November 04, 2022
The pump shotgun is a distinctly American firearm. The very first repeating pump was designed by Christopher Spencer, but it was Winchester’s Model 12 that became the standard for pump guns to follow. The Model 12 would go on to become the most popular repeating shotgun of the early twentieth century, and its influence can still be seen in modern slide-action shotguns.
The pump shotgun was the perfect firearm design for the American sportsmen. European hunting was largely a pastime of the well-heeled aristocracy, many of whom carried fine double-barrel guns. But in the States, hunting was open to everyone; the wide-open marshes and plains supported abundant game animals that could feed families that might otherwise go hungry. The pump was the shotgun of the working man, not as fancy or expensive as a double, but with a bit of skill and practice, a hunter could run a pump very efficiently and quickly. It was a gun that could serve a sportsman his entire life.
Today’s pump shotguns are no different, and the modern descendant of the Model 12, the Winchester Super X Pump (SXP) embodies many of the same traits that made the Model 12 such a massive success. The SXP is affordable and reliable. With a bit of practice, it’s as effective and efficient as any shotgun available today. It’s perfect for everything from bagging pheasants and turkeys to breaking clays in the backyard and without emptying your wallet.
Winchester SXP Family Tree
The year of 1964 was a fateful time for Winchester. Cheaper rifles and shotguns from Remington were eating into sales of costlier Winchester firearms. To increase profits, some cost-cutting measures were enacted. The Winchester Model 12, which was proving too costly to manufacture as the price of labor increased, was replaced by the Model 1200.
There was an uproar from the Winchester faithful. They detested the Model 1200’s aluminum receiver, didn’t like the screw-on magazine cap, but most of all, they hated that it wasn’t the Model 12. But what these detractors failed to recognize – or willfully refused to acknowledge – was that the Model 1200 was actually a very good gun. The aluminum receiver was lighter, proved plenty durable and was well-balanced. It was a reliable pump at a lower price point.
My grandfather was a Model 12 fan. My father, who started hunting not long after the Model 1200 debuted, bought one and still carries it today. When the time came for me to use my first repeating shotgun at age 14, I wanted to continue the family tradition and opted a Model 1300 20-gauge, then a Model 1300 Black Shadow 12-gauge two years later. I spent most of my formative years carrying a Model 1300, harvested my first rabbit, quail, pheasant, deer, turkey, and duck with those guns. I still own both today.
In the first decade of the twentieth-century production of the Model 1300 ceased, and that marked the end of an era for hunters like me who had grown up with that gun. But it was replaced with the Super X Pump, or SXP—a Winchester slide-action for the twenty-first century.
Building on Tradition
Despite its snub by Winchester purists, the Model 1300 was an excellent gun. Winchester, therefore, did not have to reinvent the pump shotgun but simply had to modernize it. Many of the Model 1300’s key features carried over into the SXP, including the Speed Bolt design that is referred to as an inertia-assisted slide-action. Winchester bills the SXP as “the world’s fastest pump-action shotgun,” and not without reason. The SXP’s bolt features four locking lugs that disengage and begin traveling rearward under recoil, which boosts operating speed and reduces the force required to cycle the action. According to Winchester, the SXP can fire three rounds in a half-second.
This makes the SXP very fast for follow-up shots. It beats other pumps handily, but in the hands of a skilled shooter, it will nearly match the speed of a semiauto shotgun for aimed shots. It’s been claimed that, by the action of sliding the forearm forward toward the target, pump shotguns stabilize themselves and help the shooter get back on target more quickly than semiautos. I can’t verify this claim, but my time behind a pump has proven that if you learn to shoot a Winchester pump properly, they’re as fast as any pump shotgun on the market.
The SXP’s layout is not far removed from the Model 1300. Shells are loaded into a tubular magazine that holds four 2 ¾-inch shells but comes with a plug to limit the capacity when waterfowl hunting. Extracted shells are cast out of an ejection port cut into the right side of the receiver. The controls layout is the same as the Model 1300. The bolt-release button is located at the left rear portion of the trigger guard, and the crossbolt safety is positioned at the front of the trigger guard. This arrangement has always made the most sense to me on a shotgun, and I still prefer it today.
A lot has changed in the shotgun market since 2006, though, and the SXP has kept pace. Polymer stocks are now more popular than wooden stocks, and most of the 38 SXP variants currently offered are equipped with injection-molded stocks. SXP stocks, however, are superior in quality to the cheap plastic stocks found on most imported pump shotguns. The SXP also comes with an Inflex recoil pad that does a good job of absorbing recoil. Many 12-gauge SXP shotguns feature 3 1/2-inch chambers, which means you can reliably shoot everything from light 2 ¾-inch loads to the largest, heavy magnums. Many semiautos claim that they can do the same thing without modification, but oftentimes that’s not the case.
A Shotgun for Everyone
It’s impossible to list the more than three-dozen versions of the SXP currently displayed on Winchester’s website, but odds are very good you’ll find exactly the SXP you want. There are all-camo versions in 12- and 20-gauge in popular patterns from Mossy Oak, Realtree, including the Realtree Max-7 pattern, and True Timber. You can even select the stylish Hunter Woodland camo, a retro pattern that has been one of Winchester’s best-sellers. There also are Hybrid Hunter versions that feature PermaCote FDE metal finishes paired with camo polymer stocks. A variety of short-barreled tactical variants are offered, as are turkey guns and slug guns for hunting big game. There’s even a trap model that’s available in full-size and youth versions with a walnut stock. The Field model also comes with a walnut stock in standard or compact configurations, and there’s a Black Shadow version as well. If you’re looking for a single shotgun to cover your tactical and hunting needs the Camp/Field version of the SXP comes with both a 26- or 28-inch vent rib barrel and an 18-inch Defender barrel.
My SXP test gun was the 12-gauge, 3 /2-inch hybrid version which came with a Mossy Oak Shadow Grass Blades camo dip on the buttstock and forearm, and a PermaCote FDE finish on the barrel and aluminum alloy receiver. Except for a few special models like the Longbeard Turkey and tactical variants, most SXP shotguns (including my test gun) come with improved cylinder, modified, and full interchangeable flush-fit Invector-Plus choke tubes and a choke tube wrench. A TRUGLO fiber optic front bead is visible in low light conditions and this gun is equipped with front and rear sling studs. The chamber and bore of the barrel are chrome lined, and this model is available in a 12-gauge, 3-inch version as well as a 20-gauge version.
Winchester 1300 fans will notice a few updates on the SXP guns. The forearm is longer and offers improved geometry with a finger groove that runs the entire length. The narrower pistol grip is comfortable and positions the hand naturally, and the SXP’s ramp on the rib is more pronounced than the 1300. The trigger of the SXP is oversized to accommodate gloved fingers.
Today’s SXP is very similar to the Winchester pump shotguns that have served hunters since 1964, albeit with modern touches, and that means the Model 1200/Model1300/SXP guns have been in production longer than the Model 12 was. Picking up this SXP reminded me very much of my old 1300 guns.
Using Caldwell’s new Claymore target thrower, I started pitching clays and broke them with AA target loads. My wife even joined in the fun as we took turns operating the thrower and shooting crossing targets.
The SXP managed all this with ease, which is no surprise since a hundred target loads isn’t even a proper break-in for this gun. Operation and reliability were flawless, and the gun does seem to recoil less than my older 1300 12-gauge, though I can’t say if that’s a result of changed stock geometry or the Inflex recoil pad. Perhaps a combination of both.
After shooting clays, I switched to stationary targets and patterned the SXP at 30 yards with 3- and 3 ½-inch magnum loads. There’s great variation in point of impact between some gun models, but the SXPs I’ve tested have all shot either a 60/40 or 50/50 pattern out of the box, which is ideal for hunting. This gun was no different.
Recoil from the 3- and 3 1/2-inch magnums is substantial, but the Winchester’s inertia-assisted slide-action design shines with these heavy loads. Greater recoil offers more assistance when manipulating the slide, and the act of driving the gun back into battery truly does help stabilize the gun.
It’s hard not the love the SXP, and it’s about time this design began to get the recognition it deserves. For almost 60 years, the Winchester 1200/1300/SXP family has served dutifully, but these guns seem to be overshadowed by the Remington 870 and the Mossberg 500 during discussions about the best pump guns ever designed. That has less to do with the quality of these guns and more to do with the lingering anger at Winchester for dumping the Model 12, and it seems that shooters are finally catching on to what a handful have known for years: Winchester’s pump shotguns are reliable, robust, and an exceptional value. MSRPs for the Winchester SXP start at $409.99, which makes these guns an outstanding value.
Tested: Winchester SXP 12-gauge 3 ½-inch Hybrid Hunter Mossy Oak Shadow Grass Blades
- Action: Inertia-assisted slide-action
- Chamber: 3 ½ inches
- Receiver: Aluminum alloy
- Barrel length: 28 inches
- Finish: Permacote FDE
- Stock: Polymer
- Capacity: 4 (2 ¾-inch shells)
- Recoil Pad: Inflex
- Length of Pull: 13 ¾ inches
- Weight: 7 pounds
- Chokes: IC, M, F
- Sight: TRUGLO Fiber Optic
- MSRP: $449.99