Shotgun Report: Sauer SL5
December 30, 2019
The new SL5 is a good-looking, reliable semiauto from Germany's oldest gunmaker.
Since opening its doors in 1751, Germany’s J.P. Sauer & Sohn has produced just about every type of firearm imaginable, with one notable exception—the company has never sold a semiauto shotgun. But that’s all changed now thanks to the introduction of the Sauer SL5.
At the heart of this 12-gauge autoloader is a Breda action that’s based on Bruno Civolani’s inertia-operated design. Simple and extremely robust, the Civolani action uses far fewer parts than traditional gas-operating systems. Like other inertia guns, the Sauer’s action features a rotating bolt head, a bolt, and a return spring that’s mounted within the gun’s stock. Sauer uses a two-piece aluminum receiver that comes with a hard-anodized black finish, and the SL5 is available with either a 28" or 30" chrome-lined barrel with a 7mm stepped top rib; orange LPA fiber-optic front sight; and five screw-in, flush-fitting choke tubes (C, IC, M, IM, F).
The Sauer is equipped with a 3" chamber, and the tubular magazine holds four 2¾" shells, or three 3" loads when the plug is removed. Length of pull on the SL5 is 14.4", and overall length is 49". Weight varies with wood density, but these guns are listed at under 7 lbs.
The beautiful laser-enhanced walnut stock and forearm of the Sauer has a great deal of figure, and there’s fine-line checkering on the pistol grip and the forearm. A finger groove at the rear of the forearm shallows toward the deeply knurled magazine cap, and the SL5 has a Schnabel-style fore-end—a touch rarely seen on semiauto shotguns. Each of these guns comes equipped with ERGOFIT shims that allow for cast and drop adjustments to accommodate both right- and left-handed shooters. The SL5’s dense, black recoil pad effectively absorbs kick, and the radiused heel prevents hang-up when mounting the gun.
SL5 shotguns feature a matte burnished barrel surface and a matte nickel bolt, which reduce glare. Controls should be familiar to anyone who has fired an interia gun: There’s a round bolt release button (with a Sauer logo in the center) located on the right side of the receiver, a shell release lever, and a crossbolt safety positioned at the rear of the trigger guard. The trigger assembly is made of all-metal parts, ensuring a long life.
It's All in the Details
When you examine the SL5 closely, you can’t help but be impressed with the attention to detail on this gun. The checkering is excellent, and the oil finish on the stock gives it a premium look and feel. Metal-to-wood fit is excellent throughout, and even the included choke tube wrench is substantial and well-designed. Bolt head rotation is smooth, and the bottom of the bolt has been polished to a mirror surface to reduce friction and ensure smooth cycling.
Ergonomics on this gun are also superb. The pistol grip is rather steep and comes with a palm swell that fills the hand and offers maximum control, and the forearm design, with its slight belly, finger groove and modified Schnabel fore-end offers a comfortable grip. Because the balance point of the SL5 is almost even with the bolt handle, it offers a between-the-hands feel—neither nose-heavy nor whippy. It’s hard to find fault with the balance of this Sauer semi-auto.
The SL5’s look is best referred to as “understated.” There are no radical color schemes or embellishments on the receiver, and no stock inserts or avant-garde checkering. With its excellent wood and elegant lines, the Sauer will appeal to the traditionalist. The matte finish on the metalwork is functional, and whether you prefer the dull finish on the SL5, or more traditional gloss bluing, is a matter of personal taste. What most every hunter and shooter will agree on, however, is that the Sauer shoots extremely well.
On the Range
I tested the Sauer on a 5-Stand course and it ran well, firing all three test loads (Winchester AA Light Target, Federal Wing-Shok, and Remington Nitro Steel) without any issues. Since the Sauer is an inertia gun and doesn’t have any recoil reduction in the stock, setback is substantial but not abusive. The 11⁄8-oz. AA loads produce manageable recoil from this almost 7-lb. gun, and even the 11⁄8-oz. Wing-Shok loads aren’t painful to shoot. Recoil is more pronounced than with similar gas guns like the Remington V3 Walnut, which also weighs a half-pound more than the Sauer. Still, at just under 7 lbs., the SL5 is light enough for all-day carry in the field. There are guns that are lighter, but recoil rises sharply as ounces are shed, and the Sauer strikes a nice balance between portability and shootability. At 30 yards, all three loads shot very flat on the patterning board, producing 50/50 patterns—exactly what you would expect from a field gun.
Sauer has a well-deserved reputation for making attractive firearms that are durable and reliable, and the SL5 doesn’t disappoint. With an MSRP of $1,699, it’s competing with guns like the Browning Maxus Hunter ($1,589), Browning A5 Hunter ($1,669), Benelli Montefeltro Silver ($1,769), and the Beretta A400 Upland ($1,700). Sauer is in elite company—the SL5 holds its own, even among these premium shotgun competitors.