Review: Sauer SL5 Waterfowl
Originated by Lorenz Sauer in Suhl, Germany, back in 1751, J.P. Sauer & Sohn is Deutschland’s oldest manufacturer of hunting and military rifles. But the company’s storied history with rifles often skews perceptions about it, and some may be surprised to hear that the firm has also built shotguns since at least 1835. Today, Sauer continues that tradition by offering U.S. consumers the semi-automatic 12-ga. SL5 shotgun series, of which the Waterfowl (Fred Bear Old School Camo Brown Cerakote edition) is evaluated here.
Whereas Sauer’s rifles are German-made, the SL5 series isn’t—rather, they’re manufactured by renowned Italian shotgun maker Breda, which has been doing so since the 1940s. Why re-invent the wheel, right? The company began production of the 3″-chambered SL5 Select, forerunner to the 3½”-chambered SL5 Waterfowl, in 2015. The SL5 Waterfowl operates using an inertia system, which is often imitated and has been described ad nauseum in these pages and elsewhere. Still, it bears mentioning here.
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According to the owner’s manual, “During firing, the recoil of the gun makes the breech move 4 mm forward in relation to the shotgun, compressing the inertia spring (freely interposed between the bolt head and bolt). The compressed spring then pushes the breech backwards, extracting the used cartridge and loading a new one while sliding forward again. The spring pressure is designed to delay the opening of the action, which occurs after the shot has left the barrel, and regulate the different pressures produced by cartridges of varying power, with no need for adjustments.” The company suggests firing at least 200 rounds and a minimum load of 32 grams (1 1⁄8 ozs.) for “perfect mechanical efficiency and optimum reliability with all types of ammunition”—i.e. a mandatory break-in period. Moreover, for 24-gram loads (about 7/8 ozs.) “high-quality ammunition with sufficient energy” is necessary.
The SL5 Waterfowl’s aluminum receiver is available with a black, brown or Fred Bear—yes, the archer—Old School Camo finish. Our sample featured an attractive blend of the brown Cerakote receiver (and barrel) paired with the Fred Bear Old School Camo on the synthetic buttstock and fore-end. On the right side of the receiver is an enlarged release button.
Secured to the receiver via a single pin is the trigger group. As a waterfowling shotgun, it’s important that the trigger guard be sized sufficiently for a gloved finger to access the trigger, and on the SL5 Waterfowl, it is. The two-position, crossbolt safety is located behind the trigger, while the cartridge drop lever is forward of it. On the sample shotgun, the single-stage trigger broke at 6 lbs., 6 ozs.; take-up was long but smooth, while trigger reset was short.
The SL5’s guts are contained within the simple, unitized “bolt group.” Among them are the: bolt body; firing pin and spring; bolt inertia spring; locking head; and bolt link, to name a few. Projecting outward is the extended bolt handle—a worthwhile addition.
Available in 26″, 28″ and 30″ lengths, the chrome-lined barrel has a steel extension into which the bolt head locks up and the spring-loaded ejector is located. Machined into the extension are recesses for mounting an optic. Topping the barrel is a stepped, ventilated steel rib ending with an LPA fiber-optic front sight. According to Breda’s website, its small-batch barrels require 50 minutes each to drill the bore, and the ribs are hand-fit then soldered using pure silver. The barrel is threaded to accept Benelli Crio Plus choke tubes, with five extended chokes (ranging in constriction from cylinder to full) accompanying the SL5 Waterfowl.
The synthetic stock is available in black or the retro Fred Bear Camo. With the exception of a single smudge atop the fore-end, the finish was excellent. The comb has a rubber insert while the butt is capped with a pliable, Cervellati recoil pad. Lastly, the buttstock has an integral sling attachment point that works in unison with a stud on the fore-end nut. Two sling swivels are included with the shotgun.
Testing of the SL5 Waterfowl occurred in multiple phases. First, we patterned the shotgun using the supplied modified choke and Winchester Drylok Super Steel High Velocity 3″, 1¼-oz., No. 2 loads at 40 yards. The sample gun patterned tightly and, more importantly, consistently, at that distance, though it did so slightly to the left and high of the point of aim.
Next, we headed to the field in pursuit of Virginia waterfowl while using the aforementioned steel load, as well as BOSS Shotshells’ 1½-oz., No. 3 and 5 bismuth combination round. During the course of several days, the SL5 Waterfowl cycled the loads flawlessly and accounted for multiple birds—even a double. Rain, muck, frost, nothing slowed it.
Lastly, we spent considerable time on a sporting clays course with the test gun. It was here, when partaking in a NSCA-registered tournament, that we encountered a couple failures to feed; specifically, the first round (all 1,250- to 1,310-f.p.s., 1-oz. loads) would fire, but the carrier failed to lift the second shell for chambering. This was likely due to cleanliness (recollect the previous waterfowling excursions and range work), insufficient lubrication and/or the additional recommended firings being necessary for reliable functioning. Nonetheless, the evaluator still scored an 85/100 on a challenging course the first time out with the sample gun. After a thorough cleaning, we hit the range again to confirm reliable functioning and were relieved to find that the gremlins had left the gun following some maintenance.
Although somewhat heavy, our evaluator found that the shotgun, which has its balance point at the front of the receiver, swung smoothly and pointed instinctively, making hits on difficult targets easy, no matter the presentation. Spending considerable time testing the SL5 Waterfowl in a host of environments illustrated to us that it is a solid shotgun capable of handling a variety of roles. But, like a fine wine, it gets better with time, and that means adhering to its requisite break-in procedure. Once done, though, the Waterfowl should last a long time, and the company provides a 10-year warranty to demonstrate its confidence that it will.
Article by AMERICAN RIFLEMAN STAFF