Who would have believed, in the first years of the 21st century, that Webley & Scott would be marketing a range of semi-automatic shotguns?
While diehard enthusiasts of the name may be quick to point out that they are made for the newly-formed Webley company to their specification, rather than produced in-house, it was ever thus.
Even in the heyday of the British gun trade there were London & Provincial guns made in Birmingham guns from one maker appearing under the name of another. In the late 1970s there was a period when over-and-under Webley & Scotts were actually Berettas stocked and finished in the English style. A little earlier, the old company had even dabbled with the idea of adopting the somewhat unconventional Fenian over-and-under to supplement its range and thousands of barrel tubes. Also, barrelled actions supplied to the trade were made by Webley & Scott, which also produced its own fine side-by-sides. Nothing is new, except that the production base has changed, from Birmingham, once the workshop of the world, to become a more global manufacturing enterprise.
The matt-black 810B, with the name and logo in contrasting white, makes for a surprisingly good-looking gun of its type. Stablemates include the ‘C’ range of camouflage models and the more conventional ‘W’ range walnut-stocked versions.
All are available in 12, 20 and 28-bore, with a left-handed action in 12-bore and spacers being available to alter the stock cast. All the guns in the semi-auto range come complete with an attractive, well-made nylon gunslip incorporating a heavy zip, a pocket for spare chokes, key and other paraphernalia sporting the Webley & Scott name.
At around 7lb when loaded, with one cartridge in the chamber and two in the magazine, it is still reasonably light, but, as this type of auto-loader also tends to dampen recoil, comfortable in use. With the point of balance just over an inch in front of the receiver when loaded, there is a fair degree of forward bias. This in no way impairs the pointability, however, and for many users will actually prove beneficial, especially when swinging on to a fast bird, helping to avoid the poking that usually precedes a miss.
The synthetic stock and fore-end have effective moulded-in grip panels formed like diamond-cut chequering. The fore-end has to be long to cover the magazine, piston and actuating mechanism, and, at around 13in, gives plenty of provision for a variety of grip positions. The scalloped, recessed section just above the grip panels is also an aid to a comfortable hold.
Length of pull of the stock measures 14.1/2in and incorporates a good degree of cast-off for right-handed use. Drop is just over 1.1/2in at the tip of the comb and 2.1/2in at the butt proper, with a step-down spacer and ventilated butt-pad adding a further 1/4in of drop at the heel. The curve of the pistol grip is suitable for large hands and the tip of the comb where it should be, nicely in line with the rear of the grip.
The action follows what has become the norm for its type. The lock mechanism is mounted on the trigger-plate and the breech bolt linked to the action bar sleeve by twin bars. Upon firing, this is pushed back by the piston contacting the action retarder, both parts being made from modern synthetic materials, with a durable stainless steel ring fitted before the piston.
The action spring that returns the bolt and completes the operating cycle is located around the steel tube magazine, a simpler and possibly more effective method of closing the breech; some older designs required a separate spring and tube in the butt linked to the breech bolt.
Bolt release is actuated by a button conveniently located near the front of the receiver on the left and it is the work of a moment to slide the left hand back to depress the button with the thumb. The trigger lock safety is pushed off from right to left. As usual for those not used to an auto-loader, it takes a little practice to push back on from the left before it becomes a completely natural action.
Great choke tubes
At 28in, the barrel conforms to one of the old familiar imperial measurements, but otherwise is modern in every respect. It is slim and nicely tapered, with a neat 6mm-wide ventilated rib. The machined top surface of the rib is intended to provide a decorative non-glare finish, which, of course, it achieves easily, being matt-black. This also highlights the brass foresight bead.
The barrel bore is clean and true, which it has to be to pass visual examination for proof at the Birmingham Proof House. Proofed to metric standards for 76mm (3in) cartridges and steel shot, this gun came with three interchangeable screw chokes notch-marked full-choke, modified (half-choke) and improved cylinder, which on the old English system equates to nominally .14in choke. There are no further markings on the side of the choke tubes indicating limits of use with steel shot, though this is covered in the small but comprehensive owner’s manual. Checked against a proof size of 18.5mm (actual 0.725in), the chokes all measured spot on for the degree of choke indicated by the markings.
Maintenance of the mechanism
It is a fact that semi-autos need to be subject to more regular maintenance than, say, a side-by-side ? having a complex, lubricated mechanism open at ejection and loading ports provides plenty of opportunity for the ingress of foreign materials. Comprehensive disassembly instructions are included in the manual to cover stripping, cleaning and reassembly, reinforced by a series of pictures. A little unclear, they might have been better had they been larger and spread over an additional page. In spite of that niggle, the instructions followed a simple, logical order, so, with care, even a newcomer to the semi-auto experience should not find disassembly a problem. One thing worth noting is the factory’s recommended method of taking out the barrel by releasing the bolt and holding it about an inch forward of the locked position.
The .810 in operation
After a box of cartridges to take the edge off the newness, the .810 operated flawlessly, ‘shucking shells’, as an American once described the operation to me, with impressive speed. A diet of mixed makes of cartridge with varying loadings failed to upset the cycle of feed, fire, eject, and a second shot even allowing for the normal longish trigger pull was as quick as thinking. In use, it was certainly as pointable as the original workshop dry run had suggested and, for my build, shot fairly flat, though crossing clays tending to ‘float’ in a stiff breeze needed to be just visible above the foresight bead. Also, the reasonable amount of cast for a gun of this type meant patterns tended to be placed quite centrally in the horizontal plane, so anyone of average build and with good eyesight should have no trouble aligning accurately on high, driven, overhead birds. This theory was confirmed later on a few practice clays where, using all chokes, a good average was recorded.
Practice, of course, is always a bit of a dry chore without the element of competition. Even better is an hour down an overgrown hedgerow. After a couple of misses due to user error, a young rabbit was cleanly shot and the good deed for the day a magpie’s nest convincingly destroyed with three shots and full-choke.
Who might a matt-black gun appeal to?
I would suggest the vermin shooter who is not too worried about the 2+1 cartridge capacity or the clayshooter who favours practical reliability over a fancy appearance. Maybe a shooter who wants something that looks smart but a little different. As for Webley & Scott bravely trying out this new market, is it not a shame that we do not make more use of the descriptive term ‘self-loading shotgun’ rather than semi-automatic? After all, it sounds much more British.
Model: Webley & Scott .810
Manufacturer: made in Turkey to Webley’s specification, tel: (01902) 722144
Bore: 12 (options of 20 and 28 available)
Stock: synthetic pistol grip
Options: walnut and camouflage
Price: £449, left-hand £469
Problems include a limited magazine capacity – (for vermin shooting) and a lack of information on some chokes.