by Jeff Johnston - Friday, May 8, 2015
When my best friend was 16 he wanted a shotgun. I suggested a Remington 1100, or a just-released Benelli Super Black Eagle if Santa had the money. But something about the distinctive humpbacked receiver, engraved steel and the legend of the Browning Auto-5 did it for him.
To this day my friend prefers his old Browning to anything. Like generations of disciples before him, I suspect he’s also conditioned to its aircraft carrier-sized sight plane, ka-chowing recoil sensation and generous drop at comb. He can’t shoot anything else, and he doesn’t really care to anyway, although I bet he would consider an upgrade in shotgun technology—if it resembled his Auto-5.
In 2012, after Benelli’s patent on its inertia action expired, Browning seized opportunity with a new-aged Auto-5, simply called the A5. Today the A5 line includes Mossy Oak bedecked guns and the shoot-all shown above, the new 3 1/2-inch Stalker, a semi-auto that looks and feels much like the old but that outperforms it in every way.
Designed in 1898 by John Moses Browning, the original Auto-5 required the large, squared receiver to allow the gun’s barrel and bolt to recoil backward in what’s known as a long-recoil cycle. The gun worked beautifully, and American sportsmen grew accustomed to its hump, associating it with quality craftsmanship. (It became America’s second best-selling semi-auto shotgun of all time after the 1100.) Obviously the Auto-5 had a name, a style and a following, but it also had some shortcomings compared to the do-all, lightweight shotguns that came later. Browning took it out of production in 1998.
“The minute we discontinued the old Auto-5,” said Browning’s Scott Grange, “folks started screaming for it.” Browning listened.
Although company marketers call the new A5’s action the “Kinematic” system, it functions much like a Benelli’s and lends several advantages over gas and long-recoil actions. It’s cleaner and therefore more reliable, and it’s not as picky with loads and shell sizes. The only disadvantage is it doesn’t have quite the recoil-mitigating properties as gas systems.
Made in Belgium (I knew you’d ask) and assembled in Portugal, the modern A5 utilizes an aluminum receiver; even with a 3 1/2-inch chamber and a 30-inch barrel it’s considerably lighter at 7.5 pounds than grandpa’s “Humpback.” The inertia action moves its balance point back between the hands, granting Junior a livelier feel.
A toggle that Browning calls “Speed Load Plus” is located ahead of the trigger guard. The system won’t release a shell onto the carrier when you rack the bolt manually. In this way you can swap the chambered shell for another without unloading the magazine. It’s a terrific feature for those times when you need to clear the chamber in a hurry, or when you’ve got the gun stoked with No. 5's and you see a goose.
The Stalker configuration, like for all Brownings, denotes synthetic furniture and a matte metal finish. Browning’s composite stock with its Dura-Touch coating is simply the best synthetic shotgun stock in the business. It has a rigid backbone but also a soft touch. The Dura-Touch treatment is quiet and warm in the field, and remains slightly sticky in any condition. It’s soft on the cheek under recoil, and Browning’s Inflex II recoil pad does a great job padding the shoulder. What’s more, you can adjust length of pull and drop at comb with the included spacers. I encourage buyers to take the time to do this; it’ll result in a softer-recoiling gun that kills more birds.
The A5 comes with three Invector-DS choke tubes—improved cylinder, modified and full—that feature a band of brass around the thin edge that expands under pressure to seal out grime from entering the threads. They are brilliant and pattern terrifically, and I commend Browning for sparing no expense here. They come with a plastic case and an innovative wrench.
I fired the A5 rapidly at stationary targets with 2 3/4, 3- and 3 1/2-inch shells. I didn’t experience a hiccup until I fired the cheapest 1-ounce target loads. Like most 3 1/2-inch guns, this one did not pull them reliably. However, everything from 1 1/8-ounce loads on up cycled perfectly.
On thrown targets, I didn’t look at the barrel at all, only the target, and I downed nearly all of them. To my surprise, I didn’t even notice the humpback. On stationary targets I lined up the white mid-bead with the front fiber-optic pipe, and patterns printed to point of aim with each choke.
Upon further handling, two small things stood out. First, shells load effortlessly into the magazine. Secondly, the gun’s oversized safety, when manipulated with the thumb and forefinger, is the quietest I’ve tested. This is no big deal in a duck blind, but it’s huge in the turkey woods—and this Stalker is perfect for turkeys.
When I think back to Browning’s latest firearms—its X-Bolt rifle, Cynergy over/under, Maxus semi-auto and others, I conclude they are some of the most accurate, most reliable and greatest handling guns available for hunters. They are not rushed to market, but made right. The A5’s 100,000-round/five-year warranty speaks volumes.
At first I was skeptical that the new A5 with its cosmetic hump was a gimmick to appeal to old Auto-5 fans. Sure, there’s some of that, but even if you’ve never seen an Auto-5 before, you’ll like this shotgun based on its own merit. It’s much lither than the original with trim dimensions and great balance. It’s reliable, versatile and I shot it well from the first time I picked it up.
Indeed, after a day in the field with the A5, I began to view that once-hideous humpback as more of an, um, angle of endearment. And my buddy? He is Santa Claus now, and he says there will be a new Browning under his tree so he can retire his old Auto-5 to the safe and worry only about shooting ducks.
• Type: inertia-operated, semi-automatic shotgun
• Gauge/Chamber: 12/31/2"
• Barrel: 26" (tested), 28", 30"; threaded for Browning Invector-DS choke tubes
• Trigger: 6.6-lb. pull weight
• Sights: white mid-bead, fiber-optic front pipe
• Safety: cross-bolt
• Stock: black synthetic with Dura-Touch coating, adjustable; LOP 141/4"-15"; drop at comb 111/16"-113/16"; drop at heel 17/8"-21/8"
• Overall Length: 475/8"
• Weight: 7.2 lbs.
• Metal Finish: matte-black receiver, matte-blue barrel
• Accessories: 3 Browning Invector-DS choke tubes (IC, M, F); choke tube wrench; 2 stock spacers with extended screws; 6 stock shims for adjusting drop at comb, drop at heel and cast; plastic case
• MSRP: $1,629
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