Browning's 2012 A5 Hunter Autoloading Shotgun
The new A5 has been a long time coming, but after nine months it has finally made it. Reviewed here is the 28" barrel Hunter, which is supplied with a polished blue barrel and walnut furniture. Having a walnut stock on a new autoloader, instead of Plastic made by Old World Craftsman, is itself an event of sorts. All too often the only choice has been ugly, blow-molded, ground-up garbage can lids (technopolymer), or the same plastic dipped in plastic film--what is known as water transfer printing.
A bit of background is in order. It is unfortunate that Browning chose to call this aluminum receiver, lightweight inertia gun the A5, as it really has nothing in common with the steel receiver, long recoil, J. M. B. Automatic-Five. This gun has already been referred to as the "Brownelli," as its inertia action was invented by Bruno Civolani in the 1960's and popularized by Benelli Arms in 1967. (In 1983, Benelli was acquired by Beretta.) As stated on the Benelli Italian website:
"It was 1967. The long-recoil system of the present was the smooth-bore semi-automatic, gas operated what was intended as the only alternative for the future. Numerous attempts to produce different kinematic had obtained modest results. It seemed that nothing new could be conceived and valid. But the revolution was at hand. In 1967 Benelli introduced the Model 121 and its revolutionary closure inertial release."
Although originally called the "kinematic" action, this method of operation has been touted as "inertia" until now. It has come back to the future with the Browning Kinematic Action.
A5 Hunter Specifications:
Several things are different from the prototypes I originally fired and from the Browning catalog listing, the reason there are invariably disclaimers in catalogs warning that specifications are subject to "change without notice". All though it is listed as having a brass front bead sight, it was supplied was a red tubular plastic front sight. The “ivory” center bead is white painted metal and mostly obscures the front sight. In order to test the gun, I had to file down the center bead in order to make the front bead a usable, soft-focus reference point.
The A5 is lighter than advertised. As received with the factory full choke installed, it comes in right at 6 lbs. 9 oz., a full quarter pound lighter than listed. A representative 28 inch synthetic A5 at Mega-Sports in Plainfield weighed 6.75 lbs. on the nose. The walnut A5 Hunter is lighter than the synthetic model with the same barrel length by 3-4 ounces. This makes this new A5 the lightest regular capacity autoloading 12 gauge shotgun in the history of the Browning nameplate.
The trigger breaks at 5-3/4 lbs. Alhough far too heavy, it is better than the 6 to 6-3/4 lb. triggers that came on the previously reviewed Maxus models and much better than the 8 lb. Versa-Max trigger. However, it is not as good as most Beretta and Benelli shotgun triggers.
The barrel of this A5 measures .740 in. via Skeet's bore gage. The Full choke tube (lead only) is .701 for an aggressive 39 thousandths constriction. The IC choke is .736 in. for a puny four thousandths constriction, the MOD choke is .731 for only a nine thousandths constriction. The Invector-DS choke idea is good, but the performance is not as marked, or even remotely close. What actually comes with the gun is a Skeet choke, an IC choke and an Extra-Full, lead-only choke.
The two-piece shell carrier was invented by and added to the original Automatic-Five by Val Browning, son of the A-5's inventor, John M. Browning. It allows consistent loading continuously from the bottom of the receiver. With the breech locked open, the first shell loads directly into the chamber, the following shells naturally into the tubular magazine. As the breech bolt locks open on the last shot, the identical sequence is repeatable with no hassle and no looking.
The new A5 has the best and smoothest shell-handling of any autoloader on the market. With its large loading gate, it is effortless to load and unload, even with gloved hands. While called “Speed Load Plus,” it is essentially the same system used on the Browning Maxus. However, the application of it to the A5 is a far better.
The safety at the back of the trigger guard and the trigger guard itself work better than the Maxus. The trigger pull is a pound and a half too heavy for a field gun. It looks to be more work for your local gunsmith.
Browning calls their “close radius pistol grip” a feature. A more open curve to the pistol grip would look better and speed handling without reducing control.
The factory Invector DS chokes do not perform as marked, throwing wide open patterns. Comparing the factory Modified tube to a Briley Spectrum Modified tube with B&P 1-1/4 oz. #5 shot shotshells, a typical pheasant load, the Briley tube put an average of 33% more pellets into a 12 x 18 silhouette at a laser-verified 36 yards. That's 216 square inches, about 10x the kill zone of a pheasant. The Briley Modified tube threw patterns much more in line with the choke tube designation.
The weak patterns came as no surprise, for the factory Modified Invector-DS choke tube offers only a .009 in. constriction. The Briley Modified tube has a .719 in. exit diameter for a .021 inch constriction in the test shotgun. The most appropriate pheasant and dove patterns for my uses were thrown by the Briley Improved Modified tube (.713 inch) that, in this A5, is a .027 inch actual constriction. The A5 is a flat shooter, shooting right at point of aim at 36 yards.
There is nothing unexpected about the shooting comfort of the A5. It weighs just over 6-1/2 lbs., the lightest 12 gauge autoloader Browning has offered since the Double Auto. I found it comfortable enough with 1230 fps 1-1/8 oz. breaking clays and dropping a few doves. Heavier loads, the 1-1/4 oz. loads, did move me around a bit. I'd not look forward to a high-volume diet of them. The Browning Inflex recoil pad is as good as any factory recoil pad, so that helps.
The bolt latch protruding from the center of bottom of the receiver, isn't particularly attractive. However, it is out of the way, generous in size, easy to use and ambidextrous. Left-handed wingshooters should appreciate this. Despite the areas of disappointment, including an ugly receiver, ridiculous center bead and factory choke tubes that do not remotely perform as marked, this is the best 12 gauge upland hunting autoloader Browning has ever released.
With a wonderful to carry 6 lb. 9 oz. weight, the A5 shoulders beautifully and is easy to hit with. The 26 inch barreled model should knock a few ounces off the weight for those looking to save as much weight as possible. Recoil-sensitive shooters would generally be better-served by considering the Maxus; the light A5 is no gun for the goose pit. With industry-leading shell handling, well-placed controls, effortless shouldering and swinging, this is the first 12 gauge autoloader I've tested in a long time that I'd consider ideal for wild pheasant hunting or other walk a lot uses.
The new A5 is a most enjoyable pheasant, quail, grouse and partridge hunting autoloading shotgun. While not as attractive as it could have been, it is better than the many plastic and fake wood offerings with which the market is currently polluted. If the decision-makers in Belgium would learn what choke tubes are supposed to do, it would be significantly better out-of-box. The new A5 is bound to give Benelli some fits, for it is priced competitively with the Benelli M2, weighs half a pound less and has superior shell-handling. Overall, I think the Browning A5 is an upland hunting gun with a bright future.
Copyright 2012 by Randy Wakeman. All rights reserved.