Guns and Gear

Gun Test: Weatherby’s SA-08 28 gauge

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By Holt Bodinson, GUNS Magazine

Since 1967, Weatherby has been fielding a smorgasbord of fine shotguns and reasonably priced, too, considering the quality being offered. The first model offered was the Regency O/U, made by Angelo Zoli of Italy followed by the Olympian, Athena and Orion models made by Nikko and SKB in Japan. Over the years, there have been series of Weatherby SxSs, pumps and autoloaders as well. When Tim Frampton, Weatherby’s Marketing Coordinator, said they had just added a scaled-down 28 gauge to their SA-08 autoloader line, I had to have it. Twenty-eight-gauge guns are simply seductive.

Some call the 28 a magic gauge; a perfect ballistic marriage between bore size and a 3/4-ounce payload that produces patterns all out of proportion to its diminutive size. This great little gauge is making inroads in arenas other than the skeet fields, and it’s nipping at the heels of the light 20 in many upland venues.

I’m not the first to observe the charge weight-to-bore size of the 28-gauge seems to produce unusually well distributed patterns. I’ve run tests comparing the patterns produced by Winchester’s AA Sporting Clays 3/4- and 7/8-ounce loads and their high brass 1-ounce game loads in both 28- and 20-gauge guns, and I really could not find any consistent difference between the performance of the 28 and the 20. In fact, often patterns produced by 28-gauge guns were less patchy.

Not only do most 28s pattern exceedingly well, but also most people can shoot them well. They’re fast on target, easy on the shoulder and so light that you can spend the whole day in the field with them without feeling like a gun bearer. If you think you’ve seen more 28-gauge shells on store shelves lately, you have, and thankfully, the price of the little tubes is coming down with each passing year.

The SA-08 line of Weatherby autoloaders in 12- and 20-gauges has been around for several years, and they’ve earned a respectable following. For decades, Weatherby’s autoloader lines were made by either KTG or Nikko in Japan, not so with the SA-08 models. They are being produced in Turkey, which has become the breadbasket for autoloading shotguns of every grade.

The new SA-08 28 gauge is being offered with either a 26- or 28-inch barrel. I’ve shot enough 28s to know their light weight combined with an aggressive hand/arm movement by the shooter can throw off leads because of the 28’s speed to and through the target. I figured that the 28-inch barrel would provide just a bit more weight forward that could prove to be an advantage in a 5-1/2-pound gun. Indeed, it worked out that way. With its alloy receiver, the Weatherby is just ever so slightly muzzle-weighted, and it was designed to be that way.

Opening up the shipping box, I was delighted to see the petite frame of the new SA-08 and the Weatherby level of quality evidenced by the fit and finish of the gun. The alloy receiver sports a high gloss, black finish accented by Weatherby’s distinctive signature logo in gold and a chrome-plated bolt. The bore as well is chrome lined, making the gun weather resistant and easier to clean. The barrel sports a 6mm ventilated top rib with a single brass bead at the muzzle. Supplied also are Improved Cylinder, Modified and Full choke tubes and a wrench.

The action is conventional with a cross-bolt safety at the rear of the triggerguard, a button bolt release on the right side of the receiver and drop-down trigger and fire control group held in place by a single push pin. I was curious about the trigger weight-of-pull. It checked out on a Lyman electronic scale at a crisp 5 pounds.

Holt’s Hasenpfeffer is much closer to the table thanks to the quick shooting Weatherby 28.

The new 5-1/2-pound Weatherby (above) is perfectly scaled to the 28 gauge. The Weatherby is supplied with a light load and a heavy load gas valve (below, left) to moderate recoil. The light alloy receiver (below, right) is responsible for giving the SA-08 a weight-forward balance.


The components of the gas operating system are scaled to the gauge, lightweight, without adding unnecessary mass. All the SA-08 Weatherby guns are supplied with two, quick change, alloy gas valves—one marked for “Light Loads” and the other for “Heavy Loads.” Their function is to moderate and manage recoil which is necessary in 3-inch chambered 20- and 12-gauges but less so in a 2-3/4-inch chambered 28-gauge firing 5/8 ounces of steel or 3/4 to 1 ounce of lead.

The gun is stocked in walnut with 22 LPI checkering and a high gloss finish. Stock dimensions are pretty standard with a length-of-pull of 14-3/8 inches, drop at the comb of 11/2 inches and drop at the heel of 2-1/4 inches. Supplied in the parts kit are four stock shims—three for adjusting drop and one for adjusting cast. Owners largely ignore stock shims, but I strongly urge you to use them if the factory stock is not properly set up for your body. The Weatherby buttstock is nicely finished off with a rigid rubber recoil pad incorporating a smooth plastic heel plate, which prevents the butt from snagging on your clothing as you mount the gun.

Weatherby lists the weight of the new 28-gauge with either barrel length as 5-1/2 pounds. On my Sunbeam scale, the SA-08 weighed in at 5 pounds, 9 ounces. Close enough!

Next, we shoot this gun

How did it shoot? The first thing I want to learn about an autoloader is whether or not it will shoot to the point-of-aim. Guns with removable barrels often do not, although it is less likely a problem with a quality made gun. Next, I want to see how the gun patterns at a reasonable hunting range of 30 to 40 yards. The one target on the market enabling me to make both tests is HunterJohn’s clays patterning target.

The HunterJohn target consists of 126 life-size clay birds which are roughly the body size of a small game bird. To aid in pattern evaluation, there are five 30-inch circles—the black circle is perfectly centered while the other four are slightly offset to compensate for off center patterns. In the middle of the target is a bright, red 4-inch aiming point.

Shooting a premium shell loaded with high antimony hard shot, in this case Remington’s 3/4-ounce Nitro Sporting Clays load of 7-1/2 shot, I backed off 15 feet from the target, aimed precisely for the red center and fired. At that distance, the shot charge acts like a unified projectile and gives you an immediate reading as to whether the gun shoots to the point-of-aim. As you can see from the test target, the Weatherby did.

In 28s shooting 3/4-ounce loads, I tend to favor a modified choke for upland hunting to really hammer the 20-inch core of a 30-inch pattern. Backing off to 30 yards, I again held for the red center and let fly. As you can see, that 20-inch core area is filled with killed birds with two or more pellets in them. You couldn’t ask for a better-modified choke pattern with 3/4 ounce of shot.

While there were no bird seasons open when I was testing the Weatherby, cottontails were in abundance, and in Arizona, the rabbit season runs all year long. The dogs and I like a little Hasenpfeffer from time-to-time so off we strolled with the little Weatherby in hand to bag some bunnies. I do like a fast, light gun for rabbit hunting, and the Weatherby is all of that. Over the period of four mornings, I fired nine shots and cooked eight cottontails. I couldn’t have done better with a 12 gauge.

My wife has traditionally shot a 20-gauge autoloader but last season complained about recoil. After shooting the 5-1/2-pound, 28-gauge Weatherby on some informally tossed clays; I could tell from her smile and the gleam in her eye that it’s going to be out with her 20 and in with the Weatherby 28. I don’t even have to sneak it in the back door!

Twenty-eights are like that. They’re seductive, and the svelte, new Weatherby brings out all the sterling performance the little gauge has to offer.
Holt Bodinson

HunterJohn Targets
P.O. Box 477, St. Louis, MO 63166
(314) 531-7250

SA-08 Deluxe 28 Gauge
Maker: Weatherby
1605 Commerce Way
Paso Robles, CA 93446
(805) 227-2600

Action: Gas operated, semi-automatic
Gauge: 28
Capacity: 2+1,
Barrel Length: 28″
Choke: IC, M, F
Length-Of-Pull: 14-3/8″
Drop-At-Comb: 1-1/2″
Drop-At-Heel: 2-1/4″
Overall Length: 48″
Weight: 5-1/2 pounds
Finish: Glossy
Stock: Walnut
Sights: Single brass bead
Price: $849

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