Several years ago, I traveled up to Wyanet, Illinois, for a big gun auction. This was not a high-class affair as might be presented by James D. Julia or Rock Island Auction, but rather a local sale that featured hundreds of economical to medium-grade firearms.
I have forgotten what I went to for, but what I did see were endless tables of modestly priced hunting shotguns. There were Remington Model 11s and Winchester Model 50s by the dozen, but what struck my imagination was the panoply of private-branded scatterguns — J.C. Higgins, Revelation, Foremost, Ted Williams, and Western Field, for example.
These were relics of a time when retailers that are on shaky ground but still with us, like J.C. Penney and Sears, competed with long-gone names like Coast to Coast, Gamble's, Montgomery Ward and Western Auto. These were generic guns, produced in the millions by makers everyone knows, like Savage and Winchester, or others remembered only by those eligible for social security, like High Standard or Noble.
The years before the Gun Control Act of 1968 were a time when every rural home, and most suburban ones, too, had a plain-barreled repeating shotgun with a Modified or Full choke. Combine it with a pocketful of lead No. 5s, a surplus field jacket and a few decoys, and you were fully outfitted for duck hunting.
While those dear days are gone, and with fewer people hunting waterfowl, the ones who are left are so much more committed. For the folks who own a Browning Maxus Wicked Wing, it is a statement showing that they are all-in on waterfowling.
Coming of Age
The Maxus debuted in 2009, superseding the Gold model. The lower-priced Silver model was retained, and the gas-operated Maxus runs in harness with the inertia recoil-operated A5 at the top of the Browning range. All three are made in several configurations, giving Browning a very comprehensive line of hunting and competition autoloaders.
The "Wicked Wing" designation denotes a special Cerakote surface treatment. The effect is achieved using the same Burnt Bronze metallic color applied separately at different temperatures before the base coat cures. It coordinates well with the furniture's Dura-Touch Armor Coating camouflaged with Mossy Oak's Shadow Grass Blades pattern on the composite stock and forend.
The Wicked Wing is a very large shotgun, measuring 50 inches with an extended choke tube installed. But the combination of a synthetic stock and aluminum receiver keeps the shotgun's weight down to just a whisper over 7 pounds, a figure that will be appreciated when you're encumbered with waders, heavy clothing, a load of decoys and 3½-inch, 12-gauge ammunition.
Its operating system reaches all the way back to the Winchester Super-X Model 1, made from 1974 through '81. The Super-X 1 was a great-looking and -shooting shotgun that just never could quite compete with the Remington Model 1100, especially given Winchester's financial problems at the time.
It used a short-stroke piston system with a single operating rod on the left side bearing on the bolt slide. It was fast-operating and stayed a lot cleaner than long-stroke designs, but the operating rod was prone to breaking off the piston sleeve.
However, there's nothing like roughly 40 years of development to deal with that sort of problem. Browning's PowerDrive gas system uses a synthetic piston sleeve that mounts the steel operating rod in a sturdy boss.
The piston is complicated, with features intended to compensate for heavy waterfowl loads and to reduce powder fouling.
A splined inner tube rests on a hefty coil spring inside the piston. When heavy loads are selected, it is free to move rearward against the spring, opening ports at the front of the piston body and releasing gas. At the same time, it is free to rotate, and the splines scrape against the piston's interior, clearing fouling.
The magazine tube itself is lathe-turned, producing three "plateaus." At rest, the piston is on the middle plateau. During recoil, it passes over the gap between that plateau and the one closest to the receiver. This reduces friction and provides a scraping action to help keep the piston bore clean.
Browning says the piston stroke has been increased by 20 percent to improve functioning with light loads.
The bolt tilts inside the bolt slide, and incorporates the bolt face and the locking lug, which engages a cut in the barrel extension. That part, like the barrel itself, is chrome lined. The ejector is fitted into the left side of the barrel extension and is spring-loaded for proper ejection of all shell lengths.
The Barrel & Moreâ€‚
The barrel is bored to .742-inch inside diameter for reduced recoil and improved pattern performance. It also has the lengthened, Browning-standard, Vector Pro forcing cone for reduced pellet deformation and better patterns.
It's supplied with Goose Band Extended Invector-Plus choke tubes in Improved Cylinder (.729 inch), Modified (.719 inch) and Full (.704 inch) configurations. All are 3 inches with a conical parallel internal profile that constricts the shot charge gradually for even patterns.
The parallel segment of the tube sticks out of the muzzle by 7â'„8 inch, easing any worry you might have about it bulging under the impact of years of steel shot loads and seizing inside the barrel. Since the tube wall of the Full choke tube is .066-inch thick, you needn't fret, but the extended part makes for easy tube changing in the field. It also serves as the canvas for a clever decorative scheme that resembles a waterfowl leg band. The large numbers "4109-11146" are the GPS coordinates for Browning's Morgan, Utah, headquarters.
The barrel is topped with a 6.5mm ventilated rib with a white .096-inch midbead and a LPA Sights' .115-inch red fiber optic at the muzzle. Its supports have a distinctive shark-toothed pattern exclusive to the Maxus.
Takedown is expedited by the Speed Lock Forearm. In place of the traditionally threaded magazine tube cap is a lever at the bottom front of the forend. Push the button at the very tip and rotate the lever down. This disengages a catch from a slot in the magazine tube, letting you slide the forend off.
A bonus of this system is that the front of the lever forms a claw that retains a sling swivel, letting you quickly remove the sling when disassembling the Maxus. If you're using a takedown case, this is very handy.
While you have the forend off, you can access Browning's Turnkey Magazine Plug. To remove the plug, pass a common house or car key through the slot at the end of the magazine tube, turn the plug 90 degrees, then invert the gun and shake the plug out.
The triggerguard, safety button and especially the bolt-release button are generously sized, with the latter being exactly the diameter of a penny. You should have no trouble operating any of these with gloved fingers. The safety button can be reversed, but Browning suggests having a qualified gunsmith do the job.
Quick Shooting, Quick Reloading
Browning claims its Lightning Trigger, which is exclusive to the Maxus models, delivers a lock time 24 percent shorter than the nearest competitor. Examining the trigger assembly, easily removed by driving out a pair of .175-inch pins, shows that the hammer is much shorter and lighter than most other designs, allowing it to reach the firing pin faster.
A magazine cutoff lever at the left front of the receiver retains shells in the magazine, allowing you to eject a shell from the magazine without another moving onto the lifter. This lets you easily switch ammunition types or unload the chamber to get on a boat while leaving the magazine loaded. When it's activated, it sticks out enough to remind you to move it forward before firing.
The Speed Load Plus system, dating back to the 1950s, allows fast reloading when the Maxus runs dry. Just insert a shell into the magazine and it instantly is conveyed to the chamber. Your hand is in position to continue filling the magazine.
The Right Fitâ€‚
Like even modestly priced shotguns these days, the Wicked Wing comes with a buttplate spacer to adjust pull length and a set of six shims that are trapped between the buttstock and receiver to regulate drop and cast. Three shims provide neutral cast.
The shotgun comes with one shim installed providing 2 inches of drop at the heel, while the others give you 1â'„8-inch increased or decreased drop. The other three shims provide those drop settings along with 1â'„8-inch cast-off or cast-on, depending on which way they are installed.
It doesn't take a lot of offset to produce that cast measurement. The shim is .062 inch on one side and .075 inch on the other.
Browning has made installation easier by extending the recoil spring tube enough to place its nut just under the buttpad. Which means you won't need the usual socket wrench extension and the usual 13mm deep-hole socket to loosen it. In fact, a good, old, American half-inch socket turns it.
The recoil pad is the familiar Browning Inflex, which has downward-angled internal ribs that work to drop the comb away from your face during recoil. This effect is especially welcome with 3½-inch steel loads.
The stock and forend are coated with Browning's Dura-Touch Armor Coating in Mossy Oak Shadow Grass Blades camo. The pistol grip and forend have gripping surfaces that mimic stippling for a secure grasp in all weather conditions.
Light 'Em Up
I patterned and function- fired the Maxus Wicked Wing with 3½-, 3- and 2¾-inch ammunition. There were no failures.
This is a big gun. The receiver circumference in front of the triggerguard is 7 inches. That same measurement on a Remington Model 1100 is 6 inches. The receiver is 9 inches long, compared to 8 inches for the 1100.
I first saw it at a Browning junket last year and thought, "What a load that's gonna be!" And it feels huge, but you quickly notice it's light and well-balanced.
Browning had arranged a little sporting course, and the first target was a mini launched at an obtuse angle probably 30 yards out, so that it would be 50 or more yards away when broken. It looked like a gnat against the sky.
I was first man up and my confidence was about nil and not improved by taunts from the others. But the Maxus swung freely, and I broke the tiny target, and many more after that. Once you get past the visual impression of its size, the Wicked Wing is really an easy-handling shotgun.
Early 3½-inch, 12-gauge guns like the Mossberg 835, combined with the ammo of the time, made for pretty grim shooting. Both guns and ammo have advanced quite a bit since 1990, for which we can be thankful.
Reference to one of the many handy recoil calculators on the internet showed a 1-ounce steel load at 1,500 feet per second (fps) produces 57.49 foot-pounds (ft.-lbs.) free recoil in the 7.1-pound Maxus. That's up in .375 H&H Magnum country, so, yes, it does kick.
I found the thumb of my trigger hand tended to whack my nose when I touched a round off while patterning. You're unlikely to have that problem while wearing heavy winter clothing, and keeping the thumb on top of the pistol grip solved it, as might installing the supplied stock spacers.
Dropping back to a 3-inch load driving 11â'„8 ounces of steel shot at 1,635 fps reduces the thump to 38.59 ft.-lbs., which is more like .300 Weatherby Magnum recoil. You'll swear the Weatherby kicks harder, thanks to its earsplitting muzzle blast.
Take it down to a dove load with an ounce of shot at 1,200 fps, and you're getting just 17.42 ft.-lbs., which is about what you get from a 7.62x39 rifle round.
So, in short, recoil with 2¾-inch ammo is "soft as a maiden's kiss," as Col. Charles Askins used to say, and it's not bad at all with 3-inch steel; I'd shoot it all day.
You'll want to be judicious with 3½-inch loads, both for the jolt and for the fact that they can cost half again as much as the 2¾-inch stuff. Ask yourself if the target really needs it, and if you're really good enough to make the long shots where the 31/2s shine.
The Wicked Wing is certainly marketed as a specialist waterfowling gun, but given its weight and supple handling, you wouldn't be out of line a bit to shoot doves or pheasant with it. Bringing it to a Georgia quail hunt would invite derision, but it offers more all-around capability than you might think at first glance.
About the only complaint heard against the gun was the shiny surface of the choke tube, which stood out like a beacon in bright sun. A couple inches of camo tape would solve that problem before taking it out into a field.
If you've made a full commitment to waterfowl hunting and want a very distinctive, fast-handling, 3½-inch 12-gauge, the Maxus Wicked Wing may fit your blind to a tee.