Preview: Weatherby SA-08 Deluxe Autoloading Shotgun

Weatherby, Inc. of Paso Robles, CA has been taking a long hard look at the point where quality and value meet for today's shotgunner. To achieve this in their SA-08 autoloading shot series, they have taken the basic platform of what was the Beretta A301 shotgun and made it more reliable with a broader spectrum of loads. With new tooling, a new manufacturing facility in Turkey, and a commitment to testing the SA-08 line both at the manufacturing plant level and at Weatherby Headquarters, the SA-08 is the result.

The basic Beretta 300 series, known in times past as the A301, A302, Browning B-80, A303, and the A304 series of shotguns have long been among my favorite autoloaders. There's little secret about that, considering all the shooting with them I'm done and all the articles I've written about them. I still shoot and hunt with B-80 and 303 autoloaders on a regular basis. What has been the evolution of the 302 has an improvement in some ways (load versatility), but an advance to the rear in weight, complexity, and cost. My “lucky drill bit” has opened the gas ports of over a dozen A303 and B-80 barrels by now.

The lack of load versatility has been one area of consternation with the A302 platform, as there is no way for the gas system to compensate well for shell changes. One of the best examples of this is the barrel array that was offered for the Browning B-80 12 gauge. There was the “2-3/4 inch,” the “3 inch,” and finally the “Plus Barrel” for “2-3/4 and 3 inch shells.” Ideally, you'd just change barrels with the three inch chambered barrels having smaller gas ports to keep the bolt speed down to realistic level to keep the gun from battering itself to pieces with high pressure past the gas port loads. That was “the system” for the Browning B2000 and several other models as well. It is an issue that Remington 1100 users have long had as well; non-compensating gas systems narrow the spectrum of loads that can be used. Target models often came with 2-3/4 inch chambers, field guns with 3 inch chambers. Often, field guns are used for skeet, trap, and sporting clays with the result of failures to eject when using target propellants with quick pressure trace decay rates.

A sluggish 3 inch chambered 303 or B-80 barrel is easily modified to give reliability with target loads, but once you do that as I've done it is a 2-3/4 inch shell gun for all practical purposes for good. A simple, expeditious way of tuning your gun for the loads you intend to shoot is a good solution, the solution John Browning used in the A-5. Still, sometimes we are too lazy to do a sixty second adjustment. Shame on us. In the words of one of my mentors from thirty years ago, “We have got to be smarter than the things we are operating.” That was a favorite saying of Bob Vondersaar and Bob was usually right.

The 302 / B-80 action has no way to adjust for pressure past the ports. The faster and faster the bolt speed increases, the more wear and tear to the gun-- and the more shock and vibration to you and me. The Weatherby solution is a simple sensible one. All the SA-08 models have three inch chambers. You have a stainless steel piston marked “Light” and one marked “Heavy.” Even I can follow this one. Brad Ruddell, V-P of Weatherby, give a commendable, sensible overview video of the SA-08 on the website that last just under four minutes. It all “sounds like a pretty good deal” to Brad, which is not completely unexpected.

With MSRP's range from the $449 plastic stocked version to $739 for the SA-08 Deluxe, it sounds like a pretty good deal to me as well. There hasn't been a thorough, hyper-critical review of the SA-08 yet that I'm aware of-- but that's about to change.
The specs for the SA-08 Deluxe are:

Expect a thorough work-out and complete review of the SA-08 Deluxe 26 in. 20 gauge in the near future. I'm looking forward to it.

Copyright 2010 by Randy Wakeman. All Rights Reserved.



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