Winchester's new 12-bore semi-automatic is good looking, pointable and exceptional value for money in its class, says Matt Hunt
I admit that I have always had a fascination with repeating shotguns. The semi-automatic is the most practical and versatile shotgun design available. It has been the shotgun of choice for the American sportsman since the turn of the 19th century, yet the design has never enjoyed the same popularity in the UK.
We are a very different market, our sporting traditions and heritage are deeply rooted and greatly valued by us all. However, for some strange reason, we all accept the shooting of game with a pair, or even a trio, of guns to improve rate of fire, yet the thought of semi-auto on a formal day’s shooting is an outrageous concept and viewed as unsporting. (Read why there should be snobbery about semi-automatics.)
I can’t accept that this is simply down to rate of fire because a good team with double guns will outshoot one man loading his own semi-auto with ease.
But look behind the formal day’s game shooting for a moment and take note of the type and designs of semi-automatics on the racks of your local gunshop, because you will find that the semi-auto is playing an ever-increasing role in the modern shooting world.
Who knows what the future holds but if —or indeed when — lead shot is banned, will a 12-bore, 3½in chambered, gas semi-auto be the only gun design capable of delivering a steel shot charge with enough lethality to deal with those extreme pheasants in Wales, Yorkshire and the West County? (Read more about the lead shot ban here.)
When it comes to repeating arms, no one has a better name in the business than Winchester. New for 2022 is its Winchester SX4 Stealth, which is an upgraded design of the SX3 model, but offering Winchester quality and reliability at a mid-price point.
The test gun was an example with 28in barrels, 3in chamber and steel-ready proof. This is a departure from the SX3, which offered the larger 3½in chamber length. The shorter chamber will improve reliability with lighter cartridges; in reality very few of us use 3½in cartridges, even when wildfowling.
The choking remains with the tried and tested Invector-Plus system. The barrel finish is an exceptional carbon-nitride black, which looks superb and is very durable.
Mechanically, the gun does not vary from the SX3; it is gas-operated and uses a short-stroke gas piston system that you will find across both the Winchester and Browning range of semi-autos. This system is exceptionally fast, very reliable and limits gun movement between shots. Possibly the only downside to it is that it benefits from a fastidious cleaning regime.
For a mid-priced semi-auto, the SX4 has a category-leading trigger system that offers superbly crisp trigger-pulls, the likes of which you only usually find on a competition clay gun.
Aesthetically, the styling of the Stealth model is very pleasing and a departure from the usual black or camouflage pattern options. The hunting green colour gives a practical look to the gun and the ABS polymer used is of good quality. The colour is injection-dyed into the plastic to give a durable finish, even when the gun gets worn with use.
NEED TO KNOW
- Manufacturer Winchester
- Model SX4 Stealth
- Calibre 12-bore
- Barrels 28in
- Chamber 3in (76mm)
- Chokes Multichoke (Invector-Plus)
- Rib 6m vented
- Grip Pistol
- Weight 3.1kg
- Importer ISB, email@example.com
Winchester SX4 Stealth conclusion
Operationally, the SX4 is very simple and improvements have been made to the cocking handle bolt release and safety catch to improve ergonomics. Loading is a smooth process straight out of the box and will only improve with use and good maintenance. Cartridges can be loaded into the magazine with no loss of skin or nails.
When shooting the Winchester SX4 Stealth, you immediately notice the speed of the short-stroke piston and the incredibly fast yet smooth lock time. As with most gas-operated semis, recoil was modest, even when using a 32g game load. Recoil reduction was assisted further by the factory-fitted 30mm Inflex recoil pad.
The stock dimensions will suit most from the box and, though the stock length is only 14¼in to centre, the gun felt considerably longer than this. As with virtually all modern semi-autos, the SX4 is supplied with shims and spacers so adjustments can be made to drop and cast.
The gun handled very fast and controlling this speed was a challenge on longer targets. It is light at just over 3kg and the balance is biased towards the barrels, common with nearly every semi-auto design, and made worse when light synthetic stocks are used over wood. The addition of a simple balancing system would improve this handling characteristic considerably without making it too heavy.
Overall, the improvements to the ergonomics and aesthetics, married with the historic quality and reliability of the Winchester design, make the SX4 a class leader. And as it’s priced at £795 at most dealers, you won’t find a better value semi-auto.
- Action and barrels 19/20 Very well made with exceptional finish
- Handling 18/20 Improvements could be made to balance
- Trigger 19/20 You won’t find better on a semi-auto
- Stock 18/20 Short, extensions can be fitted
- Value 20/20 How do they do it for the money?
- Overall score 94/100
One of the best semi-autos on the market