The roundabout journey I took to becoming a fan of Weatherby’s new flyweight 28-gauge auto ran parallel with my budding skeet obsession. At first, my motives for getting into clay target shooting were pure — I just wanted to kill more ducks and upland birds. I had zero interest in subgauge guns but quickly developed a lust for busting clay for its own sake.
Become halfway good at it, however, and — fun as it is — it gets a bit repetitious. Long bored with trap, I found that even the relatively fast action of skeet left me wanting to mix things up a bit. With no sporting clays range nearby, it seemed the thing to do was switch from my goose-stomping 12 to having a go with one of those pretty little guns the older guys sometimes carried at our local skeet club. CZ makes some nice little double 28s, but nobody whom I’m aware of offered a 28-gauge auto for under a grand — until the Turkish-made Weatherby SA-08 28 Deluxe was introduced last spring.
After hunting quail and pheasant in Texas with a 20 gauge, I had little interest in .410s after constantly batting cleanup for guys who were knocking feathers off birds but rarely putting them down. It became apparent that the .410 is a little toylike for my tastes, except for dove (unless they’re hauling ass with a tailwind above the Russian olive trees). But it did seem that a little subgauge challenge would be fun.
“The SA-08 line has really taken off, and a 28 gauge seemed like the next logical step. We wanted to build the gentleman’s shotgun that anyone could afford,” says Weatherby’s Tim Frampton. “You simply can’t find the same features at this price anywhere on the market.”
It is a lovely little shotgun, with 22-lpi checkering, glossy walnut and a 26-inch barrel (you can also have it with a 28-inch tube). Best of all, it’s built to scale, with a proper 28-gauge-size machined aluminum receiver. The result? It comes in a full half-pound lighter than the feathery, six-pound SA-08 20 gauge. But does it shoot?
A friend of mine who shoots a 28 bet lunch that if I spotted him four birds to level the playing field, he could beat me and my old Beretta A-390 12 gauge. I accepted, but we never made it to the range that day. Turns out he was smart. “G&A”’s Payton Miller told me that it was too much of a handicap and that if you do your job, the little 28 will. He was right.
My wife, Breanna, hadn’t shot in almost two years. Our jaws dropped when she smashed the first three of the first four birds she shot at, then went on to shoot her best round ever, blasting six straight from the far end of the course. She liked the flashy little SA-08 28 much more than the 20 I bought her last year.
In my past few sordid attempts, I had not shot the subgauges well on clays — overswinging, no doubt — but in my first round with the Weatherby, I only knocked about two birds off my usual score, landing me at 21. I was shocked at this, expecting to come in at least five lower.
Then there was Miller. With no warm-up, he dropped a couple right away, then never missed again, for a nearly perfect round with a mulligan. I had to beg him to let go of his stubby, rifle-sighted Benelli 12-gauge Tactical, his skeet-killer of choice, and give the 28 a run. He relented long enough to break both birds from the final No. 8 station shooting from a low gun position, which says a lot about the “pointiness,” fit and balance of the SA-08 28. We were free to get in a rhythm, running through hundreds of rounds of Federal Premium and Winchester AA 8s without a preference for what it was eating. I was expecting maybe a hiccup or two during the break-in period, but it didn’t jam once.
The real sex appeal of the new 28 gauge became apparent when I switched back to a “real” gun. I’d always considered my old A-390 a near-perfect shotgun — light, yet still soft-kicking. But when I picked it back up after a round with the 28, I was shocked to find that it felt like a recoil monster.
What really impressed us was just how hard the Weatherby 28 hit the clays. I expected them to break, sure, but I didn’t expect to smoke them with a 3/4-ounce shot load. On most shots, you couldn’t tell the difference between hitting them with a 12 or a 28.
I’d always thought of the 28 as kind of a poofy hunting load, but this one should be lethal on birds if you do your job. Most guys go to subgauges for the challenge eventually, but to me, a 28 is a shotgun and a .410 seems more of a stunt. I can’t wait to take the SA-08 28 on an August pigeon shoot I have planned in Idaho. It would make a perfect grouse gun and, no doubt, would smash close-in ducks in the timber with the right steel or nontoxic loads. It should be a hell of a lot more pleasant to pack all day in the field than a full-frame 12. And when you practice on clays with the 28, you feel unstoppable when you pick your 12 back up, like it isn’t even fair. It’s like practicing with your bow at 40 yards, then moving up to 20.
“We built this gun for the true bird hunter,” Frampton says. “It’s lightweight and easy to handle, perfect for upland bird or dove hunting. And it doesn’t hurt to have beautiful walnut either.”
I tell you what: Any lingering disdain for Turkish-born shotguns was killed dead as disco by this little 28. If I can’t convince the wife that we need this one, it will be with great sadness that I’ll return it.