American Hunter | {Hardware}: Weatherby 18i Waterfowler

by Bryce M. Towsley –
Wednesday December 9, 2020

Roy Weatherby started his weapons company in 1945 and was headquartered in the hippest and hippest place in the country – California. As World War II ended and America emerged with big dreams and big ideas, Weatherby fed the dreams with high powered weapons and a marketing strategy that capitalized on the glamor of Southern California.

Unfortunately, California has changed. It is no longer friendly to hunting or guns. The Weatherby company kept it out longer than they probably should have. Eventually Adam Weatherby, Roy’s grandson, decided to shut it down and move operations to Sheridan, Wyo. The first product introduced from the new Wyoming headquarters was a shotgun, the 18i, which is also Weatherby’s first 3½-inch, 12-gauge shotgun.

Weatherby does not make its own shotguns, but contracts with top manufacturers around the world. For some time, Weatherby shotguns were made in Japan or Italy. In the last few years they came from Turkey. Weatherby returned to Italy for the 18i, an inertia shotgun made by an Italian company called Marocchi.

Most of the semi-automatic shotguns sold in America run on gas. They have a port in the barrel that releases a little gas from the fired shotgun cartridge and uses that gas to power the shotgun. Gas guns are very popular and have been proven to be reliable. In addition to gas, dirt from the burning powder carries with it, which builds up carbon deposits on exposure. If the gun is not cleaned regularly, the debris can cause problems. Gas pistols are usually not very versatile and are often developed for a certain range of shotgun cartridge power levels.

The inertial operating system uses a weight, a spring, and the simple physics of Newton’s first law of motion. Sometimes it is said: “An object at rest usually remains at rest.”

Weatherby 18i Waterfowler buttstock

When the gun is fired, the weight tries to stay still while the shotgun retracts. This loads the spring with energy and the energy controls the action. It’s that simple – at least in theory. As many American shotgun engineers found out, this theory is difficult to translate into a reliable shotgun. If it works, the system still has enormous advantages.

The advantage of an inertially powered pistol is that all of the garbage and ash created when the propellant is burned is expelled from the muzzle. None of this wanders through the operating system to disguise it. This is a big reason why inertial powered shotguns have developed a reputation for reliability in large volume wing shooting events and why they have also become a favorite in ammunition inhalation shooting competitions like 3 cannon.

Another advantage of inertial shotguns is that a fully engineered firearm will usually accept a wide variety of ammunition and still be reliable. That was one of the first things I checked with this Weatherby.

First, I tested it on static steel targets to make sure the target point and the point of impact were the same. Then my son Nathan and I spent a fair amount of time destroying clay targets. Remember, this is a 3½ inch chambered shotgun designed to be used with Magnum shotgun shells. We started with a number of different rounds of magnum steel ammunition. This includes Kent Faststeel 2.0 and some Remington Hypersonic Steel loads. As expected, the 18i worked flawlessly. (As I write this, Remington has disappeared and is being auctioned off. This ammunition may soon have collector status.)

I am going to record three important facts about magnum steel cargoes for use in sports clays.

First, this is very expensive ammunition to fire at clay targets.

Second, the recoil has an accumulative effect after a few boxes, especially if you are only shooting in a t-shirt.

Third, when that large steel payload loaded out the door at 1700 fps centers a clay target, the effect makes even a stoic Baptist deacon giggle a little.

As soon as our eyes began to cross from the heavy loads, we switched to 1⅛-ounce target loads. We shot many handloads as well as several boxes with factory loads. The gun never swallowed, everything went well.

The problem with conducting gun checks during this time of COVID-19 and the “peaceful unrest” is that the ammunition supply has disappeared. Even a bird shot is as rare as an honest politician. I was able to scrape together a box of 1 ounce target loads that ran well. Then I dug into the shifts in my garage until my SASS days of shooting and found a partial box of low recoil ammunition. The stuff never runs in a semi-car, it says it’s not right on the box. That Weatherby spat them out as fast as I could pull the trigger. This is a very large selection of ammunition, from 3½-inch magnum earth shakers to a rather mild, low-recoil charge. If there is 12 gauge ammunition, this gun won’t work, I didn’t find it.

Weatherby 18i Waterfowler fiberglass front sight

The equilibrium point is approximately 7 inches in front of the trigger. This weight-forward balance helps instinctively aim the weapon and smoothly track moving birds. I didn’t get a chance to shoot ducks, but on our domestic sports sand track which has some tough targets the gun shot very well for both of us.

This 18i Waterfowler is dipped with Mossy Oak Shadow Grass Blades Camo. The black accents like the soft comb insert, recoil pad, end cap, trigger guard, and bolt offset the camouflage to create an eye-catching shotgun.

The receiver is made from a single piece of aluminum. The simple action has a heavy bolt with a rotating bolt head and a stiff spring in between. The extractor is a spring-loaded, pivoting claw attached to the left side of the screw head. There is a long pivoting “tail” that compresses the return spring located in the buttocks while the action is performed. The bolt moves in a long extension of the barrel, in which the stationary, spring-loaded ejector is located. The design, materials and craftsmanship all appear to be of the highest quality. This is apparently a Very well made shotgun in the Italian semi-auto tradition and should be problem-free for many years of tough use.

It remains to be seen if its endurance can match the legendary competition it emulates, but from what I could see, I wouldn’t bet against it.

Technical specifications
• • Type: semi-automatic, inertia-controlled shotgun
• • Measuring device / chamber: 12 / 3½ “
• • Capacity: 4 + 1
• • Barrel: 28 “; ventilated rib; thread for Benelli Crio Plus choke tubes
• • Trigger: 5 lb., 9 oz. Pull weight
• • Tourist Attractions: LPA fiber optic visor
• • Safety: Cross bolt on the back of the trigger guard
• • Camp: Polymer, dipped dipped, cheek pad with a soft grip, LOP 14⅓ “, drops on the heel 1.5”, drops on the comb 1.9 “-2.5”
• • Metal surface: Realtree Max-5, Realtree Timber, Moss Shade Grassgrass Blades (pictured), Mossy Oak Bottomland
• • Overall length: 49.25 “
• • Weight: 7 lbs.
• • Equipment: five throttle tubes (IC, IC, M, I, F), throttle tube wrench
• • MSRP: $ 1,199;

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