A versatile gun that's popular with pigeon and vermin shooters but also proves itself handy on a clayshooting outing
Semi-autos are a bit Marmite. You either love them or hate them. There’s no grey area.
Turn up with one and you could become the shoot pariah, even if the event if a farmer’s knock-about vermin day.
Don’t even start me on a camouflaged gun. In many people’s eyes that will put you beyond the pale.
However, there are a band of enthusiasts for this type of gun and it’s revealing to hear why they are so supportive.
They will say – with considerable logic – that the semi-automatic or self-loader is the ultimate development of the shotgun. Whereas a side-by-side is just a basic form of repeater.
A niche market
The fact is that the semi-automatic has never made the same impression on the UK market as the over-and-under. However, despite being something of a niche market gun, there do seem to be growing sparks of interest in this controversial type of gun.
A useful 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. The design means that there is nothing to catch even a glint of sun and betray your presence to a flock of pigeon. It is imported by Edgar Brothers and supplied with the company’s own three-year guarantee.
At just 6.¼lb, 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.
The fore-end is a good shape to hold
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. It is also long enough to accommodate both short and long leading arm styles of shooting. At 14.¼in 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 1.½in and 2.½in, 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 perfectly 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.
In the blink of an eye
Many shooters find the action of a semi-automatic shotgun rather odd, being used as they are to a completely enclosed boxlock or sidelock. Being able to see into parts of the shotgun seems strange. 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. This all happens in the blink of an eye, while the gun is in a variety of positions and sometimes under quite adverse conditions. So surely by performing like that the semi-automatic shotgun is worthy of respect?
Trigger lock safety
I did find the trigger lock safety button a little awkward, located in the rear of the trigger-guard and operated with the tip of the trigger finger. It comes more quickly with practice. However, I didn’t think the action was as natural 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. Of course, no safety system should be relied on. They are not fool proof, 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.
Essentially a gun for the right-handed shooter
With the safety button pushed left for off and the ejection port on the right, this is really a gun for the right-handed shooter. Although some left-handed users manage ejected cases travelling across their line of sight. 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.
The gun proved handy
I took the gun out clayshooting where it performed usefully, 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. If I was going to shoot competitively with this gun I would probably get a gunsmith to tune it for me. But for general use it was safe and acceptable.
The older generation of semi-automatics could cause problems selecting cartridges to get reasonable reliability. But when I tested it out, 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.
I think that pigeon and vermin shooters are likely to prefer this gun. One 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. For both these versions you would require a firearms certificate.
The semi-automatic shotgun is a different world and compared to the double gun, new loading/unloading techniques and safety procedures have to be learned. However, that should not put the user off – they are not dangerous, just different, and actually great fun.
Importer Edgar Brothers
The Hatsan Escort Magnum is likely to be preferred by pigeon or vermin shooters