Gun Review: Winchester SXP Black Shadow

A speedy 20-gauge pump gun. The tough finish on the metal and the rugged synthetic stock allow the SXP to withstand hard use. Photographs by Andrew Geiger

The new Winchester SXP is a fine little bird gun. It’s chambered in 20-gauge and is a scaled-down version of the pump-action SXP 12-gauges that Winchester has had in its lineup for a while now.

The SXP’s claim to fame is the speed of its action. The shotgun’s slide moves briskly back and forth, ejecting spent shells and feeding fresh rounds into the chamber in the blink of an eye.

Is it truly the fastest pump-action out there? I couldn’t tell you that’s the case for certain, but I can say that it is no slower than other pump-actions.

During my evaluation, I worked the SXP on doubles and triples at my local gun club, and it tracked very well when moving from one target to another, even on tough crossers and other challenging presentations.

Part of this can be attributed to the smooth cycling action, but there’s more to it than that. The SXP has a slightly muzzle-forward balance that makes it handle nicely. I was pretty surprised by this, because the sample I had came with 26-inch barrels, and, generally, I prefer 28-inch barrels on pumps and semi-autos. For me, 26-inch barrels can be a little whippy, which is fine in a grouse thicket, but for birds in open country, I like a gun that has more “swing” built into it.

Upon closer inspection, I saw that the barrel on the SXP steps up in size to a noticeably wider diameter near the muzzle, placing more weight at the end of the shotgun, which certainly aided its swing.

Idiot-Proof
The SXP is definitely a guy's shotgun. I say that because of its simplicity to operate and maintain. This is a gun that doesn't require an owner's manual. Unscrew the cap on the magazine tube and tap out the single pin that holds the trigger assembly in place and you can pull everything apart that you'll need to mess with.

One thing I appreciate in the gun’s build is how the bolt carrier clips on to the plate at the rear of the action bars. This keeps the bolt carrier from inadvertently falling to the ground during disassembly. By depressing the rear of the firing pin, you can remove the carrier from the plate and clean the bolt, firing pin, and the rest of the bolt-carrier group. It’s an idiot-proof design.

Stats
Gauge 20
Capacity 4+1
Weight 6 lb. 8 oz.
Trigger Pull 9 lb. 4 oz.
Barrel Length 26 in.
Overall Length 46 ½ in.
Price $399
Contact winchesterguns.com

Smart and Simple
The simplicity of the design is echoed in the SXP's aesthetics. Other than a couple of splashes of red lettering on the side of the receiver, the two small Ws inset into the sides of the grip, and some geometric designs worked into the stock, the SXP Black Shadow is pretty bare bones. (Though the SXP comes in a number of other models with flashier grades of finish and trim.) The finish is muted black from butt to muzzle, with the exception of the glossy black magazine tube.

This is a basic shotgun that covers all the basics. The rib is slightly elevated above the barrel and has a single brass bead at its end, which is all any shotgun really needs. Shouldered, the gun gives a good view down the sighting plane with no unnecessary distractions.

It comes with three flush-mounted screw-in choke tubes: Full, Modified, and Improved Cylinder. These allow the shooter to tune the shotgun to any bird-hunting scenario. It also has attachments for a sling. There’s one mounting point molded into the buttstock and a swivel stud at the end of the magazine tube cap.

The SXP loads easily. The banana-shaped shell lifter moves out of the way with the slightest pressure as shells are inserted. The crossbolt safety at the rear of the trigger guard will be as familiar to hunters as a Lab in a duck blind.

Room to Improve
From an ergonomic standpoint, the gun would be better if the button that frees the action were located on the other side of the receiver. It could also really benefit from a better trigger. Mine broke at inconsistent weights with an average trigger pull of 9 pounds 4 ounces. On an otherwise lively 6 ½-pound shotgun, this is a bit of a black eye.

One could argue that for an entry-level-price shotgun—the SXP in 20-gauge lists for $399—a good trigger pull is expecting too much. Five years ago, I might have agreed. But with the industry-wide improvement in triggers on entry-level rifles, I think we can, and should, expect the same from our shotguns.

Don’t get me wrong, however. This concern aside, I think the SXP is a really good value and a capable bird gun. It’s cheap, tough, and shoots nicely. Hard to beat that.

Performance
Handling 8
Reliablity 9
Accuracy 7
Meets Purpose 9
Versatility 8

Design
Craftsmanship 7
Ergonomics 7
Durability 9
Aesthetics 7
Value 7

Total 78

Notable Features

The butt pad on the SXP is Winchester’s effective Inflex model. The internal ribs in the pad move the stock down and away from the shooter’s cheek under recoil for better comfort. The hard heel on the pad makes for smooth, easy mounting.

The rotating bolt on the SXP has four lugs that lock into place in the receiver when the action is closed. This is a strong design, yet the lugs unlock quickly after the shot to help the shooter run the action and load the next shell in a speedy manner.