Ask most guys what the essential John Browning-designed military arms are, and odds are that most of the responses you’ll get will include the 1911 pistol and the M2 .50-caliber heavy MG. Sporting arms? Well, the Winchester Model 94, of course. And then there’s the great Auto-5 “Humpback”—the first mass-produced autoloading shotgun. To refer to it as “a classic” would be something of an understatement. In production from 1902 to 1999, it’s been manufactured—at various times and in varying model numbers—by FN, Browning, Savage and Remington.
I owned a beater-grade Model 11 Remington for years and loved it, so I was pretty excited when I heard about the “reintroduced” A5. Why the quotes? Well, as Browning’s promotional material says, “This ain’t your Grandpa’s Auto-5.”
Indeed it isn’t. First off, it’s got an aluminum receiver and a lightweight barrel profile, which combine to make it livelier than the old A5s. The distinctive humpback profile is still there (which is still pretty tough to beat when it comes to lining up the sighting plane without having to fight your head down on the comb). But the action is considerably different. The old long-recoil (or barrel recoiling) system has been replaced with a short-recoil inertia system called “Kinematic Drive,” which requires no adjustments for light—or heavy—loads. It’s robust, simple and unabashedly “Benelli-esque.”
The new A5 has other bells and whistles as well: a lengthened forcing cone, the Speed Load Plus feeding system that automatically sends the first shell you stuff into the magazine directly into the chamber and a Turnkey Magazine Plug that allows the magazine plug to be removed quickly.
Also worth noting is the Invector-DS choke sytem. The tubes have a gradual taper and brass seal at the base that prevent gas and fouling from getting between barrel and tube. The upshot? The tubes don’t require nearly as much scrubbing and maintenance as conventional ones.
I spent four days at R&R Pheasant Hunting near Seneca, South Dakota, along with several shotgun-oriented gunwriters and magazine editorial types. Using the new A5, we shot sporting clays, hunted pheasant and even managed to squeeze in a couple of chilly late afternoon dove shoots. This entailed pounding through a lot of 2¾-inch 12-gauge ammo, which included Winchester AA 7½s and Winchester Super Pheasant 5s.
Thanks to the sheer volume of shooting, I really took to the A5’s Inflex II recoil pad, which contrasted very favorably to the flat steel buttplate on my old Model 11. The short-action Kinematic Drive System worked as advertised, although I must confess to missing the long, recoiling-barrel ka-chunk of the old model (this new A5 sounds modern somehow).
The Speedload Plus system? I didn’t warm up to it at first, feeling it to be a bit of unnecessary “lily-gilding.” But after a day or so, I sorta changed my mind. It’s easy to stoke the chamber without looking down for the ejection port. And being able to unload without running rounds through the chamber counts as a good thing, particularly when it’s cold and your hands are clumsier than usual.
Most of the pheasant shooting I did was with a 26-inch-barreled Hunter A5, a high-gloss walnut model. It’s light and handy inside the corn rows yet, with a Modified tube, I had little trouble on the long shots when I was walking the outside edges. On the dove shoots, I used a 28-inch-barreled Stalker A5, a black synthetic version that’s also available in Mossy Oak Duck Blind and Break-Up Infinity camo.
It was windy and the shooting was very, well, sporty. Those late-season birds came in at long intervals, and the shots were generally at pretty long yardage. Again, I stuck with the Modified tube, which is a tighter choke than I’d use if things had been busier and closer.
In fact, it was slow enough that I had no problem keeping the gun loaded. But if things had been more intense, the Speedload Plus system, I’m sure, would have paid off even more than it did on the roosters.
All in all, the new A5 has the classic profile of the original. A lot of guys shoot a humpback configuration better than almost anything else, and I’m one of them. The new enhancements—major and minor—put the A5 back in the game in a big way. For high-volume shooting, or “carry a lot, shoot a little” situations, it’d be tough to beat.