June 1999

Super X2: How Winchester Rates Against Browning and Beretta

In this first critical examination of a new line of scatterguns, we find that existing models—Beretta’s AL390 Silver Mallard and Browning’s Gold Hunter—beat out two new 12-gauge X2s.

Winchester’s new Super X2 12-gauge auto-loader series is designed to go head to head in the marketplace against well-established marques like Browning and Beretta. Price-positioned at MSRPs ranging from $725 to $938, the X2s come in a variety of finishes, ranging from the 3-inch chamber field models with walnut stocks to the 31/2-inch black synthetic and Mossy Oak Shadow Grass camo guns for waterfowlers. But these new products seek to enter a field crowded with quality guns, so we wondered how the new Winchester guns would stack up against their prime competitors—and also against history.

Toward that end, we acquired two X2s for evaluation, a 3-inch 12-gauge field gun, $725, with a walnut stock and 28-inch barrels, and a 31/2-inch waterfowl gun, $855, which had a synthetic stock. We pitted these two new guns against what we judged to be challenging opponents, Browning’s 31/2-inch Gold Hunter, $735, Browning’s 31/2-inch Gold Stalker, $735, and Beretta’s 3-inch AL390 Silver Mallard, $860, in a field and function test. Also, we brought into the mix an original, used Super X, from which the X2s gain their name, to see how technology has improved the breed, if any. Likewise, for historical perspective, we wondered how the X2s would fare against another ageless product, the Belgian Browning Auto-5. Although the two early guns were chambered for 23/4-inch shells, we thought it would be interesting to compare the differences in feel and function, and in old versus new manufacturing techniques. Here’s what we found:

Winchester Super X2 3-Inch Magnum Field
Winchester Super X2 31/2-Inch Magnum

Our recommendation: Placed side by side with other guns in their classes, we gauge the X2s to be good products, but we preferred others instead.

Click here to view the Winchesters' features guides

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When we took them apart, we found that the Gold Hunter/Stalker and Winchester Super X2s are essentially the same gun. They are so close to each other that we were able to install the Browning barrel and wood forend and other front-end parts easily onto the black Winchester’s action. The bolt didn’t quite go into battery, but all the other parts fit perfectly. We’re sure that with a bit of hand fitting we could get the Winchester bolt to close inside the Browning’s barrel. Going the other way, we were able to put the Browning barrel easily into place on the Winchester action and, as we expected, the bolt locked up nicely. We checked headspace, found it to be acceptable, and proceeded to fire our “Brownchester” with no problems. Feed and function were fully as good as either gun with all its own “family” parts installed.

The new Winchester Super X2 31/2-inch gun had a black synthetic stock that was, at first handling, very slippery, much like the Stalker’s synthetic stock. The checkering worked well, but the forend was not checkered on the bottom. We’d like to see the checkering cover a greater area. However, we handled this gun with rough-out leather gloves, like we’d wear on a cold-weather hunt, and the gloves totally eliminated any slippery feeling. The rough leather surface felt almost like Velcro fasteners against the black plastic stock. There is no gloss or glitz whatever to the Winchester. Every visible part of this gun was finished dead-flat black. The Winchester and Super-X2 logos on left and right sides of the receiver are boldly impressed, but are in no way highlighted. Even the cartridge carrier on the bottom is flat black, and like that of the new Browning it swung easily out of the way to load the magazine. The trigger and bolt were the same flat black as the ventilated rubber recoil pad, and all that lack of reflective surfaces gave the Winchester a very business-like appearance. The 31/2-inch X2s, offered in 24-, 26, and 28-inch varieties, are only available in black-matte synthetic finishes, like Browning’s 31/2-inch Stalker. On the 3-inch gun, the Winchester Field wood-stocked model had nicely finished wood and deep bluing on its receiver and barrel, and we thought it looked on par with the Beretta 3-inch Silver Mallard.

The Super-X2s’ 28-inch barrels had a 3/8-inch wide and quite high ventilated ribs affixed to them. Like the Browning, the X2s accepted Invector choke tubes. The exterior of the synthetic gun’s barrel was matte-finished, and that disguised the same wavy surface that was brought out on the Browning Gold Hunter by its glossy finish. The X2s’ barrels were marked as having been made in Belgium, and like the Browning’s, were swamped. The front of the ribs had 1/8-inch-diameter pearl-finished beads. The ribs were higher than the action top, which in certain light caused the eye to see two levels for the “rear” sight plane, and we found that to be less desirable than the even top plane of the Browning’s setup.

We found no function problems with any of these guns. There was no discernible difference in triggers between any of the guns when actually firing the guns at a moving target. The new guns fed, fired and ejected short and long cartridges perfectly. Although the Winchester manuals declared that the Super X2s weren’t supposed to function with 7/8- or 1-ounce target loads, we encountered no problems with 11/8-ounce trap loads. The Browning Gold Hunter/Stalker gave less felt recoil than the old Super-X, but a bit more than the X2s, which had the least felt recoil of all the guns. The difference in felt recoil between the new Browning and the new Winchesters is entirely due to their weight difference, because the guns use identical gas systems.

Browning Gold Hunter and Browning Gold Stalker
Our recommendation: We thought these 3 1/2-inch guns handled better than their stablemates. We’d pick them over the X2.

Click here to view the Brownings' features guides

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Our test Browning Gold Hunter was a handsome gun. It had a glossy wine-red finish to its walnut stock that set off the dull black of the action and its gold colored trigger and gold-filled highlights very well. The stock had cut checkering that worked well and looked great. The buttstock was fitted with a black rubber ventilated recoil pad. The barrel was glossy blued but we found the polished surface to be a bit wavy. The Stalker was matte black all over, like the X2 31/2-inch gun. The Golds’ barrels accepted Invector choke inserts. They had 1/2-inch-wide ventilated ribs with matte finishes that led the eye well into the 0.140-inch diameter round white front beads. The barrels were swamped, which means the smallest diameter is not at the muzzle, but about two-thirds the way down the barrel. This is a method of reducing barrel mass to aid liveliness, and it works well. The Gold Hunter/Stalker felt great.

Brownings have long been multinational, the Belgian and Japanese versions of the Auto-5 springing to mind, but the new Gold Hunter mentioned no fewer than four nations on its barrel. The markings mentioned the Browning Arms Co. of the U.S. and Canada, and told that the parts were made in Belgium and assembled in Portugal. The Gold Hunter’s receiver was fully machined from aluminum alloy. The sides of the receiver were absolutely dead flat, and the top surface was evenly rounded and showed no waviness. Inside the action everything was cleanly cut and nicely finished in matte black. The follower was chrome plated steel, and it was not necessary to push the bolt release button to load the magazine. The bolt was shiny, appeared to be chromed and had only one extractor. The ejection port had smooth beveled edges that left no sharp edges to cut your hands, or cause ejected shells to hang up. The reversible safety was a triangular trigger-blocking button located in the rear of the trigger guard. It was stiff, and we’d prefer to see it at the front of the guard. We found it to be a more natural motion to extend the trigger finger forward and work a safety located in the front of the guard. That is where the safety is found on the Beretta AL390 Silver Mallard.

Beretta AL390 Silver Mallard
Our recommendation: Light feeling, quick, low recoil. Buy it.

Click here to view the Beretta AL390 Silver Mallard features guide

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Oh, how we longed to shoot this one, and we’re not alone. We found out the AL 390 Sporting, a variant of our field grade, is one of the most popular semiautos in the demanding game of Sporting Clays. The Italian-made Beretta was quite innovative, looked great, and felt very good indeed to all who handled it. Part of that good feel came from a slight bit of cast-off, which can be changed by a gunsmith if you either don’t want it, or want more. The drop, too, can be slightly altered. Both of these adjustments come from the wedge shape of a polymer plate installed between the stock and receiver. Change the plate and you can alter the cast and drop to suit you. Clever. The Beretta’s walnut stock had cut checkering, a glossy finish and a thin but effective rubber buttpad. The pistol grip was capped with blued steel.

The gun looked very attractive yet business-like. The Beretta’s forend is quite long because it incorporates a metal grille underneath its foremost tip, which is a gas vent. The gas system requires no oil and is self-cleaning. The Beretta bleeds off a big dose of gas to kick the action open. Extra gas from hot loads that isn’t needed to cycle the action exits forward through a spring-loaded valve and out the vent grille under the forend. That is how the Beretta automatically handles all loads from light target to heavy magnum. The forend wood is quite thin and appears to have no finish on its interior. A good coat of linseed oil on the interior wood surfaces would do much to improve the life of the forend, we believe. The 28-inch barrel, like those on the other two new guns, is swamped. Unlike the other two new guns, the exterior of the Beretta’s highly polished barrel is perfectly smooth, without any trace of waviness.

The barrel is threaded for the Mobilchoke SP tubes, three of which came with the gun along with a cleverly designed wrench. The 1/2-inch wide vent rib is supported on smooth and attractive trusses, and it leads the eye evenly from the top of the matte-finished aluminum-alloy receiver to the 1/8-inch-diameter front bead. The sides of the receiver are brush-finished and have impressed “engraving” in a muted scroll pattern. The matte-black finish of the action sets off the gold-colored trigger well. The safety is a cross bolt located at the front of the guard, and it is reversible for lefties. It may be put on only when the gun is cocked. This gun has an auto-resetting magazine cutoff, which permits safe unloading without the need to cycle rounds through the action. The feature can also be used for single-loading, as when shooting trap. The bolt locks into an extension of the barrel, steel against steel. Optional extras for the AL390 Silver Mallard include modular stock and forend counterweights to vary balance. All in all, the Beretta is a well-thought-out shotgun.

Higher marks for recoil reduction go to Beretta as well, because that gun kicked noticeably less than either the new Browning or Winchesters when loaded with 3-inch magnums, yet the Beretta weighed 0.6-pound less than the Winchester X2s and 0.2-pound less than the Browning. A lighter shotgun with less recoil? How can you beat that?

Gun Tests® Recommends
If you want modern technology with precise assembly, get yourself an $860 Beretta AL390 Silver Mallard. Our sample was clearly head and shoulders above the Winchester Super X2 3-inch gun, $725, for recoil reduction and also visibly had more care in its construction.

Likewise, if we needed a 31/2-inch gun, we’d choose the $735 Browning Gold Hunter or Gold Stalker over the $855 31/2-inch Winchester Super-X2. Though the guns are very similar because of their shared components, we thought the Brownings handled better overall.