Browning has produced many famous guns and one of the most notable is its Browning A5. Charles Smith-Jones reassesses the gun that is part of shooting folklore
The Browning Auto 5, more usually referred to simply as the Browning A5, was designed by John Moses Browning in 1898, patented in 1900 and produced commercially from 1902. It bears the distinction of being the world’s first mass-produced semi-automatic shotgun.
Browning A5 semi-auto
Browning always considered it his greatest achievement, and it formed the basis for many successive designs of semi-autos. With a raised rear action, giving the advantage of a longer sighting plane, it quickly became affectionately known as the ‘humpback’. The Remington Model 11 and Savage Model 720 and Model 745 are direct variants.
Operated by recoil, the designation A5 referred simply to the fact that it had a capacity of five cartridges, four in the magazine and one in the chamber. Most guns were fitted with a magazine plug that only permitted two rounds to be loaded in order to comply with some US hunting regulations. This also allowed it to be held on a shotgun certificate in the UK.
Produced in a variety of calibres, it was an immediate success with sportsmen; most were in 12- and 20-bore but there was a 16-bore version labelled the Sweet Sixteen. Reflecting its reputation as a robust and reliable performer, one writer was moved to describe it as “the shotgun version of a Land Rover”.
Outside the sporting field, the Browning A5 was also used by the military from World War I to Vietnam and beyond. The British Army even fitted it to remote-controlled bomb disposal ‘wheelbarrows’ for destroying suspect packages.
End of an era
It seemed to be the end of an era when the A5 ceased production in 1998. Very much aware of the shooting public’s affection for its venerable design, Browning relaunched it in 2013 but was quick to point out that the new Browning A5 had been thoroughly redesigned and updated. Its advertising material at the time announced “Your old grandpa’s A5 this ain’t!”
Although superficially similar to its predecessor, the signature humped back action still there but far less pronounced, it retains the advantage of a long line of sight extending along the top of the action and on to the rib, while looking far sleeker and more elegant.
The most important change, though, is that the original long recoil system has been replaced with Browning calls its Kinematic Drive System with a shorter recoiling inertia-operated bolt. Cycling is very fast indeed. Such is Browning’s confidence in its reliability that new A5s come with a warranty covering the first 100,000 rounds or seven years of use.
Browning A5 models
There are a number of models. Stock materials range from Grade 3 walnut to a synthetic camouflage finish, as on the example featured, and there is a choice of barrel lengths. Internal chokes come as standard and magazine capacities of 2+1 or 4+1 are available.
Most guns are 12-bore but Browning also offers the especially lightweight A5 One Sweet 16 in 16-bore.
The new gun is much lighter than its predecessor as it replaced the old steel action with lightweight, aeronautical quality aluminium alloy, reducing the comparative weight by as much as 2lb. Despite the relative lightness, recoil remains surprisingly soft even with heavier loads. This is assisted by Browning’s innovative Inflex II Technology recoil pad, which not only enhances recoil absorption but has a slick surface finish to prevent snagging on clothing.
If you come across one of the pre-1998 models, don’t disregard them as they are great guns in their own right but the relaunched A5 is very much an upgraded modern relative. It remains the same sturdy workhorse that its predecessors were but has greatly benefited from a redesign.
A perfect choice for the vermin controller or wildfowler, it will cope admirably with heavy daily use, being jarred about on the cradle of a keeper’s quad bike or coping with challenging foreshore conditions.
- Configuration Single barrel
- Action Semi-automatic
- Choke Multichoke
- Chamber 3in or 3½in
- Barrel length 26in-30in
- Magazine capacity 4+1 (FAC) or 2+1 (SGC)
- Ejector/non-ejector Ejector
- Safety catch Manual
- Weight (12-bore) 7lb (A5 One w/28in barrels)
- Available in calibres 12- & 16-bore
- Cost new Upwards from £1,085 depending on model
- Cost used From around £700
A perfect choice for the vermin controller or wildfowler, it will cope admirably with heavy daily use