Looking good with Browning’s B15 Beauchamp
By Bruce Buck
Photographs Courtesy of Browning
Handsome is as handsome does” is nice as far as it goes. But for many shotgunners it doesn’t go far enough. For some shooters looks are just as important as performance. Gunmakers have always known this. That’s why many of them sell the same mechanical gun with a line of increasing embellishments. It expands the customer base and is good for the bottom line.
Browning is certainly no exception. The company’s popular Miroku-made Japanese Citori 725 Field Grade starts at $2,470 and goes up to a Grade VI at $6,000 for the same gun but snappier wood and engraving. At Browning’s high end, the Belgian handmade classic B25 that really began the commercial over/under more than 90 years ago now starts around $17,000 and goes up—way up—from there. Browning was looking for something to fit in that price gap.
Enter the Browning B15 Beauchamp as part of the upscale John M. Browning Signature Collection. Introduced in 2015 (hence the B15 name), with production starting in 2016, it fits in between the Citori and the B25. The B15 has four models: B at $13,000, C at $15,500, D at $18,000 and E at $20,500. The B and D have the same game-scene engraving, while the C and E share an elaborate foliate scroll with a mystic face on the underside. The D and E also add a three-piece forend, capped pistol grip and a skeleton buttplate. Wood grade also increases with price. What doesn’t change is the configuration.
The gun originally was available in 12 gauge, but now a 20 has been added. A sporter and other gauges may be down the road. Right now the gun comes only in a field configuration with 26" or 28" barrels.
Our test gun is a 28" 12-gauge B grade. Though it is the bottom of the line, there is certainly nothing low end about it. This is a snappy-looking gun. It’s hard to believe that it started out as a Citori, but it did. The Citori 725 parts are shipped in the white from Miroku, in Japan, to the Fabrique Nationale Browning factory, in Herstal, Belgium, where the handfitting and engraving work begin. Browning did this once before, from 1988 to 2003, with its B125, also finished in Belgium with outsourced parts mostly from Japan. That said, the B15 is much fancier than the B125 was.
The B15 action is mechanically identical to the latest 725’s, but the difference is in the details. Our sample had the new mechanical trigger, with both sears set to a crisp 3¼-pound pull, no creep and very little take-up. The inside mechanics start as CNC pieces but are handfitted with lamp black to perfect tolerances. You certainly can tell it when the gun is closed. Instead of a “thunk” you get a high-class “snick.”
But it’s the outside that you will notice. The B15 has heavily engraved sideplates. These are ornamental, not functional as on a sidelock like Connecticut Shotgun’s A-10; but they sure do give a larger canvas to the engraver—and that’s the point.
This gun is for shooters who want more than pure reliability.
The signed engraving is 100-percent coverage of the receiver, sideplates, trigger guard and forend iron. Careful examination with a jeweler’s loupe showed that the engraving was done first by laser, and then hand chased for an upscale look and texture. Our B sample had gamebird scenes on the sides and bottom surrounded by floral scroll. It certainly was nicely done.
The receiver has a slight rounding on the bottom for a comfortable field carry. Browning makes a big thing about the B15/Citori receiver being shallower than the sainted B25’s, but the difference is only a paltry .08". The Beretta 680 series is a full .10" shallower than even that.
The barrels are standard 725 with some exceptions. As mentioned, only 26" and 28" lengths are available. For a field gun like this, those aren’t bad choices. The barrels have the usual trendy Citori overbore of .740" with 3" chambers and 1" forcing cones. The barrel bores are chromed for ease of cleaning and rust prevention.
Up front are the Invector-DS (Double Seal) flush-mount screw chokes. A brass-alloy band at the base of each choke tube seals out any possible gas or grit leakage onto the choke exterior and threads. The B15 comes with five flush-fit chokes (Skeet, Improved Cylinder, Modified, Improved Modified and Full) plus a sturdy wrench. Choke designations are notched on the rims for easy identification. At 31⁄8", the DS chokes are longer than some other brands. They also have less constriction than most others, and the interior taper is curved rather than linear.
Our test gun was a SHOT Show display sample and came with the IC and M chokes in place. The IC measured .002" constriction, while the Modified was .006". In a 12-gauge, the usual constriction for IC is .010" and for M is .020". Other 725 chokes I’ve measured have been similarly open, with only the Full choke approaching the norm of .035". While much of a pattern depends on the shell used, you would think that these choke dimensions would pattern more openly than other brands. Browning claims that “the choke tube designations are not based on the inside diameter as measured by a micrometer but by the actual pattern that is created by each choke.” Perhaps. I didn’t pattern them, but other testers have found them more open. Browning says that all of its DS choke tubes through Improved Modified will handle steel shot.
What you really will notice about the barrel exterior is the beautiful, classic, solid 6mm x 4mm rib, just like on B25 Superlight models. It really gives the gun a sleek look. There is a tiny single brass bead at the muzzle. It is so appropriate on a field gun. The barrels are flawlessly gloss-blued. The rib solder seams are perfect, with no skips or holidays. You would expect this on a hand-finished gun of this price.
If you are going to add $10,000 to $15,000 to the price of a Citori, you had better come up with some snappy stock wood—and the B15 doesn’t disappoint. Wood grain is often a personal-preference thing, but to my eyes this gun had some of the nicer walnut I’ve run into. The B15s in C, D and E models are supposed to have even fancier wood. The grain of the forend matched that of the stock—something that is rarer than it should be.
Make & Model: Browning B15 Beauchamp
Action: Over/under sideplated boxlock
Finish: Coin finish with game-scene engraving
Barrel length: 28”
Weight: 7 pounds 1½ ounces
Chokes: Five screw-in flush-mount chokes
Stock: Relaxed pistol grip, 14¼” LOP
Accessories: Choke wrench, case
Price as tested: $13,000
The wood finish is listed as hand-rubbed oil. Like the wood itself, the finish was flawless. Unlike so many other European guns, the grain was properly filled with no open pores. The low-gloss finish was obviously carefully applied with numerous coats, to provide depth. Since it is oil, not synthetic varnish, dents and dings ought to be easy to refinish. The manual checkering was nicely done in a classic, minimalist pattern and with a fine lines-per-inch execution. Wood-to-metal fit was flush, not raised, and perfectly done.
The pistol grip is the fairly relaxed flat-knob field style, which gives decent hand support as well as the versatility required for hunting. It allows more flexible hand placement than the tighter grips seen on target guns. The extended tang of the trigger guard runs down the grip for a classic look.
The butt of the stock is checkered on our B sample and on the C grade. On the D and E there is an engraved skeleton buttplate. While a checkered butt is more fragile, it is lighter than a padded butt and better looking than a buttplate.
The stock dimensions for all B15s are listed at 14¼" length of pull, 15⁄8" drop at comb and 2½" drop at heel. Want something different for your $13K to $20K? Forget it. Custom stocks are not available. While this makes inventorying easier for Browning, it is a significant penalty for many shooters.
The forend is a relatively slender round-nosed piece with pleasant lines and a decent hand-filling feel. It’s not quite as nifty as the slimmer B25 Superlight forend, but it’s OK. On the B and C models the forend is one piece. On the D and E it is the more exotic Merkel-style three-piece construction. And, yes, unlike on the B25s, the forend on the B15 fully detaches from the barrel as it does on all Citoris.
The B15 comes in a fancy John M. Browning Signature Crazy Horse Leather case. It is a takedown case covered in “distressed” leather, with outer locks and straps and a felt-lined compartmentalized interior. Sold separately, Browning lists it for $819. Also included are the aforementioned five flush-mount Invector-DS chokes and wrench. The seven-language manual is extremely basic. Browning does not issue a written warranty but states that it will stand behind its products.
Shooting the gun was exactly as expected. It was mechanically correct in all respects. The trigger pulls were crisp and the ejectors well timed. The gun opened and closed perfectly, and barrel convergence was correct. My only slight whine was that the Browning-style barrel selector was a little sticky.
The gun weighed 7 pounds 1½ ounces with its 28" barrels. That’s a nice weight for a field 12. Balance wasn’t neutral, as it had a bias toward the front; but it wasn’t excessive. This is more of a follow-through pheasant gun than a snap-shot woodcocker.
In all, the B15 is based on a proven, reliable and successful Miroku Citori. The parts are carefully handfitted, and the cosmetics are definitely eye-catching. This gun is for shooters who want more than pure reliability. With a gun like this, even if you miss, you still look good.