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A Winning Three Of A Kind by L.P. Brezny

“Black bandits” like these were taken at ranges surpassing 70 yards with a trio of Winchester SX–3s. Ammo used was a mix of no fewer than 11 different brands and power levels, and the SX–3 suffered not a single hiccup.

veryone has their favorite hunting gun. About 13 years ago I had owned the early Winchester SX–2 and was talked out of it by a friend. At the time, I didn’t think much about the deal. At least until the following fall when I was in a cornfield packed with pheasants and no SX–2 was in my hands. I missed that gun and, from that point on, had been on the hunt for a replacement shotgun of the same type.

When I was on the hunt for a replacement autoloading shotgun, I crossed tracks with one of the new (at the time) Winchester Super X3 walnut–stocked upland shotguns and, after hefting the gun, decided I could not go home without it. Designed by Winchester/Browning Arms, fabricated in Belgium and run through inspection by Winchester in Utah, the Winchester Super X3 is a real handful in terms of modern autoloading shotgun designs. This is one tough and well–made shotgun. I am definitely a fan of the SX–3 — I guess that’s why I now hunt with three — yes, three — of them.

Great Engineering

When Winchester went through a reorganization change and, as a result, became part of Browning Arms proper, some elements of the old Winchester product were left on the shop table while others were added at Browning. In effect, from that day on Winchesters were being infused with the thoroughbred blood of a Browning Arms product.

Want Belgium Browning quality? Buy a Winchester! It is a well–known fact the old Belgium–built Browning A–5 and Superposed shotguns are still among the best of class today. Winchester’s Super X3 carries the heart of that upgraded gun system, as it is manufactured part–by–part in Belgium. To my way of thinking, that gets it very close to the lineage of old–world craftsmanship. Just shoot an SX3 and you will see what I am talking about.

Born from the old tried–and–true Winchester Super X auto and then two variants of the Browning Gold autos, the revised SX–2 took command of the market for a number of years, and the SX–3 is the final result. The SX–3 has become known as the fastest–cycling shotgun built today. I guess that is great, but a clay shooter, even in skeet Doubles, won’t often need the kind of speed this autoloading shotgun can deliver. Hunters sure don’t require ultra high–speed second or third rounds when taking on rising upland game or incoming ducks over decoys. What this new age of speed–loaded receivers does, however, is illustrate just how efficient the gas–piston system associated with the SX–3 is.

Outstanding pattern performance

Just one example of what the SX–3 is capable of — a 40–yard pattern that placed 97% of the available pellets into a 30″ circle. This is outstanding pattern performance.

This design addresses many problems that plague all autoloaders from time to time, like loading and ejection issues when they start to foul with carbon and other spent propellant products. I have not seen any of that kind of slowdown in action function when making use of my own personal trio of SX–3s. Built with the best–engineered gas valve ever put into a shotgun (the Active Valve), the SX–3 system is failsafe on all fronts. Materials, from the butt stock to the muzzle, are space–age alloys that reduce weight, resulting in the 26″–barreled model weighing in at about 7+ pounds. It also allows less weight to be generated in areas that require massive strength to take on severe pressures when fired.

When fired with heavy loads in the 3″–chambered wood–stocked upland model, recoil was manageable. When shot in the 28″–barreled 3½″ waterfowl model, it was completely under control. Winchester makes the claim this gun is the softest–shooting autoloader built today, and I believe they are correct in their assessment of the recoil–reduction system.

On game–farm hunting during ammunition and gun function testing by Browning/Winchester over the last several years, we shot hundreds of rooster pheasants, and there never was a single malfunction I noted. Later in each season, I hunted roosters, ducks and grouse with a pair of SX–3s on private land near the Missouri River in South Dakota for several weeks at a time with a great deal of shooting but experienced no function issues at all.

Outstanding balance, fast swinging and great response time in getting on a second or third bird are characteristics of the SX–3. I can’t say that about everything I have shot or have in my gun vault today. Heavy guns fatigue the hunter and cause him or her to fall behind targets all too often — my SX–3s don’t wear me down. The SX–3 weighs in at 6.10 pounds in the 28″–barreled model. With eight models to select from at your local gun store, there is certainly one to fit all your needs.

Great Performance

I have sent a massive number of rounds downrange for better than three years with each of my personal trio of X–3 shotguns. I made a special run to Minnesota along the wide Mississippi River near Hastings to work at getting one of these super guns to jam or give me some reason to make a mid–hunt change in smoothbores. Gunning the wet early–morning cornfields in ultra–high humidity in the 90% range, heat that would fry an egg on the hood of a pickup truck and bugs that attacked in clouds, the jungle–like conditions fit the bill on our black–bandit hunt. Add the fact it rained for a full night and day but our little party of crow hunters refused to give into the weather, even though we had a nasty mix of very wet air, rain–soaked gas valves and actions and recoil systems that grabbed all the burned powder they could on its way out of the chamber during firing. It was a great testing ground!

Todd Gifford is a professional hunter and animal–control expert. He had scouted several areas with enough ground to give us three days of morning and evening crow hunting. Decoy systems and electric calling were the primary methods used to approach the hordes of egg–eating and songbird chick–killing bandits. Pre–dawn setups each morning were followed with late–afternoon hunts by way of vehicle patrols and then setting up ambush sites near cornfields and taking cover in forested areas. Todd and his guide operation, Buffalo Ridge, has set me up for over eight years, ranging from spring snows and summer crows to fall waterfowl forays and when running new–product testing.

High-performance pair

A pair of high–performance winners — Winchester’s SX–3 in walnut–stocked Field model and Mossy Oak Duck Blind camo–covered Waterfowl Hunter. These are well–designed shotguns that can take on any task in the field and even some on the clays course.

On this hunt, we had no less than three SX–3s in operation by Todd, his assistant Mark Nistler and me. I was hauling my best crow–killing system — my own 3″ wood–stocked SX–3 that is quick to mount and swing. Ammunition used during the test hunt was a mix of light trap 1–ounce 12–gauge fodder to heavy 3″ and 3½″ duck and goose loads. In all, I shot better than 11 different loads through my gun, and my partners searched out handfuls of loose ammo from a large box in the pickup bed, mixing and matching better than 15 totally different rounds in seven different brands.

The end result was, over rain–soaked cornfields, the death rate among the black bandits was over 85%. When shot at altitude with heavy loads, the SX–3s showed their stuff, with kills well into the 70 to 90–yard range. Hunting the river bottoms by way of winding roads that dropped several hundred feet it was tough work for guns, loads and gunners, pulling high–flying crows out of the air above the large oak canopies.

Black Hills gobbler

With aftermarket choke systems in the muzzles of our SX–3s, we took ducks, geese and this very nice Black Hills gobbler at extended ranges.

Great Design

The SX–3 retains its safety button at the rear right side of the trigger guard. It has a clean look and is kept simple to use and very straightforward as to operating system. Loading is easy. You simply press rounds past the carrier toward the magazine tube. A removable plug is installed to limit the gun to two rounds in the magazine and a round in the chamber for waterfowl purposes. There is no magazine cut–off system designed into the gun. Ejecting loaded rounds can be accomplished by one of two methods: They can be dumped through the ejection port or you can depress a latch inside the receiver at the magazine tube and rounds can be slipped back out of the magazine. Releasing the bolt is accomplished by a button on the right side and below the ejection port. Simple and straightforward operation is perfection in a hunting gun.

The bolt lock–up system is unchanged from the first SX–2. The steel bolt is massive and bank–vault solid. Takedown of the receiver is simple. Two pins drop the trigger assembly, the gas valve slides off the magazine housing, and the ejection push rods slip off right behind the gas valve. This gun is built to be taken down in the field without tools, if necessary.

Surface treatment retains a special coating (called Dura Touch) on non–camo models. It is totally rust–resistant. Even if water got by the material, the metal is also laden with alloys to fight corrosion. My camo models both retain a very tough cover material, and countless hours in rough field conditions have not affected them in any way.

If I were to select the best elements in terms of the gun’s design, it would be lack of excess weight for fast handling, its outstanding balance when mounting and the material workmanship. The bottom line is I shoot the gun well, and that counts for just about everything in my book!

With a chrome–moly barrel liner and backbored to .742, the SX–3, depending on the choke–tube system, can take on anything manufactured today in the target or hunting–load department. Shooting the factory tubes produced great patterns, but moving to aftermarket tubes, like Pattern Master, Kick’s, Angle Porting and Environ–Metal, Inc.’s custom long–range systems, to name a few, turned the shotgun into a pass–shooting, turkey–killing and general–purpose masterpiece. It shot 82% to 100% patterns on the 30″ circle all day long. I took geese, ducks and some very special Black Hills gobblers at some unbelievable ranges, even when conditions got tough.

The Browning Invector–Plus factory tubes must not be counted out. Among all factory–designed tubes, the Invector–Plus are solid performers. With Black Cloud loads by Federal and Blindside loads by Winchester, the Invector–Plus tube in Modified configuration was very hard to beat. These load systems make use of sabot–designed wads and staying with Invector–Plus chokes is a good way to gain outstanding performance from this new breed in smoothbore ammo without the expense of a special choke.

During a sporting clays school put on by Gil and Vicki Ash, I elected to haul my SX–3 3″ wood model to class because I had experienced success with the gun. Gil didn’t seem to think it was my best choice, but when the program got underway, his opinion changed. A bird gun on a target course still made the clays break and that, to my way of thinking, is the name of the game. Currently Winchester offers several variants of the SX–3 in clays setups.

Winchester recently made changes to the SX–3 wood–stocked 3″ and 3½″ 12–gauge guns. For the most part, the receivers were not modified but other elements were. Some folks did not like the gray–plated finish on the first guns, so the new guns have a standard blued finish when not in camo coating. And black synthetic–stock models do not use the Dura Touch coating any longer. Also gone is the pistol–grip logo inset using the gray aluminum finish and the big red “W.” I currently own a 3″ field gun with the gray hard–surface treatment and like it very much. With its fiddle–back walnut, ultra–tough finish and gray–steel look, I would still cast my vote for the early gun.

You probably have a favorite hunting gun of your own. But if you are looking for something new or different and want the best in autoloading shotguns and still want to keep to a price that does not require mortgaging the car or house, take a look at the SX–3. It is offered in turkey, waterfowl, upland hunting, home–defense, deer, general–purpose and clay–target models in both 12 and 20 gauge. Black, camo and wood stocks are available, as well as varied barrel lengths. These shotguns run from $900 to a tad over $1,000, depending on options, chamber lengths and model. In my opinion, the only thing better than an SX–3 is three of them!

L.P. Brezny has worked in research and development in the shooting industry for 31 years. He developed and marketed the first sub–sonic shotgun and shotshell — The Hastings Metro Gun™ System (www.metrogun.com or 605–787–6321) — and was the first to measure shotshell pellets in real time at target distances, building ballistic tables demonstrating shotshell load performance and chronographing systems that are still in use today. He also developed the Dead Ringer® high–performance waterfowl/upland choke–tube system. L.P. has been writing for various shooting publications for over 26 years.