Having a gun safe full of firearms that can be picked through to be just the right tool at just the right time is an unattainable luxury for most average hunters and shotgun enthusiasts. More often than not, there is a “go-to gun” that will get the job done in all kinds of conditions. Rugged, reliable workhorses that may not be as pretty as some, these firearms might be called tools of necessity.
While several steps above a power saw or set of socket wrenches, utility shotguns are expected to function well and be relatively comfortable to handle under adverse conditions. They are used in places that might not be appropriate for a finely engraved, high-grade-wood showpiece.
Falling into this category are two semi-automatics, both gas operated, being described as “workhorses” by a couple of well-known firearm manufacturers — the Winchester Super X2 of the U.S. Repeating Arms Company Inc. and the recently released Model 935 by O.F. Mossberg & Sons Inc.
Both shotguns are designed to handle heavy-hitting 3-inch and 3.5-inch shotgun shells, which have a reputation of reaching out to touch waterfowl with killing effectiveness. However, the ammunition also has a reputation of setting some shooters back on their heels from the recoil of sending up to 1 3/8 ounces of shot into the sky.
Taming recoil is of prime concern to both firearms’ manufacturers looking for satisfied customers and to shooters who want to bring down birds rather than ring their own bells. Effective gas-operated recoil systems, back-boring of the barrels and additional weight in the shotguns are some of the ways to reduce the punishment. All three methods are utilized very effectively in our two tests guns, we found.
Because the owner’s manual for the Winchester states that the SX2 Magnum 3.5-inch is not designed to shoot factory target loads of 7/8-ounce or 1-ounce loads; and the Mossberg manual states the Model 935 is manufactured to handle only 3-inch and 3.5-inch shells, the test ammunition for the two shotguns was limited.
Our test shells included Federal 3-inch 1.25-ounce BB steel duck and pheasant loads with a muzzle velocity of 1,300 fps; Estate Cartridge 3-inch 1 3/8-ounce No. 2 shot with a muzzle velocity of 1,375 fps; and Estate Cartridge 3.5-inch 1 3/8-ounce No. 4 steel shot with a muzzle velocity of 1,500 fps. In addition, we also fired Estate Cartridge 2.75-inch 1 1/8 ounce No. 7 1/2 shotshells with a muzzle velocity of 1,350 fps to examine the ability of the Winchester SX2 to handle lighter loads.
Here’s our report on how each gun fared individually:
[PDFCAP(1)]The Model 935 Magnum Mossy Oak 12 gauge, Item No. 81035 935, manufactured by O.F. Mossberg & Sons Inc. of North Haven, Conn., is a new venture for the veteran firearms company and follows in the footsteps of the venerable Model 835 pump.
Coming complete with a padded nylon sling for easy carrying back and forth from the field, this is one of the big boys among the hunting and shooting crowd.
As an added touch (very appreciated by our testers), the Model 935 package also includes a set of stock spacers and stock retention plates that allow a customized drop or rise in the stock, depending upon the shooter’s preference. This ability to raise the standard stock by up to one quarter of an inch or lower it by as much as three-eighths of inch is an option normally reserved for higher-priced shooting pieces.
Workhorse is a good description of this rugged shotgun that is designed for hard, reliable use. Though the Mossy Oak Break-Up camouflage finish on the shotgun effectively reduces any bird-scaring glare, we were surprised to find that some areas inside the receiver were painted. This coating of paint could be a factor in the bolt-closing speed of the semi-auto, which was noticeably slower than the SX2.
Although there were no malfunctions with any of the 3-inch or 3.5-inch ammunition, the internal parts of the firearm did not seem to be as polished as other semi-autos we have handled. This might be just a cosmetic point, but fine attention to detail is always appreciated.
Our test gun measured 49 inches in overall length with a 28-inch barrel and featured a fiber-optic front sight. Made for heavy-duty use, the shotgun tipped the scales at a hefty 7.75 pounds and was slightly muzzle heavy.
The LOP on the test gun was an even 14 inches, allowing for easy mounting when wearing a bulky shooting jacket or heavy coat. A slight adjustment is necessary when snuggling the butt pad into your shoulder when wearing light clothing, but none of our testers experienced any noticeable handling problems.
The recoil pad provided a solid foundation for all of our shooters no matter what they were wearing.
Drop at the comb was 1.5 inches and drop at the heel was 2.25 inches — another factor helping to reduce recoil of the 3.5-inch ammunition, with the punch of the recoil being driven straight back into the shooter’s shoulder.
With the adjustable spacers and plates that come with the Model 935, our test group was able to set up the shotgun to provide quality eye-rib alignment. The Truglo Fat Bead fiber optic front sight naturally draws the shooter’s eye down the 3/8-inch-wide rib for easy target acquisition.
Like other Mossbergs, the safety on the 935 is easily accessible on the top rear of the receiver and can be switched on and off with ease, even when wearing heavy gloves.
A cocking indicator in the front of the trigger guard, which allows the shooter to know when the firearm has been cocked, is another nice touch appreciated by our test group. The trigger pull was a rather heavy 5.5 pounds, which is about average for a field firearm.
One downside to the 935 was in the area of removing and installing chokes. The flat, one-piece choke wrench was hard to handle under adverse weather conditions and while wearing gloves.
[PDFCAP(2)]The Winchester Super X2 12 gauge, item number 511034246, is manufactured in Belgium and distributed by U.S. Repeating Arms Company, Inc. of New Haven, CT.
Although our test model of this all-round utility shotgun was the black composite Dura-Touch armor-coated version, other models are available in Mossy Oak Shadow Grass and “Greenhead” versions.
The Dura-Touch armor coating catches the eye at first glance and is very comfortable to the touch. The surface has a feel similar to velvet, not quite as soft as the cloth, but easy on the hands and providing a good grip even with heavy gloves. The coating was particularly comfortable to handle, providing a surface that was easy to grip and hold even during rapid fire testing. Some might say the coating is not as pleasing to the eye as fine engraving and quality wood, but it is quite functional.
During rapid fire testing — the shotgun is advertised as the fastest cycling semi-automatic shotgun on the market — control of the firearm was no problem. While most shooters will not be able to set off five rounds in 0.51 second (the high-speed record fired with the SX2 Practical Mark 1 competition model), the action of the test gun was noticeably faster than experienced by our test group with other semi-autos.
Top that with good pointing ability and surprising balance for what is designed as a field firearm, and this is a win-win package for the shooter in search of a utility gun.
Our test gun had an overall length of 48.75 inches, with a 28-inch, low-luster black barrel and a bright white front bead. The length of pull was 14 inches, with a drop at the comb of 1.5 inches and drop at the heel of 2.0 inches.
As with the Mossberg, the straight stock and slightly heavy forearm of the 8-pound shotgun helped reduce recoil from all of the test shells. Trigger pull was a crisp 3.5 pounds — very comfortable in all shooting conditions.
Sling-swivel studs are standard on this model for those shooters who are interested in carrying the shotgun in that manner. Just like with the Mossberg, using a sling can be a big plus when wading through the muck and mud to reach a duck or goose blind.
Of note with the SX2 was the pointing ability and quickness of shooters to get on target. The slightly higher rib (1/4 inch at its highest point) draws the shooter’s eye down the wide rib and to the all-white front sight with pleasing ease.
The shotgun’s pointing ability was well received by the test shooters who fired a few 2.75-inch, 1 1/8-ounce loads through the SX2 during a late season mourning dove shoot.
Even with the lighter loads, the Winchester functioned flawlessly and was very easy to handle, with the darting doves providing challenging targets that are a little faster than those in most waterfowl shooting situations.
Gun Tests Recommends
Winchester Super X2 3.5-inch 12 gauge , $988. Our Pick. With its slick action, quality feel and rugged looks built to handle all kinds of weather conditions, this shotgun is worth a little extra cash from a shooter looking for a quality utility shotgun.
Mossberg Model 935 Magnum Mossy Oak 3.5-inch 12 gauge, $601. Buy It. Here is a heavy-duty tool for shooters who use big shells. Slightly unwieldy because of its balance, this is still a good candidate for a “go-to gun,” and its price makes it attractive for shooters on a budget.