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.
My companion this day was an affable dachshund named Cowboy. While not a "hunting dog," as long as he's around humans, he's happy as a clam, and never barks, so he's a good hunting partner.
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.
Benelli Ultra Light
Topping the scales at less than five pounds, the Benelli Ultra Light
28-gauge semi-auto is balanced to swing smooth and easy. Using Benelli's proven inertia system for flawless cycling, this gun combines light, all-day carrying weight with a proven game-getting gauge. For anything from game-farm pheasants to elusive grouse, this gun does it all.
Price: [imo-slideshow gallery=30],699
Beretta A400 Action
The Beretta A400 Action
20-gauge takes advantage of Beretta's A400 platform with its ultra-fast Blink feeding system, improved gas control, great balance and ultra-soft recoil: It's a dream to shoot. The receiver is anodized in a beautiful bronze that beckons you to the uplands as fall arrives.
Price: [imo-slideshow gallery=30],625
Browning Citori 725 Field
Based on the fabled Superposed, the Browning Citori 725 Field
features a slim-profile receiver for lighter weight and better recoil management. The barrels are backbored to .742 and wear Browning's new Invector DS chokes that seal tight against the barrel walls. The mechanical trigger is a first for the Citori line, and ensures both excellent trigger pulls, and a sure second shot for follow-ups.
CZ Super Scroll
Most over/unders are at home in the uplands and on the range, but CZ
takes it to another level with this 28- and 20-gauge combo. The Super Scroll
is built on a 20-gauge platform, but shooters have the option to swap out either set of 30-inch barrels. Ornate hand-engraved scrollwork adorns the receiver, sideplates, trigger guard and mono-block, making this stack a true beauty. A feathery 6.7 pounds, there are five chokes included for both gauges, making the Scroll an excellent crossover gun.
hottest new over/under is the 28-gauge and .410-bore Aspire
. The small-gauge fanatic
will appreciate the color-hardened, round-action scaled receiver. Add mechanical triggers, 28-inch barrels and five chokes to provide the utmost in handling and versatility, and this is indeed a sweet gun for the uplands.
Mossberg Silver Reserve II
The Silver Reserve II
comes in both over/under and side-by-side versions. Both have 28-inch barrels for smooth handling, satin-finished select black walnut stocks and fore ends, and five screw-in choke tubes for hunting any cover.
Price: $693 to $1180
Remington Versa Max
The Versa Max
is the best semi-auto Remington
has ever made. The unique gas-port system located beneath the chamber ensures reliable cycling, and keeping the system clean is unbelievably easy. Available in camo or all-black, the stock is easily adjustable for drop, cast, and length through a system of easily changed spacers and an excellent recoil pad.
Price: [imo-slideshow gallery=30],399
Stoeger Uplander Longfowler
new 12- and 20-gauge Longfowlers
continue the tradition of offering quality double guns at an affordable price. The Longfowler's 30-inch barrels ensure a smooth swing, and the oil-finished A-grade satin walnut stock and fore end sets this classic-styled gun apart in appearance. Complete with extended choke tubes, the Longfowler comes in both side-by-side and over/under models.
Price: $449 to $539
Weatherby SA-08 Deluxe
New for this year, is the Weatherby SA-08 Deluxe
28-gauge semi-auto. Made in Turkey, it has a machined alloy receiver coupled with a select walnut stock and fore end, chrome-lined 26- or 28-inch vent-rib barrels with screw-in chokes. It handles and shoots great. At only 5½ pounds, you can carry this 28 all day and not break a sweat.
Winchester Model 101
The Winchester Model 101
was the darling of hunters in the 1960s and '70s, and now is back in an improved model. The low-profile action teamed with .742-inch backbored barrels translates to low recoil and better patterning. The chrome-plated barrels and chambers provide fast cleaning and lifetime corrosion protection. With its Investor-Plus chokes, the 101 is as versatile as they come.
Price: [imo-slideshow gallery=30],869