March 27, 2022
Weatherby has offered shotguns for a good while now; everything from Spanish-made side-by-sides, Turkish autoloaders to affordable pumps. The now-Wyoming-based firm has had some shotgun home runs. I believe its latest autoloader, the 18i Waterfowl to be the best it’s ever offered. Why? I’ll tell you below.
In 2018, Weatherby partnered with the Italian gunmaking firm Breda to deliver shotguns to its specifications. Breda is not just another johnny-come-lately manufacturer that’s cranked up lately with CNC machines as a substitute for know-how. Rather, it’s been around since 1925 and holds many patents and industry firsts—such as removable choke tubes in 1953. It also worked closely with one of Italy’s most accomplished engineers in Bruno Civolani, the gentleman who invented the inertia action system used extensively by Benelli. A few years ago, the patent expired, opening the door for other manufacturers to take advantage of the inertia-action’s myriad advantages, including enhanced reliability, self-regulation and simplicity of design— resulting in less moving parts and less wear and tear. As a byproduct of fewer parts, it’s also inherently light weight.
Appreciating these traits, Weatherby called upon Breda to deliver a line of guns exclusively for it. What resulted was the 18i, and now, the 18i Waterfowler.
The Big Picture
In essence, the 18i Waterfowler is a 12-gauge, 3.5-inch chamber, inertia-action semiauto that weighs just 6.8 pounds with its 28-inch barrel. It features everything waterfowlers want, including a vent-rib, five top-quality chrome-polished choke tubes, studs for a sling, and one of four camo finishes including Mossy Oak Bottomland, shown here. Frankly, I like camo dipping not so much for its camouflage, but for its protective qualities after it’s applied to a gun’s steel. But there are cheaply dipped guns out there and properly dipped guns, and this 18is is done well with no blemishes or air pockets for rust to fester. However, all of the features I’ve mentioned are fairly standard these days, so let’s get to a few that make this shotgun stand out.
First, it’s Benelli-like action claims superiority to gas actions for reliability. It blows gas and grime out of the barrel with each shot rather than recycling it back into the action like gas-action guns. Much has been written on how the intertia action actually works—so I won’t get into it here—but suffice it to say that it’s a master of self-regulation. While 3 1/2-inch shells are currently not en vogue—I suspect due to recoil—it’s absolutely true that the larger the payload, the better chance a hunter has to hit the target with everything else being equal. I happen to love 3.5-inch shells for big geese and turkeys, and I wouldn’t buy a dedicated waterfowl gun without the capability. The action’s downside? It does not mitigate recoil quite as much as gas actions do. Realizing this, Weatherby demanded a recoil-friendly stock that contains a great recoil pad—obviously—but also a rubbery cheek pad whose effectiveness cannot be overstated.
Sure, much of a shotgun’s recoil is directed at the shoulder, but much of the actual pain and end-of-the-day soreness, even headaches, come from being pounded repeatedly in the cheekbone. The 18i’s gel-type comb insert remedies this just as a pillow cushions the head from hard ground. But it’s more than just about pain relief: A shotgun that fits well and recoils as little as possible is easier to shoot well initially and quicker to get back on target for followup shots. We’re talking fractions of second here, but as everyone who’s ever shot at ducks realizes, shooting is a game of fractions. It also comes with several shims for adjusting the stock’s drop-at-comb the vitally important measurement for delivering patterns to point-of-aim. I wouldn’t buy an expensive shotgun for wingshooting that didn’t offer this feature.
It's All in the Details
The Weatherby 18i receiver is machined from a solid billet of aluminum, something that is afforded due to the design’s steel barrel extension that receives the brunt of the pressure generated by the fired shell. As such and like other aluminum-receiver shotguns, it can be made to own a more neutral “balance-between-the-hands” feel. The lack of a gas piston system under the forearm and the addition of a recoil return spring in the buttstock also shifts the gun's balance so it feels much livelier than weight-forward guns of old.
Finally, engineers thought out the 18i’s design thoroughly before machining; as such, the receiver features an integral dovetail for easy mounting of an optic, just in case the gun should be used for springtime turkey hunting or even during deer season with slugs.
After field testing this shotgun extensively, I found no real surprises. After 300 rounds firing 11/8-oz. No. 8 target loads, No. 2 Steel, Federal TSS and a handful of 3.5-inch turkey loads, I experienced not a single malfunction. Just as importantly, the shotgun printed its pattern to point of aim, and I hit flying targets with ease. I wish I had more to report, even a negative about the gun, but frankly, it’s excellent all-around. And although its name and camo suggest it’s for waterfowl, considering its light weight, features and its ability to cycle all 12-gauge shells, there’s really nothing it’s not suited for, from quail, dove, ducks, turkeys, deer and even home defense. Perhaps best of all, it’s priced right, too. And that is why I think the 18i is Weatherby’s best shotgun yet.
Weatherby 18i Waterfowler Specifications
- Type: Inertia-operated semi-automatic shotgun
- Gauge/Chamber: 12, 3.5-inch
- Magazine Capacity: 4+1
- Sights: Front fiber-optic pipe
- Stock: Synthetic
- Weight: 6 lbs. 13 oz.
- Barrel Length: 28-inch
- Finish: Camo dipped
- Chokes: C, IC, M, IM
- Accessories: 3 choke-tubes, case, wrench, stock skim kit
- Suggested Retail Price: $1,239