(This is a reader gun review contest entry, click here for more details.)
By D. Ruiz
Duck is delicious, but if you prefer the truly free-range and organic variety, the “right” scattergun will set you back a pretty penny. If you spend enough time on various hunting forums, engage in counter-chat at the local gun shop, or watch any sportsman channels, you will eventually come across the rather resolute opinion that the only real choice for duck hunting is the semiauto shotgun. While there are many, many individuals who can attest that a good ol’ Mossy 500 or Remington 870 will get the job done, the semiauto does offer some distinct advantages when it comes to freezing your wadding off in a swamp: faster followup shots and less user-generated motion mean more birds in the water . . .
The usual caveat sneaks in at some point: reliability means money invested. A semiauto means duck-all if it won’t cycle due to water, a bit of grit, or cold, and most of the revered semiautos cost well over a thousand, if not double for the highest quality. If you have the means, this is not much of an issue, but if your desires outpace your wallet, the reliable semiauto remains elusive.
Enter the Legacy Escort Extreme Magnum, otherwise known as the Hatsan Escort Xtreme or the Hatsan Escort Magnum, depending on whom you ask. Brand Identity and Brand Loyalty are big amongst People of the Gun, and there is a rich, vibrant sense of history to many of our esteemed companies, even with relatively newer upstarts like GLOCK. While we can (and do) argue all day about which company reigns supreme, the downside is that newer companies have to fight their way out of the shadows, and many a solid rig is forgotten because most are just unfamiliar with the company name. The Escort may well be one of these products.
The Escort is of Turkish origin, and the parent company, Hatsan, imports to the US under Legacy, who also import Howa and Puma firearms. Turkish guns do not always get a lot of street-cred, but one must be cautious about a priori knowledge on the road to discovery. The Hatsan company has been in the shotgun business since 1976, making it young by many standards, but still older than several prominent manufacturers now.
Their website has a rather roughly translated overview of the company, which certainly does not instill confidence, but it was interesting to learn that Hatsan is a complete manufacturer of their products. All the components of their weapons are made in-house; this suggests that their QC is either going to be excellent as they can monitor all parts of the firearm, or it will be horrific. From my experience, it appears to be a bit of both. Since the Escort is imported, there have been a few name changes, and the gun advertised by Legacy tends to be called something slightly different by Hatsan.
In the UK, the Escort is growing in popularity, and for good reason: This is an inexpensive semiauto with many claims of reliability. In researching my potential purchase, I was hard pressed to find many reviews, and most of those were forum conversations. Generally, those with first-hand knowledge seemed quite enthused, and the naysayers took issue with the fact that the gun was Turkish. Predictably, much of the positive buzz stateside was generated by Legacy, and there are a few infomercial type reviews floating around the web. I saw many positive comments and reviews from across the pond, but there was not a lot of chatter stateside. I wanted a waterfowl gun, but I had to balance the reality of money and me not having an inexhaustible amount. The Escort line seemed the way to go, and while there was plenty of talk about the quality of a Turkish manufacturer, I decided to let my research and wallet guide me, and with a bit of trepidation, I took the plunge.
Opening the box, you find that Hatsan does not skimp on extras. This Escort Waterfowl comes with 6 chokes, including an extended extra-full waterfowl choke, spacers to adjust length of pull and shims to adjust drop and cast, and an extra rubber o-ring (which is a nice nod to the fact that it is extremely easy to lose these). You also get an additional set of fiberoptic sights that are magnetized to snap onto the barrel for a brighter sight picture, and it comes with several replacement green rods and one in red. The gun itself has a 3/8 inch dovetail rail for any additional fun you have in mind. The gun also comes with a magazine limiter which is greatly appreciated. I really enjoy that the chokes are well-labeled as well, making it clear which choke is which through notches at the top end, stars engraved on the side of the choke, and an English label engraved on the choke.
Besides being soaked in packing grease, everything looks good. The Escort does not feel cheap in the hand, and once the gun was cleaned, the gun looks to be well made, but careful inspection reveals quite a few flaws. The inside of the foregrip has a mix of primer and black paint inside, which is even more evident since the gun is done up in MAX 4HD camo. There were also a few rough edges in the plastic inside of the foregrip.
My biggest concern is the gas piston, a vaunted and well-publicized part of the Escort package, where the bottom was scoured and rough. While this may have no real impact on the operation of the gun, it certainly felt like it was a piece (an important piece, mind you) that was rushed out of the shop. Perhaps it is a feature, not a bug, but it sure as hell looks ugly either way.
There is a serious dearth of information on the exact finish used on the gun, but it does not feel too slick nor too porous. At least the camo pattern did not rub off on my hand, so there was that, but that is also hardly an endorsement either. It stood up to the fingernail test and did not immediately mar; however, very quickly after shooting, it was easy to see how the heat made the finish start to chip.
Doing a breakdown of the gun is not particularly complicated, especially if you are just going to focus on the barrel and a quick wipe down of the gas system and spring. Simply remove the magazine cap, slide off the foregrip, slide off the barrel, slide off the o-ring, and there you are. If you want to remove the spring, the bolt, and bolt carrier, then there is one step that takes practice.
Removing the charging handle is not too difficult although it takes a bit of practice, but getting it back in requires that you deftly manipulate the bolt to line up the small hole and grooves to reinsert the charging handle. It is far easier with three hands, but it takes time to adjust to as it is not a natural motion or grip as you need to use one hand to hold the spring and the other to position the bolt and then insert the charging handle. All it takes is a quick look on Youtube to watch more than a few people attempt to demonstrate the technique to see how frustrating it can become. If I swore once in anger when doing my first full breakdown of the gun for cleaning, this was it.
I also cannot help but comment that the takedown instructions are too reminiscent of IKEA as there are only images to guide you through the process. I am certainly not an expert, so for me, I am damn happy that the internet had me covered. This may be a small gripe, but these issues do start to accumulate.
Holding the gun at its standard 14 inch length of pull, it shoulders well for a slightly larger than most male like myself, and fully loaded with the meatiest of loads, it is going to clock in near eight pounds. The gun is certainly designed for the average to above average male as there is no way to decrease the length of pull for smaller individuals, but then Hatsan does make a variety of youth models as well as models designed for women. As these guns are not particularly expensive (in the relative world of firearms), a His and Hers set would cost the same as just one mid-tier Beretta or Benelli. This is a heavy and long gun though, but it is balanced well enough as the barrel never feels like it is fighting you.
The gun is definitely designed with wetlands in mind as the foregrip and the stock have rubber checkering to keep your hands where they should be. With bare hands, they are not abrasive or bothersome, and with gloved hands, they certainly do their job and help you keep a tight grip. If you take the time to fiddle with the spacers and shims, the average to large male should find no problem in getting a solid fit that points naturally.
The Escort Waterfowl Extreme does come with swivel studs for a sling, which is quite helpful for longer hikes to the honey-hole. This helps offset some of the weight. The safety is the typical cross-bar variety located behind the trigger tang, and the button is easy to engage and disengage, but having it on the stock would have been ideal. The magazine cutoff is forward towards the foregrip on the receiver, near the loading gate, making it relatively easy to push in so you can quickly load a new shell straight into the chamber or unload the chamber without emptying the entire magazine. There are more than a few ways that this can be useful, namely for making the gun safer or changing loads in the field quickly when you get an unexpected surprise. The magazine cut-off disengages once the gun is fired, so you do not have to worry about accidentally losing a follow-up shot. The button does not feel cheap, but it also does not feel exceedingly robust.
When the action is locked open, it can be awkward at first to close it again, and you must press down on the loading gate to close the action. This caught me off guard, and the action closes so fast that it would be easy to lose a piece of your hand, so it is something to ponder, especially when considering new shooters or children.
The charging handle is long and flat enough to grip easily, and the curve catches your finger nicely. It can catch on clothing, and testing it with my usual hunting gear on, I had to be careful to keep the charging handle facing away from me. Again, even with gloves on, the charging handle is easy to manipulate.
No part of the gun is interchangeable, but southpaws should fear not as true left-handed versions are available for no additional cost.
The trigger is actually quite decent with a bit of creep before a stiff break. It has a bit of overtravel and the reset could be better, but this is a shotgun, so we can forgive a surprisingly good, not great, trigger. The trigger is also checkered, which seems unnecessary in a shotgun, but it is a nice touch.
The initial unboxing and breakdown made me cautiously optimistic. There are a great amount of sweet features on this gun, and while it certainly lacks polish, I was excited to see what it could do.
At the Range
While it may look like a duck gun, the question is can it quack like a duck gun? This is where I had quite an inauspicious start. Legacy and Hatsan promise that the Escort will handle any load you have (trying hard not to make a terrible joke here), so I made sure to bring a variety of shells to test. I had your basic Federal low-power target loads, some cheap Fiocchi target loads, some pheasant loads, some turkey loads, and two different varieties of waterfowl loads.
Legacy advertises that the SMART Valve system will take anything and always ensure the proper push needed to cycle the bolt. In a low power load, most of the gas is used to push the piston, and with a heavier load, more gas is expelled. I started on the low end as I figured that the weaker loads are going to be the most likely to fail, so I planned to shoot 20 clays with standard target loads. I loaded up, charged the gun, and boom. There was not much kick, the trigger was nice, and the clay exploded; however, no shell came out. I slid back the action, and the tiny Federal came flying out and the new one was ready to go, but my first shot ever had a fail to extract. Does that even count at a FTE? It did not even push the bolt back, so it was more like a fail to cycle. I shot again, another dead clay, and another fail to extract. Actually, the damn thing jammed entirely. I could not rack the gun, and I had to dissemble it to get the shell out of action.
Ok, so the gun hates small target loads. I switched to the strongest loads I had, and those worked just fine. I would alternate, a heavy load and a light load, and the heavy load would fire and cycle just fine, and the target load would either fail to extract or simply not push the bolt at all. I tried this many times, and after about 10 different FTE or jams, I decided to do a full fieldstrip and clean. It was obvious that there was not enough gas to cycle the action, so I spent five minutes brushing the gas ports in the barrel to make sure they were clear. I re-lubricated everything, and I locked down everything as tight as possible. I was ready to write one hell of a rant about the gun, but I wanted to be eliminate the possibility of operator error.
I went back to the heavy loads first. The Escort loved the expensive stuff (yes, now I’m doing it on purpose). After an entire box, the gun went 25 for 25. Each shell was ejected a good 15 feet, which is a hazard actually when at a range, and the gun never once caused any fuss. Ok, so I found what the gun likes. I had more experimenting to do.
I went with my cheaper steel waterfowl loads and the pheasant loads, and again, 50 for 50. Each shot was smooth, the gun was ready to fire as soon as the trigger reset back to ready, and my shoulder was starting to hurt (the buttpad is hard rubber, and when firing stronger loads, you will feel it). I did my best to test Hatsan’s claims that the gun would take any mix of shells, and regardless of the order of shells, so I started to experiment with mixing different loads.
Another 50 rounds later in as many different combinations as possible, the gun was still running fine. The barrel was getting hot, so I wanted to give it some time to cool, but I also wanted to see if the gun could handle firing while dirty and overheating. The Escort did not disappoint. I grew bolder, and seeing as I did not want to use the rest of my hunting shells, I went back to the cheap stuff. I mentally prepared myself for failure, and I was pleasantly surprised. The gun was now happily spitting the target loads with no issue, depositing them neatly in a pile only a foot away, and many clays met their end.
I continued to experiment with combinations of loads, testing to see if the target loads would have enough pop to cycle the heavier rounds into the chamber, and I did not have a hiccup. I burned through another 100 shells, always mixing in at least one strong load with the weaker stuff, and when my shoulder was quite simply done and my clays gone, I was more than satisfied that the earlier hiccups were due to me, not the gun.
I made sure to also test the claim that the Escort had sub-second cycling. I could doubletap easily and as fast as I could work the trigger, and I could empty the magazine as fast as a few of the ARs near me. I finished up and headed home to clean a very dirty gun.
The sight attachment is a bit of a misfire though as the gun heats up quickly, so the barrel would warp the plastic. I took it off and just used the basic HiViz bead that was already installed, and it served me well. As I stated before, the finish also starts to chip easily when the gun heats up, so keep that in mind.
In the end, I am happy with this gun. Yes, it will certainly run you half of what most other semiauto shotguns run, and so far, it has proven to be a reliable machine. This of course assumes you make sure to get the packing grease out of the gas ports as thoroughly as possible. Even when the gas system was partially plugged, it would still fire the heavy hunting loads, and this encourages me as it means even if the gas system starts to get bogged down while out in the muck, the gun is still going to shoot.
I would most certainly recommend this gun to anyone who wants an affordable semiauto, but again, I must make it clear that if the gas ports are blocked or the o-ring is not in its proper position, the gun will let you know very quickly.
Type: Semiauto shotgun, Gas Operated Piston.
Caliber: 12 ga, 2 3/4 and 3 inch shells (3.5 version available)
Chokes: Extra-full, Full, IM, M, IC, C
Sights: Hi-Viz Fiberoptic sight
Length: 48 inches
Length of Pull: 14 inches without spacers
Drop at Heel: 63.5mm without shims
Drop at Comb: 41mm without shims
Barrel: 28 inches, poly-chrome lined
Magazine: 4+1 (2+1 with limiter)
Finish: Real Tree AP, MAX 4HD camo, black synthetic.
Weight: 7.4 pounds unloaded
MSRP: $736 (street price is typically 600 or so)
True-left handed versions available
Ratings: (Out of Five Stars):
Reliability: * * * *
Once I made sure that the gun had plenty of oil and the gas ports were clear, the gun ran flawlessly. After more than 250 rounds in one sitting, the gun was still firing and knocking clays out of the sky. The fact that it will shoot heavy rounds even with a blocked gas port proves to me that this gun will not let you down in the field.
Ergonomics * *
The gun is comfortable to shoulder and comfortable to shoot for the most part, but it is heavy, and while the sling mitigates this to an extent, it is still not ideal. There are heavier, more painful guns, but the Escort is not going to win any awards here. The hard rubber buttstock is not a plus.
Aesthetics * * *
I think she has a certain charm, but then she isn’t going to turn heads either. If you want to wow people at the range, this will not do it, but you shouldn’t worry about being derided either. The black synthetic version is a sexy beast though.
Value: * * * * *
Perhaps it is cheating, but I did pick this gun up for just under 500 before California’s pound of flesh, but this was also during a holiday sale. Typically, they go for about 600 on the internet. This is half what it costs for most semiautos, and once my own mistakes were rectified, the gun did not fail me.
Customize This: *
The gun does not have any aftermarket third party parts that I could find, and there is a small sampling of extras from the manufacturer, but that’s about it. Interchangeable barrels of different lengths would be awesome, but no dice. The 3/8 dovetail rail is a nice inclusion though.
Overall: * * * *
This is a workingman’s semiauto. This gun is not the prettiest, and it is not polished, but it works, and it works well. If 1400 or 1500 is doable for you, then I see no reason to not get what you can afford. If you do not have such means, then the Escort will take care of you just fine (last one, I promise). It is always a risk to go with the lesser known company, but Hatsan has made a strong product for a damn competitive price.