By Mike Yardley of The Field
Monday, 24 November 2008
Mike Yardley can think of many worse things to spend money on than Browning's new B25 16-bore, a gun that feels "right" and could also be a rifle, with other barrels.
This month’s test gun is a Browning B25, but it is especially interesting not just because it is a classic Belgian-made “Superposed”, but because, most unusually, it is a 16-bore, the first to be made by the company.
Initial impressions are very good. It is pleasantly proportioned, having been built on a reinforced 20-bore action. The Browning 20 has always struck me as a most elegant little gun and, if anything, the new 16 is even better. It has that indefinable quality of looking and feeling “right”.
The smaller bores, of course, allow for elegant lines and lighter all-up weight (the test gun tips the scales at a sensible 6lb 7oz). It is well balanced and quite lively. It comes to the shoulder effortlessly. Pointing well for a 26in-barrelled gun, it feels steady because of its medium weight. The quality of finish does not disappoint either. The action engraving – hand-executed game scenes and tight scroll – is most attractive. The wood is well figured. Fit and finish pass muster in all departments, too.
One can always pick, but I was very impressed not just by the feel and the aesthetics of the new 16 but by the integrity of its manufacture. Various features caught my eye: the solid 6mm sighting rib (my favourite pattern); the elegantly narrow, plain steel chequered trigger; and the top lever which was of just the right size and especially well finished. There is a safety-cum-barrel selector in the
usual place on the top strap. Again, the detailing was very good with neat, not too obtrusive but finely executed and proportioned gold lettering.
The stock of the Browning was typical of this maker’s pattern but scaled down somewhat. The grip was not too tightly radiused and even in depth – an excellent design allowing for effective muzzle control (although a semi-pistol would have suited the gun just as well). The length of pull (measured from middle of trigger to middle of butt plate) was a whisker under 14 ½in. It did not feel short. My only criticism of the standard measurements concerned the drop of the stock, which was a bit low at 1½in at comb and just over 2¼in at heel.
The fore-end was of Schnabel style. Though this is not usually my preference, it suited the gun and was subtly done without too pronounced a lip. I also liked the drop points on the stock, which were ideally scaled.
What of the bore size? Well 16s, it seems, are becoming trendy again. We’ve had the 28-bore vogue, now its the turn of the sweet 16, that chrysalis stage between 20 and 12. Sixteens were always popular on the Continent. This is partly because France once suffered a prohibition on the standard military musket’s 12-bore.
However, 16s did gain a following with older guns in Britain. Recently, they have been rediscovered by shotgun aficionados looking for the ideal bore size, though it might be added that canny shooters of all ages have always found them useful for walking-up, or for other applications where a little less weight and fast handling are useful qualities.
This gun shot just as sweetly as dry handling it suggested it might. It was quick to point with 26in barrels (the run of 50 production guns will all have 30in tubes, however). There was enough mass for control and to keep the swing going, but not so much as to impede rapid movement. The trigger pulls were crisp. Recoil was noticeable but perfectly controllable. Balance and pointing qualities were much above average.
I could not see quite enough rib – the comb was fairly slim, which can create a need for a little extra comb height. But still it shot exceptionally well. It is a gun that brings a smile to your face. A similar one with 30in barrels will set you back more than £20,000. I can think of many worse things to spend the money on.
The Browning over-and-under is one of the most successful shotgun designs of all time. It has a full-width cross-pin and locking is by means of a full-width bolt that emerges from the bottom of the action face and meets a slot bite beneath the bottom chamber mouth. The design necessitates under-barrel lumps and a slightly deeper action than in bifurcated guns. In a 16 or 20, however, there is no height issue; it allows for an ideally proportioned action with a perfect distance between top and bottom straps.
The test gun is made on a reinforced, rifle-type action which is stronger than the standard one and would allow for a pair of 9.3mm rifled barrels if desired. The barrels have a narrow 6mm rib. The top surface is hand-matted to a high standard. The chambers are 70mm and lead to short forcing cones. Chokes are fixed at quarter and three-quarters, but can be made to requirements. Fixed chokes allow for the barrels to be made without too much weight forward, contributing to the gun’s handling qualities. It was interesting to note that the barrels were constructed on the monobloc system rather than the demibloc usually common to 12-bore Belgian Brownings.
The B25 can be purchased from local Browning dealers.
Price from £9,000 for B25s, from £20,000 for gun featured.
Visit the Browning website.
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