Mossberg and Weatherby and More: The Battle of the 20 Gauges Part Two
Due to a large number of requests, the original Mossberg SA-20 / Weatherby Element comparison has been expanded to include the Benelli M2 Comfortech and a vintage Browning B-80. Both the Browning B-80 and the Benelli have been well-used, part of my regular group of pheasant hunting shotguns, where the Mossberg SA-20 and the Weatherby were factory new.
Weight: the lightest of the group is the 24 inch barreled Benelli M2 at 6 lbs. on the nose, the Mossberg and Browning B-80 both are 6-1/4 lbs., and the Weatherby Element hits 6-1/2 lbs.
FUNCTION WITH TARGET LOADS
The target load used to test function was Remington American Clay & Field 7/8 oz., 1200 fps loads. The Browning B-80 has a 3 inch chamber and normally needs 1 oz. or heavier shells for perfect function. It did work with the Remington Clay & Field loads, but failed to hold the bolt open after the last (third shot) and failed to eject the third shell a few times as well. This is to be expected with Browning B-80 / Beretta 302 / Beretta 303 series 20 gauges: if you want reliability with 7/8 oz. loads, use a 2-3/4 inch chambered barrel.
The Benelli M2 and the Mossberg SA-20 had satisfyingly strong ejection with 7/8 oz. target loads. The Weatherby Element had no failures to feed or eject, but the ejection was on the weak side which improved a bit the more it was fired.
FUNCTION WITH PHEASANT LOADS
Fiocchi 1-1/4 oz., 1200 fps “Golden Pheasant” 3 inch unfolded length shells were used in all four shotguns with no failures to feed or eject of any kind.
The Mossberg SA-20 was the softest-shooting 20 gauge of the bunch, edging out the Browning B-80. This is attributed to the better recoil pad supplied on the SA-20, as B-80's come with a rubber butt-plate that I would hesitate to designate as a recoil pad at all. The two gas guns won in the soft-shooting department with no question.
Only the Browning B-80, no longer in production (made from 1981-1988), has a good factory trigger, breaking at just under 4 lbs. The Benelli M2 had an excessively heavy trigger that was lightened by Benelli. Both the Mossberg SA-20 and the Weatherby Element have factory triggers that exceed the weight of the guns themselves.
The Weatherby Element has a tiny triangular shaped rear of the trigger guard cross-bolt safety that is excessively stiff. It is a negative, as far as I'm concerned. All of the other shotgun's cross-bolt safeties are easier to use.
LOADING THE TUBULAR MAGAZINE
Benelli 20 gauges have a history of being thumb-busters: my example was no exception. Benelli suggested I take a hammer to the shell-stop: I asked them to do it and, they did . . . significantly improving the situation. Still, the M2 is stiff-loading compared to the other three shotguns in this round up, as is the Franchi Affinity in 20 gauge.
Mossberg and Benelli have the best of this group. The strange, curved pad of the Weatherby Element is difficult to replace, as is the goofy notched pad of the Franchi Affinity. The B-80 has a stiff rubber butt-plate, not much of a pad at all.
OVERALL VALUE and A SURPRISE WINNER
The Mossberg SA-20 is not only the most economical of the current product 20 gauges, it is also the best value and the best overall. It is blued and walnut, comes very well-presented in a padded hard case, has factory shims included, five Mobil-choke style choke tubes are included, the bolt closes briskly and with authority, with no suspicion of sluggish bolt syndrome. Prices do vary, of course, the individual dealer sets the price, but I've recently seen them go for $480 - $520, and there is no 20 gauge autoloader from a name-brand company that competes with it.
Mossberg in conjunction with Armsan has really upped their game with the SA-20. If the nameplate on the gun was “Browning” or “Beretta” it would be a $1200 shotgun. Yet, a Browning Silver Hunter Matte retails for $1149.99, street price of about $1000, has lesser wood, polish, and finish than the tested SA-20, also has an excessively heavy trigger, weighs a full quarter pound more, and comes in a cardboard box with just three choke tubes. This is just one example.
The Benelli M2 Comfortech 20 gauge, a shotgun I have extensively hunted with and very much enjoy, has a current street price of about $1450.
It is a very rare but fortuitous circumstance when the most affordable shotgun tested turns out to the most desirable. This is indeed the case with the Mossberg International SA-20: I'm surprised, but in a very good way. There little left to say except congratulations to Mossberg for a job well done. The SA-20 deserves and gets my highest recommendation.
Copyright 2017 by Randy Wakeman. All Rights Reserved.