In March 2012 Browning will bring the A5, lovingly nicknamed the Humpback for its humped reciever, back to life. The A5 was the first successful autoloading shotgun ever mass produced and became a sweetheart for generations of wingshooters and waterfowlers because of its reliability. While this new A5 might look and even feel a lot like its father, officially known as the Auto-5, the comparisons stop there. There's no doubt that this is a new shotgun with a new action.
I got to spend three days in South Dakota with a handful of other writers swinging the new A5 against clays, doves and pheasants. The gun is a looker and an easy pointer and it's full of intriguing features. Here are the highlights and some background information about A5's resurrection.
The original Auto-5 (above) was developed by John Browning in 1902 and for the next 97 years its design was used by FN, Remington and Savage. In 1999 Browning finally rolled out its last 1,000 commemorative edition Humpback guns. By that time the Auto-5, named because it had a 5-shot capacity, had become one of the best selling semi-automatic shotguns in the U.S.
The original A5 worked off a long-recoil system. When the gun was fired, the barrel and the bolt slid back together re-cocking the hammer. Then the barrel slid forward, but the bolt stayed back in the rearward position. This ejected the spent shell. Next the bolt sprung forward and cycled a shell from the magazine. The new A5 has an action that is much different than this one.
In the 1990s Browning switched its focus from a recoil-operated system to a gas-operated system. They had success with the Browning Gold and most recently with the Maxus. But as Benelli made strides with its inertia guns, consumers began knocking on Browning's door asking for a recoil-driven gun. Some shooters prefer a recoil-driven gun because it shoots cleaner than a gas gun. It's cleaner because in a recoil gun all of the gas is shot out of the barrel. A gas gun on the other hand, harnesses the expanding gases to work its action.
And so the A5 was reborn.
The new A5 will come in wood (the Hunter) or composite (the Stalker). The A5 Hunter has a gloss walnut stock, a black anodized barrel and an aluminum alloy receiver. The composite Stalker comes in black, Mossy Oak Break-up or Mossy Oak Duck Blind.
Both the Stalker and the Hunter feature a close radius pistol grip.
This is the A5 field stripped. The A5 is a recoil-driven gun, meaning the force caused by the shell firing is what works the gun's action. All recoil guns work off the same principle of physics: for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.
Browning calls its version the Kinematic Drive System. Benelli calls its version the In-Line Inertia Driven System.
This is the A5 bolt. When any gun is fired, the force from the shell pushes the entire gun backward. In the A5, the bolt stays locked in place as the gun moves back. As the gun ends its rearward motion (the point where it stops against the shooter's shoulder), an internal mechanism causes the bolt head to rotate and unlock.
Then the bolt moves backward and ejects the spent shell. When the bolt reaches the end of its rearward motion, it springs forward and cycles another round from the magazine. All of this happens in milliseconds.
The gun can handle everything from 3-inch magnum shells to 1-ounce target loads without making any adjustments. One of the typical criticisms of recoil autoloaders is that they don't cycle light shells well. I personally shot more than 12 boxes of shells through the A5, many of them light target shells, and only had one jammed shell.
Pictured: The rotating bolt head.
Browning is so confident in its Kinematic Drive System that it guarantees its gun for 100,000 rounds or for five years. Browning says this is the first autoloader to carry such a warranty.
An issue with inertia-driven autoloaders is that they have stiffer recoil compared to gas-operated guns. To soften the blow, Browning fitted its new A5 with an Inflex II buttpad. Browning says that the pad deflects the recoil down and moves the comb away from your cheek. The pad also comes with spacers that allows for 3/4 inches of adjustment in length of pull. There were no bruised shoulders or cheeks in my hunting group, but we didn't have a chance to shoot 3-inch heavy loads.
From an ergonomic standpoint, one of the nicest features on the new A5 is its safety. It has an oversized teardrop safety that is impossible to miss. It felt totally natural the very first time I shouldered the gun, slipped off the safety and tracked down a clay bird. Another great thing about the safety is that it can be adjusted for left-handed shooters.
The trigger on the gun I shot was set at just a shade over 4 pounds.
The A5 also comes with Browning's Invector DS choke system. The "DS" stands for double seal. To prevent gases from slipping between the choke tube and barrel, the choke has a brass seal that compresses against the barrel wall when tightened. Browning says this system keeps the tube threads cleaner and makes installation and removal easier.
Each gun comes with a full, modified and improved choke.
When the slide lock (pictured here just in front of the trigger guard) is pressed it locks the bolt in the rearward position. The button also activates the A5's speed loading option. When this button is pressed and the bolt is open, you can feed a round into the magazine and the gun will automatically cycle it into the chamber, allowing you to pop two more rounds into the magazine.
The A5 Hunter (left) features a brass front bead and an ivory-colored mid-bead. The A5 Stalker (right) features a red fiber optic front sight. I preferred the brass bead, but both guns were good pointers. The A5 swings easily and has a slender forearm that feels good in the hand.
The A5 Hunter (pictured top) has a laser-cut checkering pattern. The A5 Stalker (pictured bottom) doesn't have any checkering but does have textured gripping surfaces. There wasn't much debate in our group: the Hunter, with it's walnut gloss finish, was the looker of the pair.
But with the aluminum alloy receiver and anodized barrel, the A5 Hunter is far from scratch proof. This is not a gun you would want to throw around your duck boat. The Stalker was built to take more abuse.
BY THE NUMBERS A5 Hunter
Gauge: 12 ga.
Barrel Length: 30, 28, 26 inches
Chamber: 2 3/4 - 3 inches
Weight: 6 lbs. 13 oz. (28-inch barrel)