Browning Brings Back the A-Bolt Slug Gun
Above is the A-Bolt Hunter model from the Browning A-Bolt Shotgun owner's manual. It is finally back for 2011.
Browning Arms has confirmed that yes, the A-Bolt Slug Gun is scheduled to return, appearing in Browning's 2011 catalog. The original A-Bolt was announced at the SHOT Show of 1994, but didn't make its way into the market until much later, Spring of 1996. It was offered then with a 1:32 rate of twist barrel, slow by today's standards. Back then, I found the A-Bolt 12 gauge to be the first slug gun I ever owned that looked like, felt like, and shot like a real rifle. With 2-3/4 in. Winchester-BRI ammunition, it was a legitimate MOA 100 yard gun for me, astonishingly good for a slug gun.
The A-Bolt was no where near a commercial success. Priced at $800, it was more than double the price of many other bolt action slug guns of the day, such as the goose-gun actioned Marlin 512 Slugmaster and the Mossberg 695, the 695 also formed from a shotgun action (Maverick Model 95). Back then, a new Marlin could be had for $225 or so. To be blunt, I loathed mine. That has been the case with most slug guns I've evaluated over the years. Most have handled like clubs, they look like clubs, and have triggers that break like clubs. It is the kind of club you really don't want to join.
The Browning A-Bolt was the very rare, refreshing exception to that. The Hunter model was easy on the eyes, shouldered like a rifle, and shot like a rifle. Yet, a couple of things worked against the A-Bolt, the general despise of the slug gun in general and the notion that blowing a Foster slug through a pump gun was good enough. Ammunition was also in its primitive stages, compared to today. The typical high-performance 12 gauge sabot left the muzzle at 1350 fps or so, offering substantial recoil due to its mass along with a snowball from hell trajectory as a bonus. When excellent product is no longer offered, it is most often for the same reason: the sales don't support its continuation. Several people did eventually get how good the A-Bolt was, however, with new or close to new fully rifled Hunter examples regularly selling in the $1500 range or so.
Times have changed, though. Slug loads are better than ever, with newly designed, proprietary sabots and proprietary specialty propellants to go with them. Right now, the Winchester Partition Gold 12 gauge slug (SSP123) has a published muzzle velocity of 2000 fps. You won't get quite that with the shorter than lab-length 22 inch and 24 inch barrels found on most slug guns, but it is still a tremendous jump over the typical loads of fifteen years ago. Slugs no longer need be relegated to the hoary hit a pie plate at 25 yards type of thinking, as it was with a Foster slug being shot off the bead of a Model 12. Today, they are 165 yard center of the body hold big game rifles and under ideal conditions, 200 yard rifles with little drama.
Two recently tested slug guns, both in twenty gauge, have borne this out: the new Savage 220F ($519 MSRP in matte / synthetic) and the Ithaca Deerslayer II ($899 MSRP, blued / fancy black walnut). The Ithaca Deerslayer II is already available in 12 gauge, as is the fluted heavy-barrel Deerslayer III, and Savage has their new 212F slug gun in production. Based on the interest in these two models, the slug gun market has been rejuvenated.
The A-Bolt shotgun is scheduled to be released in 12 gauge only, apparently three models, with MSRP in the $1000 - $1200 arena. Naturally, all of this is in the very, very early stages so whether there will be SHOT show versions is unknown, and your guess is as good as mine as to actual availability, street prices, and so forth. No one likes to wait, but I wouldn't expect production articles to be available before second or third quarter of 2011.
Past performance isn't necessarily indicative of future results, as they say, but the A-Bolt was best of breed back in 1996 as perhaps too many people belatedly realized. Fifteen years later, it looks to be back and one of the big differences is that ammunition has finally caught up to exploit the potential of the rifle. It will be fun to see.
Copyright 2010 by Randy Wakeman. All Rights Reserved.