Browning A5: A Classic in New Clothes

Browning’s legendary A5 is the right blend of beauty and brawn and promises no-fail performance no matter how miserable the conditions.

Browning A5: A Classic in New Clothes

The author with a couple of mallards on the Gunnison River, knocked down with the Browning A5. (Photo: Jace Bauserman)

I have a family history with Browning guns, so when the opportunity to test the newest Browning A5 in Mossy Oak Shadow Grass Blades arose, I took it.

My grandfather was a BAR (Browning Automatic Rifle) machine gunner in World War II. Though he often struggled to retell his experiences in full, mostly due to their traumatic nature, he did talk a lot about that rifle. He loved it. His life as well as the lives of many of his platoon members were saved by the rifle countless times. He told me, towards the end of his life, “I sure I wish I could see my BAR again. What a magnificent piece of machinery it was. It was hard to turn it back in after getting home from the war. I depended on it every single day.”

I always looked at my grandfather the way I do all veterans and current service members — like a hero. Naturally, when I started slinging lead, my first shotgun was a Browning. It was a Browning BPS, and I loved it. I can’t tell you the number of doves, geese, ducks, rabbits, pheasants, turkeys and quail that gun brought down, but it was a lot. I still have my BPS to this day, and it works like a charm.

I’d never spent much time behind a semi-auto, but knowing the gun’s rich history, and remembering my grandfather’s A5 and how I was drawn to the design of the humpback receiver, I couldn’t wait to trigger some rounds.

A Little History

It’s important to understand the development of the A5. Pioneered by Utah native and legendary gun maker, John M. Browning, the A5 was the world’s first semiautomatic shotgun.

Browning admitted countless times that developing an auto-loading shotgun was one of the most difficult challenges of his career. In 1898, Browning and his brothers built and tested three different guns. The design that emerged was a long-recoil model that was later dubbed the A5.

One issue to overcome was controlling the bolt’s speed. While heavier shells pushed the bolt back quickly, wearing the bolt out and battering the gun, lesser loads didn’t produce enough energy to eject a spent shell. Adjustable friction rings were the answer. These rings slid over the magazine tube and rested on top of the spring that was compressed by the barrel under recoil. The friction rings could be flipped depending on the type of load — light or heavy — that was being used.

First Impressions

Assembly simply involved sliding the barrel over the receiver and tightening the barrel nut. Simple. While the gun is loaded with purposeful Browning technologies, the one that piqued my interest the most was the Ergo Balance design. I want a shotgun that throws down on a target quickly and feels great against the shoulder and cheek. If a shotgun doesn’t feel balanced, I’m quick to discard it.

Assembled, I closed my eyes, shouldered the gun and opened them quickly. Perfect. You have to hold this gun to fully appreciate its balance and feel when shouldered. Words don’t do it justice. The soft Inflex II Technology recoil pad feels great against the shoulder, and the ergonomic feel of the stalk and streamlined forearm were obvious. The forearm has no gas system underneath it, which allowed Browning to make it slimmer than most semi-auto forearms.

The sight plane on the A5 is 30 percent longer than typical semiautomatic shotguns, giving shooters with a 26-inch barrel a 34-inch total sight plane. My A5 arrived with a 28-inch barrel, and my measured sight plane was 35½-inches. This extended sight plane is an inherent feature of the humpback receiver. You’ll quickly notice how easily the target comes to your eye, and how well you can track the target and make an effective shot.

The Mossy Oak Shadow Blades design gives the A5 a racy appeal that serious waterfowlers won’t be able to ignore. The bolt’s operating handle features a gnarled, easy-to-grip front and slides like butter. The safety, located on the backend of the trigger guard, also sports an ergonomic grip and functions well. The carrier release located at the bottom of the gun’s receiver also promises ease of use.

On Target

Side of the aforementioned Ergo Balance, Browning’s new Invector-DS choke tube also made my heart flutter. Featuring an exclusive brass alloy band, the base of the tube was engineered to thwart the intrusion of gas and grit, these tubes were designed to be easy to remove after extensive shooting. The thin-wall construction reduces flare at the end of the barrel and gives the A5 a sleek appearance. My A5 arrived with a pair of Invector-DS chokes. Each is labeled with their lead and steel pattern. I went with the LEAD: IMP. CYL ¼ and STEEL: MOD ½ tube. I would, after all, be chasing waterfowl.

I’m not much on patterning any choke except for a turkey-specific model, but for the sake of testing, I fired a single 3½-inch, 1¼-ounce Browning BXD 12-gauge round at a 30-yard paper. Just as I suspected, birds at this distance and beyond wouldn’t stand a chance.

What I did notice right away was the reduced felt recoil and my ability to stay on target. I credit much of this to the Inflex II Technology recoil pad, which boasts an internal directional deflection construction that guides the comb down and away from your cheek. This is that stay-on-target piece. The softer outer material soaks up recoil like a sponge, and married with the gun’s Kinematic Drive System, felt recoil is further reduced. The Kinematic Drive System is, in short, a short recoil-operated system renowned for its simplicity.

Trigger squeeze is excellent via the gold-plated, curved Browning trigger, and I immediately took note of how the humpback receiver simply melts directly into the A5’s rib, even when shooting at a stationary target. Cheek to rib alignment is impeccable. Other notable shooting features include the dual-sight system on the rib. A white bead located 21 1/4 inches up the rib on my 28-inch barrel lines up perfectly with a red bead, contained inside a three-ringed cage system, front fiber-optic sight. I tip my hat to this design. The fiber-optic bead is protected very well.

Trial by Fire

My first field experience with the A5 would be on the frigid Gunnison River in mid-January. Outside conditions were 2 degrees with a 12-mph crosswind. The river was choked with ice but scouting revealed numerous diver ducks as well as a few mallards.

Snow covered the banks and wet neoprene gloves — soaked from setting decoys — put a layer of water on the A5’s stock and forearm. The first group of mallards worked perfectly, and the shot was called while the flock was hovering above the decoys at a distance of 19 yards. Being good buddies, and knowing I was conducting a field test, my waterfowling compadres let me have the flock to myself. The result was a triple. No exaggeration and no lie. This gun swings like a dream, and the lightweight barrel contour was evident.

My shot sequence was flawless, and the spent 3-inch Federal Black Cloud FS Steel rounds blew almost 7½ feet to my right. The rounds also killed the birds, even a distant third duck. Of course, I credit this to great ammo, but also to the A5’s Total Barrel Dynamics. Virtually a three-part system that includes the Vector Pro section, back-bored section and, of course, the Invector-DS choke tube. The back-boring design enlarges the bore, which increases shot velocity while minimizing pellet deformity. Also evident was the A5’s zero point of impact. In laymen’s terms, zero point of impact means a 50/50 pattern. Fifty percent of the pattern is above the target, and 50 percent of the pattern is below the target.

Over the course of the day, I shot 18 rounds. Not once did I experience a problem, and the A5’s bolt, though iced and cold, continued to perform. I was also impressed with how the Inflex II recoil pad, though I was wearing heavy, bulky clothing, refused to hang up on it. Not once did I struggle to get the A5 to my shoulder.

Big Shells, Big Geese

Of course, the above wasn’t my only duck hunt with the A5. My son and I hunt waterfowl every weekend of the season. The A5’s body count grew quickly, and I continued to be impressed with its functionality. I’ve had a lot of jamming issues with other autoloaders, but not this gun. For the sake of testing, I let it get a tad dirtier than normal, too.

To continue the field test, I wanted to shoot a number of 3½-inch shot shells through the A5, and when large flocks of Canada geese started pouring into our area, I jumped at the chance.

For this hunt, I wanted to try various ammo types. In addition to Browning 3½-inch BXD BB shotshells, I was also toting 3½-inch Federal Premium Black Cloud FS Steel BBB, 3½-inch Winchester Xpert High Velocity BB and 3-inch Federal Premium Black Cloud TSS BB and 7 shot. I wanted to see how the gun handled different sized shells and shot sizes.

The first group of Canada geese swung low over our set of 60 full-body decoys. “One more pass,” my buddy Bill whispered. “Let’s let a few land, and then take the ones in the air while they’re backpedaling over the dekes.”

Backpedaling they were. Big geese, when the conditions are right and they aren’t stale to decoys and calling, work great. There were three gunners in the deep ditch, and when the shots finished ringing out, six geese were dead. I’d dropped a pair of big boys on my end with two rounds of Black Cloud FS Steel BB. The longer 3½-inch shotshells ejected without issue. Over the course of the hunt, I fired a total of 12 rounds. I fired each of the aforementioned shotshells. All worked to perfection, and the A5, regardless of the brand of shotshell or size of the shot, delivered great patterns on the birds.

Final Thoughts

To date, my A5 has been taken on a documented 27 waterfowl hunts. Each of those hunts presented different weather conditions, and the A5 has never faltered. Not once have I experienced a jamming issue or any other sort of red-flag raiser with the weapon. Total shots to date, including sporting clays and the like, is 3,487 rounds.

While the majority of those rounds have been high brass, I’ve also fired a number of low brass Winchester AA shotshells at clay targets and doves. The A5 was built for lasting performance. In fact, Browning backs the gun with its 100,000 round or five-year guarantee. Come hell or high water, Browning promises the gun will work, period, for 100,000 rounds or five years without any failure. If a customer does experience an issue, simply contact Browning and they will take care of it.

Contrary to what many think, outdoor writers don’t get to keep the guns we test. This one, however, will be mine forever. It is, to date, the finest waterfowl shotgun I’ve ever shouldered, and I knew after that first duck hunt that I would be sending Browning a check. If you’re in the market for a new waterfowling companion, the A5 fits the bill.


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