The Hatsan Escort Magnum semi-automatic shotgun is the kind of gun that is likely to be preferred by pigeon or vermin shooters but also proved handy on an outing at clays
Semi-autos are either loved or loathed – there does not seem to be any middle ground. Appear with one on even a farmer’s knock-about vermin day and you are in danger of becoming the shoot pariah.
If you take it a step further and use a camouflaged gun, you will almost certainly be considered beyond the pale and, in some people’s eyes, it is about as socially desirable as introducing a well-known young lady of dubious repute to your ageing mother and then announcing you are engaged.
Yet enthusiasts of this type of gun will argue with considerable logic that the semi-automatic or self-loader is the ultimate development of the shotgun, and a side-by-side, no matter how it is dressed up, is just a basic form of repeater. Whatever the arguments, the semi-automatic has never made the same impression on the UK market that the over-and-under has achieved. There are signs, however, that though it is likely to remain a niche market, there is a gradual rise of interest in this controversial type of gun.
A good pigeon gun
The Hatsan Escort Magnum 20-bore on test is made in Turkey by the Hatsan Arms Company and follows the latest trend in gun design. In place of the optional walnut stock and glossy black finish on receiver and barrel with chrome bolt, there is a camouflage with synthetic stock and fore-end, and matt-black for bolt, carrier and trigger-guard; nothing to catch even a glint of sun and advertise your hidden presence to a cautious flock of pigeon. Imported by Edgar Brothers, it is supplied with the company’s own three-year guarantee.
At just 6.1/4lb, the Hatsan Escort Magnum is none too light for a single-barrelled 20-bore, and the action and magazine contribute a shade under 2.3/4lb – more than 40% of the gun’s total weight. With the long action the point of balance is further forward than on a side-by-side, falling almost exactly in line with the front edge of the aluminum alloy receiver.
Latest design features
The stock and fore-end are described as an advanced polymer compound – in other words, synthetic – normally taken to mean strong, light, waterproof and oilproof. The moulded grip panels as a substitute for chequering are very effective and the fore-end is a good shape to hold and long enough to accommodate both short and long leading arm styles of shooting. At 14.1/4in length of pull, the stock would not want to be less for most users, but being able to use the old trick of holding a little further forward on the fore-end meant it did not feel short. The drop at the tip of the comb and heel of the right-handed stock measured respectively 1.1/2in and 2.1/2in, but can be altered by the addition of drop spacers used either singly or as a pair.
The 25.5/8in barrel actually translates to 650mm – a length that leaves the gun looking nicely proportioned. It is proofed for 76mm (3in Magnum) cartridges at 1200bar and the 15.8mm bore size is actually a 20-bore. Slim and gently tapered, with a 6mm wide ventilated top-rib, the one nod in the direction of tradition must be the brass foresight bead. The bore is clean and well finished – an essential requirement to passing British proof – and the breech extension where it locks into the receiver sports a fine machine-ground appearance.
Five screw-in chokes came as part of the package, each marked on the side with the degree of choke. The terms used are not quite the same as the British system and, as choke is a measurement relative to bore size, it was decided to gauge them in comparison to barrel bore. With this set, cylinder was larger than the bore, improved cylinder came out the same as open improved cylinder in our system – ie 0.003in choke – modified as tight improved cylinder (0.007in), improved modified as quarter-choke and full was actually just over half.
How it works
The action of a semi-automatic shotgun is something strange to a lot of shooters used to a completely enclosed boxlock or sidelock. The fact that one can see into parts of it seems unusual, but it is no great mystery. On firing, the bolt opens, ejects the spent case and cocks the hammer. Almost at the same time a cartridge is released from the magazine and lifted up by the carrier for the bolt on its return stroke to chamber in the breech. What is amazing is that all this happens in the blink of an eye, while the gun is in a variety of positions and sometimes under quite adverse conditions. Looking at it like that, surely the semi-automatic shotgun is worthy of some respect?
Trigger lock safety
One thing that is a little awkward is the trigger lock safety button located in the rear of the trigger-guard and operated with the tip of the trigger finger. With practice it can be used quickly. However, the action is not as natural an action as pushing a tang safety forward with the thumb while the trigger finger reaches forward towards the trigger and, of course, it is not automatic. In many shooters’ eyes, a trigger lock safety such as this is only a halfway house and inferior to other types. No safety system should be relied on. It is a mistaken belief that they are foolproof, as most side-by-sides and over-and-unders with safetys of more complicated and sophisticated design only lock or disconnect the trigger, leaving the hammers at full cock.
A right-handed gun
With the safety button pushed left for off and the ejection port on the right, this is essentially a gun for the right-handed shooter. However, I do know of left-handed users who cope quite well with ejected cases flitting across their line of sight, so it is not necessarily a bar to ownership. You cannot bend a synthetic stock, as might be done with walnut, but it is quite a simple matter to make spacers to alter the cast.
Fast and reliable
On an outing at clays the gun proved handy, with enough forward bias to promote a smooth swing. The Hatsan Escort Magnum engendered sufficient confidence to shoot the driven bird stand with the tightest choke fitted. The trigger pull was a little longer than expected – not an unusual set-up with a semi-automatic – but if I wanted to shoot competitively, I think I would get a gunsmith to tune it for me. For general purpose it was acceptable and, more importantly, safe.
One of the bugbears of the older generation of semi-automatics was selecting cartridges to get reasonable reliability. When put to the test, this tidy little 20-bore performed exceptionally well. With three different loadings and five makes of cartridge, some of indeterminate age, including a few paper cased, feed was faultless and ejection impressive, throwing spent cases up to 20ft away from the user. Only on a couple of occasions did the bolt fail to lock after the last shot was fired.
The Hatsan Escort Magnum is likely to be preferred by pigeon or vermin shooters and a benefit would be to have the unrestricted magazine version giving four instead of two in the magazine, plus one in the chamber. For anyone wanting to take the capacity further, a magazine extension tube is available as an extra, increasing the capacity to seven plus one chambered. A firearms certificate would be required for both these versions.
It might be a different world, that of the semi-automatic shotgun and, compared to the double gun, new loading/unloading techniques and safety procedures have to be learned. However, that should not put one off – they are not dangerous, just different, and actually great fun.