A Winchester 6500 brings back happy memories while a sparkling new ATA impresses Becky McKenzie.
I started shooting back in 2005, using my husband John’s Winchester 6500, a 12 gauge 30in fixed choke Sporter. This one was also left handed! I had only shot once before, many many years before with my dad.
John took me down to our local ground at Sawley in Derbyshire, now known as East Midlands Clay Sports. Back in the day we knew it as ‘Bob’s’; then it was taken over by our good friend Glenn Buckley, and it’s now run by Clive Bramley of Doveridge Clay Sports.
It’s a very small ground, with a couple of Skeet layouts, a DTL and a 50 bird Sporting, which may even be 75 now. That’s where I learnt to shoot.
John bought his 6500 in 1984 and still has the cardboard box it came in! Back then Winchesters were made in the Kodensha plant in Japan.
The predecessor to the 6500 was the famous Winchester 101, which had started production in the early 1960s. Back then many shooters felt that the 101 set the standard that all other mid-priced factory made shotguns would be judged by.
The Winchester 101 remained in production for 20 years, ending around 1987. That wasn’t because there was anything wrong with this gun – it was truly superb. The 101 was followed by the 6500, and one of the last models to come off the production line in the Kodensha factory was the Model 6500 Sporter that we have here.
Winchester 6500 – specifications
MODEL: Sp Elegant Gold
GAUGE: 12, 3in
BARRELS: 28 or 30in. Matt black finish, chrome lined, steel proof
CHOKES: Multichoke, five flush tubes supplied
SAFETY: Top tang, selective, automatic
STOCK: Oil finished Turkish walnut, 14¾ins on test model
WEIGHT: 7lb 6oz as tested
Back in the early 2000s when John bought this one, the 6500 cost around £750 new. Many shooters believed it was the finest handling Sporter of its time. It came in 28 and 30in barrel lengths, multichoked or fixed. John’s has fixed chokes of a quarter and half.
The wood on the 6500’s stock was considered rather plain and straight grained, built for strength and stamina. On our model the stock is factory left handed, and is rather a good looking bit of timber. She weighs in at just over 7lb 11oz.
It has a simple, plain, polished silver action, a small amount of engraving on the hinge pins, and the name ‘Winchester’ engraved underneath. The action is similar to the Super-Grade.
We have never had any problems with this particular gun. It has stood up for many thousands of cartridges over the years, both clay shooting and game shooting alike.
My first experience with this gun was on the Skeet layout at East Midlands. I was somewhat nervous, expecting a loud bang and a good old thump in the shoulder! John taught me the correct way to hold it in my shoulder – obviously very important – called ‘pull’, closed my eyes and pulled the trigger. And do you know what, that clay broke! From that moment on, I was hooked on shooting.
I shot this gun many times before I decided I wanted my own Winchester 6500, but with 28in barrel length. I travelled all the way down to Lampeter in Wales to fetch my very first gun. John warned me “Don’t bring it back if it doesn’t fit.” Oh it was coming back, and it would fit!
My 6500 had multichokes, and I bought a set of ported Teague chokes for it. I shot so many cartridges through this poor old thing that I had two ejectors snap on me, although John never had a problem with his 6500. I was very proud in 2006 to win my very first competition, just a small charity shoot, but I still won a trophy!
Shooting the 6500 back in the day was a lovely experience. The gun has a truly solid feel, and even though the guns I shoot today are considerably heavier, the old 6500 doesn’t have too much perceived recoil. It patterns just as well, if not better than some of its more modern family members.
ATA have made quite a big impact on the UK shotgun market, with their range of well made and very affordable over-and-under shotguns. ATA are known for their quality woodwork and on this Elegant Gold version it truly is something to behold.
Bear in mind that the ATA price range starts at around £595 for a brand new, black actioned Sporter. The model shown here, the Elegant Gold, is a mere £990 new! Look at that wood, that stunning sideplated action – all for a penny under a grand. Seriously, how do they do that?
At the time of writing we are in our third lockdown. I met up with James Marchington for this review but all we could do was mount guns and take photographs – no shooting allowed!
Fortunately I had shot a very similar ATA not long ago, when I was coaching one of my clients, Postlady Pat, at Eriswell Lodge in Suffolk. She kindly let me try her new pride and joy.
The gun in the photos is the ATA SP Elegant Gold. It’s available in 28 or 30in, and the gun I had on loan was 30in. The barrels are finished in a matt black; they are multichoked, and come with a set of five flush chokes, covering the range from cylinder to full choke.
The full and three-quarter tubes are not steel shot proofed, but the others are. As you would expect, they come with their own choke key and box.
The ATA Elegant Gold has a 3in chamber (76mm) so it will accommodate the bigger loads should you wish to take it game shooting. The action is available in standard steel or lightweight aluminium. The top rib is 8mm wide, not tapered, with a light chequered finish and a highly visible red bead.
In the hands, this 30in gun felt well balanced, though after some time it did start to feel slightly barrel heavy – probably due to lack of shooting. I didn’t feel any negativity on mounting it, so it may have been just perceived weight. This gun weighed in at 7lb 6oz on my kitchen scales. ATA claim a standard weight of 6.2lb, but maybe that is with the aluminium receiver.
The gun has a single selective trigger with an auto safety. The safety mechanism is smooth and positive in its movement to select the barrel, and clicks when it is in the final position. The trigger, feels of moderate weight, consistent and with no creep that I could feel.
The overall wood to metal fit is ok, and it’s pretty well finished too. The engraving is a sort of scroll pattern, with gold inlay pheasants, which I imagine must be lasered not hand engraved. It is a very pretty action nonetheless. I was really quite taken with this gun, noticing the top lever was also engraved, which I am quite keen on.
The quality of the grain of the Turkish walnut stock is hard not to notice, even at a distance. I was really impressed by its quality. There are guns out there for three times the price with some very plain and straight-grained wood on them. The chequering on the wood was also good, not too sharp. Length of pull is 14¾ins. It felt a little longer than that to me, but then I was wearing quite a few layers!
The fore-end release catch is on the end of the fore-end, which is very convenient. The stock is finished off with a rubber heel plate. The stock is available in right hand, and left hand.
When I shot the ATA I was surprised how little recoil I felt, considering the gun is quite lighter than what I am used to. The gun acquires the targets with plenty of speed, but wasn’t too fast, and didn’t move off line.
For a gun under £1,000 this is a gem. Even their basic ATA Black Sporter is a very attractive buy, at under £600. With a satin black finished action, with just ‘ATA Arms’ written on the side, it’s one of the first guns I would recommend to those who are taking up the sport and don’t want to spend a small fortune in case they don’t enjoy it.
It’s an utter marvel how ATA have made such a good gun that’s attractive, strong, patterns well, has low-ish recoil and is none to heavy, all at such a low price. The SP Sporter even has a detachable trigger unit, and adjustable trigger group, which allows its owner to set the length of pull from 375mm to 390mm.
Weight of pull is fairly light and can be adjusted from 1.2kg (2.65lb) out to 1.6kg (3.52lb).
ATA have certainly produced a good range of guns. In their SP range they have guns such as the Elegance Gold tested here, the SP Walnut Steel, Walnut Aluminium, SP Bronze, Nickel, Silver and White, the SP Super Sporter, SP Skeet, SP Trap… you really are spoilt for choice, and ATA also have a massive range of semi-auto shotguns, not forgetting their bolt-action rifles, and a PCP air rifle too!
So to conclude, I started off many years ago with a Winchester, which hubby still owns to this day. I have tested many guns over the past months, my favourite being the Perazzi MX2000S obviously, because I went out and bought one.
But on price alone I have been mightily impressed by the ATA brand’s quality and handling. Well done ATA!