increasingly common. The factory recoil pad is more generous than most, a fairly soft durometer, and is well-fitted to the butt stock. Overall, the SA-08 Deluxe is a sharp-looking autoloader, markedly better finished than the vast majority of value-priced shotguns. It shaves a quarter pound (or more) off the weight of most gas-operated self-loaders, equaling the six pound weight of the Franchi Affinity and Benelli M2 twenty gauge plastic-stocked, recoil-operated autoloaders. Here are the basic specifications for the SA-08 Deluxe models:
The light/heavy dual gas piston set may be puzzling to some, but I think it is an excellent and sorely overlooked approach. The gas piston does nothing different than a Remington 1100, Mossberg 930, Beretta 303 or Browning B-80 gas piston. Thus, one fixed/solid piston cannot possibly control bolt speed and resultant ejection distance with dramatically different shells. In times past, the idea was straightforward: you bought a 2-3/4 inch chambered gun for the most part, opting for a three inch chamber (or just an extra barrel) if you intended to shoot heavy hunting loads. However, some folks have been grousing a ever since, as they bought a three inch magnum gun, but want to shoot light target loads out of it, regardless. The solution is to drill out a gas port or buy the proper, 2-3/4 inch barrel.
The problem with drilling out a gas port is that it is a one-way trip: it is hard to sand metal back on. You've turned your three inch chamber shotgun into a gun suitable for lighter loads, but one that can break links and generally shake itself to pieces if given a steady diet of heavy pheasant loads, much less a few two ounce, three inch lead loads. With a new gun out of the box, there is no way to tweak it for the smoothest, most vibration and stress free operation.
For doves with a 20 gauge, I'm typically using 15/16 ounce B&P F2 loads, a bit more energetic than generic 7/8 oz. target type loads, or one ounce loads. Using the "heavy" Weatherby piston with B&P shells, the test gun yielded a 3-4 foot ejection distance, essentially perfect. I would use the heavy piston most of the time, changing to the light piston only if using lighter payload or lower velocity loads.
Although very light for a gas auto, this six pound gun is a creampuff to shoot. The subjective recoil is reduced by the gas operation, heavy piston and excellent recoil pad.
The only operational point of note is the shell lifter release, found on the left side of the receiver. I found it easiest to use (which you won't do very often) by wrapping my forefinger around the front of the trigger guard and pushing back. It is easy to get used to.
With the Weatherby's fast handling, light weight, attractive walnut, polished blue barrel, well-finished and soft durometer recoil pad, as well its satisfactory factory trigger, it is the first autoloader of Turkish origin that I can recommend. For a sharp-looking walnut-stocked self loader, delightful to carry with no aftermarket trigger work or replacement recoil pad needed, it is a lot of gun for $650 2013 dollars. The synthetic-stocked versions go for somewhere around $150 less. The choice is yours, but the walnut is my preference.
Copyright 2013 by Randy Wakeman. All rights reserved.