The outcome by the Peer Review Posse ran the gamut from amazement at the impressive quality for such an affordable shotgun, to our Editor, Deb McKown running a 23 on skeet with the .410 barrel set the first time she ever laid hands on the gun. And Peer Review Posse member Alessandro Vitale who is an AA skeet shooter ran the stations with the .410 also during his first time with the shotgun.
By coincidence, most of the Peer Review Posse either currently shot a Browning or owned one so that the Browning experience still remained fresh. It was a natural leap for us to collectively draw a comparison between the SKB under evaluation and the Browning Citori.
In many ways the SKB bears a strong resemblance to the popular Citori, yet costs a fraction of the price with absolutely no sacrifice in quality or performance (although some members of the Peer Review Posse would have preferred better cosmetics). At the same time, we felt strongly that the SKB stood on its own as a quality shotgun that was easy on the wallet.
Getting down to the nitty-gritty of price, the SKB 20-gauge GC7 Grade II Clays Series with 30-inch barrels, which served as the basis for our three barrel set, retailed for $2,099. By comparison, a Browning Citori 625 Sporting in 20 gauge, with 30-inch barrels, had a retail price of $3,459 – making the Browning some 40% more expensive.
The Grade II GC7 three-barrel set we tested was the fixed-comb model that listed for $4,999. (The same shotgun would cost $5,199 with an adjustable comb.) So the extra $2,900 over the price of the stand-alone CG7 20 gauge gets you a set of 28-gauge and .410 barrels with all chokes, forends and a foam-lined aluminum travel case.
The lower price of the SKB is largely attributed to the company’s conservative marketing budget.
Rob Johansen, who has been involved with SKB’s U.S. operation since 1987, is the first to admit that he skimps on marketing campaigns employed by bigger companies that typically pass along the costs to consumers. By stripping out the marketing overhead, Rob is able to offer SKBs at a lower price point than Browning, Beretta, Caesar Guerini and others.
“Here’s a gun that you won’t associate with any big time shooters, but ask your friends and neighbors about it and they’ll say good things,” Rob commented. “We provide value to shooters who are not predisposed to a brand name.”
Although there is a wide selection of over-unders that cost under $3,500, the SKBGC7 and the Browning Citori seemed to have the most in common. For starters, both are made by highly regarded Japanese manufacturers.
Browning has a long-standing relationship with Miroku, which made the first Japanese Browning. Introduced in 1973, the Citori overcame a mountain of skepticism about Japanese shotguns by going on to become the best-selling over-under in history.
Whether or not the Citori groomed American enthusiasts to embrace Japanese shotguns is certainly up for discussion. But SKB had been exporting shotguns to the U.S. since 1968 – five years prior to the Citori’s American debut. And like Mirouku’s Browning, SKB has created a full family of shotguns for wing and clays shooting.
While Miroku started building guns in 1893, Mr. Shigyo SaKaBa worked as a gunsmith’s apprentice and by 1855, at the age of 20, he began the production and development of his own guns. SKB celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2007.
The culmination of this experience is the CG7 line of over-unders, which is available in Game and Clay models.
SKB’s new GC7 Game models are available in three grades in a choice of 12, 20 and 28 gauge or .410. Multi-gauge sets are available in three configurations: 12 and 20, 20 and 28, or 20, 28 and .410. The configurations differ slightly for the Game and Clays models.
The weight of our Grade II Clays model came in at 7 pounds, 10 ounces. It had a 14 5/8 inch length of pull, 1½ inch drop at comb and a 2 3/16 inch drop at heel. That made the shotgun nine ounces heavier than the Citori 625 Sporting, which ironically made the SKB feel more like a Browning – especially when it came to swinging the gun on a skeet field. The SKB had a length of pull that was about ¼ inch shorter than the Citori 625 Sporting, giving rise to the shared opinion that it fit just about everyone in the Peer Review Posse with no problem whatsoever.
For example, Deb currently shoots a 20-gauge Browning Citori Ultra XS Skeet. She had the stock cut ½ inch for a better fit. Yet the SKB obviously fit her well enough to knock off a 23 in skeet with the .410 barrels.
There’s something predictable about shooting a Citori that carried over into the GC7. It comes down to the balance, heft and trigger feel. And you can even go as far as saying that the classical, boxlock Citori styling reunites you with an old shooting buddy.
While we won’t go as far as saying that the SKB completely evoked the affable predictably of a Citori, the GC7 did convey the sense that you were making the acquaintance of a new shooting pal who you immediately liked because he reminded you of an old friend.
In part, the relationship between our SKB and the Citori came down to the well-built feel of our GC7.
SKB manufactures two receivers, one for 12 gauge and the other for 20 gauge. The receiver is cut from a single steel ingot. A silver nitride finish is applied to resist corrosion. It has a powerful Greener-style crossbolt locking mechanism – a design that has been proven to endure generations of abuse. Like so many Brownings, the SKB had a tight lock-up.
As with the receiver, the monobloc is machined from a single steel ingot. It houses two locking lugs which engage the crossbolts, and two shoulder lugs which interlock with the receiver. In addition, two channels inside the receiver accommodate the cocking rods. Overall, the shotgun had a sturdy feel upon opening and closing it – and when you factor in the price the GC7 far surpasses anything in its class when it comes to quality construction.
The triggers house V-shaped hammer springs that provided crisp engagement and pull. We never found the trigger to be a point of contention throughout our tests.
Of course you can’t appreciate the construction quality of the CG7 until you shoot it, but our three-barrel set made a great first impression when it came to value.
SKB’s GC7 series comes standard with six Briley flush-mounted chokes, ranging from extra full through cylinder. As with our 20-28-.410 set, each barrel arrives with its own chokes and Prince of Wales forend. The GC7 forends feature a Deeley Release pull-down lever. SKB does an excellent job of matching the wood for the entire shotgun. The American Black Walnut featured 18 line diamond cut checkering with a high-gloss polyurethane finish.
The half side plates of our GC7 featured the Grade II game scenes of grouse on the wing with a floral adornment on the hinge pins. The machined engravings of the birds seemed the most Asian characteristic of the shotgun. Their style suggested the elegance of Japanese silk paintings – no real attempt to render an accurate depiction but rather an expression of the natural world. I was probably the only member of the Peer Review Posse who liked the art on the gun, while others felt it was a shortcoming.
When it came to shooting the CG7, the 20-gauge and 28-gauge performed admirably, but the .410 was the one that everyone wanted to own.
The 30-inch barrels of the 20 and 28 gauge swung like 32-inch gun. The longer 32-inch barrels are used by some manufacturers to manage the whippiness of the lighter subgauge shotguns. But the heavier weight of the CG7 helped stabilize the 20 gauge and 28 gauge barrels very nicely, while telegraphing a confident sense of control through the tapered Prince of Wales forend. So if you’re not a fan of 32-inch barrels on subgauge shotguns you should find the CG7 to your liking.
The slightly shorter length of pull compared with the Citori 625 Sporting helped the CG7 come up to the shoulder very nicely, facilitating a fluid swing for low-gun shooters. This is when the CG7 felt slightly nose-heavy, but once you understood the gun’s dynamics it was easy to transform a mild liability into an advantage by applying a little more effort with your left hand to get that swing started to achieve the follow through of a bigger shotgun.
Everyone agreed, however, that when it came to the .410 it was as close to perfection as you could find in any gauge shotgun in that price range. In addition to Deb’s 23 at skeet, and Alessandro’s perfect 25, the .410 nailed some other impressive shots, notably an outgoing teal at about 50 yards. The .410 made the CG7 absolutely effortless to shoot in terms of mounting the gun, finding the target and following through to the break. It was certainly the most intuitive gauge of the three-barrel set and went on to become the favorite.
Now let’s hear from the Shotgun Life Peer Review Posse:
Gun of Choice: Beretta Diamond Pigeon
“I was impressed by a couple of things. People who are tall and have long arms like me frequently find that stock guns are too small for them. On this gun, the length of pull and the drop were perfect. I’m used to a 34” barrel so at first it felt a little light, but the balance was excellent.
“The mechanicals were good and tight, so you could get a lot of use out of it before anything gets loose on the gun.
“For the price, I thought a little more engraving and ornamentation would’ve been nice but that has nothing to do with how the gun shoots and this gun shoots very well.”
Gun of choice: Browning Cynergy
“I liked the gun a lot. It fit like a glove out of the box.
“The swing of the gun was awesome. The gun swings like a dream, it begs you to get on the target. It felt like the balance was perfect in each one of the barrels. It’s a very impressive, solid, neutral feeling gun. Everybody seemed to shoot real well with it.
“As far as shooting it, and the actual mechanics, I think it’s a real nice gun.
“The quality was real good. It felt tight. I found the gun to be extremely accurate.
“It has a traditional look but I would like to see an oil finish on the wood.
“The .410 was absolutely a blast. I would buy the .410 in a minute.”
Gun of choice: Beretta 682 Gold Sporting
“It had good weight and balance. I felt it shot where I pointed it. It shot at the same place regardless of which barrels you used.
“Overall I was very impressed with it. Everything seemed top-notch – not at all flimsy. It felt sturdy. I liked it.
“It definitely had a good weight for a .410 and the sub gauges in general. It was easy to swing.”
Gun of Choice: Benelli
“There’s a classic style to the gun. It has a Citori old-school look. The gun fits like a Browning and it’s solid. It has super quality and a great ejection mechanism. It’s a tight gun. It swings great and the balance is good.
“I noticed muzzle jump on the 20 gauge I think it should have ported barrels. I also thought there should’ve been a palm swell on the grip.
“Compared with a Guerini or a Browning, it needs better scroll work. For the money, Guerini gives you higher quality wood and engraving, but SKB gives you the extra barrels.