Shotgun Review: Winchester’s Super X4 Is the Best Affordable Semi-Auto
Duck hunting is an expensive pursuit. Just finding a place to hunt can be costly if you don’t have access to good hunting on public land. You also need all kinds of gear—a truck, boat, trailer, decoys, etc.—to effectively hunt waterfowl. It’s a big investment. And the last place you want to skimp on is your shotgun. Because without a reliable firearm, there’s not much sense in heading to the blind. That’s why the Winchester SX4 is such a great choice. It’s an ultra-reliable, gas-driven semi-auto for less than $900.
There are better duck guns than the SX4, but in terms of value, Winchester’s auto-loader is unmatched. It’s a 3½-inch shotgun with one of the best operating systems (Active Valve) you will find, and hundreds of dollars cheaper than a Beretta A400 Xtreme Plus, Benelli Super Black Eagle 3, or Browning Maxus II. And you get the same reliability from the SX4 that you would from those three guns. That’s why the Super X4 won the great buy award in our recent review on the best duck hunting shotguns.
So, if you’re interested in a durable duck gun that won’t drain your bank account, but will function when you need it to, here’s is a more in-depth look at waterfowl’s best value in an auto-loader: the Winchester Super X4.
Winchester Super X4 Specifications and Features
These are the standard options included in the Winchester Super X4:
- Gauge: 12 (tested), 20
- Action: Semi-auto
- Capacity: 4+1
- Chamber: 3½-inch (tested), 3-inch
- Barrel type: Chrome-plated
- Barrel Length: 24-, 26-, 28-inch (tested)
- Choke: Invector Plus (F, M, IC)
- Front sight: Red fiber-optic
- Finish: Black synthetic, Woodland, TrueTimber Prairie, Mossy Oak Shadow Grass Habitat, Bottomland, Realtree Timber, Max-5, Wicked Wing (Cerakote barrel/receiver with camo stock/fore-end)
- Length: 49½ inches
- LOP: 14¼ inches
- Trigger pull: 5.9 pounds
- Overall weight: 7.1 pounds
- MSRP: $899
The Super X Series Has Always Had a Reliable Gas System
Winchester is on its fourth generation of the original Super X, which was introduced in the 1970s. The SX1 was chambered for 2¾-inch shotshells, like many of the auto-loaders and double guns of that era. It was also a tank (8½ pounds) due to its all-steel construction. That made it durable, but expensive to produce. Winchester stopped making it in 1981 because the SX1 struggled to compete with Remington’s 1100, which had a lower price tag.
Today’s SX4 looks much different than the SX1. It’s almost 1½ pounds lighter than the SX1 and sleeker than its predecessor. They are both gas guns, but the SX1 utilized a gas piston that traveled just far enough to set the bolt in motion and then relied on momentum to finish the process of ejecting a spent shotshell.
The SX2 more closely resembles the SX4. You could buy a 3½-inch version of that gun and it was available in a synthetic model, just like the SX4. The SX2 operated slightly different though. It used a gas tippet system borrowed from the Browning Gold.
In 2006, Winchester debuted the SX3 with the Active Valve gas system. It performed so well they kept it in the SX4. The one difference you will find in the Winchester Super X4 is a brass ring at the base of the piston, not a black rubber O-ring.
Active Valve runs as clean as any gas operating system there is. I’ve used an SX4 for my main duck gun the last two seasons and shot it on spring snow geese with a seven-round magazine extension affixed. The gun has never failed to cycle. It has slowed down when dirty, which lets me know it’s time for a cleaning.
You also won’t have any issues shooting different size loads through the SX4. A group of Outdoor Life and Field & Stream editors (myself included) tested this gun in Sept. 2021, at Pintail Hunting Club in Texas. We shot light 1-ounce target loads and heavy 1 1/8-ounce duck ammo on bluewing teal with the SX4. It cycled them all without issue. I also shot several turkey loads through my personal SX4 to break it in after purchase. It had no problem gobbling them up.
Winchester Built a Soft-Shooting Shotgun
Beretta’s A400 shotguns are well known for their recoil mitigation system, called Kick-Off. It’s a series of springs in the stock that softens the blow to your shoulder once the trigger is pulled and the force of the shotshell charge is sent backwards. The SX4 only relies on Active Valve and an Inflex recoil pad (a piece of rubber that is 2 inches thick). But the recoil you experience with the Winchester is only slightly heavier than the Beretta, which is to say it’s incredibly manageable.
None of our testers in Texas could tell much of a difference between the A400 Xtreme Plus and the SX4 when it came to recoil. The Inflex pad was built to direct recoil away from the shooter’s face. But it also cushions the “sting” your shoulder feels when shooting magnum 3- or 3½-inch duck loads by spreading the force over a larger area. The SX3 did not do that as well, because its Pachmayr Decelerator recoil pad was not as advanced. It’s impressive when you consider the SX4 is a full pound lighter than the A400. Generally, the lighter the gun, the worse the recoil. But that’s not the case with the Winchester.
A Look Inside the Winchester Super X4’s Chamber
One of the concerns I had about the SX4 before buying it was the quality of the bolt. Gas guns typically cost more to manufacture than their inertia-driven counterparts because there are more moving parts to them. I was skeptical Winchester could pull off a gun that cycled shotshells reliably at such a low price point. I’ve shot the SX3 plenty and was impressed with its functionality, but Winchester lowered the price on the SX4 by $200, and my thought was: “that cost cutting had to come from somewhere.” (Just a side note: I was impressed the SX4 cycled as well as the SX3, and it has better ergonomics and overall fit and feel).
The SX4 bolt has the same simple two-piece design as the SX3. It has functioned flawlessly in all the SX4s I have shot. You pull it back to open the bolt and press the bolt-release button to shut it. There is no button under the carrier to press before manually opening the bolt, like you would with a Beretta or Benelli. There’s also no rotating bolt head, which ensures better lockup when the shotshell is pushed into battery.
The firing pin has been reliable as well. Sometimes pins on cheaper guns will wear out fast, and won’t strike the shotshell primer deep enough to set off the charge. I’ve never had that issue with any SX4 (some of those have been the guns of friends who hunt 100 days a year and put thousands of rounds through their SX4s).
Winchester Improved the Feel of the SX4
You already know the SX3 and SX4 are similar guns. Both have the Active Valve gas system and the same stock design, which comes with two ¼-inch spacers to adjust length of pull. But the SX4 has an upgraded trigger guard that is larger than the older version, so you can shoot it more easily with gloves on. The safety is also larger and square instead of a circle. It’s much easier to find when ducks are in the decoys. If you’re a left-handed shooter, it’s simple to switch the safety to the other side.
There’s also an oversized bolt handle on the Winchester Super X4 so you can load and unload it with cold fingers or gloved hands. The bolt-release button is larger on the SX4 as well. Both are protected by a nickel-Teflon coating (as is the carrier) to inhibit corrosion, which saltwater and brackish water duck hunters will appreciate.
The fore-end of the SX4 was redesigned so that shooters have a better grip on the gun in the unpleasant weather. There is a cut out on each side of the fore-end your thumb and fingers will naturally find. There’s also a checkered texture so you have something to hold onto. The SX3 did not offer that on its waterfowl models. It was a smooth, blocky fore-end that became slick in the rain or snow. A few buddies that owned them put shooting tape on the fore-end to ensure the gun would not slip from their hands.
Winchester Super X4 Versatility
The SX4 is light (7.1 pounds), making it a fine choice for walk-in duck hunters. The 20-gauge version of the gun is only 6 pounds, 12 ounces, and is an even better option for waterfowlers who pheasant hunt or are run-and-gun turkey hunters. Winchester makes the SX4 in a compact model with a 13-inch length of pull as well. And there are turkey- and deer-specific models too.
Winchester, and sister company Browning, have cornered the market on shotgun trims. The SX4 is offered in 20 different synthetic, camouflage, and a combination of camouflage and Cerakote finishes called Wicked Wing. Browning supplies many of the same options in its A5 and Maxus II.
Where the SX4 Came Up Short
You have to be nit-picky to find something wrong with the SX4. The exterior is not on par with more expensive auto-loaders, but again, you’re not paying as high a price for this gun.
The bolt reliably cycles, but it does take some force to pull back. It sticks a little when closed—especially in the cold—and requires some muscle to open. The loading port also gets lethargic. There’s never a feeding issue when you are shooting, but when loading and unloading the gun, it can take a few extra seconds to place the shotshell in the magazine or remove it.
How Does the Winchester Super X4 Shoot?
Since we tested so many guns (17) in Texas, we picked one distance (35 yards) to pattern each gun from. The industry standard is 40 yards, but we wanted to showcase the patterns at a more realistic yardage for duck hunters. Plus, your average hunter should keep shooting distances inside 35 yards. Once you get out to 40 it takes more skill, and the likelihood of crippling birds goes up.
We patterned each gun with Federal Speed Shok 3-inch, No. 2s with a muzzle velocity of 1,550 fps and a charge weight of 1 1/8 ounces.
The Winchester Super X4 was one of the best patterning shotguns in our test—not surprising since it uses the proven Invector Plus choke system, which many Browning guns have utilized for decades. Its best pattern totaled 124 of 140 pellets (89 percent) inside the 30-inch circle, which was only matched by the Franchi Affinity 3.
As you can probably tell by the custom Cerakote finish on this test gun (which is my personal SX4) there have been some aftermarket modifications made that you won’t find on a factory SX4. I did have the forcing cones lengthened inside the .742-inch bore to increase pattern density. But I’ve also patterned and shot a handful of other SX4s on ducks, snow geese, and clay birds. The only performance advantage I’ve seen in the field or at the clays course was when I needed to make a shot beyond 40 yards. My custom gun paired with a Rob Roberts T3 choke does shoot better at distance. Inside 40, which is where we should all be shooting ducks and geese, I’ve never noticed any difference.
The SX4 shot 60 percent above and 40 percent below point-of-aim, an ideal gun for duck hunters who cover up the bird and fire. The pellets did shade slightly to the left side of the target, but there were no holes in the patternboard large enough for a duck to fly through.
Final Thoughts on the Winchester Super X4
During our Texas shotgun test it was clear from the first morning’s hunt that the SX4 was a favorite to win best buy. No other mid-level shotgun challenged it for long. Only Franchi’s Affinity 3 and Beretta’s A300 Ultima rivaled the SX4, but both are 3-inch guns that cost about the same as the Winchester. There were better shotguns in our test, but you will pay a premium for them. If you want a price point gun that doesn’t cut any corners, it’s tough to pass on the SX4.