Everyone dreams of owning a hand-made gun. With this latest release, Browning have sought to make this an achievable reality. Alex Flint investigates.
Overall Rating: 92%
Pros: Superb handling
Price as reviewed: £9,800
Certain names in the world of shooting carry a great weight, and Browning’s Custom Shop is no exception. Among the most popular names in the shooting world, Browning’s heritage and links with the Fabrique National d’Herstal in Belgium have long made their hand-made firearms sought after. However, as with all hand-made guns, they are often out of reach for the majority of sportsmen and women. The new Browning B15 Beauchamp, however, is looking to change this state of affairs.
Newly renamed as the John M. Browning Collection, Browning’s custom shop has conceived this gun as an item with a custom finish befitting the B25, but without the resultant 24-month build time. First conceived in 2015, hence the name, the B15 is a gun built on the B725 action, constructed from the same parts as these standard, mass produced guns, but with many hours of hand finishing and engraving added by the master craftsmen at their Belgian plant. Starting at under £10,000, the Browning B15 sits between the hand-made B25 (starting from £13,600) and the top end of Browning’s mass-produced guns, the Heritage Hunter (around £6,000).
Visually, the gun is very striking indeed thanks to the shallow action inherent in the B725 frame with the addition of sideplates. Any sight of seams, pins and screws are hidden away under a huge amount of stunning engraving work, with up to 40 hours of hand engraving time put into each gun.
The game scene engraving available is very attractive, however I would go for the Acanthus scroll engraving featured on the ‘C’ and ‘E’ grade guns. Here you have beautiful classical motifs virtually popping off the surface of the gun thanks to the superbly executed engraving design covering over almost every part of the gun, from the lovely extended trigger guard tang, through to the very attractive capped semi-pistol grip and even to the metal skeleton butt plate.
The best aspects of the engraving, however, are to be found in the recurring green man motif. Pulled straight out of our common European folklore, one peers out at you from the pin of the top lever, a beautiful and large piece of Acanthus foliage hanging from a ring of his chin in the style of a Gothic door knocker, this companion holding the keys to the breech of your gun rather than a door. On the bottom of the action body, one finds a large, handsome face peering out at you, looking for all the world like Oberon pulled from the pages of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and giving the gun a real spirit. It is only a shame this image is slightly broken up by the many seams visible on the bottom of the action body, as is necessary with any Browning guns thanks to the numerous moving parts involved in opening and closing the gun.
The fore-end is removed with a lever, and though it has the engraved pins you might expect to see on the three-piece fore-end of a high-grade Browning, it is in fact a single, whole item. This is a bit of a shame, as this is a style I find very attractive, however, if you keep your gun in a slip rather than the handsome leather case the gun is provided in, your compatriots in the field need never know this is a dummy fore-end, as it is a very convincing piece of deceit.
Checkering has been carried out to a very high standard, with a multitude of very fine lines cut into the grip and the fore-end. The trigger and trigger guard, however, are both a little brutal in appearance and the trigger guard, though it has a lovely extended tang, has an unfortunate forward kink quite out of kilter with the refined lines of the majority of the gun.
This is in stark contrast to the safety catch, for example, which has been well engraved and has a pleasingly grippy feel under the thumb.
A truly special gun
The wooden parts of the gun are truly special, beautifully figured and with a good straight grain through the hand. The wood to metal fit is excellent, with very little excessive wood left behind and lovely carved teardrops at the rear of the sideplates charmingly carved to make them look like the fletching of an arrow. The wood has been given a superb oil finish and has been really brought to life with a deep, rich colour.
This is offset beautifully by the skeleton metal butt plate of our test gun which is a superb addition – though may prove slightly irritating for your gunsmith should your stock need any alterations.
Visually, then, the gun is a triumph – and pleasingly the gun shoots just as well as it looks. In the field there is essentially nothing to criticise. Perhaps it is a bit weighty and might be a bit wearing on a long day, however if my success on clays is anything to go by you won’t be worrying about the weight on your arm when you have a few memorable birds lodged in your mind. And all for a very reasonable price tag for what is a sporting firearm from one of the biggest names to enjoy owning as much as shooting.
Browning B15 in the field
Both instructor Bruce Marks and I found the B15 to be an absolute joy to shoot on a lovely clear day at Grange Farm Shooting School. The point of balance is right on the hinge pin and the gun mounts absolutely beautifully and totally consistently as a result. The gun is delightfully easy to keep on line and swings in a lovely linear fashion, even when faced with some very tricky and very quick simultaneous pairs. The ability of this gun to take on longer, traditional game targets with the same ease and aplomb as instinctive, snap shooting is quite remarkable.
Trigger pulls are very positive and thanks to the weight of the gun there is almost no felt recoil and absolutely no muzzle flip. There is plenty in the hand without there being a noticeable swell into the palm, and the fore-end fills your front hand in a satisfying manner, but again without feeling too big. The gun does shoot fairly flat, as you would expect of a Browning, however I found this does make the experience of shooting the gun slightly more instinctive.
Mechanically the gun is incredibly sound, as you would expect of any gun built by Browning, operating in a satisfying manner and feeling suitably tight, though without the stiffness often associated with new guns. Ejection was very strong, and the gun was a pleasure to use in every aspect – the only black marking being our test gun was non-autosafe, though this is easily rectified by any good gunsmith.
When I think about shooting this gun I am left with a grin on my face, and I really cannot give this gun any higher praise than that.
View from the gun shop, by Bill Elderkin
This gun offers a heady combination for your investment; the history, craftsmanship and skill of Browning’s Belgian gunmaking, finishing and engraving, together with the peerless engineering skill and precision of the best modern manufacturing methods. Taking Browning’s very popular and successful 725 action, this “Herstal Grade” gun is honed, fitted, engraved and finished by hand to the standards you would expect of their custom shop.
The B15 is available at various levels of finish, starting at ‘B’ and finishing with ‘E’ at the top end as on our test gun. These grades are differentiated by the engraving pattern, grade of wood and extra aesthetic items such as a metal pistol grip cap, dummy three-piece fore-end and skeleton butt plate, all of which look superb.
All grades of gun are completely hand-engraved and hand-finished to an excellent standard. These guns are currently only available in 12 bore guise with either 28”, 30” or 32” barrels with 2.” chambers. They are back-bored and steel shot proofed and come with a full set of five stainless steel Invector DS chokes.
The gun has a solid top rib and our test gun with 30” barrels tipped the scales at just over 7lbs 10oz, though the balance of the gun is such that this weight is not really felt in the hands.
For me, these guns look well worth the money. They have been given a huge amount of skilled attention by hand and the reality is a fully hand-made gun of this quality would set you back a significant amount more than the B15’s asking price, even in its top end ‘E’ grade guise. This £10,000 – £15,000 price point is becoming an increasingly competitive and interesting niche, now occupied by the likes of the Beretta Jubilee at £14,750 and a number of SC3-grade guns from Perazzi. The Browning B15 looks well placed for success, and is well worth your time and interest.
This gun has its roots in the B25 and is unquestionably successful as a result.