Browning Custom B25 shotgun: Browning B25s have always been popular both as game and clay shooting guns in Britain. They helped to establish the dominance of the stack-barrelled gun here, and have been much copied, not least by the firm of BC Miroku.
Today some Brownings, like the excellent and well-priced 525 model are made in Japan (like the 425, 325 and Citoris before it), but the custom shop continues to build the flagship B25s at Herstal.
First impressions of the test gun are quite striking. It is sideplated, with ducks to one side and pheasants to the other. There is some competent, fairly deep, scroll to the front and rear of the action. On the belly there is a panel with a grouse in it surrounded by more good scroll work.
The action is silver finished which brings outs the engraving well. There is a combined barrel selector and safety in the usual place (and I prefer the Browning style to any other – it is the least fiddly when one’s hands are gloved or cold). The top lever is of classic form, and the action is equipped with a wide bladed, fixed trigger, the front surface of which is chequered (my preference is for a thinner design – but the one on this gun might easily be filed up).
The stock is of semi-pistol pattern with quite a large grip for this style – no bad thing as many semi-pistols are too small. The front of the stock comb is relatively thick too (as a trap gun might more typically be). My preference in a game gun is for something with a bit more taper.
The test guns weighs in at something around 7.1/2 pounds, it is no lightweight, but it is well balanced and does not feel especially heavy. It has 30″, demi-lump barrels like all Belgian B25s. This is the over-under version of the chopper lump system, long favoured for best quality side-by-side guns. Browning almost alone amongst mass manufacturers, continued to use demi-bloc construction in their mass-produced range until midway through the 425 series (when they went over to monobloc construction – which is arguably just as strong and has certain manufacturing benefits).
The classic B25, of course, was the last design of mormon gunmaking genius John Moses Browning, who died at his bench in the FN plant in Belgium perfecting it in 1926.
This left his son Val to perfect a single trigger mechanism (though double triggers were routinely fitted to early models, not to mention the Browning Twin single trigger, where either trigger could function as a single trigger, with the front trigger firing the bottom barrel first and the rear trigger the top).
On our test gun, quality of workmanship is excellent throughout. Barrels are well presented with a handmatted, narrow (6mm) top rib equipped with a white metal bead of excellent proportions. They bear Belgian proof marks for the 2.3/4″ (76mm) cartridge.
Barrel bores are quite tight at a traditional 18.4mm diameter (Browning back-bores some of its production guns now to 18.6mm or greater). The barrels are fixed choke at about quarter and half.
The extractor work is exceptionally well done, clearly, extra time has been put into fit and finish as befits a high grade gun. Internally, the action is competently machined as one might expect (though there were one or two tool marks in the bottom of the action which lead be to suspect that this was machined on traditional tooling rather than the CNC equipment that dominates elsewhere).
All B25s, I might add, are based on an action body forging which inspires confidence in old fogies like me. The Browning, which has inspired so many others to copy it, has several distinguishing features.
There is a full-width cross pin (unlike many Italian guns) and there is also a full width bolt that emerges from the base of the action to meet a full width slot bite beneath the bottom chamber mouth. It is an extremely strong, efficient system. The Browning positions its lumps beneath its barrels (unlike the bifurcated style preferred by British makers and the likes of Beretta and Perazzi).
The placing of the lumps beneath the barrel necessitates a slightly deeper action than in the case of the bifurcated guns. In a 12-bore this is more of an issue than in a 20. Nevertheless, one of my all time favourite guns is the 32″ Sport 208. It is most elegant to my eye and shoots wonderfully well too.
All of which brings us to the stock.
It is made from splendid wood with lots of character. The forend is of classic Browning pattern. The grip is larger than average of its type – a good quality in a working gun in my opinion as it helps to fill the hand well. The hands take far more recoil than is commonly realised and a good grip design will reduce the recoil transmitted to the shoulder substantially.
The comb on this gun was a bit thick to its front for my taste, and I slimmed it down a bit. It was given a more English look, the nose of the comb was reshaped and the flutes at the front of the comb were made more subtle.
The gun measures 14.3/4″ for length. The drop dimensions were ideal for most at 2.3/16″ at heel and 1,3/8″ comb. I also liked the pitch.
The stock was 1/4″ longer at heel than to the middle of the butt (rather than the usual 1/8″) and there was 7/16″ extra to toe. Overall, this was a set of dimensions that could not be much improved.
The gun shot very well. I liked the combination of a bit of weight in the middle with traditionally made, and therefore relatively light-for-length, lively (but not wild) barrels. This B25 broke everything thrown at it in good style.
My only comment, original stock profile apart, would be that I would like to see the Belgian guns made with slightly wider bores. I am a modernist in this respect, I think that they can make a great gun even better. If you ordered a new gun from the custom shop today it will take between 18 months and 2 years to create.
Fewer guns are being made on spec than in previous years. Many customers like to visit Liege to place their order and see the workshop.
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