A shotgun is an essential tool for any gamekeeper but can one gun do it all? Alex Flint takes a look at Browning’s global semi-auto success story.
It seems unlikely we’ll ever see the day they become an acceptable sight on the peg, if Browning continues to create products like this one they may become a far more familiar sight for our other sporting activities. For a gamekeeper, especially those with a firearms licence, they are an extremely flexible and almost essential tool, and the Browning Maxus is one of the very best on the market.
The semi-automatic has been synonymous with Browning since the creation of the Auto-5, a recoil- operated gun patented in 1900, manufactured until 1998 and resurrected in 2014 in the guise of the redesigned A5. The Maxus has been around for a significantly shorter time but has made no less of an impact on the buying public, seeing roaring success across the USA and Europe. At just slightly over 7lbs and able to handle an enormous variety of loads thanks to the 31⁄2” chamber on our test gun, the Browning Maxus is a lightweight, low recoil shotgun and would make an ideal partner for clay shooting, wildfowling and pest control.
It is available in the UK in a number of styles and finishes, from composite plastics with a carbon fibre wrapping through to high grade walnut and steel with extensive engraving and even three different styles of camouflage, including the Realtree Max 5 pattern seen on our test gun. The top quality walnut and engraving seen on the Premium and Ultimate models would not look out of place on a top quality game gun.
In reality, any gamekeeper looking to pick up a semi-auto will want something hard-wearing. As such, one of the camouflage models with Browning’s Dura-Touch Armour Coating would seem a sensible choice. The manufacturer claims this brings a range of benefits including excellent grip in wet conditions and feeling warm to the touch in cold conditions. Though my use of gloves precludes my passing judgement on this particular feature, I can report the gun had plenty of grip at all times and felt very secure while taking on the crows and pigeons on the farm.
With the slim locking fore-end rather than an exposed magazine with screw-on cap, the Maxus has, to my eye, rather pleasant lines and will seem much more familiar to those used to breech-loading shotguns. This fore-end design offers more than just aesthetic benefits, protecting against the build-up of dirt but allowing for quick and easy access for stripping down and cleaning – this will be a boon to anyone using their guns for rough work. The fore-end release lever also integrates a clever system for attaching a sling without the need for an obvious, ugly front-mounting point.
The gun operates on a gas system rather than recoil, using the gases produced in the firing of a cartridge to recycle the gun and automatically chamber the next round. I tested the gun with a variety of different loads and cartridges and found the gun had no trouble at all keeping up, though anyone hoping to clean up after themselves will need to keep an eye out for spent cartridges disappearing in their peripheral vision at an impressive rate. Any left-handed shooters will, unfortunately, need to look elsewhere for a semi-auto.
Flexible and useful
The Maxus has a number of useful features, including their Speedload system whereby one may insert a cartridge into the magazine with the bolt open and it will automatically be cycled into the chamber. This is most useful when a large number of birds are flying over, as one never has to take one’s eye off the next target.
There is also a switch to block off the magazine and prevent a cartridge being automatically loaded, allowing the user to insert a different cartridge directly into the chamber for a different target, perfect if you come across a fox whilst out shooting pests for example. There is also a speed unload system, allowing you to easily empty the magazine directly without having to repeatedly cycle the gun.
Flexibility certainly seems to be key with the Maxus, Browning supplying five chokes with the gun including an extended choke which will add an extra two inches to the barrel length when inserted. There are a number of spacers provided to fit between the action and pistol grip, allowing alteration to cast and drop, and further spacers to fit between the stock and butt pad to adjust length of pull.
At less than £1,200 when new, anyone looking for a reliable, hard-working and flexible gun would do well to take a look at the Maxus. With lively handling, little felt recoil and excellent control of muzzle flip, this would be a handy companion for any gamekeeper or serious pigeon shooter.
Browning Maxus in the field
I took the Maxus for a stroll around the farm, hoping to tackle a few of the innumerable crows which have taken up residence and to make a small dent in the pigeon population. And I am pleased to say the Maxus was mightily impressive. The gun feels light in the hand and was easy to manoeuvre as I traipsed around the hedgerows, coming up to the shoulder quickly when called upon for a pair of passing pigeons.
I had feared the balance of the gun might lead to somewhat inconsistent mounting, however a positive lead with the front hand meant this was not the case.
Immediately noticeable were the trigger pulls, being sharp but also consistent and satisfying. Recoil was kept under control and muzzle flip was remarkable for its absence, even when rapidly emptying the magazine. I had feared the soft, grippy Inflex butt pad would catch on my clothing, though this proved not to be the case and was comfortable in the shoulder.
The gun has its flaws, though the small problems I had would likely be overcome with regular use. For example, the lack of an automatic safety catch caught me out a couple of times and the initial sighting down the gun was a little unusual since the lines cut into the flat rib continue right down over the action body and towards the pistol grip, giving a strange sight plane. My spent cartridge cases also took some finding, as they really go flying out of the gun at quite a pace. But it’s better that way…
View from the gun shop. By Bill Elderkin
Anyone with a Shotgun Certificate may legally own a semi-automatic shotgun, though it will be limited to holding a maximum of three cartridges. These guns may be converted to hold more than three cartridges, however the owner must then hold a Firearms Licence – as many gamekeepers may well do. And this is when the semi-auto becomes a really useful tool.
Having those extra shots, even one, is very definitely the key advantage of owning a semi-auto as they prove very useful for pest control. They have a clear use as a tool and are generally very tough – essentially they are maintenance-free as long as they are kept clean. Bear in mind too much oil is far worse for the longevity of a semi-auto than not enough.
Any good gunsmith should be able to carry out repair work on a semi-auto, though the need for this should be few and far between. We have around 200 guns in for repair at anyone time and only two or three of these will be semi-autos. Older guns can be unreliable and will tend to get scrapped but more recent guns have proved far more reliable and are supported well by the manufacturers, with spare parts easily available.
The Maxus is a pretty advanced gun with a mechanical system for retracting the firing pin, which together with a clever trigger system makes for a very fast locking time. Essentially, the time between pulling the trigger and the gun being ready to fire the next shot is very short indeed.
Back boring of barrels, an extended forcing cone and the Invector Plus multi-chokes all play a big part in controlling recoil and muzzle flip, though any strapping gamekeeper seems unlikely to be too worried about that.
There is no need to worry about what cartridges you put through this gun – you should be able to put pretty much anything through it with no problems at all. The only thing to watch out for if buying the gun second hand is the camouflage layer can start to wear with very heavy use, though this is easy to spot. Also, you should be extra vigilant when out in the field, ensuring the bolt is back and the gun empty.
The Maxus is available in 12 bore with 26”, 28”and 30” barrels and is competitively priced. Though a little more expensive, the gun is more technically advanced than the cheapest Beretta A300, listed at £960.
Extremely good value especially when you consider the number of years' service you are likely to get from this essential workhouse