Russell Crowe as Maximus in the movie “Gladiator” was quite the deadly performer. I’m betting my season’s goose limit that Browning’s 12-gauge Maxus II shotgun is even deadlier. This weatherproof semi-auto is sleek, smooth, rugged and capable of handling 3½-inch shells. Not that I want to shoot the latter, but you might. And the Maxus II’s recoil-softening features will assist.
When Browning’s Maxus line of gas-operated autoloading shotguns came to life in 2009, I borrowed one to collect some big Canada geese in British Columbia. Three came to the decoys. Three stayed in the decoys. The Maxus mounted, fired, recoiled and cycled so smoothly that I never lost focus on the birds.
My only complaint with that shotgun was its bulk. Just a bit more than felt really comfortable. I do not have big hands, so I blamed them. But the Maxus II suggests I wasn’t alone in my bulky assessment. The focus of the new Maxus II seems to be slimming it down.
Before we get into stock lines and new comfort features, we should review the mechanics of Browning’s Power Drive Gas System. Browning calls this a short-stroke system. I measured piston travel and it’s about three-quarters of an inch. At the same time, Browning claims they’ve extended travel by 20 percent to more reliably cycle lighter loads. Sounds like fine tuning. Seems to work. Ring seals on the piston apparently capture most of the gasses from light loads that emerge from the two ports in the barrel hanger. Excess gasses from heavy loads are shunted through an enlarged exhaust port and upward out a gap between the fore-end and barrel.
As the piston moves back against return spring pressure, it pushes a light, polymer sleeve with a push-rod extension that slides along a groove in the left side of the receiver to push the bolt carrier back. The carrier in turn slides about a quarter-inch to push the locking lug out of its recess in the barrel extension. The bolt head/face is then freed to ride back with the bolt carrier, eject the empty then come forward under return spring pressure and feed the next shell into battery. Fast. Clean. Reliable.
I fired mixed shells from 1⅛-ounce, 1200 fps “light field” to 3-inch, 1⅞-ounce “heavy field” in no particular order again and again without a hitch. I could definitely tell when the 1350 fps 1⅞-ounce loads ignited, but recoil was nicely softened by the stock features we’ll describe later.
Thanks to today’s ammo shortage, I was unable to garner 1-ounce loads for testing the bottom end of this system, but the original Maxus has a solid reputation for cycling them reliably, so we’ll default to that. I doubt many buyers of a 3½-inch 12-gauge are looking to shoot 1-ounce target loads extensively. This is clearly a gun aimed at waterfowl hunters, particularly goose hunters, and Browning has thrown them a bone in the form of a new magazine cap.
The old Maxus magazine tube did not have a screw-on cap, so affixing any aftermarket magazine-tube extension was nigh impossible. The Maxus II is capped by a grooved, triangular screw cap. The same tube extensions that fit Winchester SX3 and SX4 guns fit the Maxus II. Snow goose hunters and exhibition shooters take note.
Now to the handling enhancements. As mentioned, the Maxus was put on a diet, not so much weight as bulk. With a 28-inch chrome-lined barrel, my sample weighed 7 pounds. I had no original Maxus for comparison, but the grip and fore-end on this Maxus II feel slim, more like an A5, which I always preferred to the Maxus. Black textured overmolding at the pistol grip and fore-end are delightfully sticky, providing the kind of grip control checkered walnut could only dream of.
Length of pull is 14⅜ inches, but the gun comes with a ¼-inch and ½-inch spacer for extending that. Shortening involves cutting, but the toe is straight for an inch forward, designed to make it possible to trim butt length and still fit the 1½-inch Inflex recoil pad perfectly. Nice touch, Browning. Another welcomed touch on any 3½-inch 12-gauge is the black SoftFlex comb, what Browning calls a cheekpad. This is designed to minimize comb bite against a shooter’s cheekbone. It works fairly well, but I noticed when I pressed the comb I hit a hard edge inside. The cushioning is adequate on top, but for my bone structure additional padding on the left edge would be more effective. Additional fit adjustments are provided by five plastic shims that alter drop and cast from 1/16 to ⅛ inch.
Improved cylinder, modified and full Invector-Plus extended chokes come with the Maxus II. The robust ventilated top rib was topped with a red/orange fiber optic front sight and a white middle bead.
A "Vintage Tan" camo pattern covered all parts of the gun except the black overmolding, recoil pads, trigger bow, oversized bolt handle and action parts. Those were nicely coated with a slick, rust-resistant nickel Teflon, making this entire gun strongly resistant to rust.
Other features familiar to Browning Maxus shooters include a magazine cutoff switch on the left receiver wall, a Lightning Trigger that had some rough creep before breaking at 6 pounds, a dished front trigger bow to facilitate fast loading of the magazine, a TurnKey quick-release magazine plug and Browning’s Speed Load Plus system that slams a shell into battery as soon as you push it into the magazine with the action locked open. This sometimes comes in handy when you’re standing with an empty, smoking gun while a goose swings round for another look.
MSRP of the Maxus II Camo Vintage Tan is $1,829.99. That includes a black ABS break-down case with fitted pockets for chokes and other accessories.
Technical Specifications • Type: gas-operated semi-auto shotgun • Gauge/Chamber: 12/3½" • Capacity: 4 rnds. • Barrel: 26" or 28" (tested); chrome-lined; vent rib; interchangeable choke tubes • Trigger: Browning Lightning Trigger; 6-lb. pull weight • Sights: fiber-optic front pipe, white mid-bead • Safety: cross-bolt • Stock: composite; Vintage Tan camo; 14⅜" LOP; 2" drop at heel; 1¾" drop at comb; SoftFlex cheekpad; rubber overmolded grips • Metal Finish: Vintage Tan camo • Overall Length: 49⅜" • Weight: 7 lbs. • Accessories: Invector-Plus choke tubes (IC, M, F); choke tube wrench; stock spacers (¼", ½") ABS hard case • MSRP: $1,829.99; browning.com