Belgium is a strange place with only two things that we can think of to commend it. Beer and Brownings. Oh yes, the other good thing to come out of Belgium is the ferry from Zeebrugge - it goes to Hull, but then I guess you can't have everything.
We'll leave you to research Belgian beer for yourself, but for your delectation and delight, we've gone to the trouble of setting out below a short history of Browning's over and under shotguns. It may not be wholly accurate, but as an attempt to fit 90 odd years of superlative shotgun engineering onto one page, we feel there is enough in this short article to commend it to the reader..
Browning: An American firearms manufacturer. Sort of. John Moses Browning was born in 1855 in the colonies, Utah to be exact. He set up the Browning Firearms Company and made, well, firearms. JMB as we like to call him designed the world's first successful auto loading shotgun, the A5. Form definitely followed function in the A5, it was and remains pig ugly, but hey it was a first, so we'll forgive JMB for that. The gun was designed in 1898 and was in production for almost 100 years, so I guess he must have got something right. The A5 is important in this tale because, despite being an auto, it was the gun that brought Browning to Europe. JMB licenced many of his designs to the larger manufacturers like Remington and Winchester, but for one reason or another he couldn't find a manufacturer in the colonies for the A5, so he went to talk to Fabrique Nationale* in Belgium. A partnership was born and FN manufactured the A5 on and off until 1975 when production moved to Miroku in Japan, ultimately ceasing in 1998.
JMB also designed the worlds first successful over and under, the Superposed. It introduced shooters to the single selective trigger and automatic ejectors. JMB died before it went into production with FN, who manufactured it from 1931 until 1940 when the Germans decided that a united Europe would be a good idea. Production of the Superposed resumed after that particular period of unpleasantness, but in 1960, the new B25 was launched, a further development of the original Superposed and it truth, not much different from it. The B25 is still made today in one form or another by the Browning Custom shop in Belgium. B25s are hand made guns, made to order, any spec you like, with a long waiting list and a price tag to match. They are beautiful, gorgeous guns, but it is unlikely we'll ever get our hands on one.. Sad.
In the 1970s with production costs in Europe rising, Browning contracted with Miroku in Japan to manufacture a new gun based on the B25. More efficient machine manufacturing methods, meant that Browning could address a mass market that the Belgian made guns were priced out of. Apparently they were branded as Citori. Richard is sure that 'Citori' is the the name of a Korean girl pop band, we'll bow to his greater knowledge on the subject cos he spends hours on the internet researching Korean girl bands, so he must know what he is talking about.
At some point you will hear about the 125. It was introduced around 1983. It was a top of the range gun, possibly intended to replace the B25 - it never did. Although in 1977 the B25 had been removed from the Browning catalogue, it was still available as a special order, (at times B25s were being produced at a rate of les than 1 a month). Anyway back to the 125, the bits of the B125 were made in Japan, and then the parts were shipped to Europe for assembly and finishing. Like the B25 the gun could be made to order, to a customers specification, so the finishing process would have been quite involved. Think of the 125 as a half way house between the Belgian B25 and the wholly Japanese made Citoris.
Then in 1988 the 325 was launched. Unless you are of an age where you were shooting in the 1970s and early '80s, you will doubtless think of the 325 as the first of the line of modern Browning over and unders, (like we do). Made in Japan it was sold world wide. Those unhappy folks in the colonies continued calling it the Citori, though in the UK it was always the 325. In the mid '90s the 425 replaced the 325, similar gun but updated and now made on the monobloc principle of joining the tubes to the breech assembly,
The 425 was superseded by the 525 around 2002. The 525 is still made today in Japan and, Browning tell us, is hand finished in Belgium. Not sure what that actually means, but the phrase 'hand finished' does add a bit of a cachet. There was a 625, but it was never launched in the UK. Then in 2012 along came the 725. It was a bit of a departure from preceding models, the receiver has a much lower profile and and the trigger is mechanical rather than inertia. Robin's got a 725 and we like it. Currently Browning markets variants of both the 525 and 725.
'But what about the Cynergy?' I hear you cry. A completely different gun to every other Browning o/u. We recall it being launched in 2004 looking a bit Star Wars with stock and fore end both made in black plastic. I dont think it made much of dent in the UK market, it was just too much for the conservative English shooter. If they'd launched the wood stocked version first, it may have gained a bit more traction, but on the whole, the Elm Farm Boys ignore the Cynergy. None of us have shot one so we can't comment on it.
Sooooo, if today you rush down to your local gun shop in the UK, intent on buying a new over and under Browning for Clays, your choice will be a version of the 525, 725 or Cynergy. And when you hold your new shotgun in your hands (unless its a Cynergy) take a moment to reflect on the fact that you are shooting with a gun the heritage of which stretches back nearly 100 years, and not changed much in that period - because it was brilliant then and remains so now!.
A word about Miroku: After the war they started to manufacture a range of firearms to their own design, then in the 1950s started making a version of the Superposed which was far cheaper than Belgian produced B25s. Then of course Browning contracted with Miroku to produce the whole range of mass market guns, starting with the Citori. Miroku also made copies of the Citori, under licence I assume, and marketed them as their own brand shotguns. Nowadays Miroku guns are just Brownings with a different badge a few small actual differences and a few cosmetic differences. Miroku guns today include the MK60, the MK70 and the MK38. The range is remarkably 'stable', Miroku are not in the habit of introducing facelifts every 12 months or so, in fact if anything their offerings have reduced over the years as some grades have been discontinued. Our view is that if it aint broke, dont fix it, I guess Miroku take the same approach. Miroku shotguns are excellent, really well made and superb value for money. They always used to be a bit cheaper than Brownings, but that advantage has disappeared in the last few years and now a new one will be a bit more expensive than the the equivalent Browning. I think Miroku for all their quality still come in a cardboard box, but the cardboard to polystyrene fit of that box is world leading.
If we get round to it we'll have a look at auto loaders next.
* Often wondered what would have happened if JMB had come to the UK instead of Belgium. He could have made his way to Birmingham and spoken to BSA, Greener or Westley Richards if he had maybe we'd be making B25s in Birmingham. Of course that might be a good thing... or indeed, a very bad thing.