By: Don Brunt
Don Brunt is the first to get his hands on a new semi-auto that comes from a company with plenty of heritage
The Weatherby brand has been around since 1945 when founder Roy first made available his hard hitting and fast shooting .257 Weatherby Magnum cartridge. His first production rifles were based on FN-built Mauser actions. Having worked with others including Sako over the following years he designed his own action in 1958; the legendary Mk V which is still in production today alongside his more affordable Vanguard model which was a joint venture with Howa based around the Japanese company’s model 1500.
Perceived initially as something of a luxury brand, Weatherby has made great efforts to offer a line of products to suit all pockets and although you can easily spend £7,000 or more for a high grade Mark V there are budget options available and the company has followed this strategy with its line of shotguns. Current offerings consist of pumps and semi-autos made in Turkey, as well as re-badged O/Us and side by sides produced by Fausti in Italy.
Sportsman Gun Centre has added the brand to its already large portfolio and is importing the SA-08 semi-auto in three versions - the Upland wood- stocked, the Synthetic (on test) and the Waterfowler in a camo finish.
As befitting a gun aimed squarely at the budget end of the market the SA-08 arrives in a simple cardboard box rather than an ABS case, but then how many people actually use such cases? I know I don’t!. Assembling the gun is straightforward enough and goes together like most other semis on the market. Once together the lines are clean enough, and unsurprisingly it looks similar to other Turkish semis available in the UK. In fact if you squint a little you can see a resemblance to the 300 series Beretta autos of years gone by, which was the basic pattern for other makes of Turkish semis. The gun looks both functional and well put together, you don’t buy a gun at this price to put it on your wall as a work of art, it’s a workhorse and its how it performs that matters.
Function over form
As far as its functionality the SA-08 is a gas/piston mechanism though don’t expect it to be a cutting edge piece of design like the Beretta Xplor or Browning Maxus. It uses a dual valve system to get around the issues inherent in trying to shoot either very light or heavy loads through a semi auto, for heavy loads simply fit the valve marked ‘heavy loads’ and for light loads…well I am sure you can guess the rest….
Changing the valves doesn’t take more than a minute or so, even with gloves on it’s a simple procedure that could be done in the field! But in considering the likely uses of the gun (pigeons, wildfowling or clays) the chances are you will probably set it up before embarking on a day’s shooting. Once you have set it up for your ammo it functions well and in the limited testing carried out at Wylye Valley it didn’t fail to cycle once. However the Weatherby literature is quite upfront about the fact that the gun will not cycle with loads running at less than 1325fps, so if you want to use sub-sonic loads then this isn’t the gun for you! Having said that few but the latest designs are able to cycle that kind of ammunition. The O-ring which can be something of an Achilles’ heel on guns of this type is not fitted directly on the magazine tube; instead it is housed within the gas port cylinder so there are no concerns about it getting accidentally pulled off or damaged during cleaning.
The trigger system continues the theme of basic but solid engineering with a pull averaging around 4lbs. The feel as with most other guns of this type and price is not what you would call particularly crisp, but is quite adequate. The safety catch follows the industry standard of being a cross-bolt push button at the rear of the trigger guard and it operates in a positive manner, leaving you in no doubt as to whether it is on or off. For those who shoot on the muddy foreshore the entire trigger group drops out for cleaning and maintenance simply by knocking out a push pin.
Loading the gun is done in the usual manner though there is a hold open/magazine cut-off button mounted on the front left of the trigger guard to allow you to unload the chamber whilst leaving the magazine full whilst crossing obstacles etc. Though its operation could best be described as a little fiddly, however owners will soon become accustomed to it with use.
Roll out the barrel
The 28” barrel has a pleasant matt finish, sensible considering the life that most of these guns lead and is topped by an 8mm ventilated rib; at the business end is a solid brass bead. The bore itself is chrome-lined for longevity and has the added benefit of long forcing cones, improving both the quality of the patterns and helping reduce recoil. A definite plus point when shooting heavy 3” cartridges! Choking is provided by three, screw-in tubes offering Improved Cylinder, Modified and Full which use the square cut notch driving system. They are identified in the usual manner; by the number of notches cut in the rim. Both the barrel and chokes are proofed for steel though only up to Modified, as is the industry norm.
Get a grip!
The stock and forend are a black synthetic material, which feels robust though is perhaps a little on the cheap side between the hands, however remember what you are paying and it is soon forgotten. On the plus side the grips do what they should and even during some heavy rain at Wylye there was no danger of me losing my purchase on the gun, the slim forend being very comfortable to use. Those who have small hands may find it a bit of a reach for the trigger as the thin grip is some way back, though those with large hands who prefer a big chunky grip may feel it’s a bit on the skinny side. These criticisms are however a little unfair considering that it is priced towards the bottom of the market and synthetic stocks are generally speaking built on a compromise principle. Length of pull is a fraction under 14 ½” though still manages to feel a bit short when in the shoulder (as do most auto’s) Drop being 42 and 62 mm at Comb and heel respectively.
Proof of the pudding……
Out on the range the gun feels lively enough, with a slight, barrel-heavy bias that does it no harm whatsoever. Autos can require a lot of driving but this one when swinging felt quite easy to use. Target acquisition was good via the cross cut rib and mounting was pretty much trouble free too, the thickly padded recoil pad being well shaped to avoid snagging. As with the Maxus we tested recently it performed well on the skeet range, delivering good patterns and managing rapid changes of direction with ease. Long targets require a little more focus than when using a double gun as might be expected, but they broke well enough and the light weight at 6 ¾ lbs would be unlikely to cause fatigue even on the longest of days in the field.
Overall the Weatherby is a good solid performer, as they say - it does exactly what it says on the tin and it does so without fuss or drama. In value for money terms it offers a great deal and I would be surprised if it doesn’t become a high volume seller in the budget auto market. Take it for what it is and you won’t be disappointed, on the contrary you may be pleasantly surprised!
• Robust and well put together
• Uses a well proven design
• A lot of gun for the money!
|Action||Gas Operated Semi-Auto|
|Chokes||Multichoke 3 supplied|
All Prices Are Guides Due to the Changes in US & European Exchange Rates