Little wonder

Scaled-down W&S Imperial impressed Paul Miller

In last month’s edition we reviewed the Kilworth 12-gauge side-by-side boxlock shotgun by Webley & Scott and at the same time were provided with a 20-gauge version known as the Imperial. This was particularly interesting as the latter is a more upmarket version in terms of it having a side-plated action and higher grade wood, while the fact it’s chambered in 20-gauge on a smaller-scaled action made it all the more intriguing.

Stock and fore-end

Like its 12-gauge Kilworth big brother, this one can best be described as a classic British game gun, the stock also 14.75” long with an elegant Prince of Wales pistol grip and no recoil pad. Where you might normally expect a recoil pad, it has instead a checkered butt plate which is very popular in the UK game-shooting scene.

The stock bolt is accessible via two screws which release a barely visible panel centered in the checkered rear end of the stock. This stock timber is said to be 3.5 grade and is tight grained with attractive figuring and a quality oil finish, drop dimensions being 1.5” at comb and 2.25” at heel and cast ever-so-slightly for right-handers (these dimensions will suit most shooters).

The difference with this gun in 20-gauge is it’s scaled down with a smaller action and slimmer, shorter barrels which feels particularly nice to carry and shoot. It has a very alive yet controllable feeling you expect of a high-quality well-balanced gun, though to be fair I’m a bit biased as I like scaled-down shotguns in lighter gauges but with man-sized dimensions in terms of length of pull. The gun remains about the same length but everything else is slimmed down and a change, as they say, is as good as a holiday.

There’s fine laser-cut checkering on both the long splinter-shaped fore-end and well-figured stock, the fore-end also sporting a small Schnabel effect on the end which adds to overall appearance. A shooting glove or leather barrel sleeve will be needed if you’re putting a lot of shells through the gun quickly – in a situation like driven-bird shooting – as the barrels can become very hot. A more ‘meaty’ beavertail fore-end solves this problem of the hand coming into contact with the barrels, though the British have always preferred the splinter which works perfectly.


The Imperial’s 28” side-by-side barrels are a beautiful lustrous dark blue with a look of real depth to them and, like the Kilworth, are chambered for 3” shells steel proofed. They’re supplied with the usual suspects in a five-choke selection from Skeet to Full and the chokes screw flush into the barrels. A raised and tapered file-cut rib draws the eye perfectly to the target and there’s a single brass bead at the muzzle. The barrels and chambers are scaled to size to accommodate the smaller 20-gauge shells and look very appealing as a package.


At the pattern board both barrels shot perfectly to the same point of impact with patterns about 50/50 above and below point of aim. This level of regulation is impressive when you see it on a pattern board, and gives lots of confidence when you know the barrels are well regulated and both shooting exactly where you’re looking.

Patterning is a simple task and only takes a couple of shots from each barrel at the average range you intend to use the gun. This is a worthwhile exercise in terms of setting in your subconscious mind where the gun shoots so you can get stuck into shooting with confidence.  Both the lead you need and line of target are important to ensure you put as many pellets on target as possible. If you don’t know the elevation of your pattern and leave it to luck, you’ll miss by not knowing where to place your shot in relation to the line of the target.


The Imperial is also a box-lock action but has a side-plate added on both sides of the action. It’s colour case-hardened and minimally engraved. The side-plate makes it look like an expensive sidelock action but these are normally added to higher grade box-locks to expand the area available for high-quality engraving.

The single mechanical trigger isn’t selective so you’re always firing the right barrel first, something typical of British game guns which are used on various species of driven birds. The birds are pushed towards the guns by beaters and therefore driven at and then over the waiting shooters. Your right barrel is tighter choked than the left as the latter is invariably used for a closer second shot, still passing overhead or going away.

For duck shooting in Australia where permitted, this is usually fine as birds are normally decoyed towards you, though if you’re likely to have going-away or crossing targets you could put a more open choke in the right barrel and a tighter one in the left. If using steel shot, for safety reasons don’t exceed half choke in either barrel as steel shot through a half choke approximates full choke with lead shot. The trigger was crisp and broke comfortably at about 4lbs.

Like its 12-gauge cousin, the action and fore-end latch have minimal yet tasteful border engraving, while the initials ‘WS’ in gold adorn the top of the opening lever and bottom of the action which also carries Webley & Scott in gold. These metal parts are all colour case-hardened which I find appealing, though this will look different on every gun.

Time for action

I was highly impressed by the handling of the 12-gauge Kilworth and this 20-gauge Imperial is every bit as pointable yet felt a bit more alive and elegant in the hand, something I put down to the smaller action, trim stock and splinter fore-end. The lighter weight also makes a difference to the ‘feel’ of the gun but doesn’t make it any less precise to shoot. The feel of a shotgun is a personal thing but the combination of quality construction, weight and balance makes up the greater part of this attribute (it balanced right on the hinge-pin).

Fitting a recoil pad to avoid damage to the finely checkered butt-plate would be a practical solution if you’re inclined to rest your gun against a tree or wall, and many field and clay shooters carry their guns in slips for that very reason. I’d like to see a selective trigger on this model but you can get around that by altering the chokes as mentioned.

I was supplied with 28-gram Remington ShurShot game loads in No.7 which were a bit of overkill on Skeet targets but destroyed them and were pleasant to shoot. You must be careful when shooting lighter gauges with high performance shells of comparable payload and speed (say 28-gram loads) to those being shot in heavier 12-gauge guns, as recoil can be quite noticeable in a lighter sub-gauge shotgun by virtue of them being downsized and lighter in weight.

On the other hand a 20-gauge is equal to the 12-gauge in terms of lethality when the same payloads are being used. The advantage of the latter is its ability to shoot heavier cartridges than the maximum 20-gauge payload (thanks to Gary Georgiou of Safari Firearms and OSA for providing these high-quality shells).

I’m confident the Imperial will be warmly received by traditionalists here. It’s available in 12-gauge as well as 28-gauge and 410 in the UK so let’s hope Outdoor Sporting Agencies decides to bring a few of these even lighter chambered guns into Australia. I’m sure with the increasing interest in sub-gauges worldwide they’d find a market here too. This one comes in a smart semi-soft case with industrial foam inner and lookalike suede leather outer, not as robust as a hard case but perfectly useable if treated with respect.

I thoroughly enjoyed shooting the Imperial 20-gauge which created a great deal of interest and admiration from my mates who handled it and fired a few shells. I can see plenty of merit in this as a casual Skeet or Sporting Clays gun for sub-gauge or side-by-side novelty events, and it’s ideal for use in the field with 28-gram or larger 20-gauge loads in appropriate shot sizes.  With intelligent choke selection it’ll cover 90 per cent of anything a comparable 12-gauge like its big brother the Kilworth can do here in the paddocks or duck swamps. Highly recommended.

Manufacturer: Webley & Scott, made in Turkey.
Model: Imperial.
Gauge: 20-gauge, 3” chambers also 12-gauge 30” barrels and potentially available in 28-gauge and 410 with 28” barrels.
Action: Box-lock mechanical cocking.
Trigger: Single non-selective, manual tang safety.
Barrel length: 28” with 3” chambers, steel proof.
Chokes: Five flush in Skeet ¼, ½, ¾ and Full.
Stock and Fore-end: Walnut (grade 3.5) with oil finish, Prince of Wales pistol grip and long splinter fore-end.
Stock dimensions: 1.5” at comb, 2.25” at heel, slight cast for right-handers, 14.75” length of pull.
Weight: 6.5lbs.
Accessories: Friction choke wrench, instruction manual.
RRP: About $4000 but shop around.
Distributor: Outdoor Sporting Agencies.

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