We’re going to get a bit philosophical with this one. Winchester, one of the nineteenth century’s most iconic rifle makers, a company that revolutionized shotguns at the turn of the twentieth century, is still making guns. It’s alive and well, and making a play for a bigger part of the market. If you are looking for a new scatter-gun, and you’re working on a budget, Winchester has a gun for you.
Before you get delusions about something romantic like an old 1897, let’s come to terms with what we have here. The Super X Defender Pump is just about as basic as a shotgun gets. It is a time-tested design. The pump is as reliable as you are, probably more. The basic flat black finish is meant to both protect the steel and keep light from reflecting off the gun, which could give away your position if you’re hiding out. This is a home defense gun, one with easy-to-use controls and none of the bells and whistles that can be easily overlooked in a defensive situation.
The barrel is a typical 18-inch design with a solid lug that attaches it to the magazine tube. With one round in the chamber, the gun will hold five 3-inch shells, or six 2.75-inch shells. Loading is easy, as the gate below works like most of us are accustomed to. The pump moves easily and drops when you pull the trigger. While it isn’t uncommon, I like having the action open up fast. It helps with repeat shots, as you don’t have to nudge the pump back toward the muzzle before you rack it back.
The receiver is made of an alloy. That’s all the information I’ve got about its composition, and it isn’t much. Many steels are alloys, as is aluminum. I will say it feels solid and wasn’t something I had even noticed on the range. The bolt has four locking lugs and it locks up tight. That’s where the magic happens. The receiver takes some of the recoil energy and repetitive stress associated with pumping action, but it isn’t containing the blast like the bolt and the barrel, so the alloy should work well.
The controls are simple. The trigger group drops free. If there’s one place where you can point to the inexpensive nature of the shotgun, it is in the tolerances surrounding this singular part. The trigger group fits well in the gun and mounts solidly. Yet there are more gaps around it than I’d like to see. While they won’t impair performance, they may allow in grime that will need to be cleaned more frequently. As the whole group drops free, this shouldn’t be an issue in the long run.
There are some design elements I didn’t expect to see on a gun in this price range. The first is the hard chromed hammer and bore. The bolt is finished in black chrome. The chrome will help keep rust and corrosion in check, which is great on a gun like this that you may not baby the way you would some other shotguns.
The stock itself has been designed with a recoil system that is supposed to channel energy away from the cheek piece and down into the shoulder. More on that below. The look of the stock is slightly less traditional, thanks to the angular shapes in the polymer. But they’re subtle. If you like the straight, no-nonsense look of the iconic pump shotguns, the SXP may be a bit edgy, but only if you’re close enough to see the stock. From a few feet away, the lines disappear. And from in front of the gun, the SXP makes the traditional impression.
The safety is a simple crossbolt, and it works like it should. The forend is a rigid plastic with aggressive ribs. The brass bead front sight is there when you need it. All in all, it is a fine example of an entry-level pump shotgun.
We shot the SXP on a varied range that included steel targets, some paper silhouettes and a clay thrower. As the gun weighs-in north of six pounds and has a shorter barrel and a cylinder choke, it isn’t a do-it-all shotgun. You can use it to break the occasional clay if you need to, but it is really meant for close-quarters work on much larger targets.
As for the recoil. With 2.75-inch shells, this gun does have noticeably light recoil. We worked with a variety of shot sizes and speeds, from light target loads up to 3-inch slugs and buckshot. The lightest target loads kicked more like a 20-gauge we had on hand. The heavier loads felt like you were shooting a 12-gauge. I’d hoped that the reduction from the stock’s design might lighten the load enough that I would endorse this for the recoil sensitive, but I’m not going to. It still kicks. The design is intended to channel the energy away from your cheek. I tend to zone out when I’m shooting. I focus on the task-at-hand as it is, and I miss things like this unless they’re obvious. If recoil is a concern, and you still want the punch and presentation of the 12-gauge, I’d highly recommend using this with lighter buckshot loads.
As for its other shotgun-like attributes, the SXP performs well. The SXP hits what you aim it at. Buckshot, which is my recommendation for anyone serious about home defense shotgun shooting, spreads about 8 to 10 inches at seven yards. Birdshot opens up considerably. We shot steel with slugs from as far out as 100 yards. At that distance, hitting a 12-inch plate was much more difficult than it would be with a rifled slug gun, but it is an impractical defensive distance anyhow. The SPX handled the slugs fine.
This is a fine shooting gun. We ran it hard and got it dirty. The photos here are from its first outing. On its second, we shot it in driving rain. During that shoot, we were dirty and wet, but not half as filthy as the gun. No matter how much mud we got on the gun, or in it, the SPX fired when we pulled the trigger. There’s something to say for that. When I got it home, I hosed it down with an actual garden hose, toweled it off and then hosed it down with CLP.
That’s what this is. With an MSRP of just $349.99, this is a solid entry-level gun. I’ve seen it for sale in the mid $200s. Because it isn’t as widespread as many of the pump shotguns, there will be fewer options for customization, though there are some companies making furniture already. As they grow in popularity, more aftermarket parts and accessories will follow.
In the end, there will have to be some decisions made about national pride. Winchester is more than a brand. It is a venerable American tradition. I’d personally pay more for a gun made in the United States. Not that I have anything at all against the Turkish people. And I certainly respect what they’re doing with shotguns. But we’re not talking about the same Winchester my grandfather knew and loved. Instead we’re talking about a budget shotgun that does its job, every time. If you believe that we’re post-national, that the world is one big global economy, than the Winchester would be a great choice. If you want a shotgun to keep up in the cabin, or take on that canoe trip, this is a great choice. I’m tempted to close by saying “it-is-what-it-is.” While that’s true, it is more than that. It is a well-built shotgun that performs way above its pay grade. It is a versatile tool. And it is part of how we have to think about Winchester now, too.