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Shotgun Review: Winchester SX4 20-Gauge

The surge in small-bore shotguns for waterfowling has a new champion with the Winchester SX4 20-Gauge; here's a full review.

Shotgun Review: Winchester SX4 20-Gauge

The Winchester SX4 20-gauge shotgun is sleek and svelte as a figure skater, but don’t be fooled, she’s ready to punch ducks and geese in the mouth. With today’s excellent 20-gauge shells this little shotgun is more than a match for ducks and even Canadas over decoys.

A Piece of Living History

The “4” in SX4 indicates the fourth generation of the Winchester Super-X Model 1. Back in 1973 Winchester’s shotgun designers decided to make a semi-auto that replicated the handling and lines of their iconic Model 12 pump. Discontinued in 1963 the Model 12 was nicknamed “The Perfect Repeater.” Launched in 1912 (coincidentally in 20 gauge) the Model 12 went on to sell over two million in 12, 16, 20 and 28 gauges before its demise. The Super-X 1 was and still is one of the finest semi autos ever produced. It was, like the Model 12, of all milled parts, recoil was mild, and its function was flawless. The problem was that it was too expensive to manufacture and in 1981, after selling only about 85,000, the Super-X 1 was quietly dropped.

By 1989 the bankrupt Winchester Repeating Arms was bought by the French holding company GIAT who ultimately sold it to the Belgian gun makers Fabrique Nationale d'Herstal (FN) who also own Browning Arms. This combining of brands has brought about some excellent firearms.

Pass the Gas

Based on the Browning Gold, designed by Jose Rouseau, that incorporates an excellent and versatile gas system that gobbles up all ammo from target loads right up to magnum headbangers; it shoots ‘em all. As the years passed, the head men at FN saw an opportunity to expand the Browning Gold into a less expensive yet quality model under the Winchester moniker, and so was born the SX2, followed by the SX3 and finally the souped-up SX4.

For starters the SX4 uses the same basic gas system as the Browning Gold, which Winchester calls the Active Valve System. The excess gas not used to operate the action is vented out through the Quadra-Port vents at the front of the forend. One difference between the Gold and SX4 is the speed-load feature. Shooting the old square-back Browning Auto 5 from an open bolt you could chamber the first round by shoving a shell into the magazine, which was whisked into the chamber. My dad shot an Auto 5 for years and always enjoyed hearing that first shell going home. The Browning Gold adopted that feature by means of a two-piece carrier, where as the SX4’s carrier is a one-piece, so you toss your first round into the ejection port and chambered it with a push of the large bolt release. Big deal!

The SX4 20 is built on a slender 20-gauge receiver that matched with its slim forend gives it that cheerleader look, but the butt stock is manly in dimensions, and it weighs about the same as the 12, 6 lbs. 7 oz., which when combined with the recoil-taming Inflex recoil pad shooting a 3-inch 1-ounce load at 1,350 fps barely kicks. I checked the cylinder bore with my digital bore micrometer just below the recess for the screw-in Invector-Plus chokes and it measured .619 inches. SAAMI standard is .615 and the .004-inch more freeboard won’t hurt patterning.

Winchester SX4 In the Field

Where to go shoot this little jewel? How about the Hackberry Rod & Gun Club that lies south of Lake Charles, Louisiana, almost on the Gulf of Mexico; the last stop on the fall migration. I’ve hunted there off and on for over 40 years, and for accommodations, food — when you come in from the hunt a steaming bowl of gumbo is always waiting for you—and there are always plenty of ducks around, plus a pop at a snow or speck is always in the cards.

I topped off the SX4 with one of Julie and Larry Leutenegger’s Code BLACK Duck Patternmaster tubes and ran Kent’s 3-inch Fasteel 1 oz. No. 3 at 1,350 fps and 7/8 oz. at 1,550 with 3s through it. I shot a few Kent 20-gauge very lethal Bismuth loads of No. 3s at 1,400 fps, and I also took along some of Federal Premium 3-inch Black Cloud FS in No. 2s at 1,350 fps that uses their new Flex wad that works in both ported and non-ported chokes. If I did my job on the back end of the gun, they sure did theirs on the ducks.

Setups at Hackberry have each guide given 1,000 acres of marsh to hunt with traditional Louisiana sunken three-man blinds set for the winds. Decoy spreads number in the hundreds, and the guides are all locals who know their ducks. Don’t take your contest call and Stuttgart routine along, as the ducks down there have heard every kind of call and its easier to blow ‘em out than call ‘em in! One thing is for sure, about every brand of duck in the Mississippi Flyway is there. One morning it can be mallards, pintails and black jacks and the next grey ducks, cans and bluebills or a mixture of all of them.

I used to think the 12 was the only gun to shoot at waterfowl but with today’s ammo and a slick worker like the 20-gauge SX4, I might think about retirement for some of my 12s. Good shooting!

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