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Shotgun Review: Weatherby 18i

The Italian-made Weatherby 18i is a sleek, inertia-operated semi-auto that's capable of handling a full range of shotshells.

Shotgun Review: Weatherby 18i

With three stylish finishes to choose from, you're sure to find a Weatherby 18i shotgun that fits your wingshooting needs. (Photo By: Brad Fitzpatrick)

The 18i is the first Weatherby shotgun released since the company’s move to Sheridan, Wyoming—but these semiauto shotguns actually originate in Brescia, Italy where they are built by respected Italian firearms manufacturer, Marocchi. The 18i is available in three different versions including the line-topping Deluxe model with electroless nickel finish, laser engraving, chrome plating and a magnificent walnut stock. For those who prefer the practicality of a polymer stock there’s the all-black 18i Synthetic and the 18i Waterfowler model which is clad in Mossy Oak or Realtree camo. Regardless of which of these guns you select, you’re getting a solid, reliable semiauto that doesn’t cost as much as competing guns in this class.

Inertia-Driven

All 18i models utilize the inertia-driven system that was introduced by Benelli in 1986. To refresh, the inertia system is very simple: a rotating bolt head locks into position when a shell is chambered. That bolt head is connected to the bolt body via a heavy spring. When the gun is fired, recoil drives the gun rearward except for the bolt body, which “floats.” As the gun moves back with recoil, the spring compresses and when pressures are low enough, the spring begins to expand, unlocking the bolt face and forcing it rearward. This rearward motion draws the spent shell from the chamber, extracts it, and the bolt picks up another shell from the magazine when the assembly is driven forward by the recoil spring.

Weatherby 18i shotgun
Hunters and sport shooters alike can appreciate the dependability of the Weatherby inertia drive system. (Photo By: Brad Fitzpatrick)

The process relies on the force of recoil to initiate the cycling of the bolt rather than gasses, and that’s what makes guns like the 18i so reliable. Few moving parts and no dirty gas ports make inertia guns easier to maintain than gas-operated shotguns, which is one reason why when the Benelli patent ran out, other gun companies began incorporating inertia-operated shotguns into their lines.

I don’t like the idea of having to scrub dirt and deposits out of gas ports in my gun to make it run reliably, and that’s why I’m such a fan of the 18i. This gun is easy to maintain and operates in a wide range of conditions with a broad range of loads. The test gun I had was the 18i Synthetic, and that gun would reliably cycle 1 1⁄8-ounce 12-gauge loads as well as 3 ½-inch magnums. That means you can rely on one gun for firing heavy goose and turkey loads, and that same gun will also work with relatively light upland and target loads without having to make any modifications to the gun. There are no gas pistons to change when you want to fire heavier or lighter loads.

You will, however, have to get a firm grip on the gun. Inertia guns like the 18i rely on the rearward force of recoil to help cycle the action, and that means the gun’s butt needs to be firmly planted on the shooter’s shoulder. You don’t need a death grip to make this gun run, but you can’t be a wilting flower behind the force of recoil and expect the 18i to reliably function. For most shooters this is a moot point anyhow: mount your gun as you should (in the pocket of your shoulder) and fire all day long. It’s only when most shooters get a really bad gun mount while trying to knock down a duck or a passing dove that they notice issues.

Deluxe vs. Synthetic

The Deluxe version is certainly the most striking of the 18i guns with its elegant walnut stock and laser engraving. It’s also the only one that sports a 3-inch chamber or is available in 20-gauge. These guns are beautifully poised in the hands with a balance point at the front of the receiver, and if I were buying an 18i strictly for upland hunting and clay targets, the Deluxe would be my selection (especially the svelte little 20-gauge model with 26-inch barrel that weighs in at just 6 pounds). MSRP is $1,899, which is about $100 less than the Benelli Ethos.

Weatherby 18i deluxe shotgun
The Weatherby 18i Deluxe is an attractive option for upland bird hunters and clay shooters interested in a semiautomatic shotgun. (Photo By: Brad Fitzpatrick)

If you’re looking for a more utilitarian semiauto, the 18i Synthetic and 18i Waterfowler might better suit your needs. The 18i Synthetic carries an MSRP of $1,149, which makes it a superb value among inertia-operated, Italian-made 3 ½-inch shotguns. The Waterfowler version is available with your choice of Mossy Oak Shadow Grass Blades, Mossy Oak Bottomlands, Realtree MAX-5, or Realtree Timber camo and carries an MSRP of $1,239 to $1,249.


Controls & Operation

The 18i’s controls will seem familiar to anyone who has used an inertia gun in the past. There’s a crossbolt safety that is positioned behind the trigger guard, and on the front right side of the trigger guard you’ll find the shell release. Pressing up on the shell release drops a shell from the mag to the top of the carrier, and retracting the bolt chambers the round. A round bolt release button is located just underneath the ejection port on the right side of the gun. It’s worth noting that Weatherby hasn’t yet followed the trend of adding very large, oversized controls to their guns. I’m not sure how much these oversized controls on other semiautos help anyway, so I don’t consider that a handicap to the operation of the gun.

Like other Italian guns, 18i semiautos are proof tested. The bore is chrome lined, and the receiver of all three 18i guns is made from one-piece machined billet aluminum. The aluminum receiver helps keep weight manageable—around 7 pounds for the 12-gauge gun. Both of the polymer stock guns have soft-touch comb inserts that reduce abuse to your cheek when firing heavy loads or shooting a sporting clays course. Sling studs come standard on all three models, as does an LPA fiber optic front sight and a 7mm top rib. I prefer a basic bead on a field gun—I think a fine walnut stock pairs well with a simple brass bead—but the fiber optic sight is certainly more visible in low light. Five choke tubes (C, IC, M, IM, F) and a wrench come with each gun. The choke tubes are threaded using a Browning Invector/Winchester/Mossberg thread pattern. Also included in the case are stock shims and spacers that allow the owner to adjust for cant, drop, and length of pull. Standard magazine capacity for the 18i is 4+1 rounds, but it comes supplied with a 2+1 plug installed. To remove the plug simply unscrew the magazine cap and pull the plug free.

Cleaning and maintenance of the 18i, like other inertia guns, is simple and straightforward. There are very few moving parts to disassemble and so long as you keep the internal parts clean and lightly lubricated this gun will run. And run. And run.

Weatherby 18i Specifications

  • Action Type: Inertia-operated semiauto
  • Gauge: 20 (Deluxe), 12
  • Stock: Walnut, Black polymer, or Elastomer
  • Metal Finish: nickel metalwork, Matte Black, or camo
  • Weight: 6–7 lbs.
  • Barrel Length: 26–28"
  • Length of Pull: 14.3"
  • Capacity:4+1
  • Chamber:3.5"
  • Suggested Retail Price: $1,149–$1,899
  • Website: weatherby.com


In the Field

I shot the 18i at a clays course, and I found it to be perfectly well-suited to the occasion. The recoil is substantial with potent loads but not unmanageable. The recoil pad is rather thin but soft, and it absorbs recoil well.

The 18i has a broad forearm compared to trimmer inertia guns and operation is smooth and the gun is well balanced. The heel of the recoil pad is radiused and doesn’t hang-up when the gun is mounted—a practical concern when you’re wearing an upland vest or bulky waterfowl jacket. The checkering on the forearm and pistol grip is elegant, clean, and functional. This gun is well-suited for the hunter looking for an inertia-operated semiauto with which to break clays in spring and summer.

It’s also, of course, well-designed for hunting. The 18i Synthetic is a tad heavy for serious open-country upland hunting—though, as stated, the 20-gauge is well-suited for that. But in a duck blind, on a clays course, or when hunting birds that don’t require marathon hikes up and down steep, unforgiving rimrock, the seven-pound 18i Synthetic is an excellent all-around semiauto. I enjoy hunting with inertia-operated semiautos over dogs because it’s fast and easy to remove the shell from the chamber. By simply pulling back on the bolt handle you’ve removed the chambered shell and made the gun safe while handling dogs.

Weatherby 18i synthetic shotgun
The Weatherby 18i is a reliable performer and built tough to withstand the punishing conditions of the uplands and wetlands. (Photo By: Brad Fitzpatrick)

There’s no doubt that the 18i is a good value. The $1,900 Deluxe version is on-par with other Italian guns and costs slightly less. To my mind, though, the $1,149 Synthetic is the real steal in this lineup. An Italian-made 3 ½-inch 12-gauge semiauto that barely cracks four figures? It is definitely something worth considering.

Weatherby will always be known as a rifle and centerfire ammo manufacturer first, but there’s no doubt that the Flying W brand is upping their shotgun game. I’d really like to see the polymer-stocked 18i shotguns chambered in 20-gauge, but the current lineup is really quite impressive.

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