In this life, there are — or will be — people, places and things that need no introduction nor explanation. John Wayne. The pyramids of Giza. Or the Great Wall of China, the only man-made structure visible from space.
And then there is John Moses Browning’s Auto-5, the first successful mass-produced autoloading shotgun, and as traditional a symbol as is the shining star atop a Christmas tree. Designed in 1898 and patented in 1900, Browning’s Auto-5, or A-5 as it soon came to be known, remained in production until 1998. The history behind the autoloader is somewhat convoluted. Browning originally offered the design to Winchester Arms, who refused the contractual terms he presented. The concept next was put to the Remington Arms Company; however, Remington’s president at the time, Marcellus Hartley, died of a heart attack as Browning was waiting outside his office. Though this initial opportunity was lost, Remington would later produce Browning’s design exclusively in the United States as the Model 11. Eventually, the A-5 would go to Fabrique Nationale (FN) in Belgium, and there it would stay, the relationship essentially unchanged, until 1976 when FN, along with the BC Miroku Company of Kochi, Japan, would buy Browning Arms, thus transferring production of the A-5, as well as other models, to the Japanese facility.
Now, more than a decade after production of the original A-5 had ceased, the folks in Morgan, UT, have seen fit to reintroduce this American shotgunning legend. But is this a true A-5 — the Humpback of old — or merely a 21st Century revisitation, minus the heart, soul and mechanical fortitude that made John Browning’s autoloader a legend?
At first glance, the new A-5 — at least the wood-cloaked version — doesn’t look much different from its predecessor. The squared receiver, aka The Hump, is there, and still provides a wonderfully enhanced sighting plane and quick target acquisition. The superb balance, excellent fit and the traditional lines are there, too; however, there are differences.
While it’s true this new A-5 is recoil-operated, the operating system isn’t the long-recoil technology of old; rather, a means of cycling the action in which both the barrel and the bolt move rearward for a distance slightly greater than the ammunition is long. This modern design, known technically as the Kinematic Drive System (KDS), relies on kinetic energy, i.e. physics, and specifically, the law of inertia, to cycle the action.
Browning’s latest does offer innovation and convenience from stem to stern. The Inflex II Technology recoil pad directs recoil down and away from the shooter’s cheek, while the company’s patented Dura-Touch Armor Coating helps protects the camouflaged metal finishes. The new A-5 does incorporate a novel twist on Browning’s Invector choke tube system, featuring what the company calls a Double Seal (DS) system. When these DS tubes are tightened into the muzzle (both flush-fitting and extended tubes are available), a brass band at the receiver end compresses against the inside wall of the barrel. This brass barrier minimizes gas residue and fouling on the tube threads, keeping the threads themselves cleaner and, thus, the tube easier to remove and install.
A quick glance and it’s obvious that quite a bit went into the design (read: convenience factor) of the new A-5. Checkered and substantially large, the crossbolt safety is located at the rear of the trigger guard, and is, for southpaws, easily reversed from starboard to port. An oversized bolt latch/release is positioned just ahead of the trigger guard. The autoloader features, as did Auto-5s for decades, Browning’s patented Speed Load system. Sliding a shotshell partially into the magazine automatically loads that initial round directly, and quite expediently, into the chamber; the magazine then holds an additional two (plugged) or four (unplugged) shotshells. Unloading the magazine is just as easy, with the Speed Load/Unload feature eliminating the need to cycle the bolt in order to eject each live round.
Initially available only in a 3-inch 12-gauge format, the new A-5 comes in a walnut/blued finish, as well as black matte composite and Mossy Oak camouflage patterns. Thanks in part to a lightweight aluminum alloy receiver, the A-5 tips the scales at just a hair under 7 pounds, and it sports a 14 1/4-inch length of pull. The autoloader includes, in addition to three choke tubes (full, modified and improved), a stock shim kit, and barrel options of 26, 28 and 30 inches.
See page 2 for more.
My Personal Report Card
I am not, by my own admission, a full-fledged member of the Auto-5 Fraternity, having only spent two duck seasons back in 1979 and ’80 behind the stock of my Uncle Jim’s Sweet 16. Despite my brief relationship with Uncle’s Auto-5, I did, however, very much enjoy the way that particular shotgun felt and handled, and now, some 30 years later, I find there’s really no difference between my personal Then versus Now.
I had the pleasure of being with the team of outdoor writers to whom the A-5 was introduced in South Dakota in September, 2011, and I, as did many of the others, walked away, overall, very pleased with the piece. Mechanically, I don’t recall as any of the half dozen test autoloaders proved problematic, though I do seem to remember some light dove loads, i.e. one-ounce or smaller charges, creating cycling issues in a handful of instances. Internally, the new Browning is simple — easy to break down, clean and otherwise maintain, and I’m a huge fan of elemental when it comes to internal firearm design. I like the square-backed receiver, and do feel the configuration allows for faster target acquisition and a wide-open sight picture. She is indeed light, carries nicely afield, and in the wood/blued format, looks right handsome. As for increased felt recoil from the recoil-operated shotgun, I didn’t notice anything I would consider substantial, and this regardless of whether I was shooting informal clays or flushing roosters. Oh, and the safety — I do like a big safety; one to the rear of the trigger, and a button large enough to work with while I’m wearing warm gloves.
Is there anything I don’t like about the new A-5? Old School as I am, the Speed Load feature is lost on me. I’m just not in that much of a hurry to reload, I reckon, and if a mallard or mourning dove escapes, so to speak, due to Empty Gun Syndrome — well, that’s just more time I get to spend afield. The positioning of the bolt latch, as it is underneath the receiver between the trigger guard and magazine port, proved troublesome to me. Several times over the course of the three days, I inadvertently popped a round out of the tube with a shotshell in the chamber by accidently hitting the bolt release. Perhaps I shouldn’t carry a loaded barrel-downward firearm in the palm of my hand while afield; however, I’ve done it for 40 years now with nary a mishap. It would be interesting to know if anyone else experienced this particular situation.
And then there’s the price tag, roughly $1,400 for a walnut gun, and $1,550 for a camo-clad model. Will Browning sell A-5s at these prices? Most certainly; the young goose gurus will love the Star Wars-esque look of the black composite version, while the Boomers should go ga-ga over the traditional walnut and blued steel.
By The Numbers, As Tested
Make/model – Browning A5
Gauge – 12-gauge, 3-inch
Operating system – Recoil/inertia, aka Kinematic Drive System
Barrel – 28 inches
Overall length – 50 inches
Weight – 6.13 pounds
Trigger pull – 4.14 pounds
Choke system – Invector DS (Double Seal); flush and extended
Safety – Crossbolt; reversible
Sights – Front fiber optic
Stock and forearm – Black synthetic (as tested); wood available
Metal, finish – Matte finish (as tested); blued available
Recoil pad – Inflex II Technology