Blasts From the Past: Browning Auto 5

The first semiauto shotgun is still a favorite

Browning Auto 5, original semiauto shotgun, upland guns
Ontario Honker’s Browning Auto 5 (and proof of its usefulness).Ontario Honker

In a career of great gun inventions, John Browning’s Auto 5 stands out as perhaps his greatest. It was completely original. No one had ever made a semiauto shotgun before. No one was able to come up with another good idea for how to make one for 54 years after the Auto 5 was introduced. Making semiauto shotguns presented a tough challenge. While most rifles and pistols fire only a limited range of ammunition, they can be designed to function properly with a few loads. Shotguns have to work with everything from very light target loads to heavy waterfowl loads. Browning solved the problem by devising a system of friction rings that allowed the gun to be adjusted.

Browning patented the Auto 5 in 1900. The guns were made in Belgium from 1902 to 1975, with a break during WWII, when Remington made them while Belgian factories were occupied by the Nazis. Production was switched to Japan from 1975 to 1998. There were millions made (the 2 millionth Auto 5 was made way back in 1970) not counting the Remington Model 11 and Savage 720, which were basically the same gun produced under license. Although its fans will tell you otherwise, the Auto 5 was finally surpassed by “all-load” 2¾- and 3-inch semiautos that shot everything without adjustment.

Although the long-recoil action of the Auto 5 feels strange if you’re used to other guns, it worked very reliably, and there are many still in the field, such as today’s gun.

Ontario Honker Hunter's Auto 5 Attached is an image of my Browning Light Twelve 2¾-inch 12-gauge auto. I bought this shotgun at the Seoul, Korea, US Army PX in 1973. Eventually, I traded it to my dad for his .357 S&W and then got it back when he passed in 1999. This has turned out to be a wonderful upland gun. It is lightweight, and the auto action is faultless (if properly cleaned and adjusted). It has a fixed Modified choke that is ideal for hunting behind flushing dogs in cover. I fitted it with a detachable sling a few years ago, and I add a slip-on recoil pad when I shoot it with lighter clothing in fair weather, more to adjust the stock length than for recoil reduction. Being used to shooting a heavy 3-inch Remington 870 goose gun, I initially had difficulty adjusting to the lighter, quicker-pointing Browning. I seem to have finally made the adjustment. The three birds in the photo were taken this afternoon with just three shots. Most days I'm batting at least five hundred. It was a long courtship, but I finally learned to love this gun.

Keep your old gun pictures coming to fsgunnuts@gmail.com