by Scott Mayer
Browning’s Auto-5 is a no less an iconic firearm than Winchester’s Model 70 or Colt’s Single Action Army. The beloved “humpback” was in almost continuous production from 1903 to 1999, and has been manufactured in variations by Fabrique Nationale, Remington, Savage, SKB, Miroku and almost certainly by other, smaller companies. On November 26, 1997, Browning announced that the Auto-5 would be discontinued, and the “last” of them were shipped out in February 1998. Then, in 1999, Browning manufactured a limited edition of 1,000 “A-5 Final Tribute” guns, sold them out in 2000, and so ended a legacy.
No offense to all you Auto-5 fans out there, but if you’ve ever suffered the nightmare of taking an Auto-5 apart, you have to wonder why it took so long to drop this gun. Taking one apart has probably accounted for more gunsmithing “bag jobs” than any other shotgun. It is so complicated that even NRA’s “Firearms Assembly…Rifles and Shotguns” dares not go beyond basic field stripping.
Considering how complicated and expensive the Auto-5 is to produce, you have to ask why Browning is bringing it back for 2012. Simple–this ain’t your grandaddy’s humpback. While the new Auto-5 looks like its namesake, it’s a completely different gun behind the sight bead.
Probably the most significant difference anyone is going to really care about on this new Auto-5 is whether or not you have to worry about the arrangement of friction rings to compensate for different power shells. On original Auto-5 shotguns there are a series of spring, friction rings and brakes on the magazine tube that you have to arrange properly (and differently) for heavy and light loads. Forget to do it, and your gun either won’t cycle reliably, or you subject it to excessive battering. If remembering those permutations wasn’t enough, when the 3-inch 12-gauge chambering came along in 1958, the spring/ring/brake combination had to be made differently from the 2 3/4-inch guns.
I’m happy to report that on the new Auto-5, there are no friction rings or brakes to fool with. You can load this gun with any recommended length or power shell and run through them just fine without having to change or adjust a thing. Less of a practical concern and more of a technical one is that while the new Auto-5 remains recoil-operated, it’s short-recoil (or inertia-operated) instead of long-recoil like the original. With the long-recoil gun, the barrel reciprocated along with the action during cycling. Most shooters probably never even noticed, but a reciprocating barrel is yet another wear part you have to worry about, and thankfully the new Auto-5 doesn’t have it.
Though mechanically different, there is one function retained from the classic version—it’s the “speed load” feature that lets you pop a shell into the magazine and have it instantly shucked into the chamber. That’s not only a neat trick to watch but as someone who loves hunting ducks, I can tell you that it’s a welcome feature after you’ve missed a teal with all three shots in the magazine and then look up to see a mallard drake pitching into your stool of decoys. You can’t legally have a 4th shell in the magazine, even if it fits without a plug in the gun you are shooting, but you sure are allowed to load another shell as fast as humanly possible, and this Auto-5 makes this much more possible for the average human who just missed three shots in a row.
Before SHOT Show, Browning representatives told me that the new Auto-5 would have the familiar magazine cut-off so you can isolate the shells in the magazine and change out only the shell in the chamber. Honestly, I’ve never used that feature on a shotgun. Folks claim that they use it, for example, to change out a duck load for a goose load when the seasons overlap and a goose is coming into their duck decoys. It won’t matter, though, because the guns we saw and shot at Media Day the day before SHOT Show didn’t have the cut-off and I was told there that the new guns would not have the feature.
Despite those similarities, Browning assures me that the new Auto-5 is so different from the original design that no parts are interchangeable right down to the new Invector-DS (double-seal) choke tubes.
I find I use Improved Cylinder choke for just about everything, so it’s kind of hard for me to get excited over choke tubes. I’m sure serious clay shooters worry over them quite a bit as they do tend to change chokes frequently to match the shots at different stations. For those folks who change their chokes a lot, then, the most significant “new” thing about Browning’s Invector-DS tubes is the brass seal at their base. Its purpose is to keep the threads and choke tube recess clean of powder fouling so your hands don’t get all messy from station to station. The folks I spoke with at Browning seemed pretty excited about the new chokes. That said, they were not sure when, or even if, the new pattern would ever replace Invector or Invector-Plus tubes across all of Browning’s shotgun lines.
And so begins a new Browning Auto-5 legacy, and that’s just fine with me. We weren’t able to shoot the new A-5 today because of the heavy crowds, but hopefully we’ll get one in soon to look at more closely.