One of the most common questions I receive as a “Hardware” columnist for this publication is: “What’s the best inexpensive over/under shotgun?”
Plenty of folks want an over/under for skeet and clay games where these guns dominate in popularity. Others just want a do-all shotgun that looks a little classier than a camo-dipped pump, but they don’t have $3,000 for a Beretta Silver Pigeon or Browning Citori. Turns out, most people who ask me this question are expecting to pay less than a grand. After all, they can get a sub-inch rifle, an AR-15 or a top-end handgun for less than $700; so they’re often surprised—and sometimes even slightly offended—when I recommend they consider saving their beans until they can at least get into the $1,500 range. Most sub-$1,000 over/unders I’ve fired (with the possible exception of a few recent CZ models) do not hold up as the shooter progresses. Although at first glance many of them look OK, they feel rough, handle like a 2x4, and their mass-produced aluminum-alloy parts tend to wear like a lawnmower belt. In sum, they’re just plain cheap.
But in 2020 I walked into an Academy Sports and Outdoors store and saw a darn-good-looking over/under shotgun on the rack for $699. So I asked to hold it, because I was as skeptical as a scientist at a magic show. I was surprised at the Yildiz’s initial feel, features and small details such as checkering and wood-to-metal fit. But I’ve had my heart broken before, so months later I asked to test it. What follows is a review of one model, the SPZ ME Sporting HPS, and an answer to the question above.
Like so many inexpensive guns these days, Yildiz Silah shotguns—Yildiz meaning “star” in Turkish—are made in Turkey. Turkey has a skilled labor force with a gun-making tradition, but it’s been updated with modern CNC machinery. Thanks to production contracts and feedback from companies such as CZ, Mossberg, Smith & Wesson, Weatherby and more, manufacturers there are finally learning that its metallurgy must be top-quality, because Americans shoot the hell out of their guns. In Yildiz’s case, the 45-year-old firm belts out around 200 guns per day with Japanese-made CNC machines and a factory clean enough to make an ER jealous. Basically, these guns are mass machined for efficiency, then fit and finished by hand. Yildiz turns out many models of shotguns—some of them much higher in quality, but also some lower-price aluminum-framed guns. The one I chose for testing was the SPZ ME Sporting HPS. It’s the most expensive Yildiz that Academy stocks, and the only one with a steel receiver. (As a general rule, if you’re looking for a lightweight over/under to take pheasant hunting a few times per year, aluminum is fine; Yildiz sells such models for less than $500. But if you’re looking for an over/under mainly for target shooting and some hunting, go with steel.)
The Sporting HPS is a robust over/under shotgun meant for sporting clays and skeet, although as I found out, it’s deadly on dove fields. It’s actually a hybrid target/hunting gun that leans toward targets, thanks to its full pistol grip/palm swell, adjustable comb (unheard of at this price), vent rib, 30-inch ported barrels and 9-pound heft. But because it also owns 3-inch chambers, comes with five choke tubes, a low, eighth-inch rib and a tapered fore-end, this big dog’ll hunt, too.
The most notable feature of the HPS over most of Yildiz’s other Academy-branded guns is that its receiver is machined from 4140 steel. The beefy receiver grants the gun recoil mitigation, between-the-hands balance and unflexing strength for high-volume shooting. The receiver’s mechanical hammers are released by a single selective trigger that breaks at an excellent 3 pounds. If you close your eyes and dryfire the HPS, you’d think you were shooting a $2,500 gun. You might say a shotgun trigger doesn’t matter, but try shooting trap with an 8 pounder!
Perhaps the only way Yildiz obviously saved cost when making this gun is in its metal finish. While its barrels are blued, the receiver is simply laser-engraved. I’m thankful the Turks have also learned they don’t have to bling-up up a gun’s receiver like Saddam’s AK-47 for Americans to appreciate it. In fact, most of us prefer minimalistic to gaudy. It is simply impossible to employ hand-engraving—at least the kind you’d want—on a gun costing this little.
The receiver is mated to a monobloc to which two 4140 steel barrels are stacked, brazed and regulated by gunsmiths. The monobloc contains the injector springs and forms the lumps onto which the underlever bites for a vice-like lockup. Finally, the semi-beavertail fore-end is inletted for the steel Anson and Deeley-style latch that provides the levering action to cock the receiver’s hammers and the anchor on which the ejectors depend. Its mating to the receiver is superb, demonstrating preciseness usually reserved for much more expensive guns. Finally, 30-inch barrels feature a vented partition and an eighth-inch vented rib owning a brass mid-bead and an excellent fiber-optic front pipe. The barrels are ported and are threaded for the gun’s extended, blue anodized choke tubes.
And then there is the wood. Yildiz boasts a warehouse full of Turkish walnut blanks, some of which are 300 years old. It offers Grade 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 walnut. The random sample I was loaned from a random Academy store is called Grade 2, but it is easily the nicest, richest, most flavorful stock I’ve ever seen on a gun of this price. The 14.5-inch LOP stock features a no-nonsense rubber buttpad that’s cushy but also fairly slick so it won’t snag. Most notably, though, for a gun of this price is its adjustable comb, the importance of which cannot be overstressed for serious target shooters. Finally—and often a dead-giveaway of a cheap gun—is the checkering. The 18 LPI checkering on the grip and forearm is outstanding in precision, aesthetics and in practical use.
From the moment I pulled the Yildiz from its fitted plastic box (plenty of $700 guns come in cardboard), put it together then cheeked it, it just fit me well. I looked down its rib—not over it or under it, so I knew that if its barrels were regulated well, I’d be able to hit clays with it. Balance is a term that’s overused, misunderstood and very personal in shotgunning. Generally, if I can feel the gun favors its muzzle or its buttstock, I don’t like it. I like the balance point between my hands, and this gun, thanks to its steel receiver, balances on its trunnions, exactly where I think it should. In shooting, I didn’t miss a bird until about the 20th shot when I began shooting 90-degree crossers from left to right, my nemesis. But after two shots knocked off some rust I began nailing them. I shot the under barrel first, then the over, with various choke tubes. Its patterns were rich and printed around 60/40 to point of aim. The gun had zero malfunctions of any type in 300 rounds of shooting Winchester's full-power AA loads. Recoil mitigation was top-notch, thanks to its weight, recoil pad, fit and barrel porting.
If I have one complaint about the HPS it’s this: I needed the comb set at its lowest position for the gun to fit me, and it did. But I imagine there are shooters who may need even more drop-at-comb than I. So, because it wears an adjustable comb, why not give the stock more natural drop? Shooters who need less can adjust the comb by as much as half an inch. This way it would fit darn near everybody. Secondly, I wish the safety/barrel selector were slightly larger and clearly marked. If you only shoot a few rounds of clays per year, it’s easy to forget which way the selector should be moved to fire which barrel.
I hate to gush about any gun—especially one I’ve only fired 300 times—because I can’t talk knowledgeably about its long-term performance. And I’m not implying that the Yildiz is better than a Silver Pigeon. But what I know for certain is that the Sporting HPS is much better than its price suggests. It’s got the feel and the features typically reserved for guns costing three times as much. Indeed, for the first time ever, I can recommend this steel receiver Yildiz to folks wanting a good quality over/under for less than a grand, rather than recommending they save their money. I’m not sure how Yildiz did it—certainly after shipping, taxes and tariffs it can’t be making a huge profit margin on each unit—but I’m glad it did. As such, I can’t think of a better item to buy with your stimulus check!
• Type: over/under shotgun
• Gauge/Chamber: 12/3"
• Barrel: 30", ported, vent rib
• Receiver: 4140 steel
• Trigger: single-stage; 3.5-lb. pull weight
• Sights: brass mid bead, front fiber-optic pipe
• Safety: manual, tang-mounted, single selective
• Stock: Grade II Turkish Walnut; LOP 14½"; adjustable comb height
• Metal Finish: laser-engraved receiver; blued barrels
• Overall Length: 48¼" (tested)
• Weight: 9 lbs., 1 oz. (tested)
• Accessories: 5 choke tubes (SK, IC, M, IM, F); chamber locks, choke tube wrench
• MSRP: $699; academy.com