As thoughts turn to next season, many Shots may be considering a change of gun. Mark Heath helps a client choose a new 20-bore
The shooting season is over for another year and guns that have seen action are being sent to the gunsmith for a strip, clean and service to ensure they are ready for next season. This is vital, especially if they have been used in wet weather, as water may find its way into the action, causing damage that remains unseen until the stock is removed. Water can also get under the rib, which will eventually lift after the rust has set into the barrels.
Change of gun?
Some shooters may also be looking for a change of gun for the 2019-20 game season. Consequently, the gun on test this month is the Browning 725 20-bore — an over-and-under of interest to anyone thinking about trying a 20-bore in the field next year.
Already we have a lot of clients booked in for a gun fitting in the coming months, as they are planning new guns for next season. One of my clients, who shoots regularly through the season, decided he wanted a change. He currently shoots a pair of 12-bore over-and-unders with 30in barrels.
He shoots to a good standard on mixed partridge and pheasant days in Gloucestershire and high birds on Exmoor but is looking to add to his gun collection. We talked through the options and decided to look at a number of 20-bore over-and-unders with a view to buying a pair and completing the fitting in time for the partridges in September.
We discussed some of the high-end pairs that can be bespoke fitted, but delivery is not usually less than 12 months so this option was fairly quickly discarded. It also requires a visit to the factory, taking time out of an already busy diary, so we looked at more mainstream factory pairs from Beretta and Browning.
The requirement was for a matched pair with well-figured wood and some decent engraving, but before deciding we had a test session at the shooting school to determine his preferences. We ruled out 28in barrels fairly quickly, as he is a very good shot and the shorter barrels would need some controlling and be less pointable on the higher birds.
The test involved a two-hour session shooting a range of targets including some extreme angles off the 130ft tower with a decent south-westerly wind behind them.
We took out the Browning 725, Beretta 690 and Silver Pigeon together with a Miroku MK60 with 32in barrels. I like 20-bores with 32in barrels — they are not for everyone but I shoot the 725 with the long tubes. I also have an old Beretta 687 20-bore, which has 30in and 32in barrels.
The test narrowed the options down to the Browning 725 or the Miroku MK60. He shot both exceptionally well and almost went for the 32in barrels of the Miroku, but eventually settled on a pair of high-grade Browning 725s. We then did a gun fitting and I am confident that Browning will be able to put the exact measurements required on the factory stocks.
The Browning 725 is built in the Miroku factory in Japan. It is incredibly well made and rarely has problems. We have a number as demo guns and I have yet to have one repaired. They have a mechanical selective trigger with manual safety, which can be changed to auto-safe prior to delivery. There is a nice narrow game rib with a small brass bead, ventilated top rib and solid mid-rib.
The wood on the stock and fore-end on the entry-level 725 is attractive with good figuring. The overall weight of the gun is around 6lb 10oz with the 30in barrels, which weigh 1,252g. It is the weight which is normally the determining factor between Browning or Beretta 20-bores.
- The Beretta 690 with 30in barrels weighs 6lb 3oz and the barrels weigh 1,138g, making this a faster-handling gun, which can be a mixed blessing depending on your strength and shooting ability. The same principle applies to the Browning — it is down to personal preference and shooting capability, as both are great guns that represent excellent value for money.
- The Browning’s barrels are made on the monobloc principle. They have 3in chambers and are steel proofed.
- The Invector-DS multichokes feature a gas seal ring, which keeps the chokes clean, and delivers fantastic patterns.
- The stock is fitted with a polymer recoil pad, which is comfortable and absorbs recoil effectively. The standard stock measurements on the gun tested were excellent, with 15in length of pull, drop measurements of 1¼in and 2 1/16in with ⅛in cast — in short, great off-the-peg measurements.
- The 725 in 20-bore format has been around since 2013 and is now tried and tested with no vices.
And so to the gun test, starting as usual on the 40ft tower, shooting a variety of targets using only 21g No.7½ shot. These were dispensed with minimum effort. The gun was exceptionally smooth to shoot, with excellent trigger-pulls. The safety catch was typical of the Browning brand, snapping on and off easily with a positive click. The ejectors were perfectly timed, throwing the two cases within inches of each other 8ft or so away.
On to the high tower with a mixture of cartridges, including the 21g, some 24g No.8s, 28g No.6s, 28g No.4 ½s — new to the market this season — some 30g No.5s and, just to see if we could feel some pain, 32g No.5s. We had some amazing breaks on long clays using just quarter and half-chokes, and the felt recoil was minimal, even with the 30g and 32g cartridges from a manufacturer with a reputation for lively products.
All were very comfortable but then I am more scrum than scrum half. Those who are likely to feel recoil should stick with a 25g cartridge in
a 20-bore in No.6, or No.5 for higher
or late-season birds.
Comparing this 20-bore with either the Beretta 690 series or the Silver Pigeon is a bit like comparing Mercedes with BMW. Both will do the job but they each have slightly different handling characteristics. In the end it is down to personal choice.
- Action/barrels. Excellent finish. The design’s heritage can be traced back to the original design of John Moses Browning, so it is tried and tested. The 725 itself has been around since 2011. 20/20
- Trigger and ejectors. First class trigger pulls. The triggers are mechanical so there should be no inertia issues with light cartridges. 19/20
- Stock. The stocks have great dimensions off the shelf, but invest in having the fit of the gun checked to ensure that “it’s not the gun’s fault”. 19/20
- Handling. This is a great-handling 20-bore that will take on anything but the very highest birds. It is an absolute pleasure to shoot and delivers some devastating patterns. 20/20
- Value. For around £2000 you get a gun that will last a lifetime, provided you look after it. And there is always the grade 5 version if you want something special. 20/20
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Need to know
- Manufacturer: Browning
- UK distributor: Browning UK, tel 01235 514550
- Model: 725
- Bore: 20
- Barrels: 30in
- Action: Over-and-under ejector
- Weight: 6lb 10oz
- Price: £2000
For around £2000 you get a gun that will last a lifetime, provided you look after it.