September 2006

Savage Milano Is a Best Buy Among 28 Gauge Over/Unders

Mainly on price, Savage’s new Milano shotgun line wins this battle against Browning’s newest stackbarrel, the 525 Field, and Ruger’s venerable Red Label, but all three are winners.

For the serious shotgunner, the 12 gauge is the workhorse for whatever job is at hand, whether skeet and trap, sporting clays, or the majority of hunting applications. Yet the 28 gauge remains a favorite as an alternate gauge, and there’s good reason for this.

We can’t help but love shooting the Ruger Red Label No. KRL-2827BR with the straight “English” stock, $1,702, top. It looks like it’s going to be whippy, but, it nearly floats to where you need it. Shooting the Savage Milano, center, was certainly enjoyable, and this $1,433 gun turned out to be the fastest of the three. Bottom: The Browning 525 Field is certainly a smaller version than its 12-gauge sibling, but the shooter will have to look closely at the gun lined up on a store display rack to realize it’s a 28 gauge.

The 28 gauge patterns about as well and consistently as the 12 gauge, albeit without quite as many pellets, so it makes an excellent target choice. And because the gauge offers reduced recoil and guns come in lighter and smaller configurations, it’s an almost perfect choice to introduce children, women, and any generally nervous beginner to the shooting sports. It’s also suitable for bird hunting, although, naturally, at somewhat reduced ranges compared to the 12 gauge.

When Browning introduced the $2,050 525 Field No. 013085813 in 28 gauge, and then we heard that Savage was introducing a new over/under shotgun line dubbed the Milano, one of which was a $1,433 28 gauge, we wanted to see how the new entries fared against an established 28 gauge from Ruger, the Red Label No. KRL-2827BR with the straight "English" stock, $1,702.

We put the guns to the test on several sporting clays ranges, stretching from moderately easy to fairly challenging courses. We also shot them standing at 40 yards as measured by a Bushnell rangefinder (as if for patterning) and from the Shooter’s Ridge Steady Rest on Midway USA’s MTM portable shooting bench for point-of-impact tests on the National Target Company’s shotgun patterning target (all proved accurately regulated). Trigger pulls were measured by an RCBS trigger pull gauge provided by Midway USA.

Here’s what we liked and didn’t like about the trio:

Ruger Red Label 28 Gauge No. KRL-2827BR, $1,702


Though certainly related, this gun is really a different animal than its 12-gauge big brother. Much slimmer—and the straight English stock enhances its skinny looks—this gun verges on suffering from the toy-like appearance prone to many sub-gauges. There’s nothing wrong with adjusting the dimensions of a gun to suit its gauge, but makers too often carry it to extremes, sacrificing balance and handling as they scale down to "miniaturized" proportions. The Ruger appears to have happened on this fate at first glance, but, thankfully, closer inspection reveals this gun to be a delightfully proportioned and suitably scaled sub-gauge shotgun.

The Red Label is diminutive. Its sub-gauge barrels look even trimmer than normal thanks to nearly total separation; the barrels are secured together only where they meet the lug/chamber end; a mid-rib support 8 inches up (concealed by the forend when assembled); and via a 1-inch long weld at the muzzle. Even the rib doesn’t have much to it. The vent posts (in an unusual anvil shape), are 2.25 inches apart. If we looked at just the rib, it seemed a bit gappy, but with the gun assembled whole, more complementary. The rib sports a brass front bead; there is no mid-rib bead.

The field forend continues the clean looks. It angles just slightly forward from the front top to the front bottom. This slight angulation contrasts nicely with the rake of the straight stock in the opposite direction; there’s almost a triangulation to the gun’s looks, with its apex at the receiver/top lever point, a "shape" that indicates the gun’s balance point—but more on that in a bit.

A fairly conventional Deely-type latch in the underside disengages the forend from the barrel and receiver. It suits the gun size-wise, but ham-handed shooters will probably have trouble inserting a finger or thumb tip into the depression to grab the latch edge and pull it back. Also a problem is the fact that the latch only pulls out a bit more than a quarter inch, and it doesn’t remain out once it’s pulled on, instead rebounding back into place when let go. Disassembly is further complicated as you have to first pull up on the forend before you can pull it away from the barrels and receiver. It’s not an impossible configuration, but it does make us wish we sometimes had three hands, one to hold the bottom end of the gun, one to hold the latch open, and the third to pull the forend up and away.

The latch material is in a stainless-steel finish, matching the receiver’s. A brass Ruger emblem in front of the latch hides the screw that holds the latch assembly in the forend.

Cut checkering in an inverted triangle design appear at both sides of the forend. There is no checkering at the underside (there’s no "belly" to speak of, as this forend’s underside in no way swells at any point), but then it’s not necessary. Even the smallest hand will comfortably wrap around this forend, and for the large shooter who’d position the hand so that the fingers extend past the end, the ham of the thumb and the aft-side fingers will still contact the side checkering. Besides, it’s not like the gun’s hard to hold onto, even with the increased recoil from field loads.

Checkering, again in a triangular shape, is on both sides of the straight grip, starting just beneath the top tang edge and continuing in an agreeable, downward-angled slope that ends about two-thirds down the buttstock length. The wrist is very slender. Yet we don’t think most large-handed shooters will dislike it on the English stock version. Because of the straight stock, it’s easy for one to slide the hand backward a bit to gain not only more purchase on the wood that tapers out in circumference from the wrist, but to better accommodate where the shooting hand fore-finger hits the trigger. It’s a better choice for larger shooters who might otherwise feel cramped at the shooting hand with the pistol grip version.

The buttstock is finished with a hard plastic plate. In our opinion, this is an easy way out for the manufacturer, one they ought to do away with. They do nothing to decrease recoil and they look cheap. They also don’t offer any purchase on clothing, often slipping during recoil, and that makes recovering for a second shot tough, even in a sub-gauge. A member of our test team had her personal gun refitted with a soft-rubber pad.

The trigger pulled inconsistently when measured with the RCBS trigger pull scale, ranging between 4.75 and sometimes 7.5 pounds, both top and bottom and depending on which barrel was set to be tested first (the heavier measurements were always to the barrel fired second). That looks disturbing on paper, and frankly the upper range is a bit much for a gun of this gauge, but we don’t recall a moment where we felt the trigger actually felt too heavy. The gun’s ejectors have never failed to function.

The safety, on the other hand, some might find bothersome. As this gun is mainly designed for field use, it auto-safes immediately upon swinging the top-lever to the right. That’s a smart thing on a hunting gun, but for competitive shooters whose guns never auto-safe on opening, this will be a frustration until you miss enough targets and learn to push the safety off before you call "pull." Users will also not be able to switch barrels unless the gun is in the safe position. We do like the fact that the barrel choice is clearly marked with a "T" to the right for the top barrel and a "B" to the left for the bottom. Sitting slightly angled to select a barrel, the safety felt loose on the stock, but it never failed.

Fit and finish are acceptable. There’s a bit of an edge where both the stock and forend are inletted to meet the stainless receiver. Yet this overlap is even and the edge is finished and stained. (Frankly, shotgun buyers have to spend significant dollar to find shotguns where the wood precisely meets the metal, so we can’t consider this a detraction in more economical models, especially when the exposed edge is finished.) The receiver, by the way, is as trim as the rest of the gun. Even the fences are dished in, which we think helps the eye go straight to the rib.

Accuracy simply isn’t an issue; with its narrow buttstock, it’s easy to get this gun precisely in the shoulder pocket and against the cheek for a straight view down the rib to the bead. There is no ramping or canting. In fact, once you get over transitioning from your standard 8-pound shooter to this slim little 6-pounder, you will probably feel more "at one" with this gun than with the full sizers.

We never had a function problem with our Red Label. Truly, the only difficulties we’ve encountered were with the forend removal and the bit of frustration with the safety. We also noted that on hot days, the Ruger gets a bit tough to close when it gets heated up from repeated firing. But since the latter problem only happens on scorching summer sporting clays courses, we really can’t hold that against it in the hunting department.

Browning 525 Field 28 Gauge No. 013085813, $2050


This gun is nearly the antithesis of the Ruger, at least when it comes to dimensions. While certainly a smaller version than its 12-gauge sibling, one will have to look closely at the gun lined up on a store display rack to realize it’s a 28 gauge; it simply doesn’t possess the miniature dimensions that are the unfortunate hallmark so many sub-gauge guns.

Take, for instance, the barrels. With a solid mid-rib, rather than being separated as in the Ruger, they appear to belong to a 20 gauge at first glance. Same with the forend that wraps well around the barrels and doesn’t appear to have been shortened appreciably from the larger gauge’s. Too, the buttstock, which, though as trim through the center of the wrist as the Ruger, flares deeply to a standard pistol grip and doesn’t sacrifice anything in length of pull at 14.25 inches. In fact, several taller-than-average gentleman test shooters remarked on its comfortable fit.

For an over/under, the 525 looks updated. The forward-slanting rib posts (thick, by the way, which enhances the "big gun" appearance) add a distinctive and racy look to the gun. The front of the Schnabel forend also flares a bit more radically than normal. The checkering design adds a "today" look to the gun. Done in a rear-pointed wave on the sides of the forend, this flowing shape is echoed in sculpting at the stock above the trigger and in front of the wrist, parallel to the checkering at the pistol grip that is ample and sweeps forward to a nice point behind the trigger guard. Overall, the checking itself is nicely defined, providing a good grip both fore and aft.

We didn’t feel the same way about the stamped engraving, toplever, and buttstock plate. Starting with the latter, Browning adds only a hard-plastic plate on the end. It’s fitted perfectly, but please, this is a field gun. A rubber butt pad should be de rigueur. There’s simply too much slippage to be had when mounting and firing. And since the 12-gauge Field model has a rubber butt pad (and that gun is $30 cheaper!), there seems to be no excuse for this on the sub-gauge. Additionally, the large screws that attach the butt plate we feel are unattractive; a rubber pad simply wouldn’t reveal these. Overall, fit and finish on the gun was about like the Ruger, with a distinctive but not large overlap at the inletting of buttstock and fore-end where they meet the receiver, but, also like the Ruger, at least the edge was sanded and stained to finish.

Engraving appears in a kind of free-form wave (again) motif that encircles what in our opinion is a rather ugly quarter-size space of muddled stippling. The Browning Buckmark symbol appears in this mottled area, and the entire arrangement is identical on both sides of the stainless receiver. The underside minimizes the design but keeps the stippled center, this time supporting the "525" model designation. There also appear to be two welded-on screw-hole covers near the rear bottom of the receiver, and they’re not well done. Raised on the right side, the same is flush on the other.

The toplever, we feel, is equally sloppy in its looks. With a convex shape on its left side to ease thumb placement and operation (which is nice), Browning imprinted a series of downward angled lines that not only don’t coordinate with anything else on the gun, but do nothing to enhance the thumb’s purchase—it’s too small a space for the lines to be effective. And since the off-side sports nothing at all, it lacks uniformity. To us it looks like Browning was simply too lazy to treat the right side the same as the left and didn’t have enough imagination to make what design it does have coordinate with the rest of the gun’s looks. Otherwise the toplever’s profile is fine (no one will have trouble getting their thumb on it), and it operates smoothly.

Looks of course, are one thing, and, truthfully, while we weren’t fond of some of the details, the overall package we liked very much. We liked the gun even more once we shot it.

Again, this is a different animal than the Ruger. It weighs 13 ounces more, and the balance distribution is more forward. It is in no way, though, clunky or barrel heavy. In fact, we think that those who feel the 12-gauge Citoris fall into the 2x4 category will absolutely love this gun in its sub-gauge incarnation. It mounts cleanly, sitting nicely in the shoulder pocket thanks to the reduced width of the buttstock (a benefit of most sub-gauges). The rib has some height to it, which lends itself well to an almost rifle-like view down the barrel—the mid-rib and front beads layered perfectly, never stacking—that always allowed an uncluttered view of the target at hand. In our opinion it swings very well, smoothly and steadily, at whatever speeds are necessary to tackle sporting clays targets, and it transitioned well between target pairs.

We ran several hundred rounds through the 525 and had only one mechanical problem. At one point, on one station about 75 birds into a 100-bird course, the gun stopped firing. We examined the barrel selector, and while it appeared to indicate the bottom barrel of choice, we moved the selector from bottom to top and back again and from fire to safe. (The 525 does not auto-safe upon breaking, something we feel is great in a competitive gun, but not an ideal feature on a hunting firearm.) Again, the same problem, and we again moved the safety/selector around. After one more try, the gun returned to functioning normally.

After examining the barrel selector thoroughly, it appears it may not have been precisely on one choice or the other, despite all our moving it around. It takes a positive push left to right/right to left to choose "U" for the bottom or "O" for the top barrel, but it is possible to nudge it slightly off the mark. (The safety, on the other hand, has no such ambiguity about it, it’s either on or off, period.). That being said, because the malfunction happened only on the one station and never again over another couple hundred rounds, we find it hard to call it a true failure. We chalked it up to shooter handling with the caveat that it is possible to stall the barrel selector slightly off the mark and prevent firing. On a side note, users will not be able to switch barrels at all without the safety being engaged.

Trigger pull measured by the RCBS scale ranged from 5.85 pounds on the bottom to 6.2 on the top, fired in that order, 5.75 to 5.85 fired top to bottom, much more consistent than the Ruger. The automatic ejectors worked flawlessly, cleanly snapping fired hulls out of the gun and flinging them well behind the shooter on opening the gun.

The Browning gained some points over the Ruger on assembly/disassembly. A longer latch in the forend pulled further out, and the forend pulled away from the barrels and receiver after engaging it. There’s also a bigger detent above the latch, one that larger fingers and thumbs will appreciate. Barrels joined the receiver block easily and locked cleanly into place without effort.

Savage Milano 28 Gauge, $1433


Savage has a reputation for producing plain-Jane rifles that may sometimes scrimp on external frills but never on accuracy. Shotguns, however, are a completely new foray for this reputable company, so we were more than curious to see if the new Milano would follow the pattern the company’s rifles take.

From an aesthetic standpoint, indeed it does. This is a simple, traditionally designed firearm, but what is there is done well. Our sample, for instance, came with a fairly nice piece of wood, Turkish walnut, with a good amount of figuring often absent from guns in this price range. This figuring is shown off well with a light gloss satin finish. Checkering at both sides of the Schnabel forend and both sides of the pistol-grip wrist is adequately sharp and offers sufficient purchase for an ungloved hand.

The forend, nicely turned and flared out at the end, possesses a slight swell to the belly, good for larger hands, and has adequate length; tall shooters with longer lengths of pull who normally move their forehand out on the forend to accommodate shorter sub-gauges should find adequate wood to grasp. Of all three guns tested, we perhaps liked the detach on the Milano best. A fingertip detent, rather than a pull-out latch, the hole sculpted in the wood surrounding it allows even a sausage finger access. The detent itself accommodates only a finger or thumb tip; some might find the ledge to push down on a bit small, but as it takes a positive, not forceful, push to engage (you must press it down both to disengage the forend from the barrels and receiver as well as to engage the lug to reassemble, though the Savage manual claims the latter isn’t necessary), we don’t believe anyone will have trouble with this design.

At the back end, this is the one gun that came with a rubber butt pad, something that, in our opinion, is the most practical choice on any field shotgun. It is sloped slightly forward at the heel to prevent catching on clothes, and while edged at the toe to keep in line with the lower edge of the buttstock, we don’t think anyone will have this gun catch on dismount—we certainly never experienced anything of the kind while shooting. The buttpad is fitted to the gun well, though we’ve seen better finishing at the joint.

The subject of fit and finish leads us back to the receiver. As with the Browning and Ruger, the Milano has a defined, even edge to the wood where it meets the metal. It is neither unpleasant to look at nor badly done. All edges are stained and none are rough, except for the location where the toplever meets the fences—but unless we looked for it, we really didn’t notice it. The jeweled monoblock receiver, of forged nickel chrome with a stainless finish, features some very light engraving in a scroll pattern. This engraving appears at the receiver’s side and underside (sparingly), fence rear, toplever, trigger guard, and on the forend metal work that mates to the block. These last three places are in polished blue. The swivel end of the toplever also sports an engraved crown, and the trigger guard is further highlighted by a woodcock in flight. The toplever has a skeletal flower design integrated, but we felt that its non-polished finish bleeding away from the polish of the rest of the mechanism was a bit rough looking. Likewise with the safety, also dully finished. Yes, these are the points that will receive the most finger contact, so this is probably a more practical finish that will wear better than polished blue, but we still feel it’s a bit incongruous in appearance. The trigger, by the way, is gold-plated, and as it’s our experience that this shows use as quickly as polished blue, we feel that a matte finish blue or stainless finish might have been more appropriate.

We really liked the Milano’s safety the best of the three. The barrel selector on this Italian-built gun most will find similar to Beretta’s styling, whereby the selector is a separate side-to-side piece in the safety’s middle. One dot to the left shows the bottom barrel, two to the right the top. Only one thing we wished Savage had added was some color to the dots, to make them more visible to the shooter.

We feel Savage’s safety/selection design is faster than the "U" configuration of the Browning—down to safe, over to switch barrels, back up to make fireable—and less sloppy than Ruger’s angular arrangement. Further, the barrel selector is laid with vertical thumb engagement lines, while the safety itself has checkered metal work, making it easy to distinguish between the two without looking. Operationally, the safety takes a positive push to both engage and disengage, and the gun does not auto-safe upon opening.

Shooting the Milano was certainly enjoyable, and this gun turned out to be the fastest of the three. It also proved to be the one that needed the most control. Balance we found to be somewhere between the Ruger and Browning, still between the hands, with a tiny bit of forward weight that was more than the Ruger’s but less than the Browning’s. We felt it could have used a bit more balance to the front, as the Milano verges on being whippy. Over the sporting clays course, we often found ourselves shooting to the front of crossers, and as most of you know, shooting in front is a hard thing to do. To compensate for this, we gripped the gun tighter, especially with the forehand to more forcefully control barrel point insertion and swing. Floating the Milano in the hands, like with the Ruger, just wasn’t a good idea; the gun just swings too fast this way.

Hand control was enhanced through the eye, with this gun, as it has a tiny brass mid-rib bead that lines up precisely behind the red fiber-optic front sight (which we loved) on what is the lowest-profile rib of the three. This gun sights down the rib so well, in fact, that we had trouble getting any kind of bad sight picture, even when we deliberately mismounted the gun. Mismounting actually proved hard to do. This gun snaps to the shoulder beautifully, part of what makes it so fast. (Another reason is that our testers are all right-handed and this gun has cast off; left-hand shooters may not find this gun so suitable without stock alteration.) But as we’ve noted, this gun is nearly too fast. We found ourselves thinking about how to handle the gun to make the shot more than with the other two. We’d call this gun shootable in a deliberate manner, as a carefully controlled move-mount-swing method showed better accuracy than the more instinctive approach that could be found with the Ruger or the 12-gauge "rhythm" that was had with the Browning.

Trigger pull on the Milano weighed in at a snappy 4.5 to 4.88 pounds on the bottom barrel, 6.25 to 6.5 at the top when fired in that order. In reverse, 5.75 at both the top and 5 to 5.75 on the bottom. There were no mechanical problems with the automatic ejectors, which performed adequately.

Gun Test Reccommends

Ruger Red Label 28 gauge, $1,702. Buy It. As a field gun, the Ruger has proved to be reliable and handleable. Its straight English stock puts the gun nicely in line with the eye, and it is fast without being overzealous. Practiced shooters will find it handles instinctively and effortlessly. We think the retail tag may be a bit too high for this rather plain gun—not a bargain, but a fair value.

Browning 525 28 gauge, $2,050. Buy It. This is a snazzy gun, with streamlined updated looks and solid handling abilities. While we didn’t like some of the fine details, like the engraving, those types of things are largely a matter of personal taste and are not in any way indicative of the gun’s shootability. This gun is the highest, in terms of price, but in terms of flexibility probably earns it. This one is not only perfectly suitable for hunting, but is a nice-sub-gauge gun for competitive shooters. (While we tested this in the Field model, Browning actually makes this gun in a Sporting Clays version that is heavier, has a longer length of pull and comes ported. All that, of course, also costs more.) We predict that especially big and tall shooters and those who have had trouble transitioning from their favorite 12 to a sub-gauge because of the latter’s often too-dinky dimensions will find this the ideal choice. It has a great combination of small-gauge nimbleness in its swing and acquisition while maintaining a more "normal" big-gauge feel in the hand. The only thing we’d like to see come on the gun is a rubber butt pad instead of the plastic cap, especially with the price tag as high as it is.

Savage Milano 28 gauge, $1,433. Best Buy. Not only is this the most economical in the bunch, but we think it offers a superb combination of aesthetics, fit, feel, and handling in a field gun. This gun nearly begs to be shot at grouse and woodcock veering through the short windows of a thick covert. We think it crosses over well as a possible sub-gauge gun for experienced competitive shooters, as the clay sports demand a more deliberate approach to target acquisition and this gun is very, very fast — fast to the point of requiring purposeful control. Too, this speedy handling will be a benefit to beginners (especially women and youths), who not only tend to overgrip their guns, but also mostly shoot behind targets when they miss. It’s hard not to keep in front with this one. The only shooters, we feel, who will be a bit frustrated with this gun initially will be the moderately experienced, those who have basic skills but haven’t shot a lot of guns and leaned to accommodate various weights and balances. That said, its nice wood, consistent fit and finish, subtly done embellishments, and the fact that it comes with both a rubber butt pad and a fiber optic sight make this a very worthwhile package at a very affordable price.


-Written and photographed by C. Fergus Covey, using evaluations from Gun Tests team testers.