July 29, 2008

Browning Gold Evolve Sporting 12 Gauge 011262428

At first glance, the Browning Gold Evolve Sporting is an obvious re-creation of the original Gold introduced now more than a decade ago. But we think this gun’s chiseled appearance is more than just an aesthetic redesign.

The Evolve is radically different in appearance from the Teknys. Where the latter has a combination of traditional design melded with more up-to-date features, the Evolve is all new, all today, right now, hottest thing on the block. This starts at the forend, which has a tapered, front-to-back triangular sculpt to it. More radical than the overall forend design is the thumb ridge that runs at a downward angle back the other direction, toward the front. This actually seems to encourage the fore-finger of the fore-hand to ride comfortably on top of it with the thumb. This is counter to the thumb ridge on most forends where the thumb is accommodated comfortably but the fore-finger is often left to reside on the forend’s side. We do realize that hand placement varies from shooter to shooter, but felt the Evolve’s forend design accommodated better than most those who like to "point" their fore-hand and fore-finger in line with the muzzle (rather than cupping the forend). For those who do like the cupped hand approach, the forward and down carve in the stock is easily identified by finger and thumb tip for consistent placement.

The forend’s checkering, as is that at the modified and angular pistol grip, is also cut in a distinctive sharp-edged pattern. It’s not the tightest checkering we’ve ever seen, but sharp enough to be well felt by an ungloved hand. While odd in design, the checkering is in keeping with the gun’s overall appearance, and it’s well done, with no runover at the points or edges.

For any clays shooter who’s ever appreciated the original Gold, we think you’ll just love the Evolve for its fast handling and load flexibility. We do wish Browning had chosen a nicer piece of wood for this gun, as well as extended choke tubes.

At the back end, the butt stock has a sculpted cut in it, similar to the forend’s, that runs from the top of the pistol cheek piece down to the buttpad. (The buttpad, too, continues these sharp lines.) While this cut in the buttstock has no functional purpose, it would have been a mistake to leave it off in light of the design in the front end. Browning scores for not only making the look of the Evolve, well, evolutionary, but making it consistent.

There were only two things we were slightly displeased with. One was the design of the pistol grip. The arc of the slope is gradual, and where it tapers back to its bottom, in line with where the hand naturally wants to go at the top of the grip, it’s a bit thick. For those who are used to really wrapping their fingers around a pistol grip, we think they’ll find the splayed feeling in the hand odd. Not bad odd, just a new feeling that will take a round or two to get used to. Small hands will probably not appreciate this design. Those with such anatomy can push their trigger hand further up grip, of course, but our female test shooters found this put the angle of their hands at an odd cock to the line of the arm.

The second factor was the quality of the wood. We liked that it was a satin-finish walnut (the high-gloss on the Beretta stock is pretty, but it shows fingerprints), but the wood itself on our sample was very plain Jane. Though the Browning’s price tag of $1275 is in line with many other autoloaders today, we think they could have thrown a better piece of tree on this one for the money.

While we didn’t care for the quality of figuring on the stock, we did like that it was apparently a very lightweight piece of wood. In combination with the aluminum-alloy receiver, this gun weighed a clean and highly manageable 7 pounds. The weight difference was noticeable when shooting it next to the 8.5-pound Teknys. The Evolve’s receiver is matte black on top to keep down glare and reflection, and high-gloss on the sides, where the gun’s only embellishments of a gold swoop and the combination block print/script "evolve sporting" appear. It is, surprisingly, a receiver that is a full inch longer than the Teknys housing, despite the fact that the Teknys can accommodate the 3-inch shell and the Evolve does not.

The buttstock on the Browning Evolve has a carved wedge that runs from the top of the comb down to the toe. It serves no purpose, but it does contribute to the gun's edgy looks.

Aggressive shooters are going to love the Evolve Sporting. Mounting as straight-on as the Teknys, this gun is all the speed a shooter could want, without a shred of whip. Where the Beretta was perfectly and admirably capable of bustin’ clays from short-window positions like skeet No. 8, the Evolve made such breaks look like child’s play. This gun had the float of a nicely balanced 20-gauge over/under, yet we didn’t find anything lacking on long presentations. In fact, we found it was often possible to break such birds sooner than we’d normally take them, as the gun’s quickness easily accommodated a fast pull-away (or pull-through, as the method may be), that accurately built in the correct lead. We found no bobble in the muzzle due to the gun’s lightness, nor did we find a lack of steadiness when acquiring birds at longer reaches. We attribute this to the gun being well-balanced squarely between the hands that encouraged a clean and fast mount.

Functionality mirrored the Beretta. The Evolve digested and ejected flawlessly the same range of ammunition used with the Teknys, though mechanically the Browning is different. As noted, the Evolve chambers only the 2.75-inch 12-gauge shell and is clearly designed for clay bird use. Yet Browning has gone a different route in having the gun accommodate the widest variety of loads within this sporting definition.

Even the magazine cap on the Evolve is in keeping with the gun's sleek overall looks.

Included in the package are two gas pistons, one for target loads with shot payloads of 1.125 ounces or less, and a second for payloads of 1.25 ounces and heavier. One of our test shooters has owned a Gold since it was introduced in 1995, and has never had an issue with it functioning over the range of light target to heavy 2.75-inch field and waterfowl loads. So why include two pistons now? Other than FITASC, only live-pigeon shooters employ the heavier 1.25-ounce "target" loads. Perhaps this is an attempt to woo the FITASC crowd, traditionally entrenched in Krieghoffs and the like, into trying a semi-auto. Along with the porting on the Browning, which helps control muzzle rise, having a semi-automatic certainly helps take the pounding out of that discipline’s heavier loads. Whatever the reason, we think it’s best not to look a gift horse in the mouth. Having two pistons included is better than finding out one doesn’t function for your needs and having to alter the gun or part or repair the same time and again, or worse, having to buy a different gun after you’ve already laid out the bucks.

Browning’s Evolve Gold Sporting comes packaged similarly to the Teknys. It, too, gets a hard break-down case, multiple chokes (though these are flush-mounted tubes, and we think that for a sporting clays-specific gun, they should be extended), an interchangeable set of various colored fiber-optic pipes, and, glory be, a shim kit, a first for Browning. There’s also a cabled receiver padlock included.

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