An Ideal Shotgun for the Lightly-Built Shooter
The Weatherby AS-08 family has an impressive array of different models. They are well-manufactured and versatile shotguns which seem to me to represent good value for money.
When you’re starting a small-framed person in shotgunning, the standard-size shotgun usually presents them with some real problems. For a young shooter or a lightly-built adult - male or female - such a gun is too long in the stock, it’s too heavy and, if it’s a 12-gauge, the recoil can be off-putting. So when we were invited to review a model from the Weatherby SA-08 range of gas-operated autoloaders, we selected the COMPACT model to test as offering a good solution for just such a situation.
The Compact’s stock length has been set at 12½ inches, its barrel at 24 inches and its weight at only 2.69kg - it presents a very manageable package for the lightly-built shooter. This model is available only in 20-gauge, and with the right selection of ammunition and the softening effects of its gas-operated system, recoil should not create a problem even for a recoil-sensitive shooter.
Apart from the length of its stock and barrel, the Compact model has all the technical features that are found in the full-size members of the SA-08 family of autoloaders. Despite its smaller size and weight it’s a fully-functional, versatile and capable shotgun.
The SA-O8 Family
The SA-08 family offers an impressively wide range of models with different barrel lengths and finishes. In 12 and 20-gauges, versions are available stocked in walnut, or in an injection-moulded synthetic finished in black or in camo. Recently released - too late for this review, alas – is a very smart-looking walnut-stocked 28-gauge. The Compact model is available only in Weatherby’s distinctive Kryptek digital-style camouflage pattern.
SA-08 shotguns are manufactured for Weatherby by ATA Arms, a long-established Turkish company. With a retail price of around $900 depending on the model you choose, they’re aimed at the budget end of the market, but this doesn’t mean that they are cheap and nasty. Rather, they represent good value for money. They are reliable and versatile autoloaders with interchangeable choke tubes (three are provided: i/c, mod and full), chrome-lined barrels and extended forcing cones. They employ a time-proven operating system which will be familiar to shooters who have used the older Beretta A301 - 303 series. Mounted on a sleeve around the magazine tube, a single action bar connects with the bolt whose locking lug is mounted on top of the bolt body and engages a slot in the barrel extension. The main spring is located in the butt-stock.
These shotguns are chambered for 3-inch cartridges and are able to cycle a wide variety of loads ranging from target to heavy field, thanks to a simple but effective system. There is no self-regulating gas exhaust valve as is found in more modern designs; rather, the guns come equipped with two gas pistons clearly labelled LIGHT LOAD and HEAVY LOAD. The system is self-explanatory: use the LIGHT piston with target loads; HEAVY for game loads.
One unusual feature of the design is that the carrier lock button is located on the left-hand side of the receiver, rather than in front of the trigger guard as is more common. However, once you get used to its location, it is actually very convenient to use.
Being a budget-priced gun, the Compact comes in a cardboard box rather than a plastic carry-case, but you do get a couple of unexpected extras.
There is a set of plastic shims to adjust cast and stock drop. Unfortunately the instruction booklet, which otherwise is very full and helpful, contains no mention of the shims or instructions for their installation. As it stands however, the stock drop is pretty standard for shotguns designed for the American market and will suit most shooters: 1½” drop at comb; 2¼” at heel - but the ability to tweak these by means of a shim kit is a nice bonus. A further bonus is the provision of a cable gun lock which provides an added safety feature.
Testing on the Range
The Wellington Rifle & Gun Club’s Porirua range was the scene of our first testfire session where we put the Weatherby through its paces with a wide variety of target ammunition. Using the LIGHT piston, the gun cycled all brands with ease.
As chance would have it, there was an adult novice shooter there for instruction. Slight of build, Jen Sigley was having difficulty finding a shotgun appropriate for her size, but our Weatherby Compact proved to be the perfect match for her. The length of the butt-stock was ideal, and she found the gun’s weight entirely manageable. Its ability to soften the felt recoil from ⅞ oz target loads ensured that the whole experience was very comfortable for her. Despite the gun’s shortened length, it was well-balanced and smooth-swinging and in no time she was smashing clay targets with aplomb. It was a perfect example of the right gun for a particular situation.
I took the opportunity on a following day to test a variety of field loads on the range using the HEAVY piston. The gun functioned perfectly with them all, ranging through 28, 30, and 3-inch 36-gram magnums. This is a light gun and so the recoil from the magnum loads was, naturally, sharply-felt - as were the 30-gram loads in the 2¾-inch case: for the kind of shooter this model is designed for, I would suggest that 28-gram loads should be the heaviest used for game shooting. In fact, the 24g, ⅞ oz load is the standard load for a 20 gauge and is perfectly adequate for most situations. Nothing will put a young hunter off shooting faster than being subjected to painfully punishing recoil!
I left the gun uncleaned during the testing on the range. By the time I had finished, it had cycled over 200 rounds of target and field loads, yet when I stripped it down, it proved to have been remarkably clean-burning. The photograph shows the LIGHT piston uncleaned after having cycled over 100 target shells. This gun is simple to strip down, and cleaning it proved to be unexpectedly easy.
In the Field
It was the last week of the game season when I took the Weatherby to a favourite location on the Kapiti coast to see what I could bag with it. I wasn’t hopeful of much success; the area had been well worked-over during the season and, besides, the gun was so short in the stock that I wasn’t even sure how I would perform with it should my lab bump out some game.
In the event, it proved to be a memorable end-of-season morning hunt. Two hares and a cock pheasant fell victim to the fast-handling little gun, the only other casualty being my nose when it came into violent contact with my thumb because of the short stock. Despite that, I was impressed by the Compact’s handling. It would be a particularly effective shotgun in the hands of a youth or a lightly-built hunter.
The Weatherby AS-08 family has an impressive array of different models. They are well-manufactured and versatile shotguns which seem to me to represent good value for money. Our testfire gun performed utterly reliably with the wide range of ammunition we put through it and this particular compact model proved to be well-suited to its target market. Copyright 2015 NZRod&Rifle