Browning A5 Hunter 12 Gauge Shotgun with 26" Barrel
Illustration courttesy of Browning Arms.
This article is about a new Browning A5 Hunter shotgun with a 26 inch barrel . The previously reviewed 28 inch barreled A5 Hunter was an early production sample, inexplicably having a worthless single sling swivel screwed into its walnut buttstock.
I found the patterning performance of the supplied choke tubes leaves a lot to be desired. After market choke tubes are a practical necessity.
My first (28") A5 test gun was plagued by an excessively heavy, 5-3/4 pound trigger. Unfortunately, this slightly lighter (6-1/2 lb.) 26 inch barreled A5 had an even heavier trigger. The trigger pull weight is heavier than the entire gun. Empty gun, empty chamber, safety off, balancing the gun on the trigger-- it would not fire. The trigger pull actually measures 6 lbs, 10 ounces per my Lyman electronic trigger gauge.
Thoroughly disgusted with this trigger, off it went to Bob at Precision Sports in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Based on the generally sad state of affairs with autoloader triggers, particularly Browning, Bob is going to be a very busy man. Bob will do most anything within reason, but I'm not one to strive for a hair trigger on a field shotgun. With a touch of Bob's magic, it now breaks at a far more usable 4 pounds, 1 ounce.
Although I did bag a few wild Illinois pheasants with the 28 inch A5, I can't say I truly enjoyed using it. The long (8.7 inch as measured across the top) A5 receiver mated with a 28 inch barrel makes the gun too sluggish for my tastes. The "30% longer sight plane" Browning talks about is pure hogwash, for an A390 Beretta semi-hump receiver 12 gauge is 7.2 inches across the top, a difference between the two of only about an inch and a half. Nor is sighting plane relevant, as you can quickly tell by the wide variety of step or elevated rib shotguns out there. You might wonder how you could hit anything at all with the new 30 inch or 32 inch 725 Citori Trap, with its sighting plane "disadvantage"? Sometimes, it seems, marketing folks just run out of things to write about.
The A5, with a 26 inch barrel, is a far more responsive, better feeling, better balanced, more intuitive gun to use. I carped a bit about the invisible front red tubular bead on the 28 inch model, which is completely obscured by the overly large white center bead when sighting directly down the barrel. For a $1559 MSRP autoloader, things like lousy triggers and wacky center beads are richly deserving of complaint. The Browning website still claims it comes with a “Brass front bead sight,” which has yet to happen.
It isn't all doom and gloom, however, far from it. You actually can see a little bit of red poking over the center bead on the 26 inch model when looking down the rib, so it likely isn't worth fussing about. (Of course, if you "figure 8" the muzzle bead over the center bead, both are fully visible. -Editor)
The new A5 needs very little in the way of regular maintenance and practically takes itself apart. It is the lightest Browning 12 gauge autoloader since the Double Auto. (My Double Auto Twentyweight weighs 6 pounds, 3 ounces.) The new A5 has the best shell-handling of any autoloader on the market. The “Speed Load Plus” is a bit better here than as used on the Maxus. Some will rejoice that the safety button is at the back of the trigger guard, as opposed to the front. The sticker shock can take a bit to get used to, but when you consider the plasticy and fake wood finished Beretta A400 Xplor Unico ($1865 MSRP) and even pricier Benelli Super Sport and Cordoba offerings, the A5 starts looking more competitive.
The A5 comes with a decent plastic hard case, stock spacers (1/4" and 1/2") and stock shims. It fit me out of the box, so no shim or spacer experimenting was necessary.
Invariably, the subject of recoil comes up, meaning “subjective recoil,” as actual recoil can be calculated. If you are extremely recoil sensitive, you are better off with a heavy gas-operated autoloader, not anyone's recoil ("Kinematic") operated action. Any 6-1/2 pound 12 gauge gun is going to get your attention with two ounce lead turkey loads. However, although there is nothing about the A5 itself that moderates recoil, it does come with the latest Inflex recoil pad, one of the best OEM supplied pads on the market. I found it pleasant enough to shoot with peppy 1-1/8 ounce loads while wearing only a thin shirt. The kick wasn't unpleasant last year when chasing pheasants with the usual 1-1/4 ounce high brass shells. Nevertheless, the quarter-pound heavier, gas-operated Winchester SX3 and Browning Maxus kick less.
The A5 Hunter has its flaws, primarily the ridiculously heavy trigger and the need for after market choke tubes to get the best patterns. However, it is easy to shoulder, reliable and lightweight. Compared to most repeaters these days, which are apparently made from melted milk jugs and recycled garbage can lids, it has dashing good looks, without the creepy, pogo-stick feel of springy and unsightly stock inserts. I'll hunt with it, but it would be easier to recommend the A5 if Browning paid more attention to their triggers and choke tubes.
Copyright 2013 by Randy Wakeman. All rights reserved.