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Winchester’s SX4

Evolution of an Autoloading Classic
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The cycling speed of the SX4 is phenomenal. The SX4 chambers a new shell as a spent one barely clears the ejection port.

Now in its 4th generation, Winchester’s new SX4 autoloader is the culmination of design efforts dating back to 1974’s SX1. By current manufacturing standards, the SX1 was a lavish gun, completely machined of steel. It was heavy, expensive and disappeared from the line in 1981.

The simple, lightweight Winchester/Browning gas system tames felt recoil.

The Browning Touch

Eighteen years later, Winchester — now owned by Belgium’s Walloon business region — surprised us all with the introduction of the SX2 in 1999. The innovative SX2 is key to the understanding of the new SX4.

The SX2 was a completely redesigned Super X auto and reflected a new burst of engineering and design creativity flowing from the Browning side of the house. The SX2 shared many features and overall lines with Browning’s Gold line of semi-autos — a similar aluminum receiver, bolt and bolt carrier, fire control system, Browning’s exceptional self-compensating gas system and a back-bored barrel fitted with Invector-Plus choke tubes.

After shooting an SX2, most owners made three observations — the gun’s modest recoil and cycling speed and its liveliness between the hands. The sheer engineering elegance of the Winchester/Browning gas system that is carried over to the SX3 and SX4 has to be experienced to be appreciated. Recoil reduction is remarkable. What contributes to this reduction? Simplicity and the minimal weight of the gas system components.

The heart of the SX2, SX3, SX4 self-compensating gas system that effectively handles everything from 2 3/4", one ounce, target loads through 3 1/2" magnums is a free-floating aluminum piston riding around the magazine tube. The piston transmits its energy to the bolt carrier via another free-floating unit made of a lightweight synthetic composite, while at the same time venting excess gas forward, both controlling bolt speed and reducing felt recoil.

In short, the weight of the moving parts in the recoil system have been minimized while solid mechanical linkages — such as action arms — between the piston and bolt carrier have been eliminated. The system is simple, rugged and a cinch to clean.

Tweaking the SX2, Winchester introduced the SX3 around 2006 in a variety of specialized models, including a complete offering of 20-gauge guns. Tweaking the SX3 brings us to the SX4 with two surprises. The complete SX3 line is still cataloged, while the new and improved SX4 line brings with it a lower price point for its various models. However, if your heartthrob is a 20-gauge, you’ll have to mine the SX3 line where 20-gauges now predominate.

“Winchester claims their SX4 is the fastest cycling semi-auto available.”

The forend is slimmer and more ergonomic than on previous SX models.

The buttstock has a more rounded and open pistol grip, and features the Inflex recoil pad.

Tweaked For The Field

There are some notable improvements (other than price) in the SX4. One invaluable feature carried over from the SX3 is a chrome-lined chamber and barrel. As a hunter who fights weather, I find chrome plating to be a blessing. Another protective and self-lubricating coating, nickel Teflon, is applied to the SX4 bolt, carrier and bolt release.

Speaking of hunting, the SX4 addresses the glove issue head-on with a greatly enlarged and squared off bolt handle, reversible safety and bolt release button. Even the triggerguard — which is now a composite — is radically enlarged and part of an easily removable trigger group.

The SX4 buttstock has been reshaped with a more rounded and open pistol grip (which feels nice) and is finished with an enlarged “Inflex” recoil pad which actually does work to move the comb down and away from your cheek, again helping to diminish felt recoil. Two 1/4" LOP spacers are supplied as standard fare, as are IC, M and F Invector-Plus choke tubes.

Winchester claims their SX4 is the fastest cycling, semi-auto available. Adding to the speed of the SX4 action is a new spring-loaded ejector mounted in the barrel sleeve that ejects the case immediately once the mouth of the case has cleared the chamber.

“Those big, squared-off controls — particularly the ambidextrous safety — proved much easier to manipulate.”

Variations On The Theme

The SX4 lineup currently includes a basic, synthetic-stocked Field Model, a Waterfowl Hunter, an NWTF Cantilever Turkey, a Cantilever Buck, a Universal Hunter and a walnut-stocked Field and Field Compact (13" LOP) with 3" and 3 1/2" chambers. The MSRP runs from $799.99 to $1,069.99.

Our test model was the walnut stocked SX4 Field with a 28" barrel, 3" chamber and a 49" overall length. It weighs 6 3/4 lbs. with an LOP of 14-1/4" with 1-1/2" drop at comb and 1-3/4" drop at heel.

I’ve been shooting an SX2 for more than a decade, so the SX4 felt like an old friend at the range. It’s lighter and livelier than my SX2, and the slimmer stock design is more comfortable and will fit the average shooter better. Those big, squared-off controls — particularly the ambidextrous safety — proved much easier to manipulate. It’s a subtle design change other manufacturers might do well to emulate.

A 6-3/4 lb. 12-gauge is great to roam afield with, but what about kick? Not to worry! The Winchester/Browning gas system plus the Inflex recoil pad really work in tandem to minimize felt recoil.

Winchester’s SX auto line has been evolving for 44 years. The new SX4 family incorporates improved features at lower cost. And if you’re recoil sensitive, this is the shotgun for you.


Winchester Repeating Arms
Ph: (800) 333-3288

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