November 04, 2022
By Brad Fitzpatrick
Browning has produced some outstanding shotguns in their history, but the current Auto-5 (or, more simply, A5) might be the finest of them all. Prior to releasing these guns, Browning put over a quarter-million rounds through pre-production A5s to be sure that the operating system and internal parts could hold withstand a life of hard use. The A5 shined in those tests, and it was an immediate success with shooters. A decade after its introduction, the new A5 remains one of Browning’s biggest hits.
Not long after the current A5 12-gauge was launched in 2012, its smaller sibling appeared. Many expected that the second A5 chambering to come through the factory doors would be a smaller, lighter 20-gauge version. The smaller, lighter bit was correct, but not the chambering. Browning shocked the shooting world by releasing a 16-gauge version. Dubbed the Sweet Sixteen to honor its Belgian ancestors, Browning’s semiauto single-handedly started a 16-gauge renaissance. Today the Browning Sweet Sixteen family continues to grow, and once you’ve spent time behind these shotguns, it’s easy to understand why.
A Brief History of the (Modern) Browning Auto-5
When Browning announced plans to rerelease the Auto-5 semiauto shotgun in 2012, hunters and shooters were thrilled. The original A5 was, after all, the first commercially successful semiauto shotgun and the firearm design that John Moses Browning called his “best achievement,” which is no faint praise from the man who invented the Colt 1911. By the time the new A5 was slated to hit the market, the original version had been out of production for 14 years, and that lapse had left shooters with ample time to regret not buying an Auto-5 when they had the chance.
Browning raised a few eyebrows when word got around that the new A5 wouldn’t use the same operating system as the original. Instead, the new A5s relied on a totally new operating system Browning called Kinematic Drive. Like the original A5, the modern version utilizes recoil to operate the action, though the operating systems are entirely different. The original John Browning design utilized a long recoil system wherein the barrel moved rearward into the action to cycle the gun. Today’s Kinematic Drive A5s have fixed barrels, and the energy to cycle the action comes via a spring inside the bolt. During recoil, the spring compresses and as it expands, the four locking lugs disengage and the bolt moves rearward, tossing the empty shell from the chamber. A return spring located in the stock pushes on a tail at the rear of the bolt, and on the way back into battery, the bolt grabs a shell from the carrier.
The beauty of Kinematic Drive lies in its simplicity. There’s no gas to funnel through ports, meaning no pistons to clean. And, because the four-lug design reduces unlocking time by as much as 40 percent, the A5 cycles about 10 percent faster than competing semiautos. Browning backs these guns with a 5-year, 100,000-round warranty.
A Shotgun for All Seasons
Since the initial Sweet Sixteen A5 with Kinematic Drive was launched, Browning has continued to expand their Sweet Sixteen family. Today, there are nearly a dozen variants of the Sweet Sixteen including the standard field model and a special Lightning version, an Upland model, and several versions with full camo dips, including Realtree Max-7. Three Sweet Sixteen guns also receive Browning’s Wicked Wing treatment, which includes a special Cerakote treatment and very cool extended chokes that resemble waterfowl bands.
This means there’s a Sweet Sixteen for every hunter and every pursuit from doves and cottontails to geese and gobblers. But, perhaps the most stunning of all the new A5s is the Ultimate Sweet Sixteen, which features a gloss oil finish grade III walnut stock with 22 LPI checkering and a satin finish aluminum alloy receiver with game-scene engraving. Despite its striking beauty (the floral engraving combined with a waterfowl scene on the right side of the receiver and a pheasant scene on the left side is one of the most elegant adornments on any production semiauto shotgun available today), this gun is a workhorse. Under the Sweet Sixteen’s elegant exterior lies one of the most robust operating systems found in any shotgun.
On the Range with the Ultimate Sweet Sixteen
The A5 Ultimate Sweet Sixteen comes with an aluminum receiver, which keeps weight to a minimum. I tested the version with the 28-inch barrel, which weighed just under six pounds, and the 26-inch version weighs even less. Proponents of the 16-gauge have long said that these guns, “carry like a 20-gauge and hit like a 12-gauge.” That’s true in some cases, but not all; some gun companies have built 16-gauge guns on 12-gauge frames, which is defeats the purpose. Browning understood the need for a light, sweet handling 16 gauge, and that’s what they built.
You would imagine that the Sweet Sixteen’s recoil is somewhat sharp since the gun itself is quite light, but that isn’t the case. The Inflex 2 pad helps by redirecting recoil forces away from the face, and since the 16-gauge is chambered for 2 3/4-inch shells, Browning could build this gun very light without worrying about excessive kick. With most loads, the Ultimate Sweet Sixteen recoiled noticeably less than a 12-gauge gun weighing a half-pound more.
Does that 2 ¾-inch chamber limit the A5 Sweet Sixteen’s performance? Not that much. Today, there are a larger variety of 16-gauge loads offerings than ever before, everything from 15/16ths-ounce target and dove ammo to heavy 1 1/8-ounce magnums, and high-density non-toxic shot has transformed the 16-gauge to a formidable waterfowl gun. The sweet spot for Sweet Sixteen ammunition, though, is a one-ounce load, which is well balanced and lethal on a variety of game. This makes the 16 a superb option for small upland birds, like quail and mourning doves as well as ducks, pheasants, and even geese.
There’s another advantage to using only 2 3/4-inch shells: reliability. It can be difficult to make a 12-gauge semiauto shotgun that reliably cycles everything from light one-ounce target loads to 3- and 3 ½-inch magnum shotshells. By contrast, 16-gauge shotguns have a much narrower range of loads to cycle and therefore Browning engineers have been able to develop a gun that reliably cycles every available load. Sweet Sixteen owners needn’t be picky about ammo selection to make their guns function.
I had a chance to observe just how reliable the A5 Sweet Sixteen is first-hand. On the day I tested the Ultimate Sweet Sixteen, temperatures were well into the 80s and the A5 wasn’t given time to cool between rounds of clays. The following day, I returned to the range and fired the same number of shells in the same conditions, which amounted to something over a hundred shots total. At no time did the Ultimate Sweet Sixteen receiver receive any cleaning or maintenance, and at no time during the test did it falter.
Like other A5s, the Ultimate Sweet Sixteen handles beautifully. Its forearm is narrow because this gun lacks a bulky gas system, and the pistol grip gradually widens as it nears the “humpback.” The gun comes quickly to the shoulder, points naturally, and swings as if it’s on rails. Each Ultimate Sweet Sixteen comes with three flush-fit Invector-DS chokes, a white mid-bead and fiber-optic front bead, and a crossbolt safety—all features that make this gun more shooter-friendly.
The new Ultimate Sweet Sixteen will appeal to any upland hunter. It’s light to carry, looks great, and is very reliable. As a bonus, it’s easy to maintain; gasses exit the muzzle, so cleanup is fast and simple. Perhaps most importantly, at least to A5 fans, it pays homage to the original firearm but offers some modern touches and unique features. I’ve always been lured by the capabilities and exclusivity of the 16-gauge, but after shooting the A5 Ultimate Sweet Sixteen, I’m finally ready to bite.
Browning A5 Ultimate Sweet Sixteen Specifications
- Action: Recoil-operated semiauto
- Gauge: 16
- Capacity: 3
- Stock: Grade III gloss oiled walnut
- Recoil Pad: Inflex 2
- Receiver: Aluminum Alloy
- Receiver Finish: Satin silver
- Barrel Length: 28-inches (as tested)
- Chokes: 3 Invector-DS Flush (IC, M, F)
- Sights: White mid-bead, fiber optic front
- Weight: 5 lbs, 15 ounces
- Length of Pull: 14 ¼-inches
- MSRP: $2,379.99
- Contact: browning.com, 800-333-3288
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