by Adam Heggenstaller - Saturday, October 2, 2010
There was a time, not too long ago, when the definition of a home-defense shotgun was simply whatever smoothbore you chose to stoke with buckshot. But just as throwing a pound of meat and a couple of tomatoes together isn't going to win many chili cook-offs, the recipe for a dedicated defensive shotgun involves more than what you stuff in its chamber.
Weatherby, which has steadily grown its shotgun line over the last decade to include more than a dozen models, follows the purpose-built approach with its new slide-action PA-459 shotgun.
First, the name. That three-digit suffix is in reference to California Penal Code Section 459, which covers burglary. You need not be a lawyer to understand that burglary and home invasion go hand-in-hand, and Weatherby deserves some credit for putting a creative spin on the name of a gun designed to stop such criminal actions.
The confines of a home are, well, confining—especially if you live in the too-much-rent-for-too-little-space apartment where I started my adult life. Shotguns with short overall lengths and shorter barrels are ideal for maneuvering around cramped living quarters. You may need to turn around in a doorway or slice the pie in a hallway, and the last thing you want is a barrel that hangs up on a piece of trim. Weatherby chopped the length of the PA-459 in two places by reducing the barrel to 19 inches and shortening the length-of-pull to 131⁄2 inches. The result is an overall length of 40 inches, which should allow you to negotiate most obstacles without banging the muzzle against them.
Like a lot of shotguns built for personal protection, the PA-459 has a synthetic, pistol-grip buttstock. Weatherby is doing more than just keeping with the current trend here, as pistol grips offer several advantages in a self-defense situation. I find a shotgun with a pistol grip more comfortable to hold in an indoor- or low-ready position over an extended period of time than one with a standard buttstock. And in the event of a home invasion, hopefully you'll be doing a lot more holding than shooting. A pistol grip also seems to help me pivot the gun to the fire position from ready a bit more quickly. When I need to reload, I can lock my wrist and elbow more firmly to keep the gun steady if I'm grasping a pistol grip. Finally, the PA-459's pistol grip is covered in a soft, tacky rubber sleeve, which cushions your hand and helps you keep the gun under control during recoil.
Diagonal serrations covering the gun's polymer fore-end prevent your hand from slipping when you rack the action. A 3-inch strip of Picatinny rail located on the bottom of the fore-end provides a place to attach a light or laser. I opted for the SureFire 300A Mini Scout Light with a pressure pad, which securely stuck to the smooth portion of the fore-end just above the finger groove and aligned perfectly with my thumb.
The Turkish-built PA-459 has a receiver CNC-machined from 7075-T6 aluminum alloy, and it comes from the factory with a strip of Picatinny rail installed for mounting an optic. Not that the gun needs one, as Weatherby ships it with an excellent set of iron sights. The LPA ghost-ring rear is adjustable for windage and elevation, while the fiber-optic front sits about 11⁄8 inches above the barrel in a beefy aluminum frame that includes a pair of protective wings.
Ending in a ported, cylinder choke tube, the gun's chrome-lined barrel has a 3-inch chamber. Milled into the barrel extension is a recess that provides an engagement surface for the bolt's single-lugged locking block. A claw extractor rids the chamber of shells and empty hulls, while a small, integral protrusion at the rear of the barrel extension forces them out the ejection port. The bolt rides on a sturdy pair of steel action bars that are nearly 1⁄8 inch thick.
Perhaps the most tactical—and tactile—feature of the PA-459 is its slide-release lever. Instead of a small piece of metal peeking out from under the left side of the receiver as seen on other pump guns, the PA-459's slide release lever has a tab that wraps around the front of the trigger guard and stretches half its width. Its concave surface is checkered to ensure positive purchase. I could reach the lever by only slightly altering my hand position on the pistol grip, which certainly helped speed up ammo changes. Those with smaller hands may need to do a bit more repositioning to reach the lever, but nonetheless, its size makes it easy to manipulate by feel in a low-light situation or when you're wearing gloves.
I tested the PA-459 for accuracy and function with several buckshot and slug loads. At 10 yards, the gun delivered all eight pellets from Hornady's 23⁄4-inch TAP 00 buckshot load into patterns that measured between 3 and 4 inches. It kept the same payload on a 12-inch Birchwood Casey Big Burst at 15 yards, but somewhere between there and 20 yards, pellets started to migrate off the target. Only half hit the mark at 25 yards. However, each 25-yard pattern had three pellets clustered inside the target's 6-inch center.
When it came time to test slugs, I happily discovered I had only enough ammunition to shoot three, three-shot groups with each load. The PA-459 showed a preference for Brenneke 23⁄4-inch, 11⁄8-ounce Field Short Magnum loads, turning in a very respectable three-group average of less than 3 inches at 50 yards using the factory-supplied iron sights.
The Weatherby PA-459 is several levels above just any ol' pump gun pressed into the home-defense role. Considering all the burglar-thwarting features the gun has to offer, its $469 MSRP is a pretty cheap insurance policy.
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