April 2015

12 Gauges: Browning Citori Crossover v. Franchi Instinct SL

In this case, a little more money provided slightly better performance on the target range and in the field, with the new over/under by Browning edging the less expensive Franchi.

12 gauge shotguns

At a reader's request, we selected a couple of new shotguns that have been advertised as affordable all-round firearms to see how they performed on clays and in the field. Both recently released by their manufacturers and with a price tag of under $2,000 were the Browning Citori Crossover Target, left, that was specifically requested by a reader, and a Franchi Instinct SL, which we substituted for the now-discontinued Ruger Red Label.

There is an old saying that competitors should “beware the one who uses one gun,” meaning that a shooter who does everything with the same shotgun probably is very familiar with how the firearm handles in a variety of shooting situations.

Knowing what that one gun can and cannot do, plus being able to repeatedly and effectively put that firearm to good use, gives a shooter the edge in both the field and on a clay target range.

In today’s high-tech world, finding that all-around over and under shotgun has become increasingly difficult. Most firearms are specialized for a certain use—a target gun probably doesn’t perform as effectively on game as a field gun; and field guns can’t seem to match the target-busting ability of a shotgun made for clays.

A Gun Tests reader in Pennsylvania, Randy Cornman, had asked us for a head-to-head test of the “new” Ruger Red Label shotgun at $1,800 against the new Browning Citori Crossover Target with an MSRP of $2,000. He said, “It’s time for a real knock-down, drag-out, head-to-head comparison. Both with 30-inch barrels, of course. We need at least 500 to 1,000 shots apiece. With all glitches detailed.” Apparently, we acted too slowly to get ahead of Ruger, which we learned last month was discontinuing the Red Label line for a second time. So in its place we substituted a much less expensive Franchi Instinct SL to see if the SL could out duel its pricier counterpart. Both shotguns retail for less than $2,000 and are marketed as being able to handle duties on both birds in the field and clays at the range.

For our patterning tests of the two 12-gauge over-and-unders, we selected Winchester AA Extra-Light Target 2.75-inch loads packing 1 ounce of No. 8 shot with an average muzzle velocity of 1,190 fps. We also used the Winchesters during our field and clay target sessions, in addition to Kemen Premium Sport 2.75-inch loads with 7⁄8 ounce of No. 71⁄2 shot with an average muzzle velocity of 1,340 fps.

Both shotguns handled both types of shells in the field and on the clay target range without a hitch. As more thoroughly covered below, the felt recoil was slightly higher with both loads when shooting the lighter-weight Franchi. Here are our findings:

Browning Citori Crossover Target

Because of its heavier weight, the Browning Citori Crossover Target, being shot, was better suited for the larger members of our test team, but still proved to be a good shooting tool even for our shooters with a slighter build. The Franchi Instinct SL was whippy, and felt recoil with the SL was higher than when we put the Browning through its paces.

Browning Citori Crossover Target No. 018015302 12 Gauge, $1999

Available in limited distribution, the new Citori is the latest in a long line of over-and-under shotguns that date back to the creative mind of firearm genius John M. Browning. The legendary inventor revolutionized the double-gun shooting world with the creation of the Superposed model that can still be found in use today, more than eight decades after the first one ended up in the hands of a U.S. shooter. The Crossover model is just the latest creation released by the company as a way of filling the need for a moderately priced firearm capable of handling multiple duties.

We found the heft of the Crossover to be both good news and bad news for our shooting crew. For the smaller members, the 8-pound over-and-under seemed a little unwieldy at first and required a little break-in time. However, we found that the good news with the weight was a noticeable reduction in felt recoil.

With its 30-inch barrels and overall length of 47 inches, the smoothing factor in gliding through targets was also a plus. The 3⁄8-inch-wide high post rib provided a good sighting plane for acquiring targets, as advertised.

Although at first glance we were concerned about the proper fit for the smaller members of our test team, the adjustable trigger allowed for an easy fit, with a length-of-pull range from 14 inches out to 14.75 inches. The Browning had a drop at the comb of 1.5 inches and a drop at the heel of 2 inches, which was typical for an out-of-the-box shotgun. Those dimensions provided a smooth-handling platform for our team.

The palm swell on the grip was a nice touch, normally found in a higher-priced model, and we were pleased with the way it helped control the shotgun in moving through targets.

A check of the trigger found a touch off of 5 pounds for the bottom barrel and 5.5 pounds for the top. Both were well within our feel-good range. As experienced shooters have discovered, a heavy trigger pull can cause unnecessary gun movement off a target.

Moving to the patterning board range, we fired both Improved Cylinder and Modified chokes at a distance of 30 yards to test out the Browning’s performance on paper. Advertised as designed to produce a 60-40 pattern (60 percent above the center and 40 percent below), we found both the improved cylinder choke and modified chokes patterned at 57 percent over 43 percent.

We also found that the Browning put 57 percent of both patterns in the 20-inch center ring with no holes in the shot spread. That is a very nice center punch that meant targets of both the feathered and clay kind were hit hard when the shooter put the barrels in the right place at the right time — something we were able to do very consistently.

Our Team Said: Another solid offering by the veteran firearm manufacturer, the Browning Crossover is nearly at the top end of what we would consider as the moderately priced category of all-around shotguns. We feel it is worth the price. We found the Browning performed as advertised; met our expectations on the patterning board and on the range; and would be a good choice for a shooter interested in an all-round shooting tool.

Browning Citori Crossover Target

While not a Schnabel forearm, the Crossover's grip was slim and easy to hold, with very nice checkering and a good finish. The Franchi's automatic safety returns the firearm to the safe position when the action is opened. That is a plus for field work, but a pain for use on clay targets. If a shooter can remember to take the shotgun off safety, there should be no problem. If not, we recommend a trip to the gunsmith to easily and inexpensively remedy the issue.


Franchi Instinct SL No. 40815 12 Gauge, $1699

From the first time we handled the Franchi, we felt the lightweight and quick-handling shotgun was more suited for field work than for busting clays. While attractive and serving as a good hold for moving the shotgun onto targets, the Prince of Wales–style pistol grip on the Franchi is more commonly found on field guns than scatterguns in the hands of clay-target shooters.

We particularly noted the light weight of the shotgun, which tipped the scales at just 5.5 pounds and had an overall length of 45.25 inches. One of the factors for the weight reduction was the brushed aluminum receiver, which knocks quite a bit of the heft out of the 12 gauge. Unfortunately, a lightweight 12 typically produces more felt recoil when the shooter touches off a shot, and the Franchi lived up to that reputation.

With both types of ammunition, the felt recoil was greater with the Franchi than with the Browning. We did not attempt to fire any heavy game loads — both shotguns will handle up to 3-inch shells — but we are confident that any pheasant, duck, or goose load would have quite an impact on the shoulder pocket of even a hardened shooter.

The Franchi’s 28-inch barrels are topped with a standard -inch rib and a red-optic front sight, providing our team with a fine sighting plane. The drop at the comb was 1.5 inches, and the drop at the heel was 2.5 inches, which allowed the shotgun to fit into a easy-handling category.

Very close to the Browning in the trigger touch-off measurements, the pull of 4.5 pounds for the bottom trigger and 5 pounds for the top was considered very good for a moderately priced over and under.

When we moved onto the patterning range, we were not quite as satisfied with the performance of the Franchi as we were with the Browning. Testing the shotgun at the same range of 30 yards as used with the Browning, the Franchi’s Modified choke produced a 37-63 percent pattern, with 84 percent of the shot in the 20-inch center; and a 45-55 percent pattern with the Improved Cylinder choke, putting 59 percent of the shot in the 20-inch center.

In addition to shooting lower than we would have liked, both of the Franchi chokes also left at least one hole in the pattern. The Modified choke produced a 3-inch hole high left in the pattern, and the Improved Cylinder produced a 3-inch hole high right. We do not believe this lack of a perfect pattern is a deal breaker, but we noted its performance was not as impressive as that of the Browning.

The recoil was our biggest concern with the Franchi, which as noted earlier, was 2.5 pounds lighter than the Browning. The Franchi was a little less smooth and just a little whippy, compared to the Browning, and even with the lighter loads, the felt recoil was just slightly under the uncomfortable level.

Our Team Said: Ranked as an all-round shotgun, the Franchi was slightly below the standard set by the Browning. That said, for the price (a nice orange-colored plastic case is included in the package), this is a fine over-and-under shotgun very capable of meeting the needs of most shooters looking for a general-purpose firearm. We would recommend that shooters stick to lighter loads to cut back on the recoil if they are sensitive to shoulder shock. But even at a $300 premium, we preferred the Crossover.

Written and photographed by Ralph Winingham, using evaluations from Gun Tests team testers.

Browning Citori Crossover Target No. 018015302 12 Gauge, $1999

Franchi Instinct SL No. 40815 12 Gauge, $1699