How does a 57-year-old former boarding-school teacher end up taking over for the august Bruce Buck in the pages of Shooting Sportsman? I have a hard time believing it myself. I guess I’d say it started in 1993 with my wife’s brother Doug. Shortly after we met, he implored me to buy a shotgun. In time I succumbed and, like many neophytes, purchased a Remington 870 12-gauge at Walmart. While the gun was hardly refined, I figured 11,000,000 other customers couldn’t be wrong . . . .
Doug taught me the basics, but it was my best friend, Stirling Collins, son of sporting clays legend Fred Collins, who really moved me along on my shotgun journey. Stirling took me upland hunting at Tamarack Preserve, in Millbrook, New York, and that changed my life. When I walked up on Stirling’s German shorthair, flushed and shot the chukar he was pointing, and then watched as the bird was delivered to hand, all I wanted to do from that moment on was bird hunt. In the next two decades I managed to train two Irish red and white setters, buy countless shotguns and assemble a network of connections in the upland hunting world. In 2015 I grew weary of teaching English at a boarding school and convinced Reid Bryant (yes, the same Reid Bryant who is an SSM Editor at Large) to hire me as the Gun Department Manager at Orvis’s flagship store, in Manchester, Vermont.
So let’s get started!
For my inaugural review I looked at the Weatherby Orion Sporting 20-gauge over/under with chromed 30" barrels, 3" chambers and a four-way adjustable comb. The model is also available in 12 gauge. List price is $1,149. Weatherby is certainly a revered name in the firearms space, the company having imported and manufactured long guns since 1945. Weatherby rifles are legendary, and the company’s imported Japanese shotguns have a loyal following. I am a sucker for Japanese shotguns, as evidenced by three Winchester 101s and an Ithaca/SKB 200E that I tote in the field now and again. In 2016 Weatherby began importing models from the Turkish firm ATA Arms. ATA’s website touts the company’s “innovative spirit,” advanced machinery and technology, and superior wood and metalwork. It also states that the firm takes pride in its “unconditional service” even in the case of the “slightest problem including exported products.” This certainly bodes well for those considering a Turkish shotgun from Weatherby.
At first glance the Orion Sporting is a handsome, well-executed and properly proportioned target gun at an attractive price. The receiver is uniformly blued with a nicely polished finish. It is unadorned, save for the tasteful “Weatherby” in gold on the right side. The action face and walls were clean and free of stray machining marks. The exterior bears similarities to a Beretta 686, with its low-profile receiver. Frankly, these similarities are an appealing homage to a revered design. Lockup is by replaceable dual conical lugs that engage the monoblock, cuts in the shoulders that engage the monoblock and barrels, and replaceable trunnions on either side of the receiver that engage machined hooks in the monoblock. The self-contained firing units with robust coil springs and hammers are also remarkably similar to those in a 686.
Beyond that, the rest of the internals are proprietary. The cast and machined parts on our gun were free of burrs and filing or machining marks. The gold non-adjustable trigger is mechanical, so the second shot will go off even if the first fails to. The trigger on our gun had negligible take-up and broke cleanly at 6 pounds for the bottom barrel and 6½ for the top. Something lighter would have been nice, but these pulls were adequate and functional. The large safety switch/barrel selector is a bit inelegant, with a round knob moving fore and aft to engage the safety and right and left to select the barrel. Safety engagement was positive, but the barrel selector was a bit wonky and “catchy.” A drop of oil or simply time might smooth things out.
My observations of the barrels were very positive. As with the action, the bluing was deep and nicely polished. The ventilated top rib, which tapers from 5⁄16" to 3⁄16", met the barrel perfectly. At the muzzles there was a small space between the barrels that should have been completely capped, but that is forgivable on a shotgun at this price point. The green fiber-optic front bead is a distraction, and there is no mid-bead. The barrels are ported. I will not delve into the oft-debated subject of barrel porting. Suffice to say I am not for it. The porting consists of nine small holes on either side of each barrel, and my guess is that the holes were drilled after the barrels were polished, as burrs inside and outside of several of them indicated as much.
There are five “high grade steel” chokes provided: Skeet, which measured .005"; Improved Cylinder, .008"; Modified, .014"; Improved Modified, .018", and Full, .023". The chokes were a challenge to measure accurately, as they were rougher than a cob inside. The chokes are 2½" long with a knurled portion extending 1" beyond the muzzle.They have cut-outs for the included wrench and notches indicating the constrictions. The constrictions are written on the chokes as well. The Skeet, Improved Cylinder and Modified chokes are steel certified. All threaded smoothly and seated evenly in the barrels. The bore diameter was .619" (the nominal bore being .615"). The barrels were joined uniformly with the jeweled monoblock, and the seam at the barrels received cursory laser engraving. The trunnion hooks on the monoblock were nicely machined. The breech-face finish was exceptional. The Beretta-style ejectors were removed easily and, though they were not polished, they were burr free and ejected in time during test firing, throwing hulls several feet over my shoulder.
The wood on our gun had pleasant, modest figure. The hard-gloss finish was uniformly applied on both the forend and stock. The laser checkering was sharp for my tastes, but there were no overruns or gaps in the pattern. The forend radius was comfortable in the hand. The forend’s plastic Anson-style pushbutton release worked fine, but I would have preferred a metal part here for durability. Again, this is a forgivable feature at this price point. The forend iron is a two-piece unit that gives up some of the strength offered by a single piece. I assume this is employed to reduce weight. A good channel of extra wood is removed from the forend to insert the two pieces and attach them with three simple wood screws. Something more robust would be preferred.
The adjustable stock had the following measurements: 14¾" length of pull to the back of a ¾" rubber pad, 1½" drop at comb, 2⅜" drop at heel and ⅛" cast-off. The fit of the pad to the stock was slightly proud. The owner’s manual includes no information about the adjustable comb, but operating it is intuitive. An Allen wrench is included to remove the comb and adjust the posts. Four washers raise the height. The underside of the comb and the portion of the stock beneath it are rough sanded and not finished. This presents a potential moisture issue. If one is handy in the shop, the situation can be remedied. The head of the stock is also not fully finished, as I would have preferred. That said, the overall wood-to-metal fit was quite good, with a tight fit at the top and bottom tangs. The stock head was prouder on the right side of the receiver—and uneven fit always catches my eye. The pistol grip flares at the knob, and there is no palm swell; but the grip fills the hand, and the reach and radius make for comfortable, consistent hand placement.
I had the opportunity to shoot the Orion Sporting on a frigid afternoon in Upstate New York. With the mercury settling to -4° and a brisk wind, my shooting partner and I suited up for a trip to the 5 Stand. Fully assembled, the Orion Sporting weighs 6½ pounds and balances just in front of the hinge pin; but in my hands it presented far more muzzle heavy. My partner and I fired a variety of 2¾" ⅞-oz loads of No. 7½ and 8 shot at 1,200 fps through the Modified and Improved Modified chokes.
With the gun weighing 6½ pounds, I anticipated somewhat stout recoil, but I was pleasantly surprised. (It is worth noting that the ported barrels did not make the gun appreciably louder but did spray some detritus at my partner in the cage next to me.)I did occasionally get poked in the cheek, but I attribute this to a poor gun mount because of my multiple layers of clothing.
I shot low gun, and the Sporting came to the face with ease. It handled particularly well on overhead and straightaway targets; however, I felt it was a little unbalanced for longer crossers. I struggled to maintain a smooth swing and fought what felt like a downward pull of the barrels. I missed several targets from behind and below. My partner, an accomplished clays shooter, shared my sentiments. My sense is that a little more evenly distributed weight would mitigate this.
That said, after a hundred targets we shared an overall excellent impression of the gun. It is a nimble and stout shooter, and I would recommend it as a great value for an introductory clays gun that may prove as durable and reliable as something pricier. With Weatherby’s five-year factory warranty and eight service centers across the US, one can buy with confidence.
Make & Model: Weatherby Orion Sporting
Action: Boxlock over/under
Finish: Blued action and barrels
Barrel Length: 30"
Weight: 6 pounds 8 ounces
Chokes: Five knurled extended screw-in chokes
Stock: 14¾" x 1½" x 2⅜" 4° pitch, ⅛" cast-off
Accessories: Chokes, choke wrench, stock-adjustment tool, owner’s manual, five-year warranty
Price as tested: $1,149