A new, blue, laminate stock is far more than a mere cosmetic exercise, finds Michael Yardley, rating this improved Browning the best 525 he has yet shot
Now with a new, blue, laminate stock, the new Browning 525 SL feels very different to other 525s. With very low recoil, good balance and the ability to shot hard, rangy targets with ease, Michael Yardley is very impressed.
For more on the 525s, read our review of the Browning 525 Crown 12-bore.
BROWNING 525 SL
Manufacturers often undertake cosmetic exercises with long-established models but the test Browning 525 ‘SL’ Sporter is more than that. Its most obvious feature is its new, rather blue, laminate stock. This makes it quite heavy – 8lb plus – but it also makes it stable as well as aesthetically striking. The gun has a plain, coin-finished action with minimum embellishment. There is no decorative engraving with just the model name and Browning logo in black (black paint fills into shallow, probably lasered, recesses on the action wall and fore-end iron).
The SL has an adjustable, ‘Pro-Fit’ stock with a comb (which may be moved vertically and horizontally) and three-position trigger. The model is intended for clay-pigeon shooting primarily but could do double service in the field. You might not take it on an average driven day but nor do I think anyone would cast aspersions on the gun or you if it accompanied you on a high-bird shoot where MK38 Mirokus and similar are so prevalent now. The SL, which is 3in steel shot proofed, would certainly work on the marsh, too, and in a hide as well as on Sporting, skeet and trap layouts.
The defining quality of the test gun is its weight and the distribution of it. The glue in the laminate makes this 525 significantly heavier than some of its stablemates. The heavy butt does not over-balance the gun; the balance point is almost on the hinge pin. The SL feels willing when mounted (although the extra weight is noticeable on the way up when you bring the gun to your face and shoulder).
The gun feels distinctly different to other 525s. The grip and schnabel fore-end are typically Browning, however, and offer excellent purchase and muzzle control further enhanced by neatly cut chequering. I have a particular fondness for the Browning grip shape, which is made possible by a relatively even depth between bottom and top tangs. It anchors the hand well, the difference in depth from top to bottom being less than in some guns that have closer spaced metalwork and which may lead to a grip narrower to front than rear (potentially causing the rear hand to slide forward in recoil).
The barrels of the test gun are 30in and monobloc. This is not a given with Japanese-made Brownings (monobloc manufacture only came in halfway through the 425 production run). Previously, all Browning over-and-unders were chopperlump (as Belgian made B25s still are). Both joining and 10mm sighting rib are ventilated here. At the muzzles you will find a rod type green ‘high viz’ sight (other colours are available as after-market options). It is an adequate design but my preference is for solid beads for durability. The barrels are back-bored at 18.7mm with an extended forcing cone of 32mm. The SL comes with four ‘Invector Plus’ extended ‘Midas’ chokes (with cylinder, quarter, half and three-quarters constrictions).
The barrels are deeply blacked and generally well presented with no sign of obvious internal or external imperfection. They appeared internally straight, too (the shadow circles in the bore were concentric when a light source was available near the muzzles). I have watched Browning and Miroku barrels being assembled in Japan and was amazed at the hand-work that still goes into them. It is one of the most labour intensive stages of the production process.
Returning to the ‘ProFit’ stock, it has the latest type of adjustable comb. Instead of inserting two small Allen keys into the side of the butt to lock and unlock the sliding bushes on the comb pillars, a larger Allen key is inserted at the rear, through the 20mm Inflex II recoil pad. The latter is worthy of note. It may be exchanged for a 12mm and 25mm variant and up to three 6mm spacers can be fitted for additional length. Out of the box, the stock length is 375mm (14¾in).
The key features of this famous action are a full-width hinge pin and wide bolt meeting a bite in the lump beneath the bottom chamber mouth. Lumps/lugs on the barrel lock into recesses in the base of the action. The hinge pin, the recoil lugs and the locking bolt are positioned in a straight line. So, all the forces move straight back reducing any sheer effect with regard to the barrel and action. There is also more bearing surface contact in the Browning design than many others and more hand work required in its assembly and jointing. The action profile, however, is a little higher than other modern over-and-unders inspired by Boss and Woodward.
This was an intriguing test. I have shot different versions of the Browning 525 (and indeed its predecessors) many times. I can recall when chopperlump barrels were dropped in favour of monobloc; I can remember when Invector Plus chokes were introduced into the range (a notable improvement); I can also remember the advent of the Browning 725 in 2011 (which might be described as an improved and slightly more expensive version of the 525 with an improved ‘DS’ sealed choking system and lower action profile).
Cutting to the chase, this is the best 525 I have yet shot. Recoil was extremely low with the Lyalvale 24gm and 28gm cartridges used. I have rarely, if ever, felt less recoil in an over-and-under. This is most likely down to the additional weight and back-boring. The gun was well balanced and shot hard, rangy targets effortlessly. Another interesting and probably related characteristic of the SL was the almost complete absence of perceptible vibration (sometimes an issue with Browning and Miroku guns). I was genuinely surprised at the substantial difference a modification of stock material has made.
This is an excellent gun by any standard and good value, too. It comes in a useful ABS travel case.
BROWNING 525 SL
♦ RRP: £2,175
♦ International Sports Brands, Unit 2, Moorbrook Park, Didcot, Oxfordshire OX11 7HP.
♦ 01491 681830