Review: 2011 Browning A-Bolt Slug Gun

Years ago, when I spent an extreme amount of time testing and comparing available rifled barrel twelve gauge slug guns, the Browning A-Bolt Slug Gun was a standout. It was the only slug gun at the time that looked like a real rifle, with a real rifle action distinguished by a smooth bolt action, flawless feeding, an excellent trigger, very good metalwork, and it approached MOA accuracy at 100 yards with Winchester-BRI saboted slugs. It was priced far higher than the sloppy shotgun action competition, and was not a great commercial success.

Slug guns, as a class, don't seem to get much respect as bug game hunting rifles-- yet, that's exactly what they are. Many deer hunters discovered how truly competent and desirable the A-Bolt was . . . but after it had already been discontinued. Due to its performance, new or lightly used Browning A-Bolt have been widely sought after, bring in $1500 or more on the used market. For 2011, the A-Bolt Slug gun has returned in essentially the same format. The primary distinction is the use of a faster rate of twist barrel: now 1:28. The factory specs are as follows:

A-Bolt Shotgun Hunter

Ga: 12
Magazine Capacity: 2
Barrel Length: 22"
Nominal Overall Length: 43 3/4"
Nominal Length of Pull: 14"
Nominal Drop at Comb: 1/2"
Nominal Drop at Heel: 5/8"
Nominal Weight: 7 lbs. 2 oz.
Rate of Twist: 1 turn in 28"
Chamber Size: 3"
Site Radius: 15 7/8"
Metal Finish: Low-Luster Blued
Wood Finish: Satin
Stock / Grip Material: Walnut
U.S. Suggested Retail $1,200.00

What Browning calls low-luster blued finish is a big jump up from many rough “matte” type finishes, or "unfinished" finishes. The bluing is evenly and well-applied, I'll call it a satin blue as opposed to high gloss, but it is extremely well-done and appropriate for this type of hunting rifle. Scope bases are not supplied with the A-Bolt, something that is an oversight particularly as it uses the proprietary “Browning Integrated Scope Mount System." It is a $50 retail set, made of aluminum and offered in two heights for one inch scopes only. Not pricey, but not versatile, 30mm tube fans are out of luck, and the choice is .400 in. or .500 in. height. My feeling is that if you want to go proprietary, it really needs to come in the box on a $1200 MSRP slug gun. I tried to get a set, they are readily available from Browning I'm told, but nothing arrived remotely in time to get this review completed.

The supplied iron sights are excellent, all you could want for hunting in the timber. We were trying to test the article itself, not our ability with iron sights, so we did our firing at 50 yards with three different premium slug offerings from Winchester. They were all 2-3/4 in. shells, the 300 grain XP3 at 2000 fps, the 1900 fps 385 grain Partition Gold, and the 1800 fps 375 grain Dual Bond. Every single shot taken meant “dead deer” with little question, but the clear edge in this test gun was the Winchester Partition Gold rounds, holding right at an inch at 50 yards.

This gun is a kicker, an understatement if there is one. It is obnoxiously painful to fire, illuminating what we now know as a generalization: the current level of 20 gauge ammunition and 20 slug guns has largely obsoleted the comparatively bulky and harsh-shooting 12 gauge slug platform for deer hunting. With identical exterior ballistics, the 12 gauge slug gun is now a dinosaur.

This is no condemnation of the A-Bolt, for its smooth action, crisp trigger (right at four pounds), and excellent build quality make it one of the best 12 gauge slug guns ever produced. The merciless painful recoil of this rifle isn't helped by the rock hard vented OEM pad and the gun's fairly light weight. It is very well made, one of the more aesthetically pleasing slug guns, and if you think you want a 12 gauge slug thrower, it is a high-quality choice, though a spectacularly painful one.

Copyright 2011 by Randy Wakeman. All Rights Reserved.

Custom Search