The chance to test the new Winchester semi-automatic was irresistible to Mark Heath - but potentially expensive, as he bought the last one
“Can you test the new Winchester SX4 Waterfowl Hunter,” came the request and, of course, my response was “no problem”.
Having looked on semi-autos with a little disdain, I had so much fun shooting the last one on test I ended up buying one. I’ve used it in the pigeon hide a couple of times and it does make life easier in the reloading department. It’s incredibly effective and comfortable to shoot and it’s a lot of fun with a few clays, especially with three targets in the air at once.
A Post-it note from the shop manager told me that the Winchester SX4 had arrived. It was indeed a semi-auto but it was a 20-bore and in camouflage — I hoped I wouldn’t lose it when I put it down.
Winchester SX4 Waterfowl Hunter – a well made gun
- The gun weighs in at 6lb 13oz so it’s no heavyweight. But it felt quite nice in the hands and appeared well made and robust.
- It was a brand new gun and came with three chokes — quarter, half and three-quarters, which is more than sufficient.
- The stock also had a moulding to allow the attachment of a sling.
- The length of pull was 143⁄8in, which is quite short, but there were a couple of spacers that could be used to add around half an inch.
Stocks on semi-autos
There is never any great finesse with the stocks on semi-autos — there are no additional shims to change the drop or cast. Having said that, the drop measurements appeared on the money with a clear view down the rib. There isn’t a left-handed option with the ejection port on the left side but the cast was pretty neutral, so lefties could get away with it.
Testing the new Winchester out
So to the gun test. I couldn’t resist inviting Andy Rowell, our shop manager, to accompany me. A more unlikely user of a camo semi-automatic you couldn’t find — Andy rides to hounds every week during the season and is a hale and hearty cravat-wearing member of the Wiltshire country set. When he agreed I resisted a “Hell yeah!” response.
We shot a mixture of 24g and 28g clay and game cartridges and the semi-auto certainly did the job. The gun came with the half-choke fitted and I left it alone. It powdered the clays on the 40ft towers, then the 80ft and finally the high tower. It was the end of a busy day and, as I was feeling a little jaded, we finished the test with some rabbit and teal targets.
I decided to give it a second test when feeling a little less weary and searched my garage in the interim for some unusual cartridges to give the gun a slightly more interesting workout. This produced some 35g Magnum No.5s together with some 30g No.5s and some 28g No.6s, and I added some 21g No.8s on the assumption that they wouldn’t cycle.
Accompanied by fellow instructor Paul Gendall and former England Shot Diane Wade, we put the gun through its paces. Much to everyone’s surprise it cycled everything with ease. The 21g loads didn’t miss a beat and performed exceptionally. The 35g cartridges performed on the high tower and the recoil was the equivalent of a 24g cartridge in a 12-bore over-and-under. We got the gun very hot.
- The camo is an acquired taste but none of us felt the need to chew tobacco and spit at any time during the test.
- As a wildfowling gun the SX4 is perfect in terms of its cost and robustness.
- The stock and fore-end you could wipe over with a damp cloth after a mucky flight on the marsh.
- Taking apart and reassembly is easy, allowing a thorough cleaning of the mechanism after each outing.
- The gun has the capability to take the heaviest 20-bore loads available and essentially is steel proofed, so its suitability as a wildfowling gun and a lot more is without doubt. For someone with a smaller build it would be perfect, given the weight and handling.
- I would opt for the 12-bore version on the basis that I am more scrum than fly half and the 12-bore would be a little steadier in the handling department. However, the 20-bore is more than capable.
- Looking on the trade database there’s one Winchester SX3 at £895 and a Benelli M1 at the same price; there’s also a Benelli M2 at £1,300 and offerings from Beretta are north of £1,500. None of the alternatives are in camouflage.
A lot of gun for the money — it would make a great firearm for those who suffer from recoil or want a lighter gun for pigeon shooting or clays. There are also semi-auto competitions around more often these days where you could give the Winchester a run out.
- Action/barrels: In the context of semi-autos the Winchester appears well made and operates efficiently and reliably. Assembly is easy once done a couple of times. The safety works well and is easy to operate, with a large button for the gloved hand. 18/20
- Trigger and ejectors: Semi-autos have a reputation for being a bit agricultural in some quarters, but not the Winchester – an excellent, consistent trigger-pull. The cartridges were thrown a consistent 8ft to 10ft with well-timed efficiency, making a nice pile to pick up. 19/20
- Stock: No high-grade walnut here, just plastic camo, but the grip was comfortable. No shims for adjustment of drop and cast but thought has gone into the drop and it’s spot on. There are a couple of spacers to extend the stock, which would be useful. 18/20
- Handling: Great fun to shoot and very effective – the amazing thing is the ability to cycle every cartridge. The high and long stuff needs a little steadiness to get the timing right. 19/20
- Value: Absolute stunning value at £920 with a five-year warranty – what’s not to like? 20/20
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Need to know
- Manufacturer: Winchester
- UK distributor BWM UK
- Model: SX4 Waterfowl Hunter
- Bore 20-bore
- Barrels: 28in
- Action: Semi-auto
- Weight: 6lb 13oz
- Features: Recycles everything and puts a great smile on your face when shooting
A lot of gun for the money — it would make a great firearm for those who suffer from recoil or want a lighter gun for pigeon shooting or clays.