Shotgun Review: Sauer’s SL5 Is an Inertia-Driven Auto-Loader Built Specifically for Turkey Hunters
Known for bolt-action rifles, German engineer Sauer teamed with Breda to build a lightweight semi-auto for the turkey woods
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Sauer’s newest shotgun—the SL5 Turkey—was engineered specifically for turkey hunters. The SL5 is a short-barreled 12-gauge that comes optics ready and features a built-in pistol grip for better gun control. It also includes an aftermarket Carlson’s .665 turkey choke. In short, it’s an inertia-driven auto-loader that’s ready for the turkey woods as soon as you take it out of the box and add a red-dot or scope to the SL5’s Picatinny rail.
Who Is Sauer?
Rifleshooters know the Sauer name well. The German gun manufacturer has been producing quality bolt-actions for more than 250 years. But shotguns are a new venture for Sauer, which teamed with Fausti to build its over/unders, and is working with another famed Italian gunmaker, Breda, to produce the SL5 (the inertia gun also comes in a field variant with a 27- or 29-inch barrel). You may notice that this gun looks eerily similar to a Benelli. That’s because Breda owned part of Benelli before selling to Beretta, so their guns have many of the same exterior qualities—and use the same inertia operating system—as the Benelli guns.
Sauer SL5 Turkey Shotgun Specifications
Like so many of its competitors, the Sauer SL5 is a lightweight (only 7 pounds) shotgun, making it easy to carry. There is a sling swivel affixed to the fore-end cap and a second molded into the stock of the gun. You can also slip a sling through the metal cross bar in the stock. The SL5 includes just about every amenity a turkey hunter is looking for in a shotgun at a reasonable price. Sauer’s SL5 is available in three different Mossy Oak patterns—Obsession, Bottomland, and New Bottomland. There is also a 10-year factory warranty.
- Gauge: 12
- Action: Semi-auto (inertia-driven)
- Capacity: 3+1
- Chamber: 3-inch
- Barrel type: Steel, chrome-lined
- Barrel length: 18 inches
- Chokes: Carlson’s .665 turkey, Extended CRIO Modified, Cylinder (flush)
- Front sight: Red fiber-optic
- Overall length: 40 inches
- Length of pull: 14½ inches
- Trigger pull: 4 pounds, 5.5 ounces
- Overall weight: 7 pounds
- MSRP: $1,200
How the Sauer SL5 Patterned
I patterned Hev-18 TSS (3-inch, 2-ounce, No. 9s) and Winchester’s Longbeard, a 3-inch lead load with a charge weight of 1¾ ounces, No. 5 shot through the SL5, using the Carlson’s .665 choke. According to some shotshell manufacturers and aftermarket choke specialists I’ve talked to, that constriction falls between the optimal .665 to .675 for shooting TSS. But, not all shotshells are created the same, so other TSS offerings can benefit from tighter chokes. Just know, shot patterns can suffer if you over choke tungsten. The SL5 also includes an extended modified and flush cylinder choke.
I shot Hevi-18 and Longbeard from 30, 40, and 50 yards at a 10-inch target without using an optic to see how the gun truly patterned. The Picatinny rail is removable, so if you prefer to hunt turkeys without a red-dot or scope, that is an option. But the gun was built to be shot with an optic. So, I also shot Hevi-18 from the industry standard of 40 yards with a Burris FastFire II red-dot mounted to the rail. I patterned the loads on a 55-degree day with a steady 10 mph north wind blowing in my face. The best pattern results from each load can be found in the table below.
For pattern work, I sat on the ground and leaned my back against the rear tire of my truck to simulate the kind of shot a turkey hunter takes (sitting against a tree). I shot this way for two reasons. First, I like to see what patterns look like in the same scenario I’ll be shooting game. Second, I was shooting heavy turkey loads through a light shotgun. If you try to shoot a 7-pound gun like the SL5 from a lead sled or other rest, you typically don’t get a true—or even good—pattern. Because the recoil is so stout and the gun is light, it lifts out of the cradle when the trigger is pulled. That can result in a high pattern; sometimes you won’t get any pellets on paper at all. I did start my pattern work from a lead sled but could not get a solid pattern on paper, so I moved to the ground where I had more control of the gun.
One of the main reasons hunters buy a dedicated turkey semi-auto like the SL5 is because the gun is optics ready. Having a mounted scope or reflex sight on top of the receiver allows a shooter to be more precise. Also, if you don’t mount the gun properly, a red dot will still allow you to get on target and make a solid shot. That’s not always possible with a single front bead at the end of your barrel.
I spent an hour with the FastFire, trying to find the optimal hold point that would deliver the best pattern. The comb height was adequate enough so that the red-dot was well within my sight picture. I made several elevation adjustments to get the dot in the best position. Ultimately, lifting my head so that my cheek was just touching the stock yielded the best pattern at 40 yards—146 pellets inside the 10-inch circle. That was 12 pellets better than my best 40-yard pattern (134) without the optic. If the SL5 was my main turkey gun, I would add a cheek piece to the stock so that my eye was properly aligned with the red dot.
The Functionality of the SL5
Trigger weight is important to core turkey hunters. A heavy trigger is no good when you’re trying to shoot a shotgun like a rifle, which is the case when a longbeard struts in front of your smoothbore’s barrel. You never want the trigger weight to be heavier than the gun you’re shooting, particularly in a 7-pound 12-gauge such as the SL5. A heavy trigger can cause you to pull off target as it breaks if you are putting too much pressure on the trigger. The SL5 has an acceptable trigger pull of 4.5 pounds. And in my testing, the SL5 remained rock steady when I pulled the trigger. The only issue I experienced was a bit of creep in the trigger.
Like most inertia platforms, the SL5 uses a rotating bolt head to lock the shotshell into battery. Turkey hunters often quietly slide the bolt forward by holding onto the charging handle to make as little noise as possible. This can be problematic if your gun has a rotating bolt head because the bolt needs the energy of the bolt release sending it forward to close properly. If it doesn’t close, the bolt remains out of battery and the shotgun will not fire when you pull the trigger. My test gun didn’t have any issues when I pressed the release and let the bolt close. But when I eased the bolt forward, I had to apply pressure at the very end to make sure the bolt rotated and locked. Some inertia guns have remedied this issue with a detent pin in the bolt that doesn’t allow the rotating head to remain open. Any slight movement of the gun will close the bolt head and send the shotshell into battery. You don’t get that convenience with the SL5, so remember to make sure the bolt closes.
Loading the first shell into the SL5 is easy enough. Place a shell into the chamber, press the oversized bolt-release button, and you’re in business. The load gate was slightly stiff. It wasn’t challenging to insert the shells into the magazine tube, but the extractor button was a little gummy, and the shells didn’t want to come out without some finesse. I added gun oil, which made it slightly easier. Sometimes load gates have a break-in period and get better with time.
This gun is extremely simple to breakdown and clean, which is one the advantages inertia guns have over gas semi-autos. All you need to do is unscrew the fore-end cap and the barrel and fore-end slide off together. Pull out the bolt handle and the bolt can be removed from the receiver. The plug sits at the top of the magazine; just pull it out with your thumb and trigger finger or tip the gun forward and it will fall out. A single pin holds the trigger group in place.
Carry Weight Vs. Recoil
The SL5 is light at 7 pounds, but turkey guns are trending in that direction. It makes the Sauer easy to tote through the woods, but when you touch off a 2-ounce load of TSS No. 9s be ready for the recoil. There is a half-inch thick rubber recoil pad affixed to the butt plate of the stock, but it didn’t do much to negate the energy being sent into my shoulder. That said, shooting turkeys isn’t like high volume spring snow goose hunts or limiting on desert quail. It’s one shot. And though shooting an 8- or 9-pound shotgun won’t sting you as badly, there’s no getting around the forceful impact you feel from firing a turkey-specific shotshell.
How the SL5 Handled
The SL5 has an enlarged bolt handle and bolt release, which makes the gun easier to manipulate. Oversized controls are useful in a turkey shotgun. We’re loading our guns in the dark, but also, turkey hunters get up and move, so it’s nice to be able to quickly extract or load a shell when you need to get closer to a hung-up tom. The only thing I generally dislike about enlarged bolt releases is they are much easier to trip by accident than standard ones. They can close and catch a finger or two in the action when you’re not expecting it. Otherwise, they are a welcomed upgrade. To open the bolt, there is a small piece of steel right next to the trigger group. Press it, and you can pull the bolt open.
Another turkey gun essential is a comfortable pistol grip with rubber overmold. The SL5’s pistol grip is a beefy 5½ inches around, which gives the shooter plenty to hold onto. The camo stock and fore-end are typical of a modern shotgun. The feel isn’t exemplary, but it gets the job done. There is also checkering on either side of the fore-end to keep your off hand secure. That’s a small, but important feature for a turkey hunter, because sometimes it can take an hour (maybe more) for a tom to walk into shotgun range. That can lead to sweaty palms, which makes holding onto the gun as it fires difficult. My hands were sweating during testing and I had no problem keeping a firm grip on the SL5.
If you turkey hunt dense woods, barrel length matters. The SL5 has a short 18-inch barrel, so you can maneuver it in tight places. Sometimes a turkey will go silent and come in from a direction you haven’t anticipated. In that circumstance you will have to move your gun or possibly shoot wrong-handed. Having a short-barreled gun (the SL5 is only 40 inches long total) can be the difference in punching your tag or walking back to the truck without a gobbler over your shoulder.
Is the SL5 Versatile?
With its rubber pistol grip and short barrel, the SL5 is also a capable predator firearm, especially with an optic, like the Burris red dot. It could also be used as a slug gun during deer season. There are certainly more capable home defense shotgun options, but the SL5 could serve that purpose too if you added a light mount to the barrel and swapped the tight Carlson’s turkey choke for the cylinder choke. You could also pull the magazine plug and spring and affix a Benelli extension magazine (they are compatible with this model) to the SL5 for more shotshell capacity. Wingshooting and clays aren’t in the SL5’s wheelhouse due to its short barrel and pistol grip.
Is the SL5 Worth the Price Tag?
Personally, I don’t think buying any inertia-driven semi-auto with a synthetic stock and fore-end should be an overly pricey endeavor. Inertia systems are simple with few moving parts, and without any high-grade walnut to bring to my cheek or hold onto with my off hand, there’s hardly a reason to charge $2,000 or more (though it hasn’t stopped some gun makers from doing so). That said, Sauer hit on a fair price point with the SL5. It’s an Italian-made semi-auto with every amenity you need in a turkey shotgun—including the Carlson’s choke to give turkey hunters a valued extra—for $1,200. And it’s backed by a 10-year warranty.
Read Next: The Best Turkey Loads of 2022
Some shotgun makers cut corners in places they don’t think hunters will notice, like plastic trigger groups and bolt-release buttons, or small imperfections in the exterior workmanship of the gun. Sauer didn’t do that with the SL5. They adhered to the high standard of well-built rifles they have engineered for almost three centuries and delivered a semi-auto that can compete with any inertia-driven turkey shotgun. If you’re fanatical about longbeards and the specialized guns used to hunt them, Sauer’s auto-loader is well worth your hard-earned money.