April 18, 2016
By Joseph von Benedikt
Shotguns, to me, appear to be very temperamental objects. For instance, I struggle with over-under shotguns — just can't consistently break clays or drop birds — but shoot semiautos well enough to avoid embarrassment, and I feel right at home with side-by-sides. There's no sense to it — thank goodness scattergunning is still a certifiable dark art.
Here's another anomaly from the predictable. For whatever reason, I've never found a 28 gauge that I don't adore. Except for their appetites, that is. They have costly tastes and — at least under my care — seem to go through quantities of fodder all out of proportion to their petite frames.
More predictably, courtesy of light recoil and responsive handling characteristics, when I have a 28-gauge fieldpiece between my fists, I tend to break clays and drop birds, even tough birds, as though I'm a real shotgun shooter. I've yet to try the 28 on ducks, but pheasants I shoot at with the classy little shotshell frequently drop — always to my surprise — like bricks from the sky. I've had shotgunners far more knowledgeable than I attempt to explain the phenomenon scientifically — some bore diameter versus shot column mumbo jumbo — but clearly, I'm experiencing some perfect-gauge mojo.
One really adverse attribute that all 28-gauge shotguns share is the deplorable fact that shells for them are ridiculously expensive. Another is that affordable 28-gauge shotguns are rare. Weatherby, however, has just closed that argument against the classic quail caliber resoundingly with the new Weatherby SA-08 Deluxe.
The Weatherby SA-08 Up Close
Built on a true-to-28-gauge-size frame, the Weatherby SA-08 Deluxe offers outstanding ergonomics, advanced design characteristics, and lovely appearance for $849. Clad in well-finished select-grade walnut that sports 22-lines-per-inch checkering, the Weatherby SA-08 28-gauge is available with either a 26- or a 28-inch, chrome-lined barrel with a vented top rib and brass bead. A lengthened forcing cone reduces the moderate recoil of the 28 to ridiculously low levels and enhances pattern consistency downrange. Three screw-in chokes — IC, Modified, and Full — are included with every shotgun, along with a gauge-versatile choke tube wrench.
The barrel breech is well fitted into a CNC-machined, aircraft-grade alloy receiver, which is nicely finished with glossy black anodizing. Edges of the feeding port are rounded, as is the front of the loading gate, basically eliminating the potential for mangling your loading thumb.
In order to keep operation as simple and streamlined as possible, there are only three fire controls: charging handle, safety, and bolt release button.
Internal operation is classic and time-proven. Two different valve sleeves enable the owner to set up the shotgun for use with either light or heavy loads. Swapping out the sleeves is as simple as screwing off the magazine cap, lifting the fore-end off the tubular magazine, pulling the barrel (with the valve sleeve encapsulated in the gas port ferrule) off, and lifting the installed sleeve out and dropping the other in. I've shot every 28-gauge load I could get my hands on, and the little Weatherby SA-08 has run flawlessly with them all.
Cleaning is also simple, by virtue of the easy disassembly and accessibility of the operating parts. The bolt is chrome plated, allowing it to shrug off heavy fouling and making it easy to clean with a pass of a rag. Likewise, the trigger group drops out and brushes up with ease.
Although I do most of my hunting with the magazine plug installed since confrontations with game wardens make my stomach unreasonably jumpy, the Weatherby SA-08 Deluxe 28 gauge holds four plus one shells with the plug removed — and it removes more easily and quickly than any other I'm familiar with. Simply screw off the magazine cap, hook a fingernail under the nail-type head of the plug, and draw it out. Replace the magazine cap and get back to shooting. Where legal, having extra shells on tap can be a very real advantage.
Shootability in Spades
Like most shotgun triggers, the trigger on the Weatherby SA-08 has a slightly spongy feel, but it's actually quite shootable — not too heavy and not too spongy. As measured by my Lyman digital trigger gauge, it averages 4 pounds, 10 ounces.
The Weatherby SA-08 Deluxe 28 gauge is lightweight, only 5.5 pounds, so it's easy to tote through the grouse woods all day long. It avoids the whippiness common to very light shotguns, courtesy of a weight-forward balance, yet the fore-end is slender and long. The grip is open yet supportive.
Four different shims are included with each shotgun. They offer various amounts of pitch so that the owner may adjust the drop of the stock to properly fit his or her physique; one shim may be inserted to add cast — right or left, depending on the way the shim is installed. On my shotgun, I've removed the standard, neutral shim and installed the one giving the most possible drop as well as the shim that adds cast.
Some shooters maintain that shotgunning is a science, but this little 28 gauge contends that there is plenty of art and maybe even a little magic involved. It's beautifully built, takes ergonomics to a level of perfection, and reliably turns clays to clouds of dust and drops even wild-flying birds like stones, leaving only puffs of feathers floating against the sky.