SHOTGUN REVIEW: TRUE CHARACTER

Created on 14th May 2009

The maker says it's not trendy - but the SKB has a style all its own. RICHARD ATKINS tests it out

SKB SHOTGUNS are more familiar to clay shooters of a certain era - that of this reviewer, who was a raw teenager when the Beatles erupted out of Liverpool and whose first major buying decision was whether to get a Webley Mk 3 or a BSA Airsporter. SKBs first came to my attention when clay shooting entered my life; a friend owned one. I borrowed one to try. It was clearly a well-made gun and was different to other Japanese guns of that era. Winchester 101 models were made in Japan then, as were other competition guns, like the Shadow, of which the wide-rib Indy became a clay shooting favourite for a while. These are no longer made.

The availability of SKB has fluctuated as major market names and much cheaper European guns vied for supremacy. The SKB always was a quality shotgun, very precisely manufactured to the highest standard. The wood was also well up to the mark in whatever grade. I'm pleased to see this has returned once more and that quality has, if anything, improved.

In a world where so many things have come to look the same, some makers go to extremes to try to offer us something different, like Renault making much of the oddly-shaped rump of one recent model. It's much the same in shotguns. There are two very dominant styles that have a certain look: the classic, deep-actioned Browning and the lower-profile Beretta. Other makers have based their designs around one style or the other, and some use aspects of each to create another common style dictated by the construction of the action. Thus the profiles of many makes will fall into one of three basic camps, so far as appearance goes.

The SKB design, although basically unaltered except in fine detail from that first encountered over 30 years ago, is oddly refreshing for the diversity it brings. It offers a genuine chance to own something different and this will, I believe, become an important point for the brand's revived potential. Many shooters are now prepared to buck the trend and buy something different. Of course, the product must be good and fulfil the need for performance and handling. What has the SKB range got to offer?

Traditional yet distinctive style

The SKB is distinctive, not due to some newly-designed action or previously-unseen and untried technology; far from it. SKB happily points out in its brochure that, "SKB was founded on tradition, producing guns of strongest and highest quality without being involved in trendy fashion." The company is proud of its "conservative" approach and "restrained style", and it seems odd that SKB has never gained the type of foothold in the UK that they have managed elsewhere, most notably in America.

Let's take the heart of the SKB design: the action. This provides its characteristics in appearance, technical performance and handling, and also brings a link with traditional gunsmithing.

The combination of the barrel hinging and the locking arrangement dictates the depth of action body (the distance from the top of the barrel rib to the underside of the action when closed). The Browning principle - a forward under-lump with hinge-pin and rear lump with under-barrel locking-wedge - tends to give the deepest actions. Those with side-trunnion hinges tend to be shallower. If the locking arrangement is brought upward too, this achieves a shallower action, as seen most often in the typical Beretta 600 series of boxlock actions that dominate this sector of the market. SKB has a rarer mix of hinge/locking arrangement, using side-trunnions for hinging and what is known as a Kersten cross-bolt for the locking. It also employs a large under-lump below the bottom barrel that slots very precisely into the receiver floor when the action is closed. Two upper side-locking wedges engage in slots in the receiver side-walls, rather like the Beretta wedges. This combination of multiple locking and reinforcing points provides a lock-up of immense strength and durability. It requires precise engineering to create, as there are so many mating faces that must be accurately fitted. SKB has kept this difficult design because it works so well and imbues the guns with strength and reliability.

If you spot a resemblance to another gun, it could be that of Merkel. Merkel also uses a Kersten bolt and hides the top locking wedges within the receiver sidewalls so they are not visible when the action is closed, as does SKB (unlike the Beretta where they remain visible, sitting in the top of the upper sidewalls). SKB and Merkel achieve this by thickening the top of the receiver side walls, which they give a slight angle to and then blend into the narrower action width below. The other obvious features are the barrel locking extensions that protrude from the top barrel and mate with slots in the standing breech.

Some say they hinder loading, but that proves more imagined than real when actually using the gun. It's worth noting that top-grade Berettas, costing double and more than the SKB, employ a similar locking system.

SKB also uses a different style of boxlock action. It's very neat and compact and is powered by substantial V-shaped springs. These are not the same as the V-springs found in top-grade English game guns, but a flat spring wire component with radius at the closed end. These are claimed to provide a faster action than the more usual coil springs. Without a means to test this it's impossible to confirm or deny, though there is no doubting that the trigger action feels crisp and responsive. Straight-line sears also add to the speed of the trigger action. The gun I tried out is the model 4000 and this has the added bonus of a detachable trigger unit. It is easily removed by undoing one screw, which makes adjustment, fine-tuning, cleaning and lubrication very easy. The gun is even supplied with a complete spare trigger unit in case you want two different set-ups, or a spare just in case of a problem at a major competition. The only drawback with the detachable trigger units is that they are non-selective, so you'll have to swap choke tubes for incoming targets.

There is a selectable unit in the process of development. I also had the non-detachable trigger 905S model to view, which has a barrel selector built into the trigger itself.

The barrels are made on the monobloc principle, the very straight tubes being brazed into a breechblock. The tubes are internally polished and then chrome lined, with the outside deeply blacked. Side ribs are ventilated for weight reduction and heat dissipation and a competition top-rib is fitted. Being of the old-school I find a fairly wide rib an attractive feature on a competition gun (not the ultra-wide ribs of the Shadow Indy and some others but something at least wider than a game gun). This is typical of top trap guns of 20 years ago: being 12mm wide with cross-filed outer-edges and five straight grooves up the centre gives a really clear sight-line. It also has the small central metal bead and well-sized front white bead combination that is clear without being obtrusive and also allows gun mount to be readily checked.

The muzzles accept SKB's own screw-in choke tubes. These are fairly short by modern standards but they shot very well, even with fibre-wadded cartridges in the 3" long chambers. The guns are steel-shot proofed in England at the London Proof House, as Japan is not part of CIP.

The woodwork is of high grade. Nice, tightly-grained walnut with very fine chequering looks and feels good and gives a great hold without being sharp. The forend is a nice parallel beavertail style, hand-filling but not bulky and with a rounded tip. It's much as my 30-year-old Miroku so I immediately felt at home. The grip of the stock has a nice open radius for comfortable wrist position and a neat right-hand palm swell too - a touch usually found only on higher-priced guns. The pistol grip is deep so it will easily accommodate larger hands than mine. Stock length is also good and a neat rubber recoil pad with a hard top insert to avoid any snagging when mounting is fitted. The stock is a little straighter than some, which pitched the shot pattern up a shade.

I took the SKB 4000 out on a wet and blustery day and it handled well, proving steady in the hand and swinging smoothly, making it easier to track the clays that dipped, bucked or climbed rapidly. A 22ex-25 on the first layout, where an ABT trap was used to present a variety of targets from five stands, was a happy start. Moving onto mixed crossers and then incomers, just two more targets slipped away for a cracking round. The weather may have made me concentrate harder but the SKB's handling helped for sure. Triggers pulls were great and recoil minimal. Case ejection was efficient, if of modest power.

The SKB may not be trendy, but it's definitely a fine performer with its own character. Considering its build quality, the gun is very well-priced and stands comparison with any other make in that price sector. I definitely want to shoot with it again before it's returned!

Technical specification

Make: SKB Arms
Model: 4000
Type: O/U
Gauge: 12g x 3" (76mm) chambers
Chokes: SKB internal choke tubes (five supplied)
Overall length: 47¼"
Barrel length: 30"
Weight: 7lb 15oz
Trigger: Single non-selective (mechanical)
Trigger pulls: 3lb 12oz
Safety: Manual
Top rib: 12mm wide competition
Pull length: 14 ¾"
Cast: Slight R H cast at toe
Drop at comb: 1½" (38mm)
Drop at heel: 2" (50mm)
SRP: £2,100 + VAT

UK Agents: Shooting Star Ltd
T: 01728 660372



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