Shotgun guru Mike Yardley puts the 20-bore Winchester SX4 semi-auto to the test, and finds it to be fast handling, soft shooting, and ergonimically sound... all for a great price!



* The stock form with improved grip and slimmer forend

* The enlarged bolt-handle, bolt-release and safety

* The low felt recoil


* The trigger pull was a little heavy

* A 30" version would be good

Make/model: Winchester SX4

Action type: gas-operated semi-automatic

Bore: 20

Barrel: 28" (26" option)

Chamber: 3" (76mm)

Weight: 6 3/4lbs approx

RRP: £849


This month's gun test took place on a trip to Slovenia organised by Browning Winchester. Along with a gaggle of shooting hacks from across Europe, I had the chance to try out a range of shotguns and rifles with an unlimited supply of ammunition. Over two days, I shot well over 2,000 rounds of ammo!

The surroundings were congenial too and I was impressed by how friendly and modern Slovenia is. It used to be the powerhouse of the old Yugoslavia, and looked more prosperous, had better infrastructure and appeared more developed than Croatia or Serbia, where I have travelled previously. If I had not known the location, I would have thought it was Austria.

On the shotgun front, three guns really did it for me at this ballistic beanfeast: the new Winchester SX4 in 20-bore form, the Maxus Sporting Black Carbon Fibre, and the 30" 525 SL Laminate, which I have already reviewed. I also had the chance to test a 32" version of the SL which I did not like as much as the super 30" gun. I thought it less manoeuverable and a little heavy with the longer barrels. My call, should you be in the market to buy an SL (and it is one of the best over-and-unders from Browning recently), would be the 30" version.

Let's turn our attention here to the little 20-bore Winchester. Next month, we will compare it to the 12-bore Maxus. First impressions of the SX4 20-bore are that it is black and quite small in scale. The lines and general form are pleasing - perhaps a little better than the SX3 in some areas. Put together in Portugal, like other Browning Winchester semi-autos, it's not going to win any beauty contests, but it feels good when first handled and points well with the light 28" tube (the other option is 26").

The gun is built to the price - it might be described as a despecified SX3 - and it seems intended to sit below a Maxus in the Browning Winchester line (they are very similar mechanically).

In 12 or 20-bore, it looks much like an SX3, but there are differences. The SX4 has a smaller grip with an improved non-slip surface. As before, chokes are Invector Plus, and the barrel is mildly back-bored and internally hard-chromed. And, as on the SX3, there is a self-adjusting active valve system, which will perform with a variety of loads of 2¾" and 3" loads.

The gun is steel shot proofed and shows the new S in a pentagon symbol, which replaces the Fleurs de Lys mark.

Anything else? There is a larger bolt-handle on the SX4, a significant improvement, and a larger bolt-release and trigger guard. It does not have the facility to put shims between action and stock to alter cast and drop as the SX3 did. There is, however, the option of adding spacers to increase the length of pull (two come with the gun). The recoil pad is a little deeper than previously and wider where it contacts the shoulder. The SX4 20 also benefits from speed loading where the first cartridge may be loaded into the chamber without using the bolt-handle.

I use a 20-bore for a lot of my shooting now; in fact, most of my game shooting is with a 20-bore, and, increasingly, I use a 20-bore over-and-under for recreational clays. Because I have problems with my neck and shoulder due to previous injuries, I am always looking for light guns that do not beat me up too much. I am much attached to my old gas-operated Beretta 303 for clays, but I am keen to discover an equally good 20-bore gas gun. So, this could be a contender...


The receiver and mechanics of the SX4 are a scaled down version of its SX3 and SX4 12-bore stablemates. We have noted the gas mechanism includes an 'active valve' that accommodates all normal 2¾" (70mm) and 3" (76mm) cartridges. When firing heavy loads, gasses are vented both upwards and forwards from the 'Quadra-Vent' ports in the fore-end. Bolt speed is regulated by the same means. The construction of the piston assembly is impressive with precision engineering evident as well as large gas ports.

The usual two vents in the barrel drive down an over-sized piston in a gas collar to operate the working parts. An enclosed design helps to reduce fouling, and, according to the makers, it reduces recoil and improves reliability with the cleaner operation (though keeping the piston clean is always good advice in any semi-automatic in my experience). The trigger unit has a polymer chassis and is secured by two drift pins in the action.

There is a good-sized reversible safety as well as the larger than average cocking handle, as mentioned, and an over-sized bolt-release.

Shooting impressions

Very good! This was a nice gun to shoot and comfortable in use. In spite of not being heavy (about 6 ¾ pounds) or especially long in the barrel, recoil was well controlled - softer than many 20-bore semis I've recently encountered. Of course, physics is physics, recoil is determined by weight of the gun, cartridge payload, powder and chamber pressure. But the sensation of recoil - felt recoil for this user - did seem reduced here. I liked the stock shapes which provide good purchase with a nice, natural, grip shape and pleasantly slim but still ergonomically effective fore-end. The trigger pull was adequate but a bit heavy, the general handling and shooting qualities were sound. The balance was a little forward. I put 200 or 300 rounds through the SX4 without any malfunction or mishap whatsoever. It would be an ideal gun for women or young shots (though the comb might need a raiser). It would also fit the bill for anyone who wants a lighter gun that doesn't kick too much and which will not break the bank. The SX4 20 would be ideal in a pigeon hide assuming they are still legal by the time I return to Blighty. The gun cycles very rapidly too.