The test gun this month is a Japanese-made but classically styled Browning 525 20-bore Hunter shotgun. It is a predominantly machine-made gun with 28in barrels and Invector multi-chokes. It hits the scales at something just over 6½lb and the price is under £1,200. In spite of the low cost, first impressions are good. The quality of finish is especially impressive metal-to-metal and wood-to-metal fit are excellent, as are the lustrous blacking and well-cut chequering. The machine applied scroll-and-game-scene engraving on the bright, polished action is adequate, if a little thin. My only other less than positive comment concerns the stock finish which, though functional, is a bit glossy. It is, however, something that might easily be dealt with by any competent gunsmith.
Dry mounting the Hunter only improves ones opinion of it. The balance is slightly forward of the full-width hinge-pin but not excessively so. The 28in barrels suit the gun well (there is a 30in version too, not to mention 12- and 28-bore versions). Generally, this gun feels and looks solid and well made. It is no lightweight, but 6½lb to 63⁄4lb is ideal for a modern 20-bore that may fire heavier payload cartridges (and also equates to the ideal for a London 12-bore side-by-side). The fore-end is of the Schnabel pattern (and excellent of its type), the butt shapes are better than average, too, and the stock is a good length (longer than the average 20-bore and better for it at a whisker over 14¾in).
This gun is well presented in all departments. The internally plated barrels are chambered for 3in (76mm) cartridges and bear fleur-de-lis proof marks for steel shot (a useful feature, but something we must all pray will not be inflicted on us any more than at present). The barrels are monobloc Browning held out against this method of manufacture until later models of the 425 and the barrels are exceptionally straight, far better than on some budget guns. Internal and external finish inspires real confidence; like Beretta, Browning has mastered the barrel-making art. I liked the solid joining ribs and 6mm ventilated sighting rib.
The barrels have short forcing cones (the funnel-like constriction that lies between the chamber and the main bore). This is no bad thing in a game-gun that may use fibre- or felt-wadded cartridges (with plaswads there is no need for short cones to achieve a good seal). The gun is nominally a 20 but the bore diameters are quite tight at 15.7mm. The received wisdom supported by my own experience is that felt recoil may be reduced in a more open-bored gun (although recoil was not an issue in this gun). The three Invector chokes were well machined.
The action is of classic Browning B25/Superposed style (see technical data). The design is notable in that it requires more hand fitting than many more modern designs, and may appeal to those who want a gun not entirely made by robots. As noted, it has a full-width hinge-pin and theres a full-width bolt beneath the bottom chamber mouth. It is attractive in form and well put together. I was not especially fond of the engraving, nor did the bling of the gold-plated trigger inspire me. The form of the fixed blade was reasonable and the trigger mechanism itself is recoil operated with a barrel selector in the usual place on the top strap combined with the safety. This design is practical and allows for near-instant choke selection without too much fiddling. I also liked the top lever and the style of its thumb-piece, which was nicely chequered.
The stock, made of fairly plain, grained walnut, was of generally good design with straight grain going through the grip. The butt is attached to the action by means of a stock bolt running lengthways, as on most modern over-and-unders, rather than the breech pin seen on most bench-made side-by-side guns running vertically through the narrow front part of the stock with a screw head under the top lever.
Stock dimensions on the Hunter were good. My ideal would have been to raise the heel 1⁄8in or so. At the moment the dimensions are a quite useable 1½in (from the rib axis to the nose of the comb) and 2¼in (from the rib axis to the heel). My advice on a mass-produced over-and-under would be 13⁄8in, 21⁄8in. I liked the little extra length to heel on this gun, however. Most guns are 1⁄8in longer to the heel than to the centre of the butt sole (as measured from the trigger); this one had ¼in extra, which made it feel very secure at the shoulder and prevented it slipping down the shoulder in recoil (making second shot recovery easier).
The comb shape was good, too, save perhaps for the rather obvious flutes to either side beneath the nose (what Purdey calls the thumb holes). The full pistol grip was not bad at all but would have been even better if it were not quite so narrow to its front. There was a slight tendency for the hand to move forward upon it more noticeable in recoil than when dry mounting. Nevertheless, this is a well-designed and attractive stock. If I owned the gun I would strip off the gloss finish and replace it with traditional oil. I might also remove the lip of the Schnabel fore-end and round it off. The Schnabel is very good of its type but I still prefer a field fore-end without any frontal protrusion.
Often when gun testing I have to make do with artificial birds. For this test, happily, I was able to shoot the little 525 in the field at the excellent Hertfordshire shoot of Peter Jones (father to field, football and film star Vinnie). I am fond of Peters place, not least because my younger son learnt to shoot game there. The 525 was taken out of the slip on a late-season walk-and-stand day with no fewer than 17 guns attending.
I must confess to missing the first two birds shot at the first in front and the second behind. After that the fast-handling Browning and I acquitted ourselves well together accounting for a fair share of the bag (a dozen birds and a hare), including a memorable penultimate drive when two cock pheasants and several partridges fell to the diminutive Browning. It was a very satisfying gun to use, swinging easily and inspiring confidence. The Superposed action suits a 20 especially well. The 525 had no real vices and many virtues. Recoil control was good even using 30g and 32g cartridges (all I could find in the gunroom).
I would rate it as an excellent gun for a very modest price. This 525 is very good as it stands; if Browning added a solid rib, a semi-pistol grip and colour case-hardening, it would have something really special on its hands. I would still give the gun as tested eight points out of a potential 10. It would be first class for walking-up and normal driven days (all save Devon high birds). It could also be recommended as an inexpensive
introduction to the delights of 20-bores for anyone who wanted to experiment. All things considered, a very good gun for the money.
The Browning Superposed over-and-under design is one of the worlds best proven and most successful. It has been in production in one form or another since the Twenties. John Moses Browning, the Mormon gunmaking genius, died at his workbench at Fabrique National in Belgium perfecting it (leaving his son to complete the single trigger mechanism). He was also responsible for various Winchester rifles and shotguns, the modern semi-automatic pistol, the .50 calibre machine gun (as seen in Spitfires and many other fighter planes), the Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR) and A (Auto) 5 semi-automatic shotgun among many others. His mind was extraordinary and his method was to conceive a design and then make a prototype in wood.
The action on the test gun is about as well proven as any design could be. It has been in production for three-quarters of a century and is highly regarded by both live-quarry and clay-shooting sportsmen. The design puts the lumps beneath the barrel and includes a full-width hinge-pin. Lock up is achieved by a wide, flat bolt which comes out of the bottom of the action faces and meets a slot bite beneath the bottom chamber mouth. Coil springs power the hammers.
Flagship Browning B25s are produced in the custom shop at Herstal by traditional bench methods (and start at about £6,500) but most modern Browning over-and-unders are made very competently in Japan by BC Miroku (which makes similar guns under its own name). Browning has a long-standing relationship with Miroku. Legend has it that a team from Browning went to Japan to complain that its guns were being
copied, and came away so impressed that Miroku ended up as a sub-contractor.
The Browning 525 Hunter costs under £1,200. For stockists call BWM on 01235 514550 or email BWM