It’s difficult to adequately describe the sense of anticipation you feel at the start of a hunt at one of the top pheasant hunting destinations in South Dakota— the pheasant hunting capital of the world.
You know from experience that the roosters are there in the tall corn ahead of you, running like thieves. The dogs know they’re there, too, but they exercise restraint and hunt tight, as they’ve been trained to do. You can’t help but accelerate your pace … until you’re suddenly going a bit too fast, and a couple of wily, old birds let you pass and flush behind you.
You slow down and watch enviously as the guys working the middle of the field get most of the early action. Then, about midway through the drive, you get your first opportunity as a bird flushes into your shooting lane, crossing right to left, with a flurry of wings, raucous cackling and cries of “Rooster!”
The 12-gauge semiauto springs to your shoulder, and you start to swing. The bird-shooting calculator in your brain does its thing; you slap the trigger, and the bird folds like a kite in a hurricane.
It’s good to get on the board.
THE SUPER X4
That’s how the day began on a crisp October morning at R&R Pheasant Hunting, a large, family-run farming and ranching operation with 6,000 acres set aside for hunting. Many more birds would be harvested in the next several days as several other outdoor scribes and I put some new shotguns and ammo from Browning and Winchester to the test.
The newest of these guns was the Super X4, Winchester’s latest version of the semiauto Super X shotgun. I spent the entire first day shooting the SX4 (much to the detriment of the local pheasant population), using the new Browning BXD Upland extra-distance shotshell, along with Winchester’s XR long-distance load and the Winchester Super Pheasant load, all stoked with No. 6 shot.
Of course, I also had my share of missed birds, including one at the end of the hunt I flushed from underfoot and missed cleanly with all three shells, drawing a rousing cheer from my compatriots. That was no small accomplishment, because it takes an immense amount of effort to cleanly miss a “gimme” with three shells. The best part was doing it for an audience.
My primary excuses were the fact that my feet were in a goofy position, and I had just switched to the SX4 after shooting a different shotgun that fi nal day. I’ll concede that those are rather thin excuses, but any excuse is a good excuse in wingshooting.
Happily, I hit far more birds than I missed and even managed to surprise myself when wringing out the SX4 on clay birds. In the field, I knocked pheasants from the sky with the SX4 at the same pace that I did with a Citori 725 over-and-under (which fit me nicely), so I had no complaints about the semiauto. It simply worked—and it worked well.
Here’s a closer look at what you’ll get with the SX4.
IMPROVED ERGONOMICS AND HANDLING
Initially available only in 12 gauge (a 20 gauge is in the works), the Winchester SX4 is made by Fabrique Nationale (FN) and assembled by Browning Viana in Portugal. The gun is currently made in four configurations. The basic model, with a black synthetic stock, gives you a choice of 26- or 28inch barrels and 3- or 3½-inch chambers. The SX4 Waterfowl Hunter has the same barrel and chamber options, but it has a Mossy Oak Shadow Grass Blade camo finish. The Field model, which I tested, was chambered for 3-inch shells and comes with 26- or 28-inch barrels and a satin oil-finish walnut stock. A shorter-stocked Field Compact model includes a third barrel option of 24 inches.
Mechanically, the guts of the SX4 are the same as those of its predecessor, the Super X3 shotgun. Both use the proven Active Valve gas system, which automatically self-adjusts to allow you to shoot everything from light field loads to heavy magnum waterfowl and turkey loads. The system is designed to vent excess gasses from heavy loads through Quadra-Vent ports in the forearm to help regulate bolt speed.
The basic Active Valve system has been around for a couple of decades and has more than proven itself, but it’s been tweaked over the years to continually fine-tune function. Most of the improvements have been to the springs and piston in order to handle today’s heavier loads and punishing 3.5-inch shells. As a result, cycling is fast—make that very fast—because the gun is capable of cycling shells faster than I can pull the trigger.
The biggest changes incorporated into the SX4, designed to make a good shotgun even better, are in the gun’s ergonomics and overall handling characteristics. SX4 models are a few ounces lighter than comparable SX3 models, for example, thanks to changes in the stock and forearm. The pistol grip has been slimmed down a bit, and overall balance has been shifted slightly forward for a smoother swing.
All controls have been modified to improve handling, especially for those who hunt in wet weather. The bolt handle is larger, and so is the rectangular bolt release button, which rides on the right side of the receiver directly under the bolt handle when the action is closed. The ambidextrous cross-bolt safety, located in the usual position at the rear of the generously sized trigger guard, has also been enlarged and has a textured surface.
The gun also sports an improved Inflex recoil pad that has a larger footprint to spread impact over a wider area. This recoil pad, with internal ribs designed to redirect recoil impulse down and away from your face to reduce perceived recoil, has always seemed to work for me.
Another change to the SX4 Field model is the addition of a red TruGlo fiber-optic front sight atop the barrel’s vent rib.
FEATURE-RICH BUT AFFORDABLE
Semiauto shotguns have always been more expensive than pump-action guns but generally cheaper than double guns. That’s not always the case today, with many high-end semiautos priced higher than some double guns. From that perspective, and compared to many imported semiautos, the SX4 is priced for the masses with an MSRP of $939.99 for the Field model. This puts it close in price to the Remington 11-87 and V-3 Field models and the Weatherby SA-08 shotgun. The 26-inch-barreled SX4 with a 3-inch chamber is even more affordable: just $799.99.
One of the most impressive things about the SX4 is what you get for your money, with standard features built into every model. The barrel, for example, is back bored to increase the traditional 12-gauge bore size from .729 inch to .742 inch. This might not sound like a lot, but Winchester calls it “the secret to tighter, more consistent patterns.” The basic idea is to reduce friction between the shot cup and the bore while reducing pellet deformation as shot passes through the forcing cone, contributing to maximum velocity and uniform patterns.
The barrel and chamber of all SX4 shotguns are hard chrome plated. A lot of claims have been made for chromed bores, including assertions that they’re better for steel or high-density shot; there might be some merit in that. Chromed barrels are very hard and resistant to wear. Their biggest advantage, in my view, is the protection they afford from rust and corrosion.
The SX4 comes with full, modified and improved modified Invector-Plus choke tubes, which are sized to fit and complement the back-bored barrel— as opposed to the older Invector tubes, which are not. The flush-fit Investor-Plus tubes are relatively long and have a more-gradual taper to lessen pellet deformation, and the threads are at the bottom of the tube, rather than the top, to better seal out gasses.
The shotgun also comes with ¼-inch length-of-pull spacers that fit between the stock and recoil pad. These allow you to fit the gun to the shooter or adjust length of pull when wearing heavy outer clothing. Synthetic-stocked models ship with one spacer already in place, putting length of pull at a standard 14¼ inches. An additional spacer is provided so you can lengthen or shorten length of pull by ¼ inch in either direction from standard. Wood-stocked Field models have a 14¼-inch length of pull and come with two spacers.
As with most semiautos, disassembly for cleaning and reassembly are more complicated than with simpler shotgun designs, but Winchester has made it easier with a dropout trigger group. The most time-consuming part of the chore for me was cleaning the carbon buildup from the gas system components. However, this gets a lot faster after you’ve done it a time or two.
That’s part of the price to pay when you shoot a lot of shot shells, and if you take the fast-cycling SX4 to a target-rich environment such as South Dakota, you can shoot as fast as your trigger finger and bag limits allow.
- ACTION: Gas-operated semiauto
- GAUGE: 12 gauge (20 gauge is in the works)
- CHAMBER: 3 or 3½ inch
- CAPACITY: 3+1
- BARREL: 26 or 28 inches, back bored, chrome plated
- CHOKES: Flush-mount Invector-Plus
- STOCK: Satin oil-finish walnut
- LENGTH: 47 or 49 inches
- LENGTH OF PULL: 14¼ inches
- DROP AT COMB: 1½ inches
- DROP AT HEEL: 1¾ inches
- WEIGHT: 6¾ pounds, as tested
Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in the March 2017 print issue of Gun World Magazine.