January 2011

Field-Gun Showdown: Semiautos From Weatherby and Escort

We pitted two Turkish-made polymer-stocked autoloaders in 12 and 20 gauge to see how these budget choices compared in all-round use. One of the guns turned out to be a turkey.

One of the ongoing arguments between wingshooters is the 12 vs. 20 discussion. The short version of that issue can be summed up in two questions: Can I get away with the smaller gauge for the shooting I do?, or, Do I need the deeper and wider shotshell selection that the 12 gauge offers? One of the major reasons hunters choose a 20 over a 12 is the former’s smaller frame, weight, and recoil. Though they may already own a 12, many field sportsmen wind up reaching for their 20s because the smaller gun is easier to handle, and there are just a few situations—layback goose hunting and spring turkey hunting, to name two—in which the bigger 12-gauge payload might make a difference.

Based solely on ballistics, it’s tough to make a case that the 20 gauge can’t do most or all of the jobs the 12 gauge does. But that’s not the whole story. There are certainly restrictions based on the 3-inch guns available for the two gauges. Looking at the major shotgun lines, Remington puts 3-inch chambers for both gauges its 11-87 Sportsman, Sportsman Camo, and Sportsman Synthetic lines, but it also doesn’t chamber 20 gauges at all in its specialty guns for turkey, deer, and waterfowl, and some of the other 11-87s. Mossberg shunts its three 20-gauge models into the SA-20 line, offering no 20s in the 935 or 930 lines. In its vast selection of semiautos, Beretta offers just the AL391 Teknys Gold Sporting, AL391 Urika 2 Youth X-Tra Grain, and the 3901 Citizen Synthetic in 20 gauge. Available shotshell loads, too, show an overwhelming preference for the 12 gauge. Picking just one company to sample, Federal offers 65 12-gauge loads in its inventory, but only 21 20-gauge shot loads, a 3-to-1 edge.

So, even before we get rolling, the discussion of picking a 20 over a 12 for all-round use doesn’t get much traction; there are just not enough 20-gauge shotguns and 20-gauge loads to make a 20 practical for use from woodcocks and snipe to Canadas and Merriams. But if we recast the argument to make it an upland comparison, then suddenly the playing field evens out.

Toward that end, we found two lightweight low-cost polymer-stocked shotguns from Weatherby and Escort we wouldn’t mind schlepping around North Dakota to shoot pheasants. Our test guns were the SA-08 Synthetic from Paso Robles, Calif.-based Weatherby and the LSI/Hatsan Escort PS-20 HAT00115 3-inch 20 Gauge, $399 (price from Gallery of Guns online store).

The Escort Magnum 20-bore we tested was made by the Hatsan Arms Company in Izmir, Turkey and imported by Legacy Sports International of Reno, Nevada. LSI supplies a five-year warranty for the Escorts it imports, while Weatherby does not offer a written warranty on the SA-08.

Roy Weatherby introduced his first autoloading shotgun, the Centurion, in 1972 and it stayed in the lineup through 1975, when it was replaced by the Centurion II (1976-1981), which itself was supplanted by the Model 82 (1982-1989). Weatherby made a return to the semi-automatic market in 1999 with the SAS shotgun made by Valtro in Italy. The SAS was discontinued in 2007. The current lineup offers many choices, including the budget-priced SA-08, which is described as "a reliable workhorse that handles everything from early-season dove to late fall’s heaviest waterfowl loads. Injection-molded synthetic stock is tough enough to turn back the worst of conditions." Just what we wanted.

It’s also imported from Turkey, and Weatherby lists it at $469, but one of the company’s online retailers, Gallery of Guns, lists the SA-08 No. SA08S1228PGM at $565, not including shipping or sales tax. Here’s what our scattergunners thought of the pair:

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