October 08, 2013
The Underappreciated Browning Gold
By Phil Bourjaily
This year I decided I was tired of shooting doves with plastic-stocked guns and went looking for something a little classier. I found a used Browning Gold at a good price. After I pointed out a dent in the vent rib and whined, I got an even better price on it. It’s a 12 gauge with a 26-inch barrel. It shoots where I look. Although this one is unadorned, like all Brownings it is nicely finished and a definite aesthetic upgrade over the all-black 391 I am now relegating to ducks only. Once I add a sling to the Gold I will have my ideal dove gun.
I always thought the Gold (1994-2007)* was underappreciated. It’s a soft-shooting, easy-cleaning gun that begat the Winchester Super X2/Super X3/Browning Silver family, all of which use its gas system. For a time it was the only semiauto that wasn’t a Beretta that anyone used for serious sporting clays. Browning made and sold a bunch of them but the Gold didn’t quite get its due. For one thing, it was the gun that replaced a legend, the great Auto 5, which had been Browning’s mainstay for over 90 years. The other problem was that while the 3-inch Gold always worked, the 3 1/2-inch version had serious birthing pains.
The 3 ½-inch Gold was the very first 3 ½-inch gas semiauto. Browning engineers assumed that all they had to do was stretch the 3-inch Gold a little until it was a 3 ½. They didn’t take into account the stress of shooting 3 ½-inch loads and the speed at which the bolt, carrier and other parts moved, all of which have to work in sync for a semiauto to function. As a result, the first 3 ½-inch Golds didn’t work very well. Or, sometimes, they didn’t work at all. I took an early model down to Uruguay on a duck hunt and it not only turned into a single shot on the first morning of the hunt, I had to take it apart almost every time I fired it to get the spent shell out. I stood knee-deep in a South American swamp juggling pieces of gun after every shot fearing I would drop one in the water while all around me the rest of the group rained ducks out of the sky. I shot borrowed guns for the rest of the trip.
Browning went back to the drawing board and redesigned the insides of the Gold to make it 3 ½-inch-friendly, but it took a year or so and by then the damage was done. Once the public gets the idea a gun isn’t good it’s very hard to convince them otherwise. As I said, the 3-inch versions were always good, and the 3 ½s became good, but the Gold was never as well accepted as its offspring, particularly the very popular Winchester Super X3.
My gun is a 3-inch Gold from 1996 and works beautifully if I run it almost dry with a little bit of oil on the bolt rails. There are lots of used Golds around and unless it’s an early 3 ½-inch gun (say, a 1998 or 99) it will serve you faithfully and you could do much worse than to snap it up.
*The Gold 10, which is still offered, is a completely different design.