A new 20 bore which delivers on every level, as Alex Flint discovers
Apparently, for any product to truly be a success in this day and age it seems it must be offered in a bewildering array of models and specifications. Take technology giant Apple, for example. Once known for making a few uniquely stylish products to exacting standards, in 10 years its range of products has ballooned. Each year brings an array of granular changes to existing concepts, each apparently worthy of holding a new name and creating a brand new product in an increasingly crowded and confused marketplace.
While it would be, perhaps, a little unfair to tar the shooting world with the same brush, it is difficult to argue that this new mode of consumer culture, the demand for newer and better branded things on a yearly basis, has not had some influence.
The year 2017 has seen Browning launch no less than 14 new variants of its shotguns, including eight new guns based on the 725 action. Guns carrying the 725 moniker have been on the market for around five years now, but given the somewhat loyal nature of the sporting man or woman and the positive reception these guns have received perhaps it’s not surprising the big manufacturer is keen to make the most of the market.
So, just what has changed between the old B725 Hunter Premium and the B725 Hunter Premium we have on test this month? Mechanically this gun is the same as any other B725, and a good thing too as this action continues the long heritage of the original B25 over-under shotgun, bringing with it the excellent reliability and strength for which Browning shotguns are renowned.
The latest Browning technologies relating to chokes, back-boring and recoil absorbing pads are all present and correct, but as you might expect the real changes to be found are in the gun’s aesthetics.
Browning describes the visual appeal of this gun as ‘reaching new heights’ and it is certainly difficult to disagree – to my eye the engraving design, wood and finishing are all a significant step up over the ‘old’ Hunter Premium and really mark the gun out as being something rather more special than the entry level Hunter model.
A huge improvement
The most obvious change is found in the stock, where, aside from some subtle changes to the overall shape, we find a rounded semi-pistol grip (main image shows a different grip from the test gun). This is a huge improvement both visually and in the hand, being far more comfortable and bringing the gun a far more elegant overall appearance in 20 bore form.
This visual appeal is further enhanced by a change at the fore-end from a tulip or Schnabel-style fore-end to a rounded, tapered design. As a result the gun is far less aggressively masculine and looks really quite pretty.
The quality of the wood found on the gun is apparently still Browning’s grade three, as on the first generation B725 Hunter Premium, however in the flesh it looks a significant improvement. There is plenty of figuring on display and the standard of oil finish applied is very impressive indeed. Chequering is perhaps a little coarse on the fore-end, however on the grip it is perfect and provides plenty of purchase, complementing the rounded semi-pistol grip and making for one of the most comfortable ‘off the shelf’ guns available today. The shape of the fore-end is also notably improved, giving plenty of room for the hand and sitting naturally, whatever position you choose.
In designing this gun Browning has chosen particularly to aim for the more traditional, classical game shooting man or woman, and this is certainly carried through into the engraving. Though still, sadly, a little shallow, the engraving has been machined to the standard one would expect of a gun at this price point. The designs, however, have improved immeasurably: gone are the odd radiant ‘waves’, replaced by traditional foliate scroll surrounding game scene vignettes.
One side of the action has pheasants being flushed out onto open fields, the other a pleasing pair of woodcock bursting from the trees. On the top lever a pheasant head takes centre stage. Only underneath is the gun a little bare. Overall, however, the effect is very impressive indeed and makes for an entirely satisfying package.
Engineering: 8/10 Very difficult to criticise – solid and well built.
Handling: 9/10 Tremendous fun without being flighty.
Looks & finishing: 8/10 A huge improvement over the previous generation.
Reliability & customer service: 9/10 Very rarely seen for repair.
Value: 9/10 This utterly delightful shotgun will be in a crowded marketplace but looks worth the asking price.
View from the gun shop
This is a really lovely little 20 bore gun, and might just be enough to give those Beretta devotees out there a pause for thought when passing by the racks in their local gunshop. It has been attractively engraved and our test gun’s woodwork has been very well finished, making a nice though relatively unremarkable bit of wood look quite special. The rounded pistol grip (main image shows a different gun) really suits the gun and is indicative of what Browning seems to have been aiming for here; in many ways this is a more refined, less challenging version of the B725 and an attempt to bring some slightly more classical appeal to a modern gun.
Of course, this is still very much a Browning and so features all their bells and whistles such as Invector DS multichokes and Inflex II recoil absorbing pads. You get a full set of chokes and a slimmer Inflex pad in the hard case which has been very nicely lined with a soft black material, lending the gun a more premium feel compared to the bare hard moulded plastic of cheaper models in the range. The gun has a mechanical action – always useful for a smaller bore gun given the range of cartridges out there – and looks well placed to compete with the likes of the Beretta 690 Field, Rizzini Aurum and various Caesar Guerini guns.
In the field
If the improved looks of this gun went a fair way to wiping away my doubts about the merits of another version of the B725, pulling the trigger left those doubts far behind. The 30” barrels seem perfect for this 20 bore gun, no doubt contributing to the 6lb 8oz overall weight, but also giving superb handling characteristics and providing enough heft to make this feel as serious a game gun as it looks. The point of balance is just forward of the hinge pin, making for a very positive mount every time, and the mechanical action means excellent and consistent trigger pulls. The shape of the stock was very comfortable on my cheek and the gun moved absolutely fluidly, as you would hope of a 20 bore, but without ever being erratic or flighty. The recoil absorbing pad provided security in the shoulder and some cushioning but did not grab on my clothing as they so often can. Keeping the gun moving on the line of targets felt entirely natural and recoil was dealt with very well. An extended trigger guard tang or slightly deeper engraving would be most welcome, but for the price it really is very difficult to complain. All in all, the B725 Hunter UK Premium II is a lovely little gun and proves worthy of its existence.
Utterly delightful shotgun worth the asking price