Browning’s New Autoloading Shotgun: the Maxus

By Randy Wakeman

Browning Maxus
Maxus 12 gauge. Illustration courtesy of Browning Arms.

The mainstay of the Browning autoloading shotgun has been the “Gold” gas-operated series, and its offspring, for some fifteen years by now. It was the Gold that spawned the Winchester brand SX-2 and SX-3 models, the Gold renamed as the Silver in 20 gauge, but moving closer to the non-speed loading SX-3 in 12 gauge. The new Maxus has been promoted and hyped for nearly a year now, but it has finally arrived here. Not just a cosmetic change, the Maxus is a fresh new action though the basic “active valve” system has its roots in the successful Gold autoloading series.

A new autoloading shotgun is big news from Browning, particularly now as it hasn’t happened for fifteen years. I had the chance to shoot a couple prototypes early this year, but it was just recently that I was finally able to get my hands on the final production models. Currently available in only 3-1/2 inch chambered synthetic-stocked 12 gauges, 3 inch guns are due end of this year with highly polished blue and walnut models apparently scheduled for first quarter 2010.

It is available in matte black or Mossy Oak Duckblind camo, in 26 or 28 inch barrel length. The way it worked out, I evaluated a pair of Maxus shotguns, a black 28 inch and a camouflage 26 inch both with 3-1/2 inch chambers.

A lot of hay has been made by various shotgun manufactures about what their guns will cycle or won’t cycle properly in terms of shotshell payload and weight. Human nature being what it is, it seems that we now want 12 gauge autos to cycle 20 gauge payloads and 10 gauge payloads as well; we also want our 20 gauges to work perfectly with 28 gauge loads and loads that were once the domain of the 12 gauge as well. Shotshells do vary in quality, intensity, and gas production so it is a continuing challenge for manufacturers to give precise attributes to loadings that are anything but consistent. Professional ballisticians will tell you that it a bit difficult to come up with truly stable 12 gauge loads with much below a one ounce payload. A light payload, a large case, and a combustion chamber size that changes drastically when the trigger is pulled can make this a challenge.

Originally, I was advised that the Maxus was good to go with 1-1/8 oz. loads, the standard 1200 fps variety, on up. Currently, Browning’s website-based checklist claims “shoots all field to magnum loads, 1 oz. shells on up.” So, the first thing I did with both guns was feed them 1 oz. B & P Mach 2 loads right out of the box with no cleaning and no break-in. Two things were readily apparent: both guns handled these shells flawlessly, and recoil was virtually non-existent. You can just barely feel the action working; that’s all there is. Moving on, still with no cleaning, both guns were fed 7/8 oz. Winchester “Super Speed” loads, shells that are essentially generic, low-cost promo loads. Again, there were no problems whatsoever. The Maxus load handling ability, based on the initial testing, is better than described and better than promised by Browning.

Browning Maxus in action.
Randy Wakeman firing the Maxus. Photo by Patrick Flanigan.

With any new autoloader, it is standard procedure to give it a thorough cleaning to remove the packing and shipping oils and metal protectants. That’s when it instantly became obviously who wondrously easy it is to maintain this shotgun. Browning’s “Speedlock” forearm eliminated forearm nuts and their associated issues. Push a button, lift a lever, and off comes the forearm with no hassle. This feature alone obsoletes this facet of many semi-auto shotguns. It is common knowledge that Beretta 391 forearm nuts can seize in place, to the immense frustration of their owners. Some Remington 1100 owners have been perpetually irritated by forearm caps that quickly work themselves loose.

The speed-loading feature, a Browning trademark since the addition of the two piece shell carrier on the A-5 (also found on the B2000) is back on the Maxus, and I found it to be better than ever. Whether empty or with one or two shells fired, shells are loaded in the same manner from the bottom of the receiver, with no looking and no hassle. The Maxus adds speed unloading as well: the magazine is quickly effortlessly unloaded from the bottom. The magazine cut-off has returned, meaning you can quickly empty the chamber before crossing a fence or jumping across a ditch. You can also quickly jettison a duck load from the chamber, and toss in your goose load when indicated. The same goes for a quick dump of a pheasant load, popping in a more suitable coyote shell at a moment’s notice without disturbing the loaded magazine. The Maxus has the handiest, most efficient shell-handling abilities of any autoloader on the market.

The “Active Valve” gas system has been given a brand new treatment. The smooth magazine tube has been replaced by a segmented “camshaft style” tube, with a rough circular machined surface. It has the effect of isolating exhaust gases to the muzzle end of the gas piston, the portion of the magazine tube towards the receiver remains clean as a whistle, looking like the gun has never been fired after a half-case of shells. It is the cleanest gas system I’ve seen on an autoloader, effectively inhibiting gas fouling migration from below the valve into the action.

Both the 26 and 28 inch Maxus models are light and responsive. I liked the neutral balance of the 26 inch model a bit better. Both models are light, weighing in at just under 7 pounds. The Browning Golds have always been soft shooters, but yes, the Maxus is both lighter and softer-shooting than the vintage Browning Gold I directly compared it to. The combination of the new Browning gas action and the Inflex recoil pad really comes together in the Maxus. On any given day of ranges testing, I’ll have roughly one dozen shotguns at my side so I can do shot-to-shot comparison testing thoughout the load intensity range. For regular hunting and shooting, I’m focused on breaking the bird, dropping doves, or whacking pheasants so I’m not specificly “concentrating” on felt recoil levels.

At the range though, I can run three shells though a shotgun, change shotguns, and repeat. Then, stepping up the load, it is rinse and repeat again throughout the test array of shotguns, with the focus on recoil, not other areas. The Maxus is the softest shooting autoloader I’ve ever tested compared to any current production autoloader remotely near its just-under 7 pound weight. It is softer shooting than the Benelli Vinci, the heavier Beretta 391, the heavier Remington 105 CTi II, the Benelli SBE II, and the heavier Beretta 390 / 3901. Gas-operated guns have always been more pleasant to shoot than similarly-weighted recoil or fixed breech shotguns, but the Maxus out of the box takes soft-shooting 7 lb. shotguns to a new and better level of comfort. The combination of the new gas system and the remarkably effective Inflex pad come together to really turn “the jab into a gentle push theory” into reality.

In looking over the year’s crop of new offerings, there seems to be some sort of competition as to who can build the world’s ugliest shotgun. So, what of the Maxus? Well, in its current offerings of matte and camo, it cannot be considered a beauty, nor is it likely to be featured prominently inside the Louvre anytime soon. Matte may be code for “unpolished,” and camo dipped (as well as film grain affixed to plain wood) is about as authentic as artificial breasts. When it comes to the fabulous intrigue of highly textured plastic made by old-world craftsmen, Chuck Hawks has asked me what is more natural in the woods, wood or blobs of plastic. I confess that I have no quick answer to that one. As to the film and techno-polmyer excreted on field guns, the Maxus as presented is no different from a few others. In this case, however, there is hope.

The Maxus has trim, uncluttered lines. The Maxus’ reciever is robust and crisply defined, remincient of Super-X Model One to me. So, with walnut and highly polished blue offerings in the works from Browning, in this case there is hope for a return to a finished arm far more easy on the eyes than some of the others we have seen lately.

From the moment you pull back the cocking handle, the strength of the Maxus’ mainspring is clear, giving me the impression that this gun was to be a tough, 3-1/2 inch waterfowler or turkey gun from the start. This, too me, makes the tremendous load handling capability all the more impressive.

I, for one, have been continually amazed that worthless center beads are so often included as a “feature” on shotguns. Worthless at best, often distracting, they serve no purpose that I can discern, particularly on field guns. I’m glad the Maxus has a white bead at the muzzle, with no center pin or bead afterthought to distract the shooter.

The Maxus is shim-adjustable for cast and drop, and also has two quarter inch spacers included so you can add up to a half-inch length of pull if you prefer with what comes in the box. I added one spacer, then took it off after a little shooting but did replace the installed shim with the cast-off shim that gave a bit more drop. Then, the Maxus fit me superbly well.

A quick action cleaning of the Maxus can be performed in just a minute or so, with no tools at all required. The forearm unlocks in a flash, leaving a quick wipe on the magazine tube and gas valve within easy access. Pull out the cocking handle, and the two-piece bolt is easily removed, cleaned, and replaced. I won’t say the Maxus takes itself apart and cleans itself, but it comes close.

The Maxus trigger, billed as the “Lightning Trigger System” is presented as the finest ever offered in an autoloading shotgun. Not as far as I’m concerned, it isn’t. Both Maxus triggers broke at 6-1/4 pounds or so, with a bit of stutter in the pull. As has become commonplace in Browning triggers, they are far too heavy to be considered “the finest,” and the touted fast-locktime is a trivial matter to shotgun as opposed to your long-range varminter that aspires to pop a prairie dog at 900 yards. It is an adequate field trigger, but not remarkable in my opinion. The Maxus will need a trigger job just like most all Gold / Silver Browning models I’ve ever tested,which is over fifteen at last count. Recently tested Benelli and Beretta triggers were far better out of the box than this “Lightning” trigger. I’ll call it wonderfully adequate.

The “turnkey” addition for instant removal of your waterfowl and migratory bird magazine plug is a clever addition, and though not typically an area that causes great consternation, it is does allow removal of your magazine plug with just the turn of your car key. It is more convenient than any other system on the market, made so by complimenting the speed lock forearm.

Inside the Maxus buttstock resides the beefy mainspring, or return spring. The dirtier-actioned autoloaders have invariably had the issue of migrating residues that, given time, find their way into this often ignored but vitally important component. Particularly in the case of waterfowlers that sometimes use their shotguns as canoe paddles, moisture and the rust it may eventually generate is a concern. Browning has added a porthole to the side of the mainspring tube, making it an easy matter to add a drop or two of oil without any further disassembly. It is a very good and thoughtful addition, though guns retrieved from the bottom of the lake should still get a complete strip, clean, relube, and reassembly regimen.

The 3-1/2 Maxus models are so versatile as presented and as tested, I’m forced to wonder what advantage there could possibly be to the 3 inch version, as it can do little in this platform except add a trivial amount of weight with a shorter chamber, and the 3-1/2 inch Maxus already has far more load range capability than 12 gauge hunters can use. I guess I’ll be stuck wondering about that for some time.

The Browning Maxus is an exceedingly rare shotgun; it is finally the shotgun that lives up to the hyperbole. It has the cleanest, most versatile gas system ever put into an autoloading shotgun. It comes very close to taking itself apart and putting itself back together with no tools required, making regular maintenance the task of only a couple of minutes. It eliminates the forearm nut and all related issues associated with a threaded forearm nut. It is lighter and better handling than any 3-1/2 inch shotgun I can think of. It is lighter, better handling, and softer shooting than most 3 inch autoloaders as well. It has load cycling ability that meets or exceeds that of any shotgun on the market, and has a group of shell-handling abilities such as speed loading, speed unloading, and a magazine cut-off that combine into a system that no other autoloader can match.

It is Browning’s finest autoloading shotgun effort to date and the most versatile autoloading shotgun made today. The Maxus is the magnum opus of the autoloading shotgun.

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Copyright 2009 by Randy Wakeman. All rights reserved.