March 2007

Battle of 20-Gauge Brownings: Gold Hunter or Venerable A5?

The A5 revolutionized the shotgun world, but how would it fare against its grandson, the Gold Hunter? Our view: The out-of-production A5 isn’t worth the premium price we paid.

In the uncertain world of firearms production, where manufacturers have flourished then folded for a variety of reasons, opportunities are rare to match up a time-tested veteran shotgun against its new-generation version.

Browning Gold Hunter

In a classic battle of veteran versus rookie, we found little difference in handling ability, function or cosmetic appeal between the Browning Gold Hunter (top) and Browning A5 (bottom). So dollars became the determining factor, giving an edge to the newer semiautomatic, whose counter price was $500 less at a San Antonio gun store.

One of those rare cases is with the Browning A5 semiautomatic, first introduced in 1902 as a revolutionary creation from the fertile mind of John M. Browning; and the Browning Gold Hunter semiautomatic, the updated version that first hit the streets in 1995.

The recoil-operated A5 and its trademark hump-backed receiver quickly became the shotgun of choice for waterfowl and upland bird hunters. What it lacked in cosmetic appeal, it more than compensated with functional dependency, even in rugged hunting conditions.

The gas-operated Gold Hunter followed in this tradition, finding favor with shooters interested in a solid, dependable shotgun for both tough field conditions and occasional trips to clay target courses.

We were able to obtain used, but in excellent condition, 20 gauge versions of both the shotguns to conduct a head-to-head competition between the old grandfather and the young grandson. Dury’s Gun Shop in San Antonio, (210) 533-5431, www.durysguns.com, supplied the guns, and the prices herein reflect their actual counter prices.

To help with the fair factor, several veteran members of our test group began their shotgun shooting days with an A5, but have moved on to more modern scatterguns; while some of the younger members were aware of the veteran semiautomatic, but did not have any shooting experience with the A5.

Our first observation was the similarity of the two firearms, despite the age difference, with both weighing about 7 pounds and both with about the same balance between the hands. Handling qualities were nearly identical, although the hump at the back of the A5 required a little more head adjustment on the stock.

Both shotguns also featured an automatic feed from the magazine to the chamber a speed-loading system that is very quick and easy. There were no function problems during any of our testing with either of the Brownings.

Since both shotguns are designed for hunting conditions, our test ammunition was limited to common field loads. Only 2.75-inch loads were used because the A5 was not designed to handle 3-inch shells. We fed the two shotguns a diet of Remington ShurShot Heavy Dove one-ounce No. 7 1/2 shotshells and Winchester Heavy Target 1-ounce No. 8 shotshells (both with a muzzle velocity of 1165 fps). A small number of 7/8-ounce shells (a typical 20-gauge load) were cycled through both shotguns with no functioning problems.

Here’s our test report:

Browning Gold Hunter

20 Gauge, $1025

Stepping into to some gigantic footsteps left by the original semiautomatic shotgun, the Gold Hunter has built a reputation for itself.

We were instantly pleased with the heft and feel of the 20 gauge that featured a 26-inch barrel, but the overall length (46.5 inches) was only a quarter inch shorter than the A5 with its 28-inch barrel. The Gold’s longer receiver makes up the length difference.

Slightly heavier toward the front end because of a large but comfortable forearm, the Gold tips the scales at 7 pounds.

The length of pull was a short 14 inches (designed for use with a thick hunting vest or coat) with a drop at the comb of 1.5 inches and a drop at the heel of 2.25 inches. All of the test team members were able to quickly and easily adjust to the shotgun.

We would like to note that the current production model of the Gold Hunter has been renamed the Gold Superlite Hunter with a new alloy magazine tube that cuts the weight by about one-half pound and features a magazine cutoff. The cutoff feature was standard with the A5.

Our test gun, which was manufactured in 2005, came equipped with three Invector-Plus choke tubes and is chambered to handle both 2.75-inch and 3-inch ammunition.

Browning Gold Hunter

Disassembly and assembly of the Gold was simple and provided easy access for cleaning the internal mechanism of the gas-operated shotgun. We did observe that there was more fouling on the magazine tube with the gas-operated system.

The trigger pull on the Gold was a heavy 7 pounds. While shotgun trigger pull is not as critical a factor as the pull on a rifle or pistol, we would take this gun to a qualified gunsmith for trigger adjustment.

Most of our test shots were taken with the Modified choke to maintain a head-to-head comparison with the A5, and we could find no fault with target hits. A trip to the patterning board resulted in a near perfect 50-50 pattern (half the pellet hits above the target center and half below) at 30 yards.

Although recoil is not normally a big factor with a 20-gauge semiautomatic, we noted that the Gold is one of the softest shooting shotguns we have encountered.

A5

Once the A5 is taken apart be sure to hold on to the barrel during disassembly the internal workings are easy to clean and put back into place.

Target breaks were solid and despite the perceived handicap of shooting with a 26-inch barrel, the handling ability of the Gold was rated as very good to excellent at a variety of presentations.

We were very pleased with the ease in which the Gold could be stripped down for cleaning and then in the simple manner in which the shotgun could be reassembled. For a shotgun designed for action in some tough shooting conditions, this easy cleaning feature is a big plus.

Browning A5

20 Gauge, $1599

At first glance, the A5 is a shotgun that seems to be like the runt of a litter of puppies so ugly that it is cute. With its hump-backed receiver and recoil-operated action, there is definitely some adjustment time necessary for anyone experiencing their first A5 test run.

One of our first observations was that the shotgun’s weight (6.75 pounds) makes the A5 feel slightly light in the muzzle. However, the 28-inch barrel and overall length of 46.75 inches made the shotgun very quick to the target. The length of pull was 14.25 inches, fitting all of our test team members.

The trigger pull on the A5 was a very nice and crisp 3.5 pounds, but we have no way of knowing if the trigger had been adjusted after the shotgun left the Belgium factory in 1958. Drop at the comb was 1.5 inches and drop at the heel was 2.25 inches – exactly the same as the Browning Gold.

Our original concerns about recoil with the A5 proved to be unfounded. The large spring on the magazine that is put into play with the firing of the shell provides a longer, but not greater, recoil than the newer gas operated system. This gun also had a White Flyer recoil pad installed, a feature factory guns lacked.

Adjusting to the hump in the receiver took a few shots for our experienced-challenged test team members. New shooters have a tendency to shoot a little high, particularly with crossing targets, because of the hump. However, target hits were solid after the necessary shooter adjustments, and the shotgun functioned perfectly with all the test ammunition.

Browning A5 semiautomatic

The Browning A5 semiautomatic, left, was ?rst introduced in 1902. Ninety-three years later came the Browning Gold Hunter semiautomatic model we tested, right. The recoil-operated A5 made its name with functional dependency. The gas-operated Gold Hunter is likewise dependable, and both 20 gauges shoot and handle well.

A patterning test of the shotgun resulted in exactly the same results as the Gold, with 50 percent of the pellets above the target center and 50 percent below.

The A5 was slightly quicker to the target than the Gold, which is quite an accomplishment, while both shotguns were similarly smooth.

Taking the recoil-operated shotgun apart for cleaning requires special care, as the barrel is under tension from the heavy spring. When unscrewing the magazine cap, the barrel must be held in place or it will spring up when the cap comes off. Once dissembled, the A5 is easy to clean and actually showed less fouling than that found on the magazine of the gas-operated Gold.

Rings on the end of the magazine can be adjusted (directions are located inside the forearm) depending up whether you will be using light or heavy loads.

Browning Gold Hunter

20 Gauge, $1025

Like the 12-gauge version of this shotgun, the 20-gauge Gold Hunter is easy to handle, works well and is pleasing to the eye. This shotgun would be a solid addition to a hunter’s shooting tool collection, but we would recommend a trip to the gunsmith for a little trigger work.

Gun Tests Grade: B+

Browning A5 20 Gauge, $1599

A classic example of a "get-it-done" shooting tool, the A5 functioned without any hiccups, but we just can’t get past the sticker shock $1600 is a lot for a field shotgun that lacks screw-in chokes. But if you are not afraid of paying top dollar for a classic workhorse, we believe the A5 would be a good choice.

Gun Tests Grade: B-