November 20, 2019
By Robert W. Hunnicutt
Weatherby is most famous for high-velocity hunting rifles, but it has imported shotguns for almost 50 years, and a recitation of the manufacturers of those autoloading, double and pump scatterguns would require a very lengthy article that would wind its way from Italy and Spain through Japan and Turkey. Let’s just say that Weatherby has been keen to stay on top of changing trends in manufacturing, exchange rates and fashion, and that has meant working with manufacturers you’ve heard of like Fausti or SKB, and many others you haven’t.
These guns generally, though not always, hewed to the Weatherby aesthetic of bright metal finishes and high-grade wood, abundantly lacquered. More recently Weatherby, which has moved from its longtime California home to Sheridan, Wyoming has offered matte-finished and even synthetic-stocked shotguns. Today’s subject is the decidedly Weatherbyesque 18i Deluxe. If you like shiny, this one’s for you.
The Weatherby18i is inertia recoil operated. Explaining that takes a little detour through history. On August 12, 1986, Benelli Armi S.p.A. was issued U.S. Patent No. 4604942 for “A bolt assembly for an automatic firearm which operates using kinetic recoil energy that includes a floating bolt element, a rotatable locking bolt head and a return spring interposed between them, all in communication with the barrel.” So, the inertia system remained a Benelli exclusive throughout the prosperous 1980s and 90s, and by 2007 the Italian maker claimed 2 million guns made on the system in 40 years.
But you only get to maintain a walled garden for so long, and now many different manufacturers are offering guns based on the inertia system. This started with Franchi and Stoeger, Benelli stablemates under the Beretta empire, and has moved to unrelated companies.
One of them is Marocchi, which is part of a holding company called C.D. Europe. I first got to know the brand in the 1980s when it was selling some very robust and reliable over-unders, through New York importer Sile NY, for less than $300. These were by no means fancy, but were very reliable and my go-to suggestion for new skeet and sporting shooters.
A few years later, Precision Sales of Westfield, Massachusetts began importing the Marocchi Conquista, an over-under shotgun specifically designed for sporting competition, and offering everything shooters of the time wanted for an excellent price, which if I recall correctly, was around $1,600 retail.
So now Marocchi is building autoloaders for Weatherby under the name 18i. Those with good memories will recall that Weatherby introduced a line of moderately-priced Turkish-made inertia autoloaders in 2016 as the Element and these continue in synthetic, waterfowl and upland models.
The fancier Element Deluxe has been cashiered in favor of the 18i models, which retail for almost exactly twice as much and gives you an idea of the differential between Italian and Turkish wages.
The 18i can be had in Waterfowl versions clad in Mossy Oak Shadow Grass Blades or Realtree Max-5, matte black synthetic version, or the top of the line Deluxe. The Deluxe is stocked in a fancy grade of Turkish walnut and has a one-piece aluminum receiver with a shiny electroless nickel finish. It’s laser-etched with some scroll ribbons, the Weatherby “W” logo, and prominently, the Sheridan address. At the top is a .446” tip-off rail for mounting a scope or red-dot sight. Keep in mind this is an aluminum receiver, and don’t get too exuberant about mounting large scopes.
When I first pulled the 18i out of its box, I thought “The receiver looks big.” The 18i has a circumference of 7¼ inches at the front, compared to 7 1⁄8 for a Benelli that had conveniently just arrived at the G&A lockup. I’m not going to speculate why it’s bigger or make any value judgements about an extra 1/8 of an inch, but it does look different. Inside is the familiar action with lots of the usual Italian chrome plating.
Inertia operation has been around long enough that you might think it unnecessary to recapitulate, but I find a lot of shooters have heard of it, but have only a dim understanding. So, here’s the Revised Standard Version. Inertia guns are not operated by recoil in the way of, say, the Browning Auto-5 or Winchester Model 50, rather, the key part is a very heavy spring between the bolt head and bolt carrier. The two-lugged bolt head rotates to lock into the barrel extension. On firing, the bolt carrier moves forward relative to the rest of the gun while the bolt head remains in its locked position. This compresses the spring inside the bolt carrier, which then thrusts the carrier rearward, ejecting the empty and compressing the recoil spring. The recoil spring in the buttstock returns the bolt assembly forward for another shot.
There are a variety of advantages to this system, which is why manufacturers are keen to introduce guns using it. From the manufacturer’s standpoint, the design requires fewer parts than does a gas-operated or (especially) a long-recoil operated system. The components that require closest fitting are the bolt head and barrel extension. And because it is the compressed spring that operates the bolt assembly, operation is very consistent regardless of the load used. Inertia guns will generally shoot everything from trap loads to 3½-inch Magnums with complete equanimity.
Because no gas is bled from the barrel, inertia guns stay a lot cleaner than gas-operated guns and are generally more reliable despite the great engineering efforts expended on gas pistons.
The lack of any piston mechanism means the fore-end of an inertia shotgun can be much slimmer than a gas gun’s, and a lighter barrel end means snappy handling. Some manufacturers have negated this advantage by putting the recoil spring around the magazine tube rather than in the buttstock, an inexplicable decision.
Those are the good features. What about the bad ones? This action type has some unusually passionate detractors, and you can easily locate them on any shotgun board.
There is no question that recoil is sharper with an inertia action than with a gas-operated design. The early Benelli autos were unpleasant to shoot, but improvements made over the years closed the gap with gas guns.
Inertia guns will not work for everyone. They require a firm grasp, not a death grip, but a good secure placement in the shoulder pocket. At the same time, the shotgun must move in recoil for the system to operate. Steve Otway, longtime head and recent general manager of Benelli USA, liked to say that if you place the butt on a telephone pole and pull the trigger, the gun will not cycle. The shotgun must move rearward relative to the bolt carrier for the system to operate.
The manufacturer has chosen to copy exactly the Benelli shell stop system, which is very well proven, but still confuses a lot of people. Various European countries require that semiauto shotguns incorporate a mechanism that allows you to clear the chamber without another shell feeding, as when crossing a fence or boarding a boat.
If you only load the magazine, you will notice that no shell will feed if you retract and release the operating handle. If you press the tab at the top front of the triggerguard, a shell will be ejected onto the carrier, allowing you to load the chamber by operating the bolt assembly. If you then fire the gun, it will eject and reload until the magazine is empty. If you retract the bolt by hand, however, ammo will be retained in the magazine unless you press up on the tab. This allows you to eject a chambered shell, cross the fence and then reload by pressing up on the tab and cycling the action. (With the barrel pointed in the proper direction.) The tab has the additional function of locking the bolt rearward on an empty gun.
You can safely unload the 18i by inverting it, pressing the carrier down and pressing out on the shell stop on the left inside of the receiver. This is a much safer technique than cycling shells through the action, a dangerous process. It all that’s too confusing for you, just start by loading a shell through the ejection port using the tab to lock back the bolt assembly, then load the magazine.
The barrel has a very bright blue finish in traditional Weatherby style and is topped by a medium-height 7mm (.275”) ventilated rib. At the muzzle is a 3mm red LPA fiber-optic front bead .547” long. These can be changed out for green or orange fiber-optics if you are prone to admire your front sight while shooting.
In typical Italian fashion, the bore is chrome-plated and the 18i comes with five choke tubes: cylinder (.727”), improved cylinder (.715”), modified (.715”), improved modified (.695”), and full (.685”). They are chrome-plated and have the IMC thread pattern that is compatible with Win-Choke, Mossberg, Browning Invector and other common tubes.
Bore diameter is .727”, a bit under the nominal .729”, but more open than a lot of Italian bores, which often run as tight as .721”.
The magazine comes with a plug to limit capacity to two rounds. If you are invited on an Argentina dove hunt, just remove the magazine cap, pull out the black plastic plug and replace the cap. You’ve just doubled magazine capacity.
The fore-end is rather bulbous for an inertia gun, with a beavertail flare toward the muzzle. This seems to me to negate one of the advantages of inertia operation, but if you are transitioning from the good old Remington 1100, you will feel right at home.
Checkering is in a modernistic point pattern at 16 lines per-inch, a measure that is very practical for any foul-weather hunting or even shooting sporting clays on a hot summer day. Something finer would have looked more hoity-toity, but I liked the aggressive gripping surface.
The same measure is carried over to the pistol grip, which has palm swells on either side that beef it up to 1.77 inches at the thickest point. Our sample Benelli was 1.47 inches at the same spot. The grip has an almost right-angled shape that reminded me of the old Fred Etchen trap stock. I have trouble getting a comfortable grasp on this configuration, which is very common on Turkish shotguns. If you have a long trigger finger, it won’t bother you a bit.
The buttstock is generously proportioned, and I immediately wanted more drop and cast. Fortunately, like most Italian autoloaders, the 18i is provided with a shim kit to regulate cast and drop. I used a long recoil pad Philips bit to turn out the screws retaining the pad. These turned out to be machine screws engaging threaded inserts in the butt.
This is a seemingly insignificant, but very welcome touch. Machine screws are blunt at the end in contrast to very pointy wood screws. This means you’re less likely to scratch the buttstock when removing the recoil pad. You also can remove and replace the pad often without hogging out the screw holes.
Then I used the usual 13mm deep-hole socket to remove the nut from the throughbolt, removing it and its washer and the stock locking plate. The buttstock was then free to slide off the recoil tube. The cast shim was already installed and properly positioned for cast-off, so I removed the 50mm (2-inch drop) shim and replaced it with the 60mm (2 3⁄8-inch drop) unit. Then it was just a matter of replacing the stock, hardware and recoil pad.
Italians sling their shotguns and can’t imagine why Americans don’t. So, swivel studs are provided at the toe of the butt and on the magazine cap. These are unobtrusive and easily removable if you just can’t stand them.
The trigger assembly’s injection-molded body is retained in the receiver by a single crosspin, making disassembly quick and easy. The trigger-blocking crossbolt safety is at the rear and is very positive in operation.
I pattern-tested the 18i with results shown in the accompanying table and function-fired it with Browning, Federal and Remington ammo. There were no failures of any kind.
I was out of my usual pattern test ammo and decided to give Browning’s new BXD Upland loads a try. These propel a 1 3⁄8-ounce charge of nickel-plated No. 5 shot at a blistering 1,485 feet-per-second (fps). Browning promotes them for pheasant hunting, and I would endorse that if your local pheasants wear Kevlar underpants.
Recoil was, to put it mildly, zesty. Free recoil was 46.7 ft.-lbs., about exactly what you get with the .375 H&H out of a 9-pound rifle.
As advertised and expected, patterning with the nickel-plated 5s was tight. This strikes me as more properly a turkey load, and old-line duck hunters from the days when lead 5s were the choice would have thought themselves blessed to have a load this effective. For pheasants, overkill.
My very first shots with the 18i were in league trap competition. This made my teammates a bit nervous to start, but my scores were about exactly what I shoot with my usual Remington 1100, so the 18i got their stamp of approval.
Inertia guns are distinctly a minority taste in trapshooting, and the snappier recoil is the reason. It’s not painful; Just a bit annoying. You don’t notice it a bit when hunting, but when firing lots of shots from a shouldered gun position in summer clothing, you do feel it.
Other than that, I found the 18i perfectly satisfactory, with zippy handling that made last-second corrections a breeze. The trigger was not especially light, but was perfectly adequate to the task, with a little bit of takeup and a crisp letoff.
The chubby buttstock and husky grip were quite comfortable, and I really appreciated the aggressive checkering pattern on a warm summer day. I also liked the beveled edges of the ejection port, which made loading easy and comfortable.
Target breaks with Remington Gun Club 2¾-dram ammo were very satisfying with the modified tube installed. I probably could have gotten away with the improved cylinder. The only thing I really disliked about the 18i was the trigger guard. It has a simple half-moon shape with plenty of room for a gloved finger, but its looks suffer by comparison to other, more racy, designs.
The 18i is not cheap at $1,899. The closest Benelli equivalent is the Montefeltro Silver at $1,769. Street prices will vary, of course, but at retail, you’re paying about a 7% premium. If you’re a big Weatherby fan, that will be par for the course and no deterrent.
If you’re looking at the two guns objectively, I will suggest you may like the Weatherby better if you are a large individual with large hands. If you’re more average, you may find the Montefeltro more comfortable. My recommendation is to try them both and rejoice that we live in a country where very fine gradations of gun taste are so well accommodated.
Weatherby 18i Deluxe Specs
- Type: Semiautomatic shotgun
- Gauge: 12, 3-in. (tested); 20, 3-in.
- Magazine Capacity: 4+1
- Weight: 7 lbs.
- Overall Length: 49 1⁄4 in.
- Barrel Length: 28 in.
- Length of Pull: 14 1⁄3 in.
- Drop at Heel: 1½ in.
- Drop at Comb: 2 in.
- Trigger Pull: 6¼ lbs.
- Accessories: Choke tubes with plastic case and spanner: Cylinder (.727”); improved cylinder (.715”); modified (.715”); improved modified (.695”); full (.685”); choke. Stock adjustment shims
- Price: $1,899
- Manufacturer: C.D Europe S.R.l., Via Galilei 6, 25068 Sarezzo (BS), Italy
- Importer: Weatherby, Inc. 1550 Yellowtail Drive, Sheridan, Wyoming, 82801
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