A handgun maker goes shotgunning — again.
No American firearms maker is more of a household term than Smith & Wesson. For over 150 years, the Springfield, MA manufacturer has earned and maintained a reputation for guns that are highly functional, reliable and durable. And while S&W’s product focus for most of their history has been in revolvers, in recent years they have begun to diversify their offerings into areas such as military-style rifles, hunting rifles, single-shot match-grade handguns, and shotguns.
S&W is offering two shotgun lines: the very affordable semi-automatic 1000s in a variety of finishes and gauges, and the considerably upscale Elite series. It is the Elite Gold side-by-side that is the subject of this review.
S&W’s mulligan in shotgun production
Long-time S&W enthusiasts will recognize that this isn’t S&W’s first attempt into the world of scatterguns. The company’s prior effort, moreover, could hardly have been less successful: the model 916, derived from designs acquired from the Noble Manufacturing company, was plagued by reliability and usability issues and was so unpopular that Shotguns columnist Phil Bourjaily included it on his short list of all-time worst shotguns. So…why should we trust S&W this time around?
Well, to begin with, S&W is taking a much more hands-on approach this time around. Whereas the 916 was someone else’s design, and built in Japan in a factory contracted by S&W, the new shotguns are a ground-up creation, done in-house by S&W itself. And the factories that are producing these guns were also built from scratch and are producing exclusively for S&W, under rigorous scrutiny. Early indications are that Smith is building them right this time.
For another reason, S&W seems to have done their market research a little more thoroughly this time around. Their new products seem ideally positioned to establish themselves well in their intended marketplaces.
A thing of beauty…
The Elite Gold is, without a doubt, the most beautiful gun in my possession. Everything visual about this shotgun, from its sleek lines to its premium materials to the amazing fit and finish, make this gun something you want to handle and hold.
The stock is made of grade III Turkish walnut, and is accented by 24 LPI hand-checkering. The stock on my gun has plenty of “personality” — the photo doesn’t really do it justice. The clean lines and slender neck make it easy to grip for a variety of hand sizes.
This is a close-up of the checkering. It provides a firm grip (helpful on a gloss-finished stock) but doesn’t feel overly “sharp” to the touch.
The single trigger is wide enough for comfortable shooting, and located well behind the guard, which should allow for hours of shooting without danger of banging one’s finger on the guard.
The action is slim and compact, and finished in a striking case-coloring. The fit between stock and action, moreover, simply could not be more perfect — evidence of hand-crafting and fitting by experts.
Here’s a view of stock, action and barrels all coming together. The joints are so seamless they almost look painted on. The break lever, BTW, is incredibly tight. S&W told me that the entire action is made to extra-tight tolerances, and that after a couple hundred firings, it should be of average tightness.
A simple ivory-colored bead near the end of the barrels, and another bead mounted mid-barrels, is all the sighting offered or needed for the Elite Gold.
A view of the bottom metal reveals some of the scrolling that covers about 25% of the action. Like everything else on this gun, it is done tastefully and not to excess.
…is a joy forever.
Functionally, the Elite Gold is simple and sure. The trigger pull is perhaps a bit on the heavy side, but is crisp and clean-breaking. Firings are reliable. The gun balances well whether being shoulder-slung or front-carried, and comes up to the shoulder very naturally.
I’ve shown this gun to quite a few seasoned shotgunners, and the responses were uniformly favorable. The only gripes I heard were about the fixed chokes and the inability to select which barrel fires first. Personally, I didn’t find either of these to be too serious, and imagine that the gun was built this way to minimize the number of moving/removable parts.
So…is it worth it?
I suppose the answer to this depends more upon you than it does the gun. Obviously, a model 1020 will kill the birds just as dead, and at about one third the price of the Elite Gold. If maximum value for functionality is your goal, this isn’t the gun for you. If, however, you consider guns more than mere tools, and something to take pride in, and if you don’t object to paying a premium price for a gun that is both functional and staggeringly beautiful, then…you just might want to take a closer look at the Elite Gold. You won’t be disappointed.