A few years ago, Browning introduced the Maxus, which quickly replaced the venerable and popular Gold as the company's flagship semi-auto. (Gold fans might want to check out the raised-receiver Silver, which has the same gas operating system and is still in production.)
Overall, the Maxus represented a refinement of the Gold. It's lighter and more ergonomic and has a slightly more versatile gas system. I own a Maxus, and it's a great gun.
However, Browning unveiled another semi-auto last year that might challenge the Maxus for flagship status. The new A5 was a friendly face to many, with its familiar name and hump-backed receiver. Generations of hunters — mostly waterfowlers — grew up shooting the original Auto-5, or old Humpback as it was affectionately called.
While the Maxus and A5 are in many ways very different, they also share several similar attributes. For this comparison, I used my own 3½-inch-chambered Maxus and 3-inch A5. Let's take a closer look at these two 12-gauge shotguns vying for top-dog title among Browning's autoloaders.
The Maxus is a gas-operated semi-auto, powered by what Browning calls the Power Drive Gas System. The sealed gas piston has larger ports and is integrated with the piston sleeve for cleaner operation and greater load versatility. My Maxus handles all but the lowest-velocity loads (around 1,100 fps), digesting with ease 2¾-inch, 7/8-ounce target rounds up to the heaviest 3½-inch magnums, and everything in between. I've even run some short 2½-inch 1-ounce Venatum bismuth loads through it with no problems.
The A5 is recoil operated, but not in the same sense as the original Auto-5, which had a long-recoiling barrel that moved backwards upon ignition to cycle the action. Instead, the new A5 has what Browning is calling the Kinematic Drive operating system. A recoil spring inside the bolt compresses upon firing to cycle the action. Essentially, it's an inertia system, not unlike that found on Benelli semi-autos, except for one notable exception — the firing pin retaining pin fits into the bolt from the top, not the side, so it's much less likely to work loose.
Again, load versatility is excellent with the A5. I've shot everything from 1-ounce target and game loads at around 1,250 fps all the way up to 3-inch Hevi-Shot Speed Ball at an incredible 1,635 fps. During a recent trap outing, I ran a whole box of low-velocity 2 ¾-inch, 1 1/8-ounce Rio target rounds at only 1,150 fps through the A5 without a hiccup. It even cycled the short 2½-inch bismuth load with no problems. This year, Browning is offering a 3½-inch chambered A5, and although I haven't shot it yet, I expect load versatility to be likewise outstanding.
Recoil guns have a reputation for kicking harder than gas guns, and here the nod goes to the Maxus, which in my opinion is slightly softer shooting. However, post-shoot cleanup is much easier with the A5, since there isn't a piston to deal with. Browning has given both guns excellent recoil pads. The Maxus is outfitted with a soft Inflex pad designed to deflect recoil forces down and away from the face. The A5 has an even thicker Inflex II recoil pad that does an excellent job of cushioning the shoulder from the forces of inertia-induced recoil. It's also slicker than the Inflex pad, for less hang-up during gun mount.
Both guns have pancake-flat ventilated ribs. The Maxus sports a lone ivory front bead, while the A5 has a red-bar front sight and white mid-bead. Both guns have the quick-loading Speed Load Plus feature, an easily removed TurnKey magazine plug, sling studs and Dura-Touch finish on synthetic stock models, and shim kits for customizing length of pull, drop and cast.
Both guns also share the same .742-inch overbored barrel and extra-long Vector Pro lengthened forcing cone for improved patterns. However, the Maxus is threaded for the proven Invector-Plus choke tube system, while the A5 is threaded for the new Invector-DS system. DS stands for Double Seal, since a brass band at the bottom of the tube seals out gasses to keep the choke's exterior cleaner. Invector-DS chokes are ¾-inch longer than Invector-Plus, and threads are located at the top of the tube, not the bottom. Invector-DS is a fine enough system, but my sole gripe is any aftermarket Invector-Plus chokes already acquired won't work in the A5, requiring yet another set of choke tubes.
Traditionalists might be turned off by the Maxus' futuristic looks. Instead of a magazine cap, it has a squared-off Speed Lock Forearm, which uses a latch similar to a double's to secure the forearm and barrel. The front sling attachment is also integrated into the latch. The A5 has a traditional, yet robust, magazine cap which holds the forearm and barrel in place.
Then, of course, there's the A5's humpbacked receiver, which evokes a sense of nostalgia. That hump also aids in target acquisition, providing a rear sighting plane, which Browning has now dubbed the Humpback Acquisition Advantage. Shoulder an A5 and you'll immediately notice the difference compared to a rounded receiver gun, such as the Maxus.
Although my Maxus has a 3½-inch chamber and the A5 a 3-inch, the A5's receiver is about a half-inch longer. This is to accommodate the A5's recoiling, inertia-operated bolt. As a result, even though both test guns had 26-inch barrels, the A5 was slightly longer overall.
The A5 weighs more than the Maxus, but by how much is debatable, since my figures differed from Browning's published weights. Although the Maxus weighs slightly less, the A5 still feels lighter to me. Browning also has a name for this phenomenon: Ergo Balanced, meaning the A5 is balanced to have a light and lively between-the-hands feel. Not that the Maxus is a club, for it's also very ergonomic and responsive, but in hand the A5 feels lighter. This is probably due to the A5's moving parts being centrally located in the receiver, while the piston straddling the magazine tube gives the Maxus a slightly weight-forward feel.
Both guns have gold-colored triggers, but the edge here goes to the Maxus, which is equipped with an incredibly crisp Lightning Trigger. One wouldn't think a shotgun trigger matters much, but once you've shot the Maxus, you'll notice the difference. While the A5's trigger looks similar, it's just a standard trigger — not a bad one, mind you, but not quite as crisp. Both guns have large trigger guards that'll accommodate heavy gloves.
The Maxus has a magazine cutoff, which allows a shell to be removed from the chamber without releasing another one from the magazine — a handy feature, both from a safety standpoint and for when a duck load needs to be quickly swapped for a goose load. However, the cutoff switch is inconveniently located on the left side of receiver near the forearm where it's hard to reach and can dig into the leading hand if the forearm is gripped too far back.
While the original Auto-5 had a similar magazine cutoff, the new A5 doesn't. Instead, there's a bolt hold back button conveniently located on the bottom of the receiver just in front of the trigger guard. This is typical of inertia guns, since the bolt can be pulled back freely without releasing a shell from the magazine. However, of all the inertia guns out there, the A5's bolt holdback is one of the most user-friendly.
Each gun has surprisingly different safety buttons. While both are conveniently located behind the trigger, the Maxus has a standard, large, round safety. The A5 has an equally large safety, but it curves to extend up to the receiver, accommodating the trigger finger much like an indexing pad on a pistol.
So which gun is better? I don't know if I can conclusively say. Both shotguns are so different and so similar in so many ways that it's hard to declare one an overall winner. While I love my Maxus, using it for everything from clays and quail to geese and turkeys, I also bought the A5. For me, that was the only way to reconcile the issue.
One thing's for certain — Browning has a couple of winners on its hands, each equally worthy to carry the legendary gun maker's banner into the 21st century.