By Bruce BuckIn spite of the somewhat similar names and humpback look, Browning’s new A5 Sweet Sixteen inertia-driven autoloader is very different from the old Auto-5 Sweet 16. The original Auto-5 was designed by John Browning in 1902 and was the first truly functional semi-automatic shotgun. Fabrique Nationale, in Belgium, made the Auto-5 for 75 years, and then production moved to Miroku, in Japan, for the next 23 years. Auto-5s were made in 12, 16 and 20 gauge, but the version that got the press was the Sweet 16, a gauge that was blithely claimed to carry like a 20 and hit like a 12. The Auto-5 kept going until the last run of commemorative guns was sold in 2000.
The original Auto-5 was very popular, and everyone recognized its unique humpback profile. Its long-recoil action with the moving barrel was reliable, and it seemed as though just about everyone owned one or knew someone who did. As the Auto-5 aged, Browning introduced a more modern inertia-operated gun, the A500, which later was renamed the A500R. It had a cosmetic humpback to promote the comparison, but production lasted only from 1987 to ’93.
Browning had tried numerous entries into the gas-operated auto market with its discontinued B2000, B80, A500G and current Gold, Silver and Maxus, but the company didn’t forget about the inertia-auto market. In 2012 Browning took another try with a gun it called the A5. The A5 was introduced in 12 gauge, but four years later, at the 2016 SHOT Show, it debuted in 16 gauge as the A5 Sweet Sixteen—a name sure to bring back memories. This new Sweet Sixteen is the subject of this review.
The A5 has an inertia action that Browning calls “Kinematic Drive.” It is actually close to the current Benelli system, invented by Bruno Civolani in 1940 and improved since then. Instead of having recoil move the barrel to the rear and push the bolt back as on the original Auto-5, the A5’s recoil moves the gun to the rear while inertia keeps the outer bolt housing in place. This compresses an interior bolt spring, which then powers the bolt rearward, twisting the rotary head free of the barrel, cocking the hammer and ejecting the hull. Then the spring in the stock forces the bolt forward to chamber the new shell and close the bolt.
The A5 is 100-percent Browning. It was designed by Browning. Parts are made by Browning’s parent FN Herstal, in Belgium, and assembled in the Browning plant in Portugal. Paperwork included with our early production sample showed that it was subjected to almost 250 test shots before being released. I doubt if this amount of test firing will continue in later-production guns, but it is comforting to know that the early guns were carefully vetted.
The Auto-5 16 was all steel, and its weight reflected it, coming in at slightly more than 7 pounds. Our test A5 Sweet Sixteen has an aluminum receiver sized to the gauge and weighs 5 pounds 12 ounces with its 28" barrel. (Even the forend nut is aluminum.) This is exceptionally light and will be delightful to carry afield. The 12-gauge A5 weighs a pound more.
The inertia action, like the Benelli’s, should prove reliable even in difficult hunting conditions. Because gas does not operate the action, cleaning should be minimal. Browning certainly has faith in it. The gun comes with a 100,000-round or five-year guarantee. The claim is that the A5 will function with the complete range of 16-gauge shells, from 1¼ to 1 oz.
The trigger is easily detached by pushing out two cross pins and giving it a yank. The trigger housing is aluminum, as is the trigger blade. The push-through safety button is at the rear of the trigger guard. In front of the trigger guard is the bolt latch, which allows the slide assembly to be locked open when the magazine is empty. It also can release a shell from the magazine to be loaded into the chamber.
There are two ways to load the gun. First is the usual one for semi-autos: Drop the shell into the ejection port and push the bolt-closing button, then put the next shell in the magazine. The second approach is Browning’s patented “Speed Loading Plus.” When the first shell is fed into the magazine, it is automatically chambered and the bolt is closed. The original Auto-5 had this feature (invented by Val Browning) added in the 1950s.
The barrel comes only in 28", and the chromed forcing cone on our gun was a fairly long 13⁄8". The bore was pretty standard for the gauge at .666".
The gun comes with three of the new Invector DS screw chokes. These are flush-mounted and 2-7⁄8" long. I always have felt that longer screw chokes like these were better, as they more gradually compress the shot to avoid deformation. The “DS” stands for “double seal,” referring to the choke’s brass-banded seal at the rear and front threading at the muzzle. Usually I don’t like screw chokes threaded at the muzzle, because they can allow carbon to build up between the choke and the bore. The Invector DS brass rear seal nicely precludes this.
The chokes came in Improved Cylinder, Modified and Full. At least that’s what they were stamped. The IC measured .007" constriction (almost right), the M was .011" (too open) and the F was a whopping .045". That would be very tight in a 12-bore, much less a 16.
The barrel rib was low, ventilated and flat. It was ¼" wide and untapered breech to muzzle. It had a red plastic bead up front and a white target-style bead in the middle.
Browning lists the wood on the Sweet Sixteen as “Grade 1.” The wood on our gun had a little bit of figure, but more important, it was nicely stained and finished in a high-gloss synthetic. Checkering was machine-cut but well executed in an attractive 18-lines-per-inch pattern.
The forend on this gun is extremely slender. It is perfect in lending the gun an air of light handling and mobility. The stock has a competition-style, large, vertical pistol grip, but something more relaxed might be appropriate in the field.
In theory the stock can be adjusted to fit the shooter. It has ¼" and ½" spacers that fit between the recoil pad and the butt. This permits lengths of 14-1⁄8" to 14-7⁄8", which should accommodate most people. The recoil pad is Browning’s Inflex II. It is just slippery enough to avoid hanging up on your hunting jacket.
The stock is adjustable for height and cast with six shims that fit between the head of the stock and the rear of the receiver. Three adjust only height, and three adjust height and cast. This would be great if it worked, but it didn’t. With a neutral shim, the stock height is a pretty standard 2¼" at the heel and an abnormally low 1¾" at the nose. The original Auto-5 also had a low stock, so this isn’t new. A fairly typical off-the-shelf shotgun stock measures 1½" at the nose today. Believe me, that ¼" makes a huge difference in whether you can look down the rib or simply stare into the back of that humpback receiver.
But it has height-adjustment shims, so there shouldn’t be any problem, right? Nope. The supplied shims didn’t move the barrel up enough to measure. Even when I stacked two stock-raising shims together, the effect wasn’t noticeable.
The cosmetics of the gun are quite nice. It is definitely good looking, once you accept the signature humpback. The aluminum receiver is a dignified gloss black with no engraving and just a little dark lettering, with “A5 Sweet Sixteen” on the right side and “Browning Sweet Sixteen” on the left. The original Auto-5 was beautifully hand engraved, which would add a prohibitive cost today. The Sweet Sixteen’s barrel is nicely gloss-blued, while the rib is appropriately matte. The medium stain of the walnut and gloss finish fit in perfectly.
Shooting the Sweet Sixteen
Shooting the gun was interesting. As usual, it was a pain to get 16-gauge shells. I found some Fiocchi 1-oz No. 8s at 1,165 fps. Sixteens can take up to 1¼ oz, so these were on the light side. I shot the gun clean and dry, as it came from the box. Too dry. After a bit it started to fail to fully cycle these light shells until I gave it a few squirts of oil. That solved that, and it was flawless from then on. Ejected hulls flew five feet, about perfect. Loading the gun was convenient using the Speed Loading Plus feature. Recoil was about what you would expect of a gun of this weight if it were an over/under. A gas gun would kick less.
The trigger pull was heavy at 6¼ pounds. It’s never good to have the trigger-pull weight exceed the weight of the gun, but it wasn’t unbearable. The trigger also had a bit of creep. Normally that’s bad, as one wants things crisp. But in this case, with such a heavy pull, the creep actually made the trigger feel softer. A crisp trigger of that weight somehow feels heavier to me. None of the others who shot the gun commented on the pull.
What people did comment on was the stock fit. A drop of 1¾" at the nose may fit those with full faces and short necks, but it forces the rest of the world to lift their heads off of the stock to see over the hump. Browning definitely needs to supply this gun with more-aggressive shims, so that it can realize the claimed “Humpback Acquisition Advantage” of a longer sighting plane.
Fit aside, the gun handled beautifully. It was nicely balanced and, in spite of being delightfully light for field carry, didn’t whip about when being shot, thanks to the longish barrel.
The retail price of Browning’s Sweet Sixteen is $1,699. This puts it in with other good-quality semi-autos like Berettas and Benellis, were those companies to make 16s today. Which they don’t. The Sweet Sixteen comes in a black ABS takedown case that is OK for the car but not for serious travel. It contains the two extra chokes and wrench, the two stock-length spacers, the six height shims, a cable trigger lock and the manual. Unlike most gun manuals, this one is quite informative and definitely worth a read on assembly and disassembly, which is not intuitive.
For those who like to carry an autoloader in the field and have been smitten by 16-gauge lust, the Browning Sweet Sixteen delivers. It really does carry like a 20 and shoot like a 12.
For more information, contact Browning Arms, 800-333-3288.