July 07, 2022
A senior writer for another OSG publication has a well-known disdain for camouflage. I’m not sure he’s ever been photographed in it and refuses to wear it except when advertising considerations make it unavoidable.
His quite logical point is that our ancestors eradicated the passenger pigeon (and almost did the same to the bison) while wearing bowler hats and ties, meaning there’s no real need to go afield in the moral equivalent of pajamas.
I admire any man willing to stand like King Canute against an incoming tide, but camouflage is here to stay, and the default finish options these days for both rifles and shotguns are matte black and various iterations of camo.
They satisfy most users, but by no means all. Every month, G&A receives letters and emails whose gist is as follows: “I have three ARs and a safe full of Glocks, but can’t you at least once in a while write about guns made with walnut and blued steel?”
Yes we can! And Browning has presented us the perfect opportunity with the limited-availability Maxus II Hunter, which combines a modern bag of tricks with the much-beloved look of wood and steel. However, it’s matte finished, not shiny like your old A-5.
The original Maxus dates from 2009 and, interestingly, is still shown on Browning’s website, though designated “discontinued.” The Maxus II was introduced in 2020, and the Hunter version first shown as a 2021 SHOT Show Special.
The differences between the I and II versions of the Maxus are almost entirely cosmetic and ergonomic. The operating system and general layout of the gun are the same, and there’s not a thing wrong with that.
The Maxus operating system can be traced to the Winchester Super-X Model 1 made from 1974 to ’81. It was a great-looking gun that was undone by malaise-era U.S. economics and the general disarray of Winchester in those years.
Its salient features are a short-stroke piston operation with a stubby operating rod acting on the left front of the bolt carrier. On firing, gas is bled from two ports at the bottom of the bore.
The gas presses against the piston inside the gas bracket, forcing the former rearward against the plastic piston sleeve.The piston is surprisingly complicated with features intended to compensate for a wide range of 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 is lathe-turned to produce three bulges. At rest, the piston is positioned over the middle bump. During recoil, it passes over the gap between that bulge and the one closest to the receiver. This reduces friction and provides a scraping action to keep the piston bore clean.
The operating rod is mounted in the top left of the sleeve and delivers a quick burst of energy to the bolt carrier. As the carrier moves rearward, it pulls down on the separate bolt head, disengaging it from its recess in the chrome-plated barrel extension. The bolt is then free to recoil fully rearward against the recoil spring in the buttstock. It uses a sturdy hook extractor to pull the empty against a spring-loaded ejector at the left rear of the barrel extension, tossing the spent case out the ejection port. The bolt can then return to battery, picking up a fresh round from the shell lifter. This system is reliable, it stays clean and shoots 2¾- and 3-inch ammo interchangeably. Waterfowl models like the top-of-the-line Wicked Wing can shoot 3½-inch loads. If you’re used to long-stroke gas guns like the Remington 1100, you’ll find the feel of the Maxus II snappier, though not to the extent of inertia-recoil guns like Benelli’s.
The feature that gives away the Maxus II in comparison to the previous model is the receiver. Browning obviously heard commentary about the massive appearance of the original, and streamlined this new scattergun.
Measuring in from in front of the triggerguard, the tale of the tape is 7¼ inches around for the Maxus II against 7½ for the predecessor model.
This looks different and feels even more different. It still looks and feels large. An 1100 receiver, for example, is 6½ inches in circumference, but there’s a distinct trimmer impression yielded by a step down from 1.55 inches width at the bottom of the receiver to 1.46 above. Very large bolt handles have migrated from competition shotguns to hunting arms, and here it’s .925-inch long and, like the bolt assembly itself and the bolt release, treated to a nickel-Teflon finish.
The triggerguard has been reshaped with a wide flaring front that’s dished in behind the loading port to help guide shells in. There’s room inside the guard for even the thickest gloves, too. The serial number is engraved into the black anodized aluminum just below the bolt release, and it stands out boldly. (I suspect this can easily be mitigated with a Sharpie.)
There’s a magazine cutoff exactly where you’d expect it from the original Browning Auto-5, at the bottom left of the receiver. Pulling it out locks cartridges in the magazine, allows you to eject a loaded round, lock back the bolt and reload with a different cartridge. If you change your mind, pressing the cutoff back in place frees the rounds in the magazine and drops the bolt assembly, which gives you an instant reload. In traditional Browning fashion, if you load a cartridge into the magazine with the bolt locked back, the bolt will be released, instantly transferring the new shell into the chamber.
Backbored barrels have been around long enough hardly to be a secret, but for the new readers in the audience, it has become more common to bore shotgun barrels to an inside diameter larger than the nominal .729 inch. As with so many innovations, it started in competition shooting and has moved over to hunting guns like the Maxus II. When shotshells were loaded with card-and-fiber wad columns, an abrupt forcing cone and fairly tight bore were needed to keep gas from escaping into the shot charge. The advent of plastic wads changed all that, and bore diameters like the sample gun’s chrome-plated .741 inch are common. The advantages are reduced recoil and pellet deformation, leading to better pattern performance.
As befits a hunting gun, the Maxus II Hunter comes with three choke tubes: Improved Cylinder (.736 inch), Modified (.728 inch) and Full (.709 inch). These are in the Invector Plus configuration, measuring 2.38 inches long with a conical-parallel interior profile. They’re flush with the muzzle when properly tightened. There’s no marking on the Full tube that forbids shooting it with steel shot, but an examination of the instruction manual shows Browning recommends against steel in anything tighter than Modified tubes.
There will be those who argue a gun in this price range should come with five tubes, but its name, after all, is “Hunter.” Skeet and Improved Modified tubes have only theoretical application in the hunting field.
The barrel is topped with a 6.5mm rib and aimed with a .118-inch red fiber optic and a .095-inch white mid-bead. Whether a hunting gun needs a middle bead can be debated, but it’s there if you can use it.
The original Maxus had a fancy system for retaining the forend that was especially handy if you used a sling. This apparently didn’t impress consumers, so the Maxus II sports a more conventional screw-on magazine cap.
It’s not totally conventional in shape, being, from the front, a Reuleaux triangle — a curved triangle with constant width. If, like me, you ever owned a Mazda RX-7, you’ll immediately recognize this as the shape of the engine rotor.
The magazine tube passes through a bushing at the front of the forend whose rear surface is cone-shaped. This passes into a cone-shaped recess in the front of the gas bracket when the shotgun is assembled.
Tightening the magazine cap presses the two together, helping to prevent rattling of the forend. You shouldn’t need to check the magazine cap once it’s turned tight.
The magazine plug restricts capacity to two rounds, and it is easily removed by turning it a quarter-turn in either direction with a key or screwdriver and shaking it out the front. I haven’t needed to hurriedly remove or replace a magazine plug in more than 50 years of hunting, but if you anticipate needing to you’ll appreciate this feature.
Like the buttstock, the forend is interestingly decorated with a combination of 16 line-per-inch checkering and stippling. This gives you both the traditional appearance of checkering and the superior gripping surface of stippling. No need to choose here: You can have both.
The buttstock is similarly checkered and stippled. The pistol grip is, to the extent we are still allowed to say it, man-sized. It’s 5¼ inches around, compared to 4¾ inches for the 1100 grip, and the difference is immediately apparent. Palm swells exist on both sides to provide a comfortable grasp if your hands are big enough.
At the butt is a 1½-inch-thick Inflex recoil pad. This is made with internal ribbing intended to direct the buttstock downward during recoil. This redirect will reduce punishment to your cheek, especially with heavy loads. The Maxus II provides a standard 14½-inch length of pull, but if your wingspan is NBA-style, it comes with 1/4- and ½-inch spacers that can be used individually or together to provide as much as 15¼ inches of pull.
Even economical Turkish shotguns include adjustable buttstocks these days, and the Maxus II does not disappoint in that department. It comes with a comprehensive shim set, and installing shims is quite easy. Start by passing No. 2 Philips screwdriver through the holes in the top and bottom of the recoil pad and turning out the screws that secure it. That will take a bit because they are fine-threaded machine screws that engage threaded inserts fixed in the butt. These protrude from the stock wood and engage countersunk holes in the recoil pad or spacers, meaning any twisting force is applied to the inserts, not the attaching screws. Repeatedly removing and replacing the recoil pad will not hog out the stock wood, so you can experiment with the shims all you like without damage.
I have no idea how many shooters actually experiment in this way, but it’s a great feature, regardless.
The recoil tube is extended rearward far enough that you won’t need an extension to reach the stock bolt. Just turn it off with a half-inch or 13mm socket, remove the washer and spacers and pull off the buttstock.
The shims are skeletonized to fit a recess cut around the front of the pistol grip. Three neutral and three cast shims make up the set. The No. 2 shim is standard and provides a 2-inch drop at heel. The No. 1 shim raises that to 17⁄8 inches, while the No. 3 provides 21⁄8 inches drop at heel.
>The shims marked “1L”, “2L” and “3L” provide the same drop measurements while letting you adjust cast-on or -off by one-eighth inch. Install the shim with the desired designator facing rearward. If you can see the “2R” marking, you have selected 2-inch drop and displacement of the butt to the right, or “cast-off.”
I find a lot of shooters seem to regard cast adjustment as vaguely European and effeminate, but none of them would think of deer hunting without zeroing their scopes. It’s pretty much the same thing. The process is so easy in the Maxus II that there is little excuse for not experimenting to find your ideal setting.
The Maxus II is made at Fábrica De Armas E Artigos De Desporto, S.A. in Viana, Portugal, which has produced Browning guns for more than 30 years. It currently makes the Maxus II, A5 and Silver. Its 474 employees also assemble the BAR rifle from Belgian-made parts.
I pattern-tested the Maxus II with Browning’s new Wicked Blend waterfowl ammo. This combines bismuth and steel shot in one shell, with smaller bismuth pellets riding on top of the steel charge. You can have it in No. 2 steel/No. 4 bismuth or the combo I used: BB and No. 1.
The shot charge is carried in the Wicked Wad, which, Browning says is more aerodynamically stable than competitive types and releases the shot charge gradually and in line with the target.
I didn’t shoot enough of the new ammo to have firm opinions on that, but I will say that in more than 40 years of patterning shotguns, I’ve never seen a load consistently toss the wad over the top of the pattern board at 40 yards!
Handling and performance of the Maxus II were no big change from the original model, and that’s just fine. I suppose the trimmer receiver of the new version would make it more comfortable to carry in the field, but I noticed no difference at all when firing.
My only caveats were that the shell lifter had a sharp surface at the front that hung up on the thumbnails of multiple users during loading. This could easily be corrected with the good old Dremel tool, but that shouldn’t be necessary at this price point.
Also, when single-loading on the trap field, I had repeated jams with Canadian-made Challenger ammo. These seemed to be caused by improper action of the extractor. I had no similar problems with other ammo types, and I suppose the solution would be to load through the loading port rather than the ejection port.
If you like the looks of the Hunter model, what exactly does “limited availability” mean? In this case, it means dealers had to order it in the month of January. So, if yours got busy and ordered several at the SHOT Show, you have a chance of getting one. But he can’t order one now. A quick check of our friends at Gallery of Guns showed it’s already out of stock. If you want one, I suggest that you act fast!
Browning Maxus II Hunter
- Type: Gas operated, semiauto
- Gauge: 12 (2 3/4 or 3-inch sheels)
- Capacity: 4 rds.
- Barrel: 28 in. (tested) or 26 in.
- Weight: 7 lbs.
- Overall Length: 47 3/8 in.
- Length of Pull: 14 1/2 in.
- Drop at Heel: 2 in.
- Drop at Comb: 1 3/4 in.
- Trigger: 6 lbs. (tested)
- Accessories: Hard case; Improved Cylinder (.736 in.), Modified (.728 in.) and Full (.709 in.), and key; six pull-and-cast shims; two stock spacers; key lock
- MSRP: $1600
- Importer: Browning, 800-333-3288, browning.com
- Manufacturer: Fábrica de Armas E Artigos De Desporto, S.A, Viana, Portugal
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