Originally launched as a special edition, the Browning Exquisite has made its way into the comapany's standard range and has excellent potential, says Michael Yardley
This month’s test features a Browning Exquisite 20-bore. Tipping the scales at 6lb 12oz, it is a 30in-barrelled over-and-under with a single selective trigger, solid 6mm top rib and open-radius full-pistol grip. Invector Plus pattern multichokes are steel shot friendly and the 3in-chambered gun, made in Japan for Browning International, bears Belgian high-performance proof marks. It is imported into the UK by International Sports Brands.
BROWNING EXQUISITE 20-BORE REVIEW
A dedicated game model, the gun has laser-cut scroll engraving and classical styling with impressive decorative work. The Exquisite looks most attractive; its oil-finished wood and B25-like shapes are elegant and understated. The deeper-than-average scrollwork is applied in a pleasing symmetrical pattern. Some might call it acanthus but there is a fleur-de-lys feature in the lower middle, which is repeated on the action belly.
The Exquisite replaces the game scene-engraved Prestige and exemplifies a stylistic evolution. Several makers now offer comparable guns with deep lasered scrollwork that look increasingly like bench-made guns, having dispensed with cruder and thinner mechanical engraving. Laser engraving seems to be replacing rolled-on fine scroll and game scenes in mid-range guns. Laser chequering is often seen too, although the test gun appears to be hand chequered.
Guns made with these computer-enabled methods tend to look more refined and less like earlier industrial products. The test gun still has ample evidence of traditional handwork, nevertheless – it is not entirely machine-made. The stock has side panels with hand-cut drop points (historically a feature of deluxe models); the silver stock oval is of good size, and I liked the plain steel trigger (though it was a little small) and fine engine turning to the sides of the monobloc and extractors.
It is quite interesting to note how such new models develop commercially. David Stapley, the managing director of International Sports Brands, comments: “This Exquisite was launched as a special edition at the German IWA shooting show. These special editions tend to be an annual event for Browning. They’re launched every March to coincide with IWA and are a way to test the market with new ideas. The concept is to create a niche gun that is outside the standard catalogue of products. If a demand is seen, it may be added into the range.”
Our Exquisite remains a standard Browning 525 internally. It is an extra-finish gun but based on a standard, well-proven platform produced without great change for decades. Beretta has, in similar fashion, used its 600 series Silver Pigeons as the basis for many models. The Browning Superposed and its derivatives are based on the older design: 1920s instead of 1950s. And since the 1970s most Browning shotguns have been made in Japan by Miroku. The Browning ‘Custom Shop’ co-exists in Liège and still produces bespoke guns.
The 20-bore, meantime, accounts for about 30% of game gun sales (more in deluxe models). They have much to offer in machine-made but hand-finished form. Few guns offer better value or visual appeal and they work especially well with 30in barrels, which seem to maximise their pointing and handling dynamics (though 32in guns work well too if the barrels are not excessively heavy). This gun has a solid top rib and solid joining ribs as noted. It has quality, but with standard multichokes and solid joining ribs, the Exquisite feels just a little frontheavy. The barrels could be lightened.
The Invector Plus choking system employed necessitates a slightly thicker barrel wall profile than the most recent DS (Double Seal) thin-wall chokes. Might the test gun be even better with DS system chokes (or with fixed chokes)? This also brings up the intriguing possibility of a similarly styled 725, a gun that has much impressed as well. Meanwhile, the B25-like Exquisite appeals as it is, and demonstrates just how good machinemade guns have become.
The Browning B25 Superposed – from which this deluxe ‘525’ model is derived – was perfected by John Browning in the 1920s and marketed in the USA from 1931. Production ceased during the Second World War and restarted in 1948, with a 20-bore appearing in 1949. In the 1970s, Browning made a deal with Miroku to make a similar, slightly simplified gun with a detachable fore-end and Browning branding. Save for the introduction of monobloc barrel construction in the 1990s, and discounting the arrival of the revised 725, subsequent changes have been essentially cosmetic. All Brownings benefit from solid hinging and bolting. Unlike some modern over-and-unders, Browning puts the barrel lumps underneath the barrels. The action profile appears a bit deeper than on ‘bifurcated’ designs such as the Beretta, where lumps are machined into the sides of the barrels or monobloc, but this suits a 20-bore especially well.
I am fond of 30in over-and-under 20-bores and most shoot admirably now. The Exquisite is no exception. Some small issues could be refined. The solid-rib barrels give the gun a pronounced forward balance but while the stock shapes are sound the grip was too slim forward – the rear hand tended to slip. The basic pattern was right; it just needed a bit more ‘meat’ in the middle (or less to the rear) to facilitate purchase. The rounded fore-end was good. Triggers broke at 4lb and 4½lb: fine. Slight creep was evident on the second pull. The comb profile might have been a bit fuller. Although the stock shows only 21/8in drop at heel, I could lose vision of the foresight with full cheek pressure. There wasn’t much cast either but that is easily added. Overall, this model offers value and excellent general specification. I have been quite fussy on detail because of its potential.
KEY INFORMATION FOR THE BROWNING EXQUISITE 20-BORE
♦ RRP: £4,500
♦ International Sports Brands, Beechwood House, Woodcote, Oxfordshire RG8 0RR
♦ 01491 681830
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