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Winchester X3 Field 20 bore

Already a fan of Winchester’s SX3 semi-autos, Mark Stone turn’s his attentions to the new 20 bore version and finds a sub-gauge shotgun with big bore aspirations

Regular readers will already be aware of the fact I regard Winchester’s SX3 semi-auto as one of the best on the market, and sales figures back my judgement. Launched at IWA 2010 as one of their show specials, the uptake was instant and after shooting one it’s perfectly understandable - the immediate appeal of this SX3 is evident the moment it’s in your hands. The other beauty of this 20 bore is that it still embodies the 12 bore ethos of function, form and reliability.

All you need

Within the familiar Winchester red cardboard carton is everything you’re likely to need. Besides the gun and a set of three flush fit Invector Plus multi-chokes, extra butt spacers and stock shims are also included along with a trigger lock and sling swivels, all in for £999 - not bad considering the quality of what you’re actually getting. Equally, since this is a Field grade Winchester, both stock and fore-end are actually made of wood although it’s reasonably safe to say it probably isn’t walnut, the brownish-grey semi-matte finish being slightly unusual. Similarly, whilst the chequering is neatly cut and comfortable, the fine lines of the fore-end can look slightly at odds with the deep, oversized patterning of that on the pistol-grip, the two distinct patterns meant to separate the differing levels of grip required by the shooter’s individual hands.

Coat of arms

The metallic grey receiver, 26” back-bored steel proofed barrel and tapered magazine cap all come complete with Winchester’s ‘Ultra Tough Cote’ finish. Besides being distinctive and attractive, the coating is one of the most resilient currently out there – and it’s set off nicely by the small red receiver flash that’s the SX3 trademark. Able to withstand almost anything you’ll be able to throw at it, a quick wipe down quickly restores this SX3 to like new, a major benefit for those who like to shoot in less than ideal conditions.

Remove the fore-end and you’re face to face with the technology that’s made the SX3 the success it’s become namely the Active Valve System. Taken to its basics the system allows the gas piston and valve to operate independently, the valve able to adjust accordingly dependant on the size of load being discharged, so varying the pressure applied to the short-stroke piston itself. From the shooter’s perspective this means all SX3s (not just this 20 bore) are some of the fastest recycling gas powered semi-automatics currently available and one of the main reasons this supposed hunting gun is so exceptional when it comes to clay shooting… and you don’t have to do anything except keep it clean.

The layout of the receiver is as you’d expect, the release for the single-claw, two- piece rotating bolt located below the ejection port, the solid loading gate’s shallow detent allowing for easy loading of the two or optional four rounds into whichever magazine tube you have fitted. What you also notice is that there’s no visible bolt lock - the SX3 doing this for you - all the shooter need do is pull the bolt firmly out of battery for it to lock in it’s most rearward position. Apart from that, the familiar cross-bolt safety situated to the rear of the trigger guard are all the controls the shooter needs, the SX3 taking care of everything else. All you now need to do is shoot it. 

Quicker than you are

Heading over to Rishton SG, I genuinely wondered if this diminutive Winchester was up to the job, since my diary indicated it was the day of the ground’s monthly competition. Screwing in the ¾ choke and loading up with a pair of Express’ new 24g Super 20 Gauge filled with 7½’s, the little SX3 made remarkably short work of the four pairs. The reason is that it looks exactly where you do, and for me it’s flat to shoot. Like its record-breaking big brother, it’s impressively fast in all forms of it’s response to the shooter’s input and demands, an instant feeling of familiarity from the word go.

Similarly it’s the right weight and size. Weighing 6lbs 9oz with the point of balance just over an inch behind the 3” chamber the 20 bore SX3 imparts its balance the moment you pick it up. Likewise, for a sub-gauge the dimensions are full sized offering a length of pull measuring 14½” although the trigger break of 7lbs 2oz although crisp is a fraction heavy. The stock is also quite interesting in that besides the deep thick rubber recoil pad that does an excellent job of dialling out heavy load recoil, the comb is virtually parallel, drops at comb and heel measuring 1 5/16” and 1 9/16”. Unusual in a modern shotgun, the benefit is that the shooter’s view over the 6mm vented rib remains the same irrespective of how accurate gun mount might be, often a problem during hectic moments in a pigeon hide.

Efficient, fast with just the right amount of feedback whilst shooting, this SX3 soon demonstrates why a well balanced 20 bore is the equal of any 12. Likewise, the gun’s ability to recover between shots is exceptional even when using heavier game loads, the hallmark of a shotgun that’s had thought put into both the design and dynamics.

All I would say is that dependant on target type, sensible switching between ¾ and ½ choke is an idea since the tighter of the two is a tad more restrictive than its measurement would suggest. On distant targets the ¾ is devastating but for live quarry, it could end up giving you quite a few ‘oven ready’ birds if you’ve taken them close in. Basically, for anything less than twenty-five or so yards, use ½ choke. The kills will be just as impressive but slightly more forgiving.     

Purpose in life

At first you’d be forgiven for wondering the exact purpose of the SX3 in 20 bore. Over in the States, the SX3 Field is a more than acceptable game gun, but woe betide you turn up on a pheasant shoot with it here in England. But although we can’t technically use it for what it was meant for doesn’t mean this small gauge Winchester isn’t without a variety of purposes. As a deceptively good clay gun it verges on spectacular when it comes to skeet, whilst it’s sporting prowess not far behind, the handling and balance combined with the shorter barrel length uniting into a shotgun that’s an absolute joy to shoot, rendering the 28” tube option almost redundant.

Over the years the 20 bore has become the gauge of choice for the serious pigeon shooter and is positively de rigueur when it comes to intensive dove shooting in South America. Want to know why? Then give the 20 bore SX3 Field a try, and if you use the fact that you’re buying it for your son, daughter or wife to shoot with then you’ve cracked it. Yes, it costs £60 more than the 12 bore equivalent, but 20’s nearly always cost more than 12’s, but I guarantee after you’ve fired a couple of boxes of ammo through it, the rest of the family will be lucky to ever see it, let alone get their hands on it!

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Technical Specifications
Model Winchester SX3 Field
Type Semi-Automatic
Calibre 20 bore
Capacity 3 x 20 bore cartridges
Barrel 26” multi-choke
Price £999 SRP

All Prices Are Guides Due to the Changes in US & European Exchange Rates

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Winchester X3 Field 20 bore
Winchester X3 Field 20 bore
Winchester X3 Field 20 bore
Winchester X3 Field 20 bore
Winchester X3 Field 20 bore
Winchester X3 Field 20 bore
Winchester X3 Field 20 bore
Winchester X3 Field 20 bore
Winchester X3 Field 20 bore
Winchester X3 Field 20 bore
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