“Break out the Winchesters, and round up every man who can ride a hoss and pull a trigger!” That’s one of our favourite lines from a John Wayne western, and is just one example of how the famous name has become part of American culture, and ours, too.
Most non-shooting people will tell you a Winchester is a lever-action rifle, but we shotgun shooters know better. As well as the rifles of all kinds there has been a long and successful line of Winchester semi-auto shotguns, and some superb over-unders.
The most memorable was the 101 series, which went out of production nearly 20 years ago when the factory in which they were made – the Kodensha plant in Japan – got into difficulties and finally closed down. In UK terms, the best of them was the 6500 Sporter, which was built specially for the European market. The gun, which had light barrels and handled superbly, was used by the legendary A.J. Smith to score so many of his competition victories.
After that there was a short-lived Italian-made Winchester over-under called the 1001 that was a definite miss, and some years went by before the company had another go at that sector of the market. The new gun was launched as the Winchester Supreme, which has evolved into the Select Energy, in both trap and sporting versions.
Who makes it?
Winchester has, for some years, been part of the Browning group, most of whose shotguns are made on the Miroku plant in Japan. This is one of the odd ones out – it is built on the Browning/FN plant in Herstal, Belgium. FN stands for Fabrique Nationale, and they have been building guns in Belgium for well over 100 years. As well as guns for civilian use, they have also built some highly successful military rifles.
How adaptable is it?
Most buyers would use this gun for clay shooting – either sporting or trap, depending on the version chosen. There are also game versions including the Select Midnight Field and the Select Special Chasse. All game guns are lighter than the competition guns.
How does it work?
There was no going back to the 101 or any of the Brownings for the design of this gun: it was something completely new – particularly for the plant in Belgium. The most striking thing about it when it came out was the fact that, unlike all previous successful Browning and Winchester over-unders, it had a low-profile action jointed on stub pins rather than a deep action, hinged on a full-width cross pin. Put simply, it looked more like a Beretta than a Browning.
The Beretta-like features are not just on the outside, either. The bolt is a fork-shaped affair with tips protruding through the standing breech to locate in holes in the shoulders of the upper barrel. Strengthening the lock-up is a small barrel lump which drops into a depression in the action floor.
The firing system owes more to the classic Browning design, with hammers powered by coil springs on guide rods – so arranged that the hammers rebound slightly after the primers are struck by the firing pins, allowing the pins to withdraw and prevent striker drag on the primers. Each hammer has its own cocking lever. Sears are pivoted off the top strap, and are lifted by the single, selective trigger mechanism. A recoil-driven inertia system transfers the trigger to the second barrel, and the barrel selector works the same as on most Brownings and Mirokus – set the gun on safe, and move the safety thumbpiece to one side or the other.
The trigger blade is adjustable fore and aft, locking in two positions, and has a smooth and comfortable shape. Trigger pulls are crisp.
Spring-loaded ejectors run in dovetails on either side of the barrel monobloc, with their springs directly underneath them.
The exterior of the action has been finished in silver, partly matt and partly gloss, and the top lever, safety and trigger guard are polished bright. Engraving is simple – just the wording ‘Select Energy’ on the sides, and a simple design underneath. Sad to say, there is no sign of the famous Winchester ‘horseman’ logo, which ought to be emblazoned on every gun bearing the famous name.
However, this is an improvement on the original Supreme, which was engraved with a thing one reviewer described as a cow pat. In fact, it was supposed to represent a partly-broken clay!
- Barrel set, as expected, is built on the now-familiar monobloc system.
- Tubes (either 28 or 30 inches on the sporter) are back-bored to 0.740 in (18.8mm) to reduce recoil. They have three-inch (76mm) chambers, and have been submitted to steel shot proof.
- Top and side ribs are ventilated.
- Top rib on the sporter is 10mm wide with a centre channel, and is fitted with a Truglo fibre optic foresight.
- Gun comes with a set of Invector Plus choke tubes.
- Although there is no 32-inch version of the sporter at the time of writing, the trap version is available with a 32-inch, multichoked barrel set, so the introduction of a 32-inch sporter would seem to be only a matter of time, if there proves to be enough demand.
- The Supreme sporter had a schnabel-type fore end, but the new version has a semi-beavertail.
- The most apparent feature on some of the guns in the series is the unusual chequering pattern on both the pistol grip and the fore-end.
- One version has an adjustable comb, so drops are what you care to make them.
- Stock is fitted with a comfortable rubber recoil pad.
- If you’re a trap shooter you can choose between an adjustable stock and a Monte Carlo, and there is also a simpler version of the sporter, called the Select Sporting, which has a non-adjustable stock with a conventional chequering pattern.
- All stocks are finished in satin varnish.
The 30-inch version of the Select Energy sporter weighs a touch less than 7.3/4lb, while the trap version weighs just short of 8lb. A typical field model weighs a little less than 7lb.
What the tester thought
At the time of writing, Sporting Gun had not got around to testing this new version, although a review is scheduled soon. Elsewhere, the gun has been welcomed as a leading contender in its price bracket.
There are quite a few different specifications. Prices start at about £900 for the Select Sporter, while the Select Energy Signature is about £1,500.
It depends on which version you go for, but some of the cheaper Brownings, Berettas and Mirokus should be within your reach.
From any Browning/Winchester dealer.
UK SALES: 01235 514550