Winchester SX4 Waterfowl - tried and tested
- Credit: Archant
This fast-cycling semi-auto by Winchester impressed tester Mike Yardley with its beautiful handling characteristics, soft recoil, and introguing action design
Well, this was an interesting gun to test, not least for its location – a couple of hours from Krakow in Poland. I went there to see the range of new Browning and Winchester products with other shooting industry colleagues. Browning’s media manager, Adrien Koutny, worked tirelessly to make sure we all had a really good time. I think we did; in a couple of days about a dozen of us from the UK, Scandinavia, Germany and Italy got through 18,000 shells!
As well as a dozen or more shotguns, there were various different rifles on offer for trial, including the well-reviewed straight-pull Maral (essentially a manually operated BAR) and semi-automatic models not available in the UK. There was even the opportunity to shoot a variety of pistols on target and tactical ranges – and I had a lot of fun on the latter, remembering old skills with some Polish Afghan vets.
Anyway, back to our test. There were many interesting guns on offer, just about the entire range, but some stood out, especially when they were shot. The Winchester semis definitely impressed me in particular, but I also was bowled over by the performance of the little 525 alloy-actioned Browning Game 1 Light. It was interesting to see that my peers kept coming back to the same guns too. There was an extended magazine World Record Limited Edition version of the SX4, which handled and shot so well that one could barely get one’s hands on it (sadly, not available in the UK). Some of my colleagues were stuffing it full of free shells and blazing away, while I preferred just to enjoy the handling qualities, which were, intriguingly, more like an under-and-over with the long tube under the barrel.
The 30”-barrelled SX4 Waterfowl featured is a camo model (dressed in the Mossy Oak Shadow Grass Blades pattern). Designed with the hunting market it mind, it is mechanically very similar to the well-liked SX3.
There are some significant differences though. The cocking handle and bolt-release are larger than the SX3’s. There is also a new, more ergonomically shaped stock and fore-end. Like the SX3, the SX4 immediately seems a lot of gun for the money (with a typical selling price around the £700 mark).
It is fast-cycling and reliable (I had no malfunctions putting 200 or more shells through it and I saw no malfunctions on the firing line, although it was constantly in use). It’s not too heavy (7lb-ish), and felt recoil is low. The Inflex pad is efficient, and the barrel back-bored at 18.7mm also helps.
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Chokes are long: Invector Plus type with threading at the bottom of the tube to reduce gas leakage. They’re good – thicker-walled and stronger than some – but not quite as brilliant as the Browning Invector DS (Double Seal) chokes seen on the Browning 725. They seemed to suit the barrel well, though, as kills were impressive, even at long-range with Half choke fitted. The SX4 seemed to have that forgiving, easy shooting quality which is characteristic of recent Browning and Winchester semis.
As for the aesthetics, camo is not my thing, although lots of people love it. I’m not convinced it offers any real field advantage but, hey ho, each to their own, and there is a (slightly cheaper) black SX4 if you want it.
The stock does not have the adjustable shim system of the SX3 which is a pity, and one might hope Browning Winchester may reintroduce it.
The action design is intriguing. It is a gas-operated mechanism, of course, working on the short-impulse system developed a decade or two back (the earliest Browning semi-automatics, the A5s, were long-stroke recoil operated). This SX4 is chambered and fleur-de-lys proofed for 3½” loads and has a hard chromed chamber and bore.
The rib is ventilated and slightly raised. At the muzzle, there is a red fibre optic fore-sight – not too big and better for it – although my preference remains a solid metal bead for durability.
The styling of the SX4 is subtly improved over the SX3. The stock, comb and well radiused, slimmish grip and fore-end are comfortable. The gun looks streamlined too, with a rounded rear to the receiver rather than the hump-back seen on some autos. The out-of-the-box stock length with one ¼” spacer in place is 14 ¼”, an extra ¼” spacer is supplied, and more may be bought (allowing for 1” or more of extra length for those who need it).
As with the SX3, the SX4 uses what Browning call an ‘active valve’ system. This adjusts automatically to whatever load is being used and may be shot with a wide range of 2¾” (70mm) and longer cartridges. When firing very heavy loads, for example 3½” magnums, gases are vented both upwards and forwards from the Quadra-Vent ports in the fore-end. Bolt speed is also regulated by this means. The piston assembly itself is impressive with fine machining evident, and gas ports that are larger than usual.
It is an enclosed design which, again, helps to bring down felt recoil. The makers claim that this plan also offers improved reliability and cleaner operation (though keeping the piston clean is always good practice). The gun has a self-aligning detachable trigger assembly located by two drift pins in the receiver and a large, reversible safety as well as the large cocking handle and bolt-release.
I had a lot of fun shooting the SX4. I have shoulder and neck issues, so it was the first gun that I picked up from the rack in Poland. I was not disappointed with the performance in any way. I also liked the handling of the special model with the long extended mag which made it feel more like an OU. Both shot exceptionally well and there was universal agreement on this amongst my group of English and Scandinavian shooting hacks on range. We’ve tested an SX4 in these pages before, and liked it. This one only confirms that positive impression. What was remarkable here was the sheer number of rounds being put through this gun in a short space of time with no issues whatsoever. It would be hard to imagine a tougher test. The SX4 passed with flying colours. Good design, good weight, low felt recoil, absolute reliability, and a competitive price. It would be useful in a hide, on the marsh, or breaking clays at a local club.
TECH SPECS (RRP: £779 (Black composite £719))
* Model: Winchester SX4 Waterfowl
* Action type: gas-operation – short impulse system
* Bore: back-bored 12
* Barrel: 30” (28” available too and 26” on the black composite model)
* Chamber: 3 1/2”
* Chokes: Investor Plus (3 supplied)
* Rib: Narrow (6mm) raised
* Weight: about 7lbs.