Browning 725 Sporter
Mark Stone gets a first look at one of the most anticipated shotguns to hit the market, Browning’s all new B725
When Browning launch a completely new shotgun you can be assured the markets sit up and take notice. The 525 action, whilst being the epicentre of virtually every Browning and Miroku of recent years and an outstanding example of robust reliability and diversity, is now starting to show its age, if only because of its sheer physical size. So Browning’s boffins have spent over twenty million pounds and untold research hours culminating in a replacement that is serious worthy of the name - enter the 725.
Now before you ask “where’s the 625 gone?”, that particular Browning has been reserved for the American market and is more commonly known as the Citori and is little more than a gentle evolution of the 525. Also, certain models of the 525 such as the new Game and Sporter Grades 1 and 5 will remain in production for the foreseeable future. Where the 725 differs is that whilst the intrinsic values, characteristics and looks of the preceding models have been retained, this new shotgun now sets new standards.
Two of a kind
The B725 will hit the dealers’ shelves in two distinct guises, namely the Hunter 1 and Sporter S1, the latter being tested here. Both left and right handers are catered for from the outset, instantly able to share in Browning’s latest technology. Game shooters will be able to choose between the Hunter 1 and later, in August, the UK Game model complete with a Prince of Wales stock, different forend and engraving.
Apart from this both 725 models are fundamentally the same, only the engraving, ribs and certain stock detailing is different. Even the prices are remarkably similar, the Hunter 1 retailing out at £1,800 the Sporter S1 slightly more at £1,895, both noticeably competitive in this hard fought section of the market and both worthy of serious consideration when weighed against there immediate competition.
So what’s new? Well bear with me and I’ll explain. To start with the B725 now comes in a totally new, partially lined travelling case that accommodates the gun, supplied accessories, plus various other sundries you’ll accrue along the way. Inside, irrespective of the model, you’ll find a smaller case that contains a full set of new Invector DS chokes, key and alternative trigger blades along with a trigger guard lock and a pocket within the case lid that contains all the relevant paperwork. Apart from that, there’s nothing else you need to get you and the 725 up and running.
Back to front
Starting with the stock, the first of Browning’s new innovations is the Inflex II recoil pad. Available in three thicknesses of 12, 20 and 25mm to facilitate length of pull adjustments; the new soft rubber material includes a hard insert at the heel to assist in mounting whilst the remainder of the pad incorporates a pod system that deflects potential felt recoil downwards and away from the shoulder and cheek.
Stocks are remarkably similar whilst the variation between the game and competition woodwork could prove a slight negative for some. Whilst the angle, depth and radius of both are well proportioned and comfortable, Browning in their wisdom has elected to include a palm swell on the Sporter of a size more normally associated with a trap gun. Personally I found the swell to be slightly oversized, positioning my hand a fraction high on the grip and whilst it didn’t have the overall effect of reducing the 725’s movement I was still conscious of it.
On a trap gun locking your hand into position is an advantage but for me not on a sporter, especially if you like to keep your gun ‘fluid’ between pairs or shoot ‘gun down’. But please remember, this is just my own take on matters. That apart, the woodwork is as you’d expect, even this Grade 1 is more than up to scratch in looks and quality and in every respect more akin to a Grade 3. The fit and finish is excellent whilst the chequering is well defined and cut and still overtly Browning in both style and physicality, although the designers’ insistence on retaining a Deeley latched Schnabel style forend does make me wonder that a ‘London – style’ would be far more attractive and comfortable, and to my mind a chance lost. But it’s the new 7.25 action that is of the greatest interest.
The low down
To all intents and purposes the 725 action looks remarkably like what went before. But take a closer look and there are a significant number of changes, not least in the depth. The usual selector-safety sits on the top tang just to the rear of a newly profiled and extended chequered top-lever that in turn feeds into the action. One of the deepest in the business the slightly old fashioned 525 profile has shed 4mm, predominantly from the fences. Whilst this may not sound a great deal, once you mount the gun it’s significant both in actual size and the improved view over the vented top 10mm central grooved vented sporter top ribs.
The Sporter’s action is satin finished with intertwined sine waves along with orange inset S1 and B725 logos (the Game model has pheasants and a form of sunrise effect).
Both types utilise what I’d call understated yet tasteful eloquence in their decoration whilst the trigger guard still displays a gold inlaid Buckmark and keeps the gold plated, adjustable trigger-blade safe and sound. Whilst the externals have changed to a degree it’s what you can’t see that truly sets the 725 apart from its forebears.
Completely redesigned the mechanical lockwork is proof positive that with time and effort, what was an excellent mechanism can be made even better. With the new factory set trigger, weight of pull never exceeds 3½ lbs whilst the distance the trigger has to travel before it comes into contact with the sear has been significantly reduced. This in turn reduces the distance between sear and hammer so disengaging very quickly so decreasing the time taken between shots. Where the new lockwork makes its presence felt is in the actual shooting of the 725, the trigger’s attitude short, sharp and impressively responsive.
Within the action frame Browning have retained their familiar and strength proven full width hinge pin and the flat-bolt locking mechanism that locates in the slot underneath the monobloc, 3” chambers. Length wise shooters have the option of 28” and 30” on the Hunter 1 with the addition of 32” for the Sporter S1. Irrespective of length or style, the 725’s barrels now feature Browning’s new extended VectorPro rear forcing cones that facilitate easier opening of the cartridge and the passage of the shot. This in turn leads into the now familiar back-bored inner bore section before progressing into the forward forcing cones and the all new Invector DS choking system.
Signed and sealed
Only available as flush-fit until late August when the extended versions will become available, the new DS system means the flush-fit tube is actually as long as the older extended models. Thinner and lighter so as to reduce the trombone or flared muzzle effect, the DS chokes are the first by Browning to be threaded at the muzzle and not at the cone. The other obvious addition to each of the tubes is the brass ring that locates against the forward forcing cone. Slotted to allow for expansion and replaceable should the need ever arise, this ring acts as a seal to restrict the build up of the detritus that usually builds up in the small space between the choke tube and the inner barrel wall. This sealing system also ensures gasses go where they’re meant to, namely out of the muzzle in a controlled fashion and make the chokes easier to change whilst the extended design now means 725 owners now have greater control over a far more refined and uniform pattern distribution.
Made to measure
The Sporter S1 with 30” barrels weighs an exact 7lbs 5oz out of the box, with drops at comb and heel measuring 1 7/16” and 2 3/8” respectively, combined with a length of pull that measures 14¾”. The Inflex II recoil pad allows for stock length dimensions to be quickly altered by simple removing two screws and fitting an alternative pad.Average trigger weight for both barrels worked out at just over 3lbs, and the trigger itself was crisp, predictable and direct with no hint whatsoever of creep or take-up.
As I’ve always said, technology counts for nothing if it doesn’t work. So one fifty bird flush followed by two rounds of fifty birds separated by two days allowed for a true evaluation, the break in between ensuring first impressions were as they should have been. A few minutes with the Arrow Laser Shot confirmed that for me the 725 was exactly as I like a sporter - nice and flat - and what little cast there was meant the entire gun looked exactly where I did.
The 725 is lighter than previous models and balances directly beneath the hinges, a fact Browning now refer to as Ergo Balance if only to capitalise on the fact. But whilst the equilibrium and mass have cast off a few vital ounces, the 725 still promotes a measured, controlled swing but this time with the ability to speed up the swing should it be required.
The new DS chokes pattern very well, 28 grams of Express World Cup 6½’s through nothing tighter than Cyl and ¼ pulling distant clays out of the sky with ease, whilst the gun itself made light work of dialling out the oft perceptible recoil these fast fibrewads are known to generate. You can either take my word for it or better still try a 725 for yourself but the one lasting impression you have is that the 725 is a genuinely nice gun to shoot and that Browning’s evolutionary process has definitely paid dividends.
Where the 725 will win is that it still retains every single element that makes Brownings what they are and instils their enduring appeal. Even a casual glance confirms that the 725 is a Browning, the looks, profile and each physical element being everything you’d expect. There’s nothing radical from the shooter’s perspective, all the changes are initially rather subtle, but once you’ve shot the 725 you quickly realise that Browning have been hard at work, upgrading, updating and changing the things you can’t see.
Basically the 725 does everything a Browning should do, it just does it better and in a more responsive way. As time passes the 725 will evolve into a whole host of model variants and grades to suit all shooters and all disciplines.
From the clay shooter’s perspective, get yourself to one of Browning’s various dealers ‘Have a Go’ events and try a Sporter S1 for yourself. It’s my considered opinion that you’ll head home with a Sporter S1 either under your arm or on order.
If you’re a game shooter it’s well worth considering the new Hunter, or you might want to wait until August when the UK Game model makes its appearance.
All Prices Are Guides Due to the Changes in US & European Exchange Rates