An improved version of the SKB outlander, the SAS can handle a variety of hunting chores.
By Clair Rees
It was a glorious September morning. The mountain air was crisp, the sky was washed blue and I was following a brace of incredibly well-trained German shorthairs through prime pheasant cover. We were hunting the famed Flying B Ranch, which sprawled the full width of Northern Idaho's Lawyer Creek Canyon. Guests of the ranch had access to nearly a quarter-million acres of game-rich real estate.
The new SAS shotgun I was carrying had been introduced by Weatherby a few years earlier, yet the first time I shouldered the gun, it felt like an old, trusted friend.
At its heart, the SAS (Semi-Auto Shotgun) is a much-improved version of the SKB autoloader that Ithaca once imported from Japan. The SAS seemed familiar because I'd once spent a week in Mexico gunning mourning doves, whitewings and pigeons with a 12-gauge SKB. If you've ever hunted birds south of the border, you know how fast and furious the shooting can be. In less than 90 minutes, each shooter in the party regularly managed to fill his 75-bird daily limit.
Firing Mexican-made ammo soon coated each gun's operating system with a black, heavy residue. By the end of the first day, the guns were filthy. Instead of cleaning the grimy actions, we left the guns untouched. We wanted to see how long they'd continue to function before giving up the ghost.
Three days later, the gunked-up autoloaders were still going strong. Mine began stuttering the following day after burning through some 800 heavy-fouling rounds of Mexican ammo. That evening, we stripped the guns, scrubbing them with gasoline to cut the baked-on residue. (We knew that was unsafe, but had nothing else at hand that would do the job. We begged our chain-smoking Mexican guides to keep their distance!) Finally, we applied light lubrication.
The next morning, all the guns worked perfectly, feeding and firing without a single hitch. I'd been highly impressed by that torture test, and hoped for similar reliability from the Weatherby autoloader.
While the basic SAS design was inspired by the SKB I used in Mexico, there are several important improvements. The SKB required you to remove the fore-end and adjust the gas-porting mechanism if you wanted to switch from standard-length field loads to 3-inch magnums, or vice versa. The SAS self-compensating gas system will feed and fire all 23⁄4- and magnum 3-inch loads without adjustment. I've tested this feature extensively, shooting everything from quail to high-flying geese with an assortment of ammo. So far, the gun has digested everything from light-recoiling 11/8-ounce fodder to heavy-kicking magnums without a hitch.
The magazine cutoff is another handy feature. A sliding switch on the right side of the receiver in the forward part of the trigger guard allows you to interrupt shells feeding from the magazine. This means you can quickly insert a 3-inch magnum load of steel BBs should a stray honker suddenly head for your duck blind. The gun's crossbolt safety has an oversized head that's easily operated with gloved fingers and can be reversed to accommodate southpaw gunners.
The 7 1⁄2-pound SAS is light enough for upland hunting, while its ability to digest both field and 3-inch magnum loads makes it equally suitable for goose or gobbler gunning. Each gun comes supplied with three screw-in choke tubes (interchangeable with Briley tubes) so you can match your pattern to the game. In addition to standard hunting chokes, Briley tubes are available in a variety of skeet and sporting clays constrictions.
My first chance to use the new autoloader was at the Flying B Ranch, where it acquitted itself in admirable style. I'd love to say I cleanly dropped every pheasant and chukar that flew in range, but my scattergunning skills aren't infallible. One rooster the dogs had somehow passed cackled skyward from practically underfoot. Startled, I cleanly missed with the first and second shots, but brought down the towering bird with the last shell in my magazine. I killed my share of birds the dogs pointed out, but a few wild-flushing cocks were luckier, flying off without a scratch.
As lunchtime approached, I had an unsettling encounter. I'd never seen a black rattlesnake until one sounded its dry sh-sh-sh-sh buzz from practically underfoot. We'd been warned about these unusually dark-hued snakes, and one of the guides had pointed out a pile of rocks marking a large den where hundreds of the critters hibernated. We'd passed downwind of the cairn earlier that morning, and stale reptile scent was evident. As a lifetime resident of Utah, where rattlers are plentiful, I'd promptly forgotten the warning - until I levitated skyward, reflexively firing at the spot I'd just vacated.
I'd hoped to see one of these all-black rattlers up close, but the concentrated load of 7 1⁄2s hadn't left much to
Now that I've brought up versatility, let me point out that SAS slug guns, complete with 22-inch rifled tubes and cantilevered mounts for scopes, are now available. An add-on rifled slug barrel can transform your SAS bird gun into a potent deer killer.
I acquired a 12-gauge SAS of my own soon after that Idaho bird hunt. It has a 28-inch vent-rib barrel, and the stock fits me well. A week after it arrived, I hunted Utah ringnecks with it. The gun balanced nicely in my hands, making it lively enough to ìget onî close-flushing birds in a hurry. I soon screwed the improved-cylinder choke in and left it there. Nearly all the birds I killed that day got no farther than 30 yards from the muzzle.
Stock fit is half the battle when you shoot flying game. The SAS stock fit me fine. I saw just a hint of rib as I looked down the barrel. The gun pointed very naturally. Current SAS guns come equipped with a shim system that allows adjusting cast-on, cast-off and drop to fit the individual preferences of either right-handed or southpaw shooters.
The next step was a visit to the duck blind with my new autoloader. I drove a couple of hours to Fish Springs, accompanied by my good friend Jack Nelson and Jim Herring, an avid outdoorsman and deer hunter who had somehow neglected to try his hand at gunning waterfowl.
Jim was a little hesitant to shoot 3-inch magnum loads in his lightweight pump, so I let him use my SAS during the first hour of gunning. The gas-operated action did a stellar job of reducing felt recoil. In addition to the bled-off energy expended in cycling the action, the gun's internal dampening system - which buffered contact between the recoiling bolt and the rear of the receiver - further softened the kick. As icing on the cake, the forcing cones are lengthened in SAS barrels, which are backbored at the muzzle, too. These features aid recoil reduction and improve patterns.
I finally pried my SAS from Jim's hands and managed to drop two mallard drakes passing overhead 35 yards away. If anything, the gas-operated action of the SAS seemed to tame recoil better than the SKB autoloader I'd used in Mexico did several years earlier. And that had been a noticeably soft-kicking gun. Whenever you can fire 300 rounds at flitting doves in the space of a couple of hours and not come away with a sore shoulder, the gun is absorbing more than its share of recoil. I believe the SAS might be even more pleasant to shoot.
While I have a number of autoloading shotguns in the safe, the Weatherby SAS usually gets the nod for day-to-day gunning chores. I'm still partial to 20- or 28-gauge stackbarrels when hunting upland game over dogs, but when longer-range shooting calls for heavier loads, I reach for the 12-gauge SAS. I do prefer 3 1⁄2-inch 12 and magnum 10s when I'm pass-shooting geese, but I do less and less of that each year. When honkers are responding well to decoys, the SAS firing 3-inch loads has more than enough punch for the job. It's also easier on my shoulder and costs less to feed.
My SAS has an alloy receiver with a satin blue-black finish. The receiver is plain, except for the Weatherby name appearing in gold script on either side of the action. The stock is straight-grained American Claro walnut with 18-lpi checkering on grip and fore-end. It's capped by a black rubber recoil pad.
Weatherby also offers SAS autoloaders with your choice of a Mossy Oak Break-Up or Shadow Grass camo finish, as well as a black injection-molded stock. There's another bonus. Thanks to chrome-lined barrels and a trigger assembly that drops clear of the receiver when you remove a pair of drift pins, these guns are easy to clean
I'm old enough to remember when shooters were leery of autoloading shotguns. When jamming occurred, it could usually be traced to moisture-swollen paper shotshells or lousy maintenance. I don't know anyone who still hunts with paper-hulled ammo, and most modern autoloaders are paragons of reliability. If you fail to clean this autoloader as often as you should, past experience tells me it'll simply keep on trucking.
Reprinted from the July 2006 issue of Buckmasters GunHunter Magazine. Subscribe today to have GunHunter delivered to your home.