Gun Test - Browning B15
- Credit: Archant
This deluxe shotgun from Browning shoots as well as it looks... Mike Yardley tells us more in this in-depth gun test and review
Action type: 725 assembled and finished in Belgium
Chambers: 3” (76mm)
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Multi-chokes: Yes, DS (Double Seal type)
Weight: about 7 1/2 pounds
RRP: Just over £12K when I last looked
The (elegant) look
The (quality) feel
The splendid way it shoots
Nothing worth mentioning
Not only is this a beautiful gun to look at, it is a lovely gun to handle and shoot. It may be based on a 725 but it does not handle like its mass-produced siblings. The first thing you notice when you open and close the B15 is how tight it all feels. There is no clang or vibration on closing, just a sensation of near hermetic sealing. Bringing the gun up also lights up the positives; the lighter barrels help the handling and give life (an especially useful quality in a game gun). Trigger pulls were particularly good for a helical spring powered action. Felt recoil was not excessive. Most of all, the gun seemed willing and forgiving (qualities I rate highly when testing). I found it an effortless and pleasing gun to use. It looked and felt refined. Finish is what sets guns apart, and the B15 has clearly had a lot of extra effort expended on it. It shows externally, but it is also evident when you use and shoot the gun. You end up with the best of all worlds – a beautifully hand finished sculpture in metal and wood, but one with machine made (though smoke fitted) mechanics which should give you a lifetime of dependable use. I’m sold, so please Father Christmas, I’ve been a good boy. I’ll be hanging the slip at the end of the bed instead of a sock this year...
The festive spirit got me thinking – of the many guns I’ve encountered in the last year, what would I actually buy for myself? (And no apologies that this special, extra indulgent, Christmas ‘test’ starts with a bit of declared bias and self interest!) So, the prettiest, best-handling gun I’ve encountered recently is the new Browning B15.
The B15, available in various grades, is a new deluxe model from this famous maker. It starts life as a kit of parts made in Japan – the basic mechanics are B725 – which is shipped to Browning’s workshops in Belgium where it is then assembled, traditionally colour case hardened/smoked in, stocked and regulated. The gun has (very attractive) ornamental sideplates adorned with game scenes or scrollwork and a most unusual, solid and very narrow 6 to 4mm tapered rib. All things considered, she’s a bit of a stunner – a romantic’s gun – bold and beautiful with a little bling, but not too much.
The deep scroll engraving is really striking and well executed. Barrel blacking and wood finish are impeccable too. Wood figure is almost to exhibition standard. My only aesthetic criticism, and it is a slight one, is that the sideplated action looks a little flat walled, but it provides ample opportunity to create a canvas for the elaborate but tasteful decoration. As well as scroll to the sideplates, there is more scroll and an image of a forest creature’s head on the belly (Herne the Hunter, the Green Man, or something similar). I’ve seen similar figures on ancient guns in European museums. I rather like him! It reminds me of our hunting culture and heritage. You would, meanwhile, be hard pressed to improve on the form of the engraving, which is laid out by laser and hand finished.
The stocking on the test gun is also impeccable. The wood is wonderfully figured and the shapes of butt, grip and fore-end are all truly excellent – as good as any I have tested – and notably different from more mass produced guns. I particularly liked the fairly open but not too bulky pistol grip which, unlike most 725s, has no palm swell, and the round, comfortable fore-end, which again is not too big or small. Hand chequering and oil finish on the stock is to a very high standard and as good as I’ve seen outside London. Length of pull is 15”, drop 1½” and just over 21/8”. Dix points.
The general standard of finish is excellent in all departments. Best gun standards are in evidence. I have two small qualifications. I did not like the cross-headed fixings that attach the fore-end to the fore-end iron. These might easily be replaced (even though they are only visible with fore-end removed) with traditional slotted screws. There was also slight distortion on the trigger guard – probably a consequence of the colour case hardening which has been struck off on the outer/bottom surface. However, in noting these things I am being picky. The gun is as well put together as any you will find today.
The B15 inherits some other interesting features from the 725 upon which it is based. The action profile is lower – about 1/8” – than a traditional B25, although it retains a full-width pin for hinging purposes, and a flat Superposed-style bolt engaging the usual slot under the bottom chamber mouth. The rear of the action has been substantially reshaped, especially around the fences. The barrels are significantly lighter on a standard 725 than 525s and similar. On the B15, the barrels are lighter still thanks to the narrow rib and custom striking up in Belgium. The bores are modestly backbored (18.7mm), and have extended forcing cones. Chambers are 3” (76mm) and the gun is steel shot fleur-de-lys proofed.
The quality of the barrel making is A1, like the rest of this most impressive firestick. Joints between tubes and monobloc are almost invisible; there is only the very slightest tromboning at the muzzles to allow for the DS-type (DS stands for Double Seal) multi-chokes. The chokes are threaded at the front and have a clever brass ring at their base to avoid gas leakage between choke tube and barrel wall. The trigger, as on production 725s, is redesigned compared to most recent Brownings. It is mechanical and offers improved pulls (further improved by the custom work). They are noticeably lighter and crisper than those on mass-produced guns. The B15, like the 725, also benefits from an inertia safety system.
Can’t afford a B15? Well, there are some reasonably priced alternatives which still qualify as deluxe within the Browning and Miroku range. A 725 Grade V with excellent scroll or game scene engraving will set you back just over £4,000. Hand finished Miroku MK60 Grade Vs in 12 or 20 come in at under £3,000 (and they’re also available in gold numbered pairs in a spiffy leather case). A sideplated Heritage (which is particularly nice in 20-bore) comes in at around the £6,000 mark.