My Stoeger M3500 is so easy to load, but reliability has been a bit hit or miss. The long, 3.5″ inertial action cycles with 3.5″ goose loads just fine, but struggled with lighter weight target loads, so I was looking at a new shotgun. I ended up buying a Browning A5 Stalker and wanted to talk a bit about that. Note: the new A5 is NOT the same as the old Auto 5. The new A5 uses the Benelli style inertia action.
(These are Brownells dummy shotgun shells, I’m NOT loading my shotgun in my house!)
No More Port Loading!
The big feature for the A5 for shooting 3 gun is the “auto load” feature. When the bolt locks back on an empty chamber, a round sent into the tube will automatically fly back onto the lifter and send the bolt home, charging the chamber. For 3 gun, this means you don’t need to use a Match Saver, and counting becomes less important. Here in Canada, with our shotgun shell limitations, it also means that the A5 is a double-quad load away from going from empty to full, which is incredibly convenient and very fast.
Browning A5 vs Benelli M2 vs Remington Versa Max
The Benelli M2 is the standard 3 gun shotgun, while the Versa Max is the “budget” shotgun du jour. Yes, there are other 3 gun shotguns such as the 930JM Pro, and Stoeger M3K, but the M2 and Versa Max are the ones I see the most often. Maybe I should have included the Beretta 1301 Comp in the comparison, but this is enough!
- Between the 3, the Versa Max should be the softest shooting because it’s the heaviest and is gas operated while the M2 and A5 are both inertia operated actions.
- The standard factory lifter on the A5 is pretty good and is not very catchy, but it gets a bit grabby if you really open up the loading port. A small weld of the fork will result in a lifter that does not catch your finger. However, spare parts for the A5 are not in large supply so don’t mess it up. Conversely, the M2 and Versa Max both have lots of parts availability including extended lifters that would be ideal for 3 gun. I really hate the standard Versa Max lifter out of the box, because it’s a real thumb catcher.
- The Browning A5 bolt head is more complex than the M2. It uses 4 lugs instead of the simple 2 lug design on the M2. The more complex A5 bolt head may jam more easily, but I haven’t been able to test or see this, nor would I want to test it at a match.
- Aftermarket go-fast parts are readily available for the M2, pretty easily available for the Versa Max, and practically non-existant for the A5. That said, because of the auto-load feature, extended bolt releases and charging handles aren’t strictly needed. The factory A5 safety is pretty good on its own. Nordic Components makes a magazine tube extension, and that’s the important thing. Different spring kits would be nice.
- Most 3 Gun gunsmiths have more experience with the M2 and Versa Max. Most won’t know how to work on more complicated jobs on an A5.
Researching and knowing all this, I decided to buy a 3.5″ chambered Browning A5 Stalker. The Versa Max Competition Tactical was not yet readily available in Canada yet, so it wasn’t a contender. The 3.5″ chamber on the A5 I bought means I can use up to 7 rounds of 2 3/4″ shells (which importantly adds up to 8 if you count one in the chamber.) The shotgun also came with IC, M, and F invector chokes. The chokes are great: they don’t foul up and they don’t loosen off with shooting like lots of other chokes do.
What 3 Gun Modifications did I do to my A5?
Right out of the package, I opened up the loading port (quickly and messily) and added a Nordic Components magazine tube extension. After opening up the loading port, the lifter was a bit more catchy than with the port closed, so I had the fork welded and contoured the fork a bit from the inside. I would say that it doesn’t load quite as slick as my M3500, but the A5 also needs to be used a bit more to get it as slick.
The trigger, safety, bolt handle, bolt release, and sights have all remained factory as I haven’t seen a need to change them. I find the factory safety to be very tactile, easy to click over, and big enough (the factory Browning A5 safety is a bit bigger than a standard safety). The trigger was great, the bolt handle rarely used, and the bolt release is rarely used as well. If I get bored, I might do the bolt release, but because of the auto load feature, it’s not high up on the list of mods to do.
As the sights are fibre optic with a mid bead from the factory, I haven’t really seen a point in changing those either.
So overall, the modifications needed to make the A5 ready for 3 gun are pretty minimal.
The all important factor, how reliable has it been? If I’m honest, my first outing with it was great, but my second sucked and it was all my fault. I had dremelled out the loading port and thought I kept it clean, when in fact there had been plenty of aluminum chips that got back into the recoil spring and recoil spring tube. These gummed up the action and resulted in a pretty poor match. After the match, I cleaned out the recoil spring and tube, re-oiled them, and haven’t had a failure since.
So I’d say that my reliability has been excellent. I’ve been using Challenger 7.5 and #8 shells in Handicap loading, which brings just a bit more oomph than regular target shells. I may not require that extra power and might try just regular target shells later.
As of the writing of this article, I’ve had the A5 at 6 competitions and reliability has been excellent since my first disaster with having metal chips in the recoil action. I’ll update the article if I find anything else.
There’s some information on using A5’s on the Brian Enos forums, and there’s a group of Browning fanatics called the “A5 Posse” who run the A5, but I couldn’t find a complete compilation of information. Hopefully, if you’ve been considering the A5 as a 3 gun shotgun, this article has been helpful in providing the information you need to make your decision.