Eagerly anticipated, this new 20-bore D-grade addition to the Browning stable doesn’t disappoint; Michael Yardley finds it both looks and feels like a best gun
New to the famous gunmaker’s stable and hotly anticipated, Michael Yardley is impressed by the Browning B15 20-bore D grade. Visually attractive and finished to a high standard, it would make an excellent game gun.
For more on the Browning B15, read Michael Yarldey’s review of the 12-bore in Browning B15: the new upmarket over-and-under.
BROWNING B15 20-BORE D GRADE
Since testing a similar gun some months ago in 12-bore guise and being suitably impressed, I’ve awaited the arrival of this new 20-bore, D-grade version of the Browning B15 with interest. The B15s, reminiscent of the earlier B125 models, are of part Japanese and part Belgian manufacture. The metal parts emanate from the Miroku factory in Japan (which makes most Browning over-and-unders now) but they are assembled traditionally on the bench in Belgium by the same artisans who still make B25 Superposed guns. The B15s, moreover, are stocked in high-grade Turkish walnut, hand chequered and oiled, and engraved and finished in Belgium, too.
First impressions of the test gun are very good. It is attractive visually and finished to a high standard with first-class blacking and excellent wood-to-metal and metal-to-metal fit. The stock, which is presented with ideal “shelf” measurements (1½in and 2in for drop with a length of pull of 15in) also shows exceptional figure. The fore-end is a “faux three-piece” design as typically seen in real form on high-end Belgian Brownings. The action is boldly engraved with game scenes and scroll – well-formed pheasants grace one side, grouse the other and there are two woodcock on the belly (I am informed the engraving itself is traced onto the gun by laser and then cut traditionally).
The B15 tested weighs in at just over 6½lb with 30in barrels. The side-plates not only look attractive with their well-executed engraving but add a little weight in the middle of the gun where it is useful. The B15 has a solid, good-quality look and “feel” as it should with an RRP knocking on £17k. The general form is particularly elegant with pleasing proportions and cleanly sculpted fences. The best Belgian bench finish distinguishes it from less-expensive, mass-produced models. The shapes of stock, capped pistol grip and fore-end would be hard to better. I especially liked the well-tapered comb and the grip, which offered efficient and comfortable purchase without being too big.
I was not quite sure about the faux three-piece effect to the forestock – a feature of D and E grade B15s but not the B and C grade options (there is no A). Nevertheless, the ergonomics of the forestock were excellent. Another unusual feature, as mentioned, is a skeletonised butt plate. The latter is skilfully fitted but I always think guns equipped with them may slip more easily if put up with their heel down and the barrel leaning against a vertical support; they may also slip more easily at the shoulder.
This 20-bore comes to the shoulder well and, as is often the case with mid-weight 30in 20-bores, feels both handy and pointable. Not only are the dynamics good, the proportions are appealing. I must admit bias, however: I usually like long-barrelled 20s. I use a pair of side-plated, 32in 20s for most of my driven-game shooting. Their steady balance is well forward (my preference in a 32) but the B15 here balances just (⅛in) forward of the hinge pin and feels especially willing as a result. Meanwhile, I often say to people considering a new gun that it is hard to go wrong with a 30in over-and-under 20-bore; 32in 20s are a little more specialised (although, for the record, this model is also available as a 32 as well as with 28in barrels).
Barrels here are monobloc and chambered for 3in (70mm) cartridges. Both tubes are marked 15.9mm (near the norm for a modern 20). The barrels have solid joining ribs extending back almost, but not quite, to the action and an exceptional, narrow, tapered and solid 6mm-4mm sighting rib.
I much liked this, it is well suited to a game gun and helps to keep barrel weight down. The rib was well laid with a matted top surface and a neat, small metal bead to the muzzles.
The action of the B15 is of typical Browning pattern, as improved in the 725 model with a lower-action profile. The mechanical concept remains much like a B25, with a full-width hinge-pin and bolting under the bottom chamber, but the overall action height is significantly and cleverly reduced (necessitating redesigned shoulders and fences). The single-trigger mechanism is of mechanical type – a useful feature in a game gun as it is not ammunition dependent. Trigger pulls on this gun were crisp as one would expect at the price point. Ejector work is of classic Browning/Miroku coil-spring loaded hammer pattern, which has proved reliable and efficient. Another interesting feature is “DS” (direct seal) chokes. These are cleverly conceived; they have a copper seal to their rear and the threads, unusually, are to the front. They allow for an improved gas seal and less tromboning at the muzzles to accommodate multichokes and hence the possibility of reduced barrel weight.
I shot the B15 first on a skeet range devised by Foster and Davies a century ago to practise their grouse “hunting”. One word sums up the B15: crisp. The gun looks and feels good (my one small criticism was a little bit of play between barrel and fore-end). It shoots without vice. There were no malfunctions of any kind. The auto-safety is positive in action as is the barrel-selector function. The gun looks and feels refined.
The B15 is colour case hardened in traditional manner, although this is struck off externally at finishing. All the mechanical components are hand fitted in time-honoured fashion by smoke and file. As a result, the gun functions differently to the mass-produced models. There is, intriguingly, less internal vibration and it feels and looks like a best gun. It’s not cheap but a similar scroll-engraved gun without the faux three-piece fore-end starts from a tempting £11,500. Delivery is immediate.
BROWNING B15 20-BORE D GRADE
♦ Price: from £11,500
♦ International Sports Brands Ltd (ISB), Beechwood House, Beechwood Court, Long Toll, Woodcote, Oxfordshire RG8 0RR
♦ 01491 681830