Evolution is obvious in this latest model of Browning’s popular shotgun, says Michael Yardley, with some useful modifications to accompany the rich decoration
Useful modifications and rich decoration mark evolution in the Browning 525 Crown 12-bore, says Michael Yardley, the latest model of the company’s popular shotgun.
For more on Browning, read Michael Yardley’s review of the Browning 725 Grade V – an old friend featured many times in The Field.
BROWNING 525 CROWN 12-BORE
This month’s test focuses on a new model from Browning – the Crown. Based on the popular 525, B25-inspired platform, it is a 12-bore, 30in, over-and-under with a recoil-operated, single selective trigger mechanism and auto-safe. The Crown, also available as a 20-bore, is a deluxe model with hand-finished, deep-scroll engraving, silver bird inlays and carved drop points. The bling is restrained. The silver work will probably appeal to British eyes more than the gold adornment seen on similar models in the past (such as on the old Grade VI). The Turkish walnut stock – less expensive models use American walnut – is particularly well figured and a large but well-proportioned silver oval is fitted.
The gun is not just an exercise in cosmetic improvement. There has been considerable input from the UK Browning team in its specification. It is intended for game shooting, hence is offered with fixed choke (half and half) barrels and, unusually for the marque, a solid 6mm rib. The bore’s diameter is 18.4mm rather than the modern Browning-Miroku norm of 18.7mm or 18.8mm – the idea being to maximise performance with fibre wads, which are increasingly popular. Forcing cones are of standard length. The tighter bores ensure adequate obturation even on colder days, when so called ‘back-bored’ barrels can lose performance when used with felt or fibre wadding. Half and half, meantime, are useful constrictions. Some sufferers of ballistic thrombosis may pine for a little more in their second barrel (Teague choking would be an option, which would retain the desirable fixed-choke barrel profile).
David Stapley, UK manager for Browning, notes: “It’s been a long time since we have had a high grade 5 series gun… the Prestige left our range in 2012… this is our ‘back-to-the-future’ model, returning to a nominal bore for better performance with fibre and with improved balance with the fixed choke and narrow rib. The tone-on-tone decoration looks rich but isn’t over the top… the Crown is a sophisticated, classically proportioned and presented gun with hand-oiled and chequered Turkish walnut. It wouldn’t disgrace itself anywhere.”
The gun certainly scores for looks and handling. Its specification will impress traditionalists. As well as the fixed choke barrels, I liked the proportions of the stock. The grip was classic Browning with a good radius and even depth made all the better by hand finishing. The chequering was both attractive and efficient with well-cut hand borders as well as good diamonds. The fore-end was near ideal – a rounded game pattern without a schnabel lip. Standard measurements were 14¾in for length of pull, just under 1½in and 2¼in for drop. The stock was finished with a simple and good Pachmayr synthetic rubber recoil pad. My only criticism of an otherwise excellent specification was that the drop to heel was a bit low. My call would have been 1½in and 2in as standard measurements. Most makers without the national experience of driven game seem reluctant to make their stocks quite high enough.
Dry mounting the Crown is still a pleasing experience. It weighs in at around 7½lb – about right for most driven work. The grip and fore-end feel excellent and the point of balance, unusually, is just in front of the hinge pin – noticeably different from most mass-produced, multichoked over-and-unders, which tend to be distinctly barrel heavy with tromboned muzzles to accept multichokes. This gives the gun a distinct character amongst 525s.
The Crown shows, moreover, how a gun within a range may evolve. The mechanics are not radical. Nothing about the model is revolutionary, yet, in its specification it does impress (although I would have been happy with plainer embellishment). Stapley’s team understands the British market and its tastes and practical needs. They have produced some other fine guns recently, with the MK60 High Pheasant and the 725 UK Game. They have substantially improved the basic Japanese-made product with their expert input and local knowledge.
The 525’s action is, in essence, a Browning B25 as reinterpreted by Miroku for ease of manufacture. There has been evolution. The 525 was developed from the 425 and 325, good guns but less refined with regard to stock shape and barrel weight. Proof specifications have been uprated to meet the demands of steel shot. The current design of inertia single trigger is several generations on from the original. Other parts have evolved, too. Early Mirokus had V springs and one hammer hinged from the top of the action. Now, both are hinged from the bottom and powered by coil springs. When you visit the Miroku factory where this Browning over-and-under is made, it is striking how much hand work still goes into manufacture. This applies not just to action making but to barrel construction and regulation. Barrels are now monobloc but tubes are still straightened and put together by individual, highly skilled artisans.
The Crown’s basic form and specification are sound. The stock shapes and gripping surfaces promoted good, dry purchase/control and pointing (though refinement of comb taper and grip is possible with additional, expert hand work). Trigger pulls were reasonable. Mechanical function of trigger, ejectors, selector and safe were good. On firing, the gun felt secure but recoiled a little more than a 525 or 725 bored at 18.8mm. That is to be expected with the tighter bore, but one can have confidence in the barrels being ballistically efficient in all field conditions with fibre, felt or plastic loads (superior penetration might be predicted, too). Kills with Lyalvale Express High Velocity 24 gram 7½ cartridges (our usual test fodder) and half and half choke were impressive. Moving up to 30gm game loads, felt recoil became more noticeable but not unpleasant. The 525 design has proven reliability and a few intrinsic mechanical limitations. Nevertheless, this is the best 525 to date, well presented and with sensible if quite subtle modification.
BROWNING 525 CROWN 12-BORE
♦ RRP: from £4,300
♦ International Sports Brands, Unit 2, Moorbrook Park, Didcot, Oxford OX11 7HP.
♦ 01235 514550