November 2009

Semiauto 12 Gauges: S&W Edges Browning and Winchester

We’re always looking for a bargain, and we found a newish Smith & Wesson Model 1012 that showed promise. We narrowly preferred it over used Gold Hunter and Super X2 autoloaders.

Back-to-the-basicsshotguns featuring black composite stocks and forearms fill a special niche in the world of scattergun enthusiasts. These firearms are picked for their ability to serve as a shooting tool that can withstand rugged hunting conditions and not with a lot of attention to appearance. They also eliminate the possibility of a flash of sunlight glinting off a shiny stock or barrel and alerting incoming waterfowl of potential danger.

Most of the major manufacturers offer at least a few of their shotgun models featuring composite stocks and forearms and non-glare barrels, and a variety of the shotguns make their way to the used gun racks where shooters are looking to pick up a bargain.

The three used composite semiautomatic shotguns we gathered for our test included the Smith & Wesson Model 1012, $630; the Winchester Super X Model 2, $600; and the Browning Gold Hunter, $700. While the trio’s prices are probably in the moderate-to-high-end range for a used semiautomatic, we picked them as a good representation of how composites compared in the field and on the range.

The Winchester Super X2 is the same model reviewed by Gun Tests in March 2004, when it was pitted against a Mossberg 935. The Winchester was our pick in that match-up. In addition, we looked at a Super X3 versus a Benelli M2 in November 2007 and also gave the Winchester model a thumbs up in that comparison. In both cases, we were pleased with the Winchester’s handling ability; functioning features; and the speed of the action over the other shotguns in those tests.

This latest match up involved two more recent introductions into the composite stock and forearm world of shotguns, and we were interested in determining how the veteran Winchester would fare.

To check out the shotguns in a variety of shooting situations, we selected the following test ammunition:

For clay targets, we used Winchester AA Light Target 23/4-inch loads with 11/8 ounce of No. 8 shot and an average muzzle velocity of 1145 fps; and Winchester Super Sport Sporting Clays 23/4-inch loads with 11/8 ounce of No. 71/2 shot and an average muzzle velocity of 1300 fps. It should be noted that none of the three shotguns would function well with the light target loads, resulting in numerous failures to feed a second shot. These shell-feeding problems were eliminated when we switched to the hotter sporting clays shells.

For the patterning tests, we selected Federal Steel Duck and Pheasant 3-inch loads with 1.25 ounces of BB shot and a muzzle velocity of 1300 fps. No functioning problems were encountered with any of the shotguns when firing the 3-inch shells.

We also function-fired several 31/2-inch shells, Estate High Velocity Magnum Steel with 13/8 ounces of No. 4 shot and an average muzzle velocity of 1,500 fps. We wanted to see how the Browning and Winchester would handle the heavy loads. The Smith & Wesson is limited to no more than 3-inch shells.

While there were no functioning problems, there was quite a bit of shoulder shock when firing the 31/2-inch loads in the Browning. Probably because of the Winchester’s heavier weight, there was no appreciable difference in recoil between 3-inch and 31/2-inch loads. However, we were happy to limit our practice time with the big shells to only a few rounds.

We were generally pleased with the way all three of the shotguns could be moved onto targets on the clays course and with the trio’s patterning performance using steel shot on paper targets set at a range of 30 yards.

Details of how each shotgun performed at the clay target range and patterning field follows in our report:

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