Stepping into tactical:Weatherby's PA 549

I recently tested Weatherby's PA 459, a sub 7-pound tactical shotgun with a 19-inch barrel and a synthetic pistol grip stock. This is not a usual offering from the Weatherby, known for building eye-candy rifles around a game specific wildcat cartridge. Still, it does fall into the category of a purpose-built firearm.

I also tested the Konus Sight Pro Atomic Red/Green dot sight, a compact optic with great flexibility and Spec-Ops LoneStar Rig, a single point tactical sling. Not only did this combination work well together, the shotgun and the hardware cost less than many tactical shotguns alone.

I understand that the PA 459 was named after the California Penal Code for burglary. (The number 459 is often used to indicate a burglary in progress.)It is not clear to me if the name is appropriate for a civilian victim defending his roost or the responding officers. Either way, the tests on this shotgun prove it is an appropriate instrument.

The PA 459 pump gun is a popular choice for general law enforcement use. Its 7075 T6 CNC machined receiver has a fine matte finish. Under the hood, parts fit together with above average tolerance. There are no spurious tool marks, and the finish is cleanly applied. The picatinny rail atop the receiver has enough mounting space for all kinds of accessories. Weatherby mounted a removable adjustable ghost ring sight here, a nice compliment to the fiber optic front sight. Another picatinny rail on the forend allowed me to try out several types of hardware, until I settled on a Streamlight TLR3.

The PA 459 is about 1 to 2 pounds lighter than similar pump guns. Sometimes this is a disadvantage, especially with 3-foot slugs. Less inertia in the gun means more recoil in the shoulder. Fortunately, this gun came with a forgiving recoil pad that mitigated the kick quite a bit.

With slugs, it felt like I was shooting light trap loads. (I did shoot trap loads in it, by the way.) This sounds like cheating when using an improved cylinder choke, but it's a great way to test an optic: One puts an optic on a tactical shotgun, then mows down pepper poppers with buckshot at 10 to 15 yards, shoots a few paper swingers and calls it a day. There are some good static moving targets out there, but I test optics by how well a person can track a small, fast-moving target with the eyes non-occluded, and raise a non-magnified optic into the visual plane and intersect the sighting device with the line of trajectory. The Sight Pro Atomic did this rather well, even when my buddy with the thrower decided to be a wise guy with the crossing targets.

The PA 459 balances in the middle, in front of the receiver. This kind of balance is a must for long searches. Its handles would be well suited for an ad hoc active shooter deployment, especially with the LoneStar Rig.

The PA 459 has a shortened length of pull (the distance from the trigger to where it contacts the shoulder), which is typical for a tactical gun in order to accommodate a vest. I am not a fan of shotgun stocks with pistol grips, but this one is suitable for pinning it to the shoulder during a prolonged search.

Besides the silky action, the best feature of the PA 459 is its glove-friendly operation. The action release tab in front of the trigger guard is prominent and easy to find.

Although I liked the taper of the forend, it looks like this one was planned for a sporting firearm, not a door kicker. A law enforcement gun needs the cutout at the loading port. After all, the most likely means of unloading the gun is to flip it upside down with the muzzle in the bullet trap, alternately pressing feed tabs.

Additionally, an advanced user can kick up the spoon of the carrier (which shoots shells from the magazine to the chamber area) when this area is open. This stock covers the port when fully retracted, which is typical on trap guns but not on a patrol gun. I still wouldn't change the overall design of the stock. I've carried enough 12-gauge weight through buildings and over fences to recognize that this is a comfortable one, thank you.

I played around with some dummy loads and live loads to get an idea of the shotgun's action qualities. It loaded easily and shell length variation was not an issue. The magazine shoots the shells onto the carrier with authority, and the loading stroke smoothly chambers a round. I could not fool it with a short stroke or trip it up with various loads.

On my first trip to the range, I accurately emptied the magazine with high recoil rounds. The Sight Pro Atomic projected a daylight visible red or green 4 MOA dot on the target. Originally, my plan was to use a laser bore sight to do a coarse adjustment on the Sight Pro Atomic, and then fine tune it with slugs. I mounted it and found it was easy to co-witness it (view the same point of aim with the fixed sights). The Sight Pro Atomic and the supplied ghost ring sight complemented each other.

The Sight Pro Atomic has windage and elevation adjustments with sealed caps. I liked the fact that I could switch it on with the thumb of my support hand, and could look almost into the sun and pick up the dot in a hurry on the fly.

The Sight Pro Atomic sight is small enough to be mounted on some pistols, but it is perfect for tactical long gun work. I would improve one thing, however; I generally like bikini scope covers because they are quiet and easy to get into action. The Sight Pro Atomic is tiny and needs just a little edge on both ends to keep it on. I would make the tube a centimeter longer and add flip-up caps.

A dot optic has to do one thing well: One should be able to track a target with both eyes open and raise the optic into the visual plane for a quick shot -- the Sight Pro Atomic excelled at this. The dot was crisp with no visual distortion in the sighting plane. Simple and efficient.

The sight's mirrored front is fine for patrol, but I would use an anti-reflective cover for deliberate deployment. There is a definite halo when one turns the dot intensity up for the ambient conditions, but this is typical with almost every product of this type I have tested. With 5 adjustments for each color, the features of the Sight Pro Atomic belie the reasonable price.

This gun's dual action bars prevent any kind of torquing when cycling hard and fast. Surprisingly, the bolt block, which is separate on many shotguns, is integral with the action bars. Not only does this simplify disassembly, but it will reduce wear in the timing areas, where the action releases the shells from the magazine and keeps the rest of the shells from leaving until their designated time.

The ejector port of the barrel extension is a steel "bump" that tosses the shells out with authority. This is interesting engineering, as many ejectors are pinned into the side of the receiver. The advantage here is the end-user serviceability and the inherent strength of the barrel steel. Instead of re-pinning the ejector, one can swap barrels.

The shotgun's replaceable choke tube could provide a platform for many tactical options. Its drilled vent holes could aid in compensating the recoil, yet I didn't get the barrel too hot to operate. It's an all-day shooter that doesn't smack the user with punishment.

Everyone liked the LoneStar Rig. It has a loop of webbing with firm elastic stays. I adjusted it for a 5-foot 4-inch user and a 6-foot 2-inch user could step into it and adjust it later. With two different adjust positions and two others to quick release, it proved to be the choice for rapid deployment. Since it used a nylon loop to attach it to the gun, I figure it could attach to anything. I'm sure there is a critical response team out there with one of the detachable loops on the handle of an entry ram.

If the gun hangs from the center line of the body with a single point sling, one gets an interference-free transition to the handgun. Also, one only has to work one clip to dismount the gun.

No one seems to make any law enforcement accessories for the PA 459, except universal parts. I couldn't find a cartridge rack for the receiver anywhere. Fortunately, Spec Ops makes the Ready Fire Mode pouch, which adds eight rounds to the buttstock without getting in the way. This goes on every shotgun I run with.

I anticipate someone will step up and make the brightly colored less-lethal stocks for this one, because its design is perfect for it. I wouldn't mind having a tactical model without the pistol grip.

The PA 459 was fun to shoot, accurate and definitely patrol ready. It just goes to show that Weatherby does everything with class, even when stepping into the tactical market.

Lindsey Bertomen is a retired police officer who teaches at Hartnell College in Salinas, Calif.