Browning Gold Superlight Hunter 20 Gauge Shotgun
Browning has always defined "shotgun" to me. I've always loved to hunt with A-5's, and I still do. I've also spent many pleasant hours afield with B2000's. Double Autos, and many Browning B-80's.
It took Browning a long time to come up with a semi-auto to displace the A-5, and they finally scored a home run with their ever-expanding "Gold" series of semi-autos. The gas system is superior to most, if not all, current production semi-automatic shotguns. I've owned at least seven Browning Golds by now. All have been decidedly unfussy in what you feed them, and performed flawlessly.
They are also among the softest shooting, if not the softest shooting semi-autos you can buy. Fit is critical with any shotgun, which is why I had requested a "Browning Superlight Field Hunter" to review. The semi-squared receiver Field Hunter version is shim adjustable. Not having the opportunity to pre-mount this gun, that was the logical choice, but a Superlight Hunter (round receiver) was what arrived. My initial concern proved unnecessary, as this gun fit me spectacularly well right out of the box.
The Gold 20 Superlight Hunter with a 26 inch barrel as supplied weighs 6 lbs. 10 oz. with the factory Invector Plus 'Full' choke installed and has a 2007 MSRP of $1,083. I was immediately impressed by the superb balance and handling. It just flies up to the shoulder, effortlessly, and displays perfectly neutral balance. Frankly, I was surprised that Browning could find 7 ounces or so to shave off of the gun, but find it they did, and in exactly the right place: the magazine tube. Apparently the new titanium alloy magazine tube offers the weight savings and gives this gun its exceptional balance and handling.
The trigger breaks right at a heavy 6-1/2 pounds out of the box, hardly unusual in these litigious days, but I'll take care of that in short order. What I've long felt was the world's best semi-auto safety is now even better. The "can't miss" triangular safety is contoured into the side of the receiver, for lack of a better word. It functions just the same (this one is a dream to get take off) and makes an attractive gun look even better.
Like most Golds, this model has both a full 5-shot capacity (one in the chamber, four in the magazine) and speed loading like my A-5's and B2000's. Speed loading is a far more valuable feature than you might think in the middle of a busy dove field. You just keep feeding shells into the bottom of the receiver, while other guns leave you breaking them open and closed or hunting for buttons or other slide releases. It is a high volume dove or waterfowl hunter's dream come true.
I directly compared this Gold SL to a standard 20 gauge Gold Hunter with the same length 26 inch barrel. On a digital scale that reads out in 1/10th of a pound, the original Gold read 7.0 pounds, the Superlight Hunter 6.5 pounds. So, Browning has certainly delivered on the half-pound weight savings, with some variance possible due to wood density. Aside from the lighter weight, the SL Hunter features a magazine cut-off not available in the first Golds.
I was anxious to hit the dove field to give this Gold Superlight a test as soon as possible. After an abbreviated patterning session, I decided that the Invector Plus modified tube gave the best 40 yard patterns with the 1 ounce, 1280 fps loads I was shooting; the full choke was a bit splotchy.
The gun handled like a dream, and shot where I looked. A limit of doves was quickly snagged, most between 45 and 50 yards. It is easy to appreciate the safety, right where I think it should be, behind the trigger guard, and the speed-loading was immediately put into play. The recoil was mild, yet slightly more than the standard Gold Hunter. Due to physics, lighter weight means more recoil. A fixed breech shotgun of this weight would pound you into the ground in no time, but after shooting the Gold both for patterning and for doves, my shoulder felt like I hadn't been shooting at all.
There are a few fine points to the feel and balance of a gun. Sometimes we wonder why things aren't the same in the field as in the gun shop. Naturally, it is important to test the fit of a shotgun wearing the type of clothing in which we intend to shoot and hunt. Also, the balance is not exactly the same in a pro shop, as the gun is not loaded. A shell in the chamber and a pair of shells in the magazine tube can change things in a small but tangible way.
Browning got this one just about perfect. In my opinion it is the best handling 20 gauge semi-auto on the market today. It allowed me to do what I want to do, ignore the gun and shoot with my eyes. It is a joy to carry and smooth to swing. In fact, if the gun were any lighter it would tend to get a bit whippy.
Normally, I'm not a big fan of adding big red gaudy lettering to a gun. It looks tacky and, in most cases, just plain cheesy. The style of the Superlight Hunter is anything but that. The two-tone black anodizing on the receiver is striking, and the "Gold SL" is tastefully done.
In this age of crate-wood and "Xtra Wood" that really means extra plastic, I found the standard Browning walnut to be a breath of fresh air. The wood is perfectly balanced in color and tone; it is an attractive dark stain with some mineral streaks and character. It may be "Grade I" to Browning, but it is far better than the straight grained canoe paddle stuff seen more and more often. The wood to metal fit is well done, as is the rubber butt pad, as I'd expect from Browning.
The gun functioned flawlessly out of the box, ejecting the spent hulls strongly 10 to 12 feet away. There was not so much as a suspicion of a failure to eject or a failure to feed.
If you can't tell by now, I am just thrilled with this scattergun. Given the requisite trigger job to get the pull down to a clean 4 pounds or so, you have a sweet handling, soft shooting, quick shouldering upland semi-auto that will happily digest 3/4 ounce promo loads to 1-5/16 ounce three inch shells and everything in between. For dove, quail, partridge, grouse, pheasant, and turkey with the right choke, this is a gun that I'll be proud to hunt with for a very long time.
I'd be less than candid if I said that my A-5's are going to be retired from the field anytime soon, you can bet that they are not. But, at the end of a long muddy or snowy day through Illinois ditches there isn't a shotgun I'd rather be carrying than this Browning Superlight Hunter 20 gauge. In a short while, that's exactly what I'll be doing.
There never will be a perfect "all-around shotgun," horses for courses and all that. But this gun comes as close as anything I've ever experienced in recent memory. Hats off to Browning for this beautiful refinement of what has long been one of the best performing semi-autos that can be had.
Copyright 2006 by Randy Wakeman. All rights reserved.