Saturday, March 19, 2022

The Browning A5 12 Gauge - Resurrecting a Legend - Part 1

The Browning A5 12 Gauge - Resurrecting a Legend - Part 1

The Browning A5 shotgun is a stunning achievement of engineering and in fact John Moses Browning noted the A5 was his best achievement as the first ever semi-automatic shotgun. The A5 and later the military and police focused A8 were named for AUTOMATIC 5 Shell (4+1) the A8, AKA Rhodesian, was a 7+1 capacity. It was patented in 1898 and first produced in 1920 until 1999. Over 3 Million were produced. It remains one of the highest production shotguns ever and likely one of the more complex.

Disassembling the Browning A5 will confirm the genius of the design and confound most armature gunsmiths, but shooting a properly setup A5 will deliver the fastest and softest shooting shotgun of anything still on the market. People are still shocked how fast A5s will cycle. It was and still is a revolutionary design which still outperforms many, if not all, new shotgun designs. Not only does the shooter get a softer recoil of a semi-auto bolt on the A5, but the long-stroke barrel recoil design which reduces recoil further with the barrel moving with the bolt backward during cycling. Admittedly it is not a light shotgun which helps dissipate some additional recoil. The result is a very soft shooting shotgun. The downside of course is that the Browning has well over 50% more parts than a Benelli, Remington, Mossberg, or really any modern shotgun, but those parts do things that the new guns don't. I wanted… no, I needed a high capacity Browning A5 12 gauge. This has been an ongoing project that has taken some interesting turns which started with these 3Gun style mods.
I am a huge fan of the tank-like durability of the Browning A5 design and have been shooting a Belgian Browning Sweet 16 since I was barely walking.  Yes, I am of the belief that there is no quality comparison between the finely made Belgian models and the bastardization that the Japanese factory delivered labeled as a Browning. Lately though, 16ga shells have literally been impossible to find, so I have kept an eye out for a good deal on a 12ga Belgium Browning A5.  
In good condition, an A5 can run as high as $1000, in excellent condition quite a bit more.  $600 will usually give you a well worn A5 in working condition with the updated speed-feed and maybe fitted with screw in chokes, but they will be nothing pretty to look at. After over three years of being patient, my gun dealer had a very old estate auction specimen in decent condition available for only $200 complete with smooth top barrel and beautiful furniture.  I would have liked to have a vent rib and screw in chokes, a little less surface rust, higher condition stocks, and it desperately needed a good cleaning, but it worked. Why only $200? Sadly it featured a very old Lyman adjustable "corn cob" choke which killed the value. Adjustable chokes are great from a hunting perspective and most will agree they work awesome, but look like hell and always cut the value in almost half. The other part of that price was it was very old Gen1, which meant some unique features.
When I say this was an old A5... I mean like 1920s, nearly a century old Browning A5. Due to the age, it had the pre-speed feed one-piece-shell-lifter which meant that loading required pushing the bolt release button for each shell loaded - a total pain in the butt.  The lack of the very cool and fast speed-feed feature, meant goofy two handed feeding requirements, plus the 2-shell magazine limiter, were big bummers for a gun I was transforming into an awesome fast handling 3-Gun shotgun. But... “Gentlemen, We Can Rebuild this Browning A5. We have the technology. We have the capability to make the world's first 3 Gun A5. This A5 will be that machine. Better than it was before. Better. Stronger. Faster... and hopefully even sexier.

OK, yeah I was not attempting to make a six-million dollar A5 and this is almost certainly not the first A5 used in 3 Gun or Sporting Clays competition. Once I placed the Browning on the stretcher and had the guts all pulled apart for a deep cleaning, I decided it was time to add in a list of updates including a 2-piece lifter and speed feed conversion, increasing the magazine capacity. Let’s get through the first of multi-part upgrade.
The earlier initial versions of the A5 had a front trigger guard vertical sliding safety and the one-piece lifter. The next newer GEN2 A5 version included the Speed-Feed feature and moved the safety to a tradition button cross-bolt location at the rear of the trigger guard. This old specimen is vintage and had the front trigger safety and the one-piece lifter.
The speed-feed is a very unique feature in the world of shotguns. With the bolt locked back, you can just feed rounds into the magazine, the action will recognize the magazine not has a shell and will close the bolt and autofeed that first round into the chamber and boom you are shooting again. None of that goofy one round in the breech, hitting the bolt close button and then worrying about feeding the magazine tube. On an A5 with auto feed, you just feed the beast right into the magazine tube and you keep shooting.
There are actually two big advantages of the Speed-Feed upgrade. The first is that it allows the Browning to be loaded fast when empty - push a shell in the mag tube and the magic of Browning's machine chambers it at the speed of light. Doing the conversion is a huge speed and ergonomics update.
The Browning locks open after the last round is fired, which provides the auto-loading benefit of the Speed-Feed feature.  This allows very fast reloads especially if you just emptied your gun and only need one or two rounds to finish a stage. As a lifelong Browning shooter, I am always stunned on other guns; “what do you mean I need to feed and rack or close the bolt?”

If you get lucky enough to obtain a A5 in good condition with this feature, rejoice and be happy, if not, luckily the older version’s feeding can be easily upgraded with four key parts ($129 factory drop in parts direct from Browning Service). You will still have to manage with the sliding safety unless you upgrade the trigger housing as well… easily another $150 in parts, but doable.  Surprisingly the four Speedfeed parts upgrade is easily if your screws have not all rusted tight. In that case, turn it over to a gunsmith who will charge around $100 to install your parts. My A5 came apart easily and I had the updated 2 Piece Carrier Assembly, Carrier Spring, Carrier Latch, & Carrier Latch Spring swapped in about 30 minutes including watching the below well done disassembly video - 

If you are comfortable building an AR15, then you can complete this update.
Required parts from Browning Service/Parts - 50440-B1111064 - 2 Piece Carrier Assembly 12ga, 50467-B1111107 - Carrier Spring, 50537-B1111269 Carrier Latch, 50540-B1111277 Carrier Latch Spring - $129.
Some say this conversion requires fitting. My parts dropped in without an issue. I do know that fitting is required for the 16 and 20 gauge model as there are none of these parts left in existence.
The Carrier Latch Assembly which is a flat lever contraption with a flat spring attached on the internal side of the receiver area with a tiny flat-head screw pin uses the staged round to push a catch to prevent the next round in the magazine from double feeding. There are still only about $20 new-old-stock, so if you can always replace it. Many times the magazine catch portion gets bent flat over the years and needs to be bent back to its original position which should be flat with the inside bore of the magazine tube. If you cannot hand feed the A5 without jams, or it double feeds while shooting, chances are very high this is the culprit not the recoil springs. These are one of the parts that can requiring some tuning to get the timing and magazine spring tension of the next round right for reliable operation.
I love the innovation of Nordic Components and it was no surprise to me that they offer one of the only Browning A5 MXT magazine tube extensions.  These kits include the nut and spring which can add +1 to +9 rounds depending on the length you select. This is a simple upgrade; unscrew the existing magazine tube cap and screw on the Nordic MXT tube extension with the included spring. In this case I added a +6 extension which updated my A5 to a 9 +1 total capacity with 2-¾” shells. Note that if you want to swap back to hunting 2+1 hunting capacity, all you need to do is remove the tube and reinstall the original spring, limiter dowel, and handguard nut and you are back in the hunt.
Two big tips when installing the tube and 4 foot long magazine spring. First wear safety glasses. Second, read the directions regarding trimming the spring, and third, place a 1/4" dowel rod in the magazine tube, thread the spring on, and then the Nordic extension on with some of the dowel exiting out the end of the tube. The Nordic extension specifically has a hole in the end of the extension for this spring install method. Screw the extension in place and pull the dowel out. This method will keep the spring in line throughout install, keep the cursing to a minimum, and save about 500 calories from chasing a spring around the room. I did buy the clamp on Nordic picatinny and QD swivel, however since the A5 barrel recoils and moves, you cannot use it like it was intended.
I really went back and forth on whether to keep the adjustable choke or convert over to screw in tubes. Many consider an adjustable choke a huge feature for a hunting shotgun.. I am a believer. They are one of the simplest choke tube devices on the market with no barrels to swap out or chokes or wrenches to lose or store. That noted they look horrible and this permanently mounted Lyman “Corncob” version is among the ugliest yet with the expansion chamber brazed in place. Despite its looks, the expansion chamber and compensator was marketing as a recoil reducer. Without a direct comparison, it is hard to say for sure.
Although I am not a huge 3 Gun or clays competitor, I do see folks swapping out chokes in competition on a regular basis to combat winds and provide improved patterns at larger distances. This is the sweet spot for this Lyman monstrosity of a choke which allows fast and easy choke pattern changes with just a few spins of the choke. Keeping it, also saved me about $200 in gunsmithing to convert it over to screw in chokes which would have been a purely esthetic decision. In Part 3 years later, the last update, this choke did go since the barrel was chopped to a 18.5-inch length and I could not be happier.
There is no doubt that this redue has the same appeal to many as restoring a classic car. In fact, estimates are that this old Browning A5 is circa 1920s which puts it well into the vintage category of firearms and likely a $2000 gun restored with an appropriate vent rib. Whatever, they made 3 Million of these, and I was thrilled to be able to breath new life into this nearly 100-year old but fully functional gun with a little TLC and a few upgrades.
So how does it all work? Awesome! Like any Browning A5, you do need to lube down the spring and friction rings and assure the friction rings are tuned/placed in the correct position for your load. I have run a few hundred boxes of 2 3/4" shells through the updated A5 and it works just like any of the updated speed-feed A5’s do. A great deal and a fun project which still has more surprises around the corner.


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Nordic Components - -

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