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Browning A-Bolt Slug Gun
I have to admit that slug guns fascinate me. I think much of it relates to the fact that I have watched, firsthand, the evolution of slug guns from the time when I used my 12-gauge smooth bore, full choked pump gun to hunt with slugs.
With its single bead front sight I was lucky to hit a pie plate at 30 yards. In that era, at best, I would not have shot at a deer or any big game animal beyond 50 yards. Accuracy was abysmal! But as more and more areas were being set aside for limited range weapons, particularly around urban centers, hunters began to demand more in the way of shotguns that could deliver improved performance and accuracy.
Manufacturers began to respond through the development of better guns designed solely for slugs and, just as importantly, ammunition companies responded with the development of ammunition solely designed for rifled slug barrels.
Thankfully, I have been on the leading edge by testing many of these new products as they hit the market place. Testing that included both pump and auto loading rifled slug guns, as well most of the slug ammunition that was available at the time of each test. No doubt the results were impressive, at least by the standards of yesteryear. Albeit, I found these slug guns could be somewhat temperamental in what ammunition they liked, I could now at least count on 100-yard accuracy that would offer a sure hit on a deer at 100 yards and even beyond. With the right ammunition, some three-shot groups even approached the two-inch mark. But for most, the average group exceeded three inches.
Now let’s face it, this is still very good accuracy for a gun where most of your shots are not going to extend much beyond 100 yards.
However, here is the catcher in all this, and I must admit I constantly fall prey to this dilemma, and that is I’m always on the lookout for the best or most improved or accurate gun or ammunition that I can lay my hands on. So in 2011, when Browning introduced a bolt-action slug gun, the A-Bolt, I was at the front of Browning Canada’s line with my request to test this gun. I just reasoned that if a bolt-action rifle could outshoot a pump or an auto-loading rifle, why wouldn’t this same principle apply to a bolt-action slug gun. With this reasoning pushing my subconscious, there was little doubt that I was counting down the days until I could put this gun through its paces, which took longer than I had expected as the camouflage composite stock model was not available until fall 2012. But it finally arrived the Thanksgiving weekend prior to my departure for an African safari. Needless to say, my long weekend was spent at the range.
The Browning A-Bolt
I was impressed with this gun from the moment I took it out of the box. It had instant aesthetic appeal and, when shouldered, it came on point with no effort and perfect balance, much like a good centre fire rifle. It may just have been be the best fitting slug gun I have tested.
But let’s see what went into making this gun, both eye catching and one of the best-built slug guns on the market.
I will begin with its general design: As with any bolt-action rifle, a solid lock up with a quality, free-floated barrel and trigger to match is essential to accuracy. A slug gun is no exception and the A-Bolt has all three. The barrel offers a one to 28-inch twist, designed exclusively for sabot-style slugs and is free floated. The A-Bolt design features a three-lug locking rifle-style bolt with a quick 60-degree lift. The bolt actually appears to be massive in size. Put into perspective, this is due to the sheer size of the receiver, built to handle 12-gauge ammo. But Browning engineers sidestepped the potential weight problem of a solid steel bolt by designing a shroud made of glass-reinforced polypropylene to encase the steel core that includes the locking lugs. Brilliant idea! As for its size, it functions smoothly with no hang up points.
Now I would like to move on to the trigger. It was light, while remaining very consistent with no creep or travel. Using my Lyman Digital Trigger Pull Gauge, it broke at three pounds, 7.9 ounces, possibly just a tad more than where I would like a good, quality rifle trigger to break, but for a slug gun it was just fine.
A number of other features that caught my attention were the iron sights that included a TRUGLO/Marble’s fiber-optic front sight and a rear sight that was totally adjustable for elevation and windage. I found them so easy to use, even under relatively poor light, that had I not wished to mount a scope on this gun, I would have had little hesitation in heading off on a hunt with nothing more than these sights.
I also found the tang safety situated behind the bolt to be ideally located for very quick and easy access, right where I like it.
Last, in the way of mechanics, is the detachable magazine on a hinged floor plate, which offered the capability of carrying an extra magazine for a quick reload should it be needed.
I can’t leave the discussion of this gun without touching on the composite stock in a Mossy Oak Break Up Infinity camouflage finish, with its Dura-Touch Armour Coating. The stock not only fit like a well-worn pair of boots, but I found the armour coating had a rubberized feel that offered a sure grip under all conditions, a fact that will be well received on a cold November day when the wind is howling and your hands are not as responsive as they should be and that big buck you have been hunting is now a mere 60 yards from your deer stand.
Browning A-Bolt Slug Gun Specifications:
Barrel Length: 22 inches
Rate of Twist: One in 28 inches
Chamber: Three inches
Weight: Seven pounds
Overall Length: 43 ¾ inches
Drop at Comb: 5/8 inches
Drop at Heel: ½ inch
Length of Pull: 14 inches
Weaver Buck Commander 2-8x36mm Scope
As a match for this slug gun, I went looking for an economical quality scope with low to mid- range magnification and a reticle that would offer various easy to use sight points.
The Weaver Buck Commander 2-8x36mm scope with its Command-X reticle provided all the features I was looking for. In fact, this scope, with its Command X reticle, was designed with shotgun hunters in mind.
With a parallax that is set at 100 yards, it eliminates any potential parallax at all the most common shotgun ranges and is built to handle shotgun recoil.
Some of its other notable features include total waterproof/shockproof/fogproof integrity, finger adjustable turrets, a feature I really like, and a one-piece tube construction for strength, fully multi-coated lenses and scratch-resistant exterior lenses.
Weaver Buck Commander 2-8x36mm Scope Specifications:
Length: 11.4 inches
Weight: 13.6 ounces
Eye Relief: 3.5 inches
Field of View: Feet and 100 yards: 44.1-11.3
Putting It Together and Performance
I will begin by stating that it took a bit of doing to ascertain the correct bases and rings for this gun. Weaver was the answer for both. I used a 47 M base for the front and a 419 for the rear, as well as Weaver rings. I should, however, point out that I had to install theses bases at their narrowest setting in order for this scope to fit. And then it just fit, so as a word of caution if purchasing a scope for this gun, look for a scope with a longer barrel as many of the compact or short shotgun style scopes may not fit.
On the range, the Weaver Buck Commander scope afforded a very sharp target image, and with the easy to use finger adjustments and Leupold bore sighter, I was on paper at 100 yards within a couple of shots.
The scope performed very well throughout the test, with only one potential minor drawback: it appeared to have a fairly narrow field of view when set at 8x, but at lower settings this was not an issue.
As far as the A-Bolt, it was all but flawless and the only time I encountered any problem was when I attempted to feed three-inch ammo directly into the chamber. It took a bit of finagling, but was achievable. However, when chambered from the magazine, this issue no longer existed. I will only add one other general comment on this or any slug gun, other than for possibly an autoloader, and that is they do have significant recoil so if you are headed off to the range, plan accordingly.
As to the ammunition for this test, I wanted to use only the latest and most innovative from the major companies whose ammunition is readily available to most hunters. Thus, I stuck to sabot slugs from Federal, Winchester, Remington and Hornady. I used: Winchester XP3, Supreme Elite 2 ¾ inch; Winchester Dual Bond Supreme Elite 2 ¾ inch; Winchester Dual Bond Supreme Elite 3 inch; Federal Premium Barnes Expander Tipped 3 inch; Federal Premium Trophy Copper 3 inch; Federal Fusion 3 inch; Remington Premier AccuTip Bonded 2 ¾ inch; Hornady SST 2 ¾ inch. All groups were three shots at 100 yards.
The first thing that came to mind at the end of my range work was, “Wow, did this gun ever shoot!” There was not a single group that exceeded two-and-a-quarter inches, which in of itself is amazing, as every other slug gun that I have tested had its share of groups up in the five or six-inch category, let alone achieving a group of one-and-three-quarter inches or even better a group of three-quarters of an inch. This gun accomplished all three.
Now I will certainly credit the quality of the ammunition as part of the reason for this success and would have no hesitation in using any one of them on a hunt. However, there is no doubt this is the best shooting and one of the finest handling slug guns I have ever tested, an unquestionable winner.
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