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Launching The New Browning A5: Now In 20 Gauge

The classic A5 gets a new gauge.

Launching The New Browning A5: Now In 20 Gauge

My fascination with John Browning’s Auto 5 shotgun design began the second Uncle Keith handed me his father’s and my grandfather’s Remington Model 11, one in a long line of shotguns to carry Browning’s famous humpback design. The shotgun, Uncle Keith explained, should never leave the Arterburn family. With six grandchildren of my own, I don’t foresee that as an issue.

Browning’s A5 design was the first successful semi-automatic shotgun and the first made in the United States. The unmistakable shape of the action, which accommodates the bolt as it (and the barrel) are driven back by recoil, picked up the inaccurate nickname humpback, when it is in fact more of a squared-off look. As an added plus, the flat-topped action was touted as an extended sighting plane for enhanced aiming and swinging on targets. The Auto 5, so-called because it held five shells, four in the magazine and one in the chamber, has a complex history dating back to 1898, including multiple variations and manufacturers. Suffice it to say it had a long successful run, first in 12 gauge followed by the uber-popular so-called darling of the A5s, the 16-gauge ‘Sweet Sixteen’ and then a 20-gauge version. Basic production ended in 1978, though special runs came out periodically, but it is generally agreed the final edition came out in 1999.

That was then, this is now.

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In 2012, Browning reintroduced with great fanfare the new A5 12 gauge to a warm welcome by a new generation of appreciative shotgunners; then followed it with the return of the Sweet Sixteen in 2016, the gauges of both not coincidentally matching their introductory year. Flush with the success of the first two models and prompted by heavy customer demand (and a desire to continue the historical lineage), Browning introduced the A5 20 gauge this year. It also helps that ammunition has improved to a point that the 20 gauge is now a more viable option for all-around use, especially when it comes to waterfowling, according to Rafe Nielsen, director of marketing and communications for Browning/Winchester. Requests for a 20-gauge model started as soon as the A5 were reintroduced, Nielsen said.

The new A5s are mechanically different from John Browning’s design and other than the iconic look there is not much in comparison to the original. The humpback profile, somehow not as pronounced as it is on Grandpa’s shotgun, is a nostalgic nod to its lineage, but not necessary to house the short recoil-operated Kinematic Drive System, a modern improvement over the complex but brilliant original design. (No longer does the barrel move with the action upon recoil.) The aluminum-alloy receiver also brings back the unique elongated sight plane, aiding sight alignment and target acquisition just as it was touted more than a century ago.

The 20 gauge is built on the same frame as the 16 gauge, as was the original, meaning it can accommodate a thinner stock, producing a more slender, lighter overall look and feel and easy-handling comfort. The 20-gauge’s first incarnation is the A5 Hunter, with basic gloss-finished and checkered Turkish walnut stock (with ¼- and ½-inch spacers for length of pull and shims to adjust drop and cast), gloss black anodized receiver and 26- or 28-inch vent-rib barrel with white mid-bead, three choke tubes (full, modified and improved cylinder), Inflex II recoil pad and fiber-optic front sight. Twenty-gauge aficionados can take heart in assurances that additional variations of the A5 20 will be forthcoming.

Field Testing

I hunted waterfowl along and near the Platte River in the Nebraska Panhandle with Ross Juelfs of StanCo Experience, using the 28-inch barrel version of the 20-gauge A5, which weighed an easy-swinging 5-¾ pounds with overall length of 47-¼ inches. The aluminum-alloy receiver saves weight to the point it’d be easy to tote long distances to the blind or all day after upland game, especially compared to Grandpa’s all-steel Model 11 which weighs 8.8 pounds with similar overall length. When you carry it, you know you’re carrying it.

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As you’d expect, the new A5 is night and day from Grandpa’s shotgun, but then his was built in 1915, an entirely different era of manufacturing technique, material and design. Comparing the two would be interesting, at least to shotgun historian/enthusiast types, but superfluous to the task at hand, which is to determine the new version’s effect on waterfowl.

Based out of McGrew, Neb. (population 99), Juelfs put us on the bank of the waterfowl-corridor of the North Platte River, as well as on nearby warm-water sloughs and harvested cornfields. My first shots with the A5 20-gauge came from a pit blind on the west end of a warm-water slough where seven dozen decoys swung to and fro in the northwest wind and the ripples from a Duck Creek Decoy Works Flashback motion decoy.

We were shooting 3-inch Winchester Bismuth with No. 4 shot which performed with devastating effect on webbed-feet-down ducks first coming into, then hastily flying out of the decoys. On Day 3, I shot 3-inch Browning Wicked Wing XD shotshells with No. 3 plated steel shot and can report similar results, even at longer distances above the North Platte.

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My first impression of the shotgun is: Holy crap! It’s a beauty. Light and slender in the hand, it came up as though I’d logged days with it and despite initial skepticism of the century-old claims, the extended flattop design does seem to naturally guide my eye down the barrel to align the midway and front sights. The wood on mine was decent with a nice grain, not breath-taking but nice. It is worth noting these are the basic Hunter models. Recoil, well, to start, it’s a 20 gauge and though the shotshells produce dramatic results on the terminal end, on the shooter’s end it feels more of a push that you hardly notice as you swing from one shot to the next.

We didn’t hammer out shot after shot after shot, or put the A5s through a clay-pigeon torture test, but no one experienced a malfunction, which I only mention to have all cards on the table, not because I expected any. MSRP will start at $1,980 but you’re likely to find them at a better price, especially after the initial feeding frenzy subsides. I’m thinking I’ll be in line as they start hitting the stores. I predict a successful run for the A5 20 gauge. As long as John Browning’s original? Time will tell.

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