Can the last in the venerable B525 line still cut the mustard? Alex Flint investigates.
With the arrival of the B725 in 2011 it seemed that the long, celebrated life of Browning’s 525 line of guns would come to an end. With a new, slimmer action and consistently good sales since launch, one would be forgiven for thinking the young upstart B725 had surpassed the master from whom it took so many design and styling cues. However, the Heritage – Browning’s answer to the perennially lusted-after Beretta EELL – has hung stubbornly on in spite of its now outdated underpinnings.
Essentially a B525 with sideplates, Browning still considers the Heritage to be at the top of its range of mass-produced gun, and this looks unlikely to change. Constructed by Miroku in Japan in small volumes annually, the Heritage has been a success for Browning since its existence was first announced, well before any actually made it into buyers’ hands. But can it still stand up in a competitive marketplace, challenged by the likes of Rizzini and Caesar Guerini?
First impressions are positive. A casual glance gives the impression of a gun much closer to Browning’s custom-made B25 models from the workshops in Herstal, Belgium, than the more commonly-seen B725 and B525 guns. This is largely thanks to the big sideplates that offer vast areas of metal for engraving. Indeed, almost every metal part of the gun seems to have been engraved to some degree, with dense foliate scroll work throughout, alongside the odd rose and acanthus leaf. While the engraving work has clearly been applied mechanically, it is nevertheless of a quantity and quality that one is not used to seeing on a mass-produced shotgun.
For example, each sideplate plays host to a lovely game scene vignette, the left side featuring partridges, the right an array of pheasants. The bottom of the action is swamped with sprays of acanthus and an ornate banner containing the gun’s name, while the fences and top strap are a little bolder and more restrained, doubtless to prevent the eye from wandering while the gun is mounted.
Indeed, the standard of finishing as a whole is outstanding – wood-to-metal fit is exceptional and the chequering is very fine indeed, providing huge amounts of grip without any roughness. The high quality of woodwork on the gun is also impossible for even the casual observer to miss. Our test gun featured highly figured walnut with a lovely straight grain throughout that had been given an oil finish to create a glossy, honey-coloured finish. While I generally favour a darker finish to the wooden parts of a gun, here the pale colour entirely suits as the gun is quite large – darker wood might have unduly accentuated this.
Browning’s signature teardrop points are present and though there is plenty of wood left in the Schnabel fore-end, the wood has been nicely carved so there is no great step down onto the metal work. The rounded semi-pistol grip is also impressive – beautifully swept back and comfortable in the hand. The gold trigger is not quite as egregiously shiny as on some other shotguns, but a simple steel trigger to match the sight bead would have been more pleasing to my eyes.
The only real aesthetic disappointment is the rather cheap-looking hard plastic butt plate emblazoned with the maker’s name. While this is a shared visual cue across many Browning guns, it stands out like a sore thumb here, partly because of the sharp contrast of its colour next to the delicate tones of the wood. My preference is normally for a hard plastic butt plate as they tend to be less likely to catch on clothing when shooting, but a wooden plate would suit the lines and character of the Heritage much better.
The Heritage sits in a particular niche of the shotgun market, though quite a competitive one. Its nearest competitors are the Beretta EELL (£6,850), the E.J. Churchill Coronet (£6,675), Caesar Guerini Forum (£6,875) and the Rizzini RB EL (£5,479). The Heritage slots in very comfortably with this company, losing out looks-wise only to the more expensive Caesar Guerini and handling as well as any of them.
All of these guns feel special, and Heritage offers a good blend of handsome looks, fine handling and good price.
Browning Heritage in the field
Given the visual density of the gun, one might expect the Heritage to feel similarly large when mounted. However, it feels impressively light in spite of its eight pound weight. The not insignificant weight of the gun does not seem to have quite the same impact in the hand, with it feeling quite reasonable in the field. This ballast also gives outstanding recoil-absorbing characteristics and this, alongside the 30” barrels with 3” chambers of our test example, makes for an excellent high-bird gun capable of taking heavy loads should you so desire.
While absolutely a competent gun to shoot it does feel a little inert, really rewarding considered shooting rather than a more instinctive style. The balance of the gun is excellent, and going away and driven targets are easily dealt with.
While clearly a good gun and one which I and instructor Ed Smith shot successfully, it lacks a little of the fun factor of others I have tested.
View from the gun shop, by Bill Elderkin
This gun is based on the tremendous Browning 525, the only significant difference being the addition of sideplates and a high standard of engraving, wood selection and all-round finishing. Over the years the design has been slimmed down, subtly rounding the action and improving its lines to produce a pretty gun.
With 30” barrels and some considerable weight behind it, the Heritage is ideal for a serious game shooter, and like other Browning guns comes with five Invector chokes, which throw consistent patterns. There is a 6mm file-cut rib and Schnabel fore-end, and the gun is supplied non-autosafe as standard – though a part is included to allow for the gun to be made autosafe by any good gunsmith in a matter of minutes.
Browning really has got its grip shapes right and the Heritage is no exception, being nicely swept back and comfortable for a variety of hand sizes. There is plenty of grip on offer from the fine chequering and the gun is finished to a high standard everywhere – though like most Brownings there is perhaps a little bit too much wood left in the fore-end.
While their respective champions will argue until the cows come home over the relative handling merits of Brownings or Berettas, it is impossible to ignore just how pretty this gun is. It looks very special indeed alongside standard Brownings, and it’s hard to imagine anyone not enjoying owning such a pleasing piece of gunmaking.
In a very competitive market it looks to be priced well and compares favourably with the more expensive entry-level guns from Browning’s Belgian custom shop.
A good blend of handsome looks, fine handling and good price