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- Last updated: 13/12/2016
Two great names still dominate the sporting shotgun scene - Browning and Beretta. This month, courtesy of Vic Chapman, the well known Essex firearms dealer and shooting sportsman based at Marks Tey near Colchester, we are putting a 20bore B2G Browning though its paces.
The gun is, of course, Belgian made, a product of what Browning now call their ‘Custom Shop’. In my youth, Browning B25s were THE over and under gun – taking 90% of the prizes in serious clay shooting competitions. They were also coveted by live quarry shooters (even though there was still some silly prejudice against OUs in game shooting circles then). Well, Brownings are still great guns, but there is more
competition than there used to be!
The test B2G weighs in at 6 pounds 8 ½ ounces, has 30” barrels and a game rib. Some might consider this close to the modern ideal for driven shooting. 20 bores, especially over and unders, certainly seem very popular with serious game shots now. I would guess that 20 bores now account for about one third of all the guns being used at driven shoots – perhaps that is optimistic, but they can certainly seem to be coming out in far greater numbers. My theory is that a relatively inexpensive 6 and ½ poundish 20 bore can give similar handling qualities to a much more expensive best 12. Another interesting trend is the one towards long barrels for 20s and 28s – there is some fashion in this, but longer tubes do give significantly more control. Browning have offered 30” 20 bores for sometime. This applies both to their excellent mass-produced range (predominantly made by BC Miroku in Japan) and to their B25 range. The latter, though, remain the flagship product. They are still made by traditional smoke and file methods by artisans at the bench in much the same way as they always have been since John Moses Browning first developed the Superposed design in Belgium in the 1920s (and died at the workbench perfecting it, leaving his son Val to complete the first single trigger - the trigger seen on guns today is a subsequent development).
The price of Belgian Brownings is, sadly, climbing. It is not surprising considering all the hand work that goes into them. The test gun is on sale for a comparatively reasonable £7,500 including a first quality leather case. I would guess the normal price is £500 or more above that (but one may of course specify one's stock dimensions if one pays the full wack and waits for delivery). My experience of Vic’s pricing policy, meanwhile, is that he is highly competitive and loves to cut a deal! The gun as tested, moreover, appears to be new, or as new. First impressions are pretty good. I particularly like the semi-pistol stock and schnabel forend, which of course, stays attached to the barrels on basic disassembly with the B25 design. The silver polished action catches the eye, as does the competent, but not especially exciting, game scene engraving. The form and proportions of the gun are definitely pleasing.
I have always thought that the Superposed type action seems to suit a 20 better than a 12. Because of the full width hinge pin – rather than the trunnions seen in a Beretta or Rizzini – and under lumps, the action is a little deeper than in some other designs. In 20 form, though, the Superposed is very elegant, and good first impressions are not dispelled when the gun is first brought to face and shoulder. The pretty and practical semi-pistol grip offers good control and a natural hand position. As far as balance is
concerned, this 20 has sufficient weight forward to be steady but not so much as to be sluggish.
I have always though that the lighter, traditionally made demi-lump barrels of the Belgian made Brownings give them a character quite different to the thicker tubed Japanese guns. They are also made from a different sort of steel and brought together differently. Some Japanese guns seem to ring when they are fired, this is rarely if ever the case with a Belgian made B25. The workmanship on the 20 bore test gun passes muster in all department. Barrels are made, as noted, on the demi-lump system (the over and under equivalent of chopper lump). The less pricey Japanese Brownings are now all monobloc. This is a fairly recent development. Brownings chose to continue with demi-block manufacture up until about half way through the production run for the 425 (now replaced by the 525). They now use the more cost effective monobloc technique as most famously developed by Beretta (who have been using it for mass-production since about 1900). One might have an argument as to which is best – the London gun trade, and those who ape them, have always argued the merits of chopper lump manufacture (though far from all best guns have chopper lump barrels). Fans of the monobloc system, including the late Gough Thomas, argue its merits. It is certainly immensely strong when well carried out. The only real disadvantage is the line between barrel tube and monobloc. Today, even this can be eliminated by laser or TIG welding. Anyway, as ever, I digress, because it is not an issue with the test gun.
The barrels of our B2G have solid joining ribs and a dainty, ventilated, 6mm sighting rib equipped with a traditional metal bead at the muzzles. Regular readers will know my thoughts by now – I prefer solid ribs on a game gun because they are less easily dented and consequently more practical. The barrels are well presented. The 70mm (2 3/4") lead to fairly short forcing cones which remain the preference of Browning. There is an argument for shorter cones in a game gun. Put together long ones with wider bores and you can get pressure problems with some felt-wadded cartridges. This is particularly the case with light payload cartridges on very cold days when power may not be burning efficiently. My own preference, however - something of a compromise - would be for cones of about 1 ½” rather than the 1/2" or so seen in this gun.
The test gun has fixed chokes of about quarter and three-quarter. No complaints here, my preference is for a bit of extra choke in a small bore, and tighter chokes from the factory allow for easy modification too. I also like fixed chokes because they keep barrel weight down – especially at the muzzles. Interchangeable chokes – unless they are of the retro-fit Teague thin wall type – always seem to increase barrel weight. The walls need to be made thicker to accommodate them which typically leads to a grossly front-heavy balance.
You would have to be picky to fault the balance or indeed the construction, of these barrels.
The action is one of the world’s best proven – an enduring classic that has been in production for three quarters of a century and will be produced for many years to come I hope. Significantly more compact in 20 than 12 bore form, it puts the lumps beneath the barrel and includes a full width hinge pin.
Lock up is achieved by a wide, flat, bolt which comes out of the bottom of the action faces and meets a slot bite beneath the bottom chamber mouth. It is, quite simply, a wonderful design – but quite expensive to make and requiring significant hand-work (even the mass or semi-mass produced guns emanating from Japan). Design, execution and function are all first class - as one expects. The mechanism for the hammer ejectors is carried in the forend.
The stock is made from a good piece of timber and is of typical modern Browning style. It was surprisingly long at nearly 15" and finished with a black plastic butt plate. It was ideal for me. For anyone needing less length it is easily shortened. The semi-pistol grip will appeal to many. Depth is even throughout its length and this allows for effective muzzle control in the mount and swing and also helps to control recoil (much of which is taken through the hands). I also liked the comb profile and the fairly thin schnabel forend. Drop was 1 7/16" at comb and 2 1/16” at heel - just about perfect for a 'shelf' gun. Chequering on the gun was well executed too and the oil finish competent.
The gun shot well. Felt recoil was a little above average. The gun was quite lively, though, and would, in my opinion, be best suited to the field based on my shooting session on the sporting layouts and simulated game stands at the Braintree Shooting Ground. This is no criticism, it handles very well, but quite fast. If you wanted a gun to do double service on game and clays, my advice would be to go for something a few ounces heavier. Nevertheless, this is a well made, well presented gun offering pretty good value by today’s standards. It’s quick handling, and has character too. Its good stock shapes and excellent grip ensure that it is not uncontrollable. It’s nice to see that Browning are still taking such pride in making guns by traditional methods.
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