My left foot was freezing as icy water seeped relentlessly through a pinhole in my waders at the ankle, thanks to the large multi-flora rose cane I stepped on en route to the pond bank. But that was of little consequence at the moment, because as dawn broke, the webfoots were flying; first a brace of mallards, then a flock of wood ducks zipped, warily eyeballing my dekes well out of range.
As I awaited the next onslaught of whistling wings, I looked over my shotgun, a new Weatherby SA-08 Waterfowler 3.0. I had given it a workout on clay birds and a hapless game-farm pheasant and knew it was a reliable shooter, but its purpose in life is hunting ducks and geese, so that was the task de jour.
The Weatherby SA-08 is a modern gas-operated semi-automatic made in Turkey by the well-respected firm of ATA in Istanbul. The Waterfowler is a 12-gauge, 3-inch magnum, especially outfitted for ducks and geese, although it would be perfect for turkeys, too.
It is striking in appearance, as it’s decked out in Mothwing Marsh Mimicry camo pattern that is not only darn good to look at, but also blends well in a duck blind. This tough finish is applied by a special “dipping” process that adheres it to all metal and stock surfaces.
The Waterfowler is light (6 pounds, 9 ounces), handy (46 inches overall), and points like a dream. It has what Weatherby calls a “Muzzle-Weighted Balance” that puts the balance point “slightly ahead of the midpoint between your hands, giving the shotgun a slight ‘muzzle-weighted’ feel.” But the gun does not feel muzzle-heavy at all when shooting, and a smooth swing and good follow-through are a snap, and it comes to the shoulder like a natural extension of your arm, in line with your eye.
The excellent trigger breaks at a little over four pounds, and the entire unit is easily removable for cleaning. A manual safety button is conveniently located at the rear of the trigger guard. A “Carrier Lock Button” on the lower right side of the receiver allows the user to unload the chamber without disturbing the rounds in the magazine. The bolt won’t lock back as you do this, however, so watch your fingers. The five-round magazine is equipped with a removable plug to reduce capacity to two rounds.
The Waterfowler is offered with 26- or 28-inch ventilated rib barrels. It comes with three screw-in choke tubes, improved cylinder, modified, and full, a tube wrench, and a unique adjustable gas system. While some gas guns take a “one size fits all” approach, they frequently are just set up for light loads, and thus are over-powered with heavy waterfowl shells. This puts extra stress and strain on the gun and shooter.
Weatherby SA-08s have a “Dual Valve System” with two “pistons,” one for light loads, the other for heavy. The owner’s manual details which piston to use for what loads. This lessens wear and tear on the gun, and reduces recoil with heavy loads. To switch one piston for the other, just remove the forend and barrel, swap the pistons, and reassemble. There are two holes in the port cylinder on the middle-bottom of the barrel that bleed powder gases to the pistons, which initiate movement of the slide arm assembly. A recoil spring in the buttstock returns the bolt into battery.
I tested ammo with a wide range of shot weights, and as long as I had the correct piston in place, everything went fine. With the “light load” piston, zippy 7/8-ounce factory loads (at around 1,300 fps) and 1- and 11/8-ounce loads worked perfectly. With the “heavy load” piston installed, 1¼- to 2-ounce, 3-inch goose and turkey loads worked slick as a whistle.
The synthetic stock comes with a soft 1-inch recoil pad, and sling-swivel studs are installed for a carrying strap, especially handy when carrying a gunnysack of decoys and a tote sack with coffee and donuts to the blind. The stock-to-metal fit was excellent. Everybody’s different, but the Waterfowler stock fit me to a “T”, and was downright deadly on the clays range and in the field.
Overall, I’d give the SA-08 Waterfowler high marks. It functions 100 percent, is quite attractive, and retails for a very modest $749. Anyone in the market for a versatile and reliable semi-auto for ducks, geese, turkeys, or just about any feathered game should give the SA-08 Waterfowler a serious look.
Price: $693 to $1180
Price: $449 to $539