Browning Auto Loaders
Well we looked at Browning's O/Us, lets look at their semi autos. Be aware though that profound ignorance has never stopped any one of us expressing a forceful opinion on a matter, so dont take a single word of the following as gospel, unless you get it from another source as well.
The start of the range is easy enough. The A5 or Auto5 was made by FN and then Miroku for nigh on a hundred years, production ceasing in 1998. Scarcely believable but there it is, a mass market shotgun that could still sell almost a century after it was first designed. The A5 used the long recoil method of operation, and elsewhere on this site we mentioned that it was pig ugly
From that promising start, things go downhill, a bit. Browning seem to design and market a bewildering multitude of guns, they give them a logical naming convention one minute then junk that for something else with the next gun, there seems to be little logical progression as the range develops. That may be true of other manufacturers, it is certainly true of Browning. And recent years have seen a blizzard of 'technical innovations', look at any two Browning catalogues a few years apart and you will see more and more new trademarked technologies being announced. Kinematic Drive, Inflex, DS chokes. Canon back boring etc. None of these really help you hit the clay any better than the previous set of 'gimmicks' for.... the gas piston, the barrel profile, the choke length, the recoil pad etc. etc. The Browning range of semi autos are a vivid illustration as to why you should never mix strong alcohol and marketing departments.
As far as we can divine, next in line after the Auto 5 was the Double Auto. A bit of an oddity, in that it was an auto loader with no magazine. One round went in the breech, the other was stored in the receiver under the bolt. Both rounds inserted into the gun via a left side loading port. So only two shots, hence I guess 'Double Auto'. The action was recoil operated, and by the look of the barrel design, it would have been short recoil, rather than the long recoil of the A5. Manufacturing was terminated in 1970 after almost 20 years of production. You'd think there might be a few being used around clay grounds, but we've never seen one, In fact they weren't a commercial success, with less than 70,000 being made. Somewhat oddly for a gun of this time, the receiver was supplied in a variety of different colours, and as far as we can tell it was one of the earliest if not the earliest guns to use alloy for the receiver, though there were two models, an alloy version and a steel version.
At some point in the 1970s, someone decided that Browning needed another semi auto to sit alongside the A5. Thus was born the B2000. This one is gas operated, with Belgian made parts, shipped to Viana Portugal for assembly, and expensive. By all accounts a decent gun, but its price restricted its market, so after a modest production run, it dies in 1983. The B2000 looks a bit odd today, it has a loading port on the left side and ejects on the right. Its gas system is overly complex, and disappointingly there are some plastic/nylon components that we imagine may be hard to get nowadays. On the whole though, a hand finished gun from the Browning stable, what's not to like.
Next came the B80, you might have hoped that it would be a B3000, but no, Browning logic meant an identity that has no relationship to the preceding product. Good news is that now Browning had learnt the lesson that small Belgian production runs do not a mass market shotgun make, so to speak. At this point in time Fabrique Nationale owned parts of the Beretta empire, particularly the bits that made large numbers of semi autos. So Browning sensibly bought parts from Beretta assembled them in Portugal, and sold the result as the B80. Great idea except when FN sold off its Beretta holdings, that was the end of the B80. Effectively the B80 is a badged Beretta 302. Some B80s have steel receivers, some are alloy. Some of them have an old choking system, where the internal choke is held in place by a collar screwed externally onto the barrel. Bet chokes for that aren't easy to come by now! There is a view that the Beretta 301/2/3 series of guns are some of the best semi autos ever made, thus we are entitled to assume that the B80 was a pretty good gun too. Not bothered with a pic of the B80, just squint at the picture of the B2000 without your glasses and you will get the general idea.
Next? Well the Auto 500 looks as if it came next. Bizarrely the range of Auto 500s came with two operating systems, the 500R was short recoil operated, the 500G was gas operated. Such engineering complications may not have mattered if one of them was a great gun, but neither were. They sold possibly 14 or 15 guns worldwide (understating it here to generate the impression that the gun was not a sell-out success). Mercifully neither gun had long production runs and many of them were recalled. The R model was made from 1987 to 1993. The G model was made from 1990 to 1993. Recoil operated guns depend on having some parts manufactured to fine tolerances, get that wrong and things don't work properly. Maybe that is what did for the Auto 500, we're not sure.
After the Auto 500 debacle came the Gold in 1994. It wasn't without a few early glitches, the guns with 3.5 in chambers were a tad unreliable, until those glitches were ironed out. The 3in and 2.75in guns were excellent from day one, but suffered from the reputation earned by the 3.5in gun. The gas operated Gold proved that Browning could get a decent new gun to market all by themselves at a competitive price. Well done lads! Browning autos seem to come in two shapes. There is the 'humpback' shape and the more streamlined shape like Beretta and everyone else. The Gold comes in both versions, no idea if they were made concurrently or if one shape followed the other, its a mystery to us. Edit, I think one was for clays and the other shape for game guns.
Next, the Browning Silver, Huzzah, at last a naming convention that makes sense. Dunno much about it, good looking gun if you like the 'humpback', if not, well.... The Silver appeared in 2008 and appears to be still current in the US catalogue, though not the European catalogue. Invector choked and back bored, which doesn't seem like a good idea on a semi auto, but then we're not shotgun designers. The Silver doesn't have the magazine cut off switch of the Gold, that is to be applauded, the damn thing was just an extra complication, no one ever uses it, the gun is better of without it. .
Next.. With the Gold and Silver, surely it will be another metallic element, Mercury, Magnesium? Nope, remember this is Browning, the next gun is the Maxus. With this gun Browning seem to have forsaken their trademark 'humpback' for gas operated guns, and gone more mainstream with the streamlined look. As for product differentiation, there are only so many novelties you can incorporate into a shotgun to set it apart from the competition. The Maxus tries hard though. It has a neat fore end removal catch, and the fore end comes off as if it were an over and under, That's a first. Browning also claim the fastest cycling times of any semi auto with a trigger that is 24%, yes 24%, quicker than its nearest competitor. This is excellent news for shooters everywhere. With the Maxus, that old excuse of 'I'd have got that if only the trigger was 24% quicker' just doesn't hold water any more. The pic of the Maxus below, shows the absence of the usual screw on end cap.
Well we're almost done. The last Browning Semi Auto is the A5. A brand new gun not a re make of the old A5. It is still recoil operated though it is short recoil rather than the long recoil of the original A5. At this point we'd argue that as the barrel is fixed, the gun doesn't qualify as recoil operated at all. It looks more like a delayed blowback to us. It is obviously designed to look a bit like the original version, (a tribute to etc.) but this one is much prettier and the internals are completely different. Available in small numbers since 2012, you dont tend to see that many around, maybe production goes mostly to the US, where they are much more familiar with the old A5 than we are in the UK.
That is pretty much it, the confusing history of Browning's more important auto loaders, as best we can divine it. From the foregoing diatribe you might conclude that we are not fans of Browning Auto Loaders. Nothing could be farther from the truth. They are, in our experience, (i.e. the ones we've shot) very reliable and well made guns, well worth a place or two in your gun cabinet..
If you decide on a new Browning auto loader today, in the UK, then you will be looking at either the gas operated Maxus or the recoil operated A5, in truth, not a bad choice at all
There are other guns, the Phoenix, the Fusion and Evolve branding, and so on, but life is too short, I think the main ones are covered above.
Browning's 2021 catalogue introduces a new Maxus - the Maxus II. Different shaped receiver, and a return to the cap at the end of the mag tube. Gone is that neat fore end latch that made the gun stand out from the crown a bit. Photos on here when we can get some.