Richard Atkins puts Browning’s distinctive new laminated stock B525 SL through its paces
Browning have been busy introducing more new models to their already extensive over-and-under clay gun line-up. The gun featured here is a recent addition to the B525 model line, and it’s good to see that this stalwart of the Browning stable continues to be developed.
Browning promised that would be the case when the B725 was introduced with its lower profile receiver, assuring us that the B525 would remain a key member of the stable, and they have been true to their word.
Model: B525 SL sporter
Action: Over / Under
Barrel Length: 30”
Gauge / chamber: 12g / 3” (76 mm) steel proof
Overall length: 481/8” (inc. 4 chokes)
Pull length: 14¾” (375mm)
Weight: 8lb 5oz (3.76kg)
UK Distributor: BWM
Some new models are more radical than others. The last new B525 here was the XS Pro. That one bristled with goodies, including the lightweight Invector Pro Titanium chokes as well as the Pro Balance weight set, tapered top rib and adjustable comb.
This month, we’re looking at the B525SL. It has fewer bells and whistles than the XS, but it is striking in its own way, largely thanks to its new stock. Instead of the usual walnut stock and fore-end, this new Sporting Laminate model (hence the ‘SL’ designation) uses laminate construction wood instead – and in a distinctive grey colour at that.
The laminate difference
Since it’s the laminate stock that sets this model apart from all other B525s, let’s start by considering what laminate has to offer.
The laminate is made of thin layers of wood, which gives an interesting effect as the shapes of pistol grip and fore-end profiles are machined, with lighter and darker layers exposed to create a unique look to each stock and fore-end.
It looks very different to what we are used to on the vast majority of shotguns, with the most common divergence from walnut stocks being composite plastics. The SL laminate, comprising lighter and darker shades of grey on the review gun, certainly looks smarter than any black polymer stock, however well it’s made.
Many shooters are somewhat traditional in their tastes, and some will no doubt view laminate stocks as being rather futuristic, and perhaps have reservations.
However, on taking the SL to a couple of shooting grounds, I soon discovered that a good proportion of the customers there were actually intrigued by the unusual looks, with some clearly loving it straight away – a very encouraging start!
The real benefit of laminate is not the smart looks but its strength, rigidity, weather resistance and hard wearing nature. The laminate is made by glueing together layers of wood with resin under high pressure.
The result is extremely strong and impervious, similar to marine ply, but prettier! There’s no need to worry about the wood swelling if it gets soaked in the rain.
In the unfortunate event that your gun takes a tumble from a rack, there’s also far less chance that the stock will break through the hand or pistol grip, as can and does happen with walnut – especially with the fancier grades sadly.
Close inspection of the laser-cut chequering reveals that it can be a tad more difficult to get quite such a regular result as walnut provides. In areas where the laminate is cut on a contour, the chequering may be less than perfectly shaped diamonds, although this may not be noticeable due to the colour variation in the laminate.
I found the chequering a bit sharp too, which became more noticeable after 30 clays or so, and I took to wearing leather gloves. I wondered whether Browning might try a slightly different form of chequering instead of the usual diamond pattern, something more rounded.
Some new Sporter models now have a beavertail or London-style fore-end form, but the SL retains the Schnabel type fore-end which seems to suit it very well. The pistol grip is not too thick, easily allowing my thumb and second finger to touch, has a close competition style radius and no palm swell.
The laminate also makes a difference to the gun’s feel, balance and handling. It is heavier than walnut so the stock, with its top grade adjustable comb, brings the balance of the SL further back. The review gun’s 30-inch barrels put the balance point almost on the hinge pin.
This gave a relatively light feel to the forward hand with quite lively handling and quick pointing. If you are used to the more forward balance that’s usual in a Sporter you might need to allow for this.
The SL comes with steel Midas Invector Plus extended choke tubes, with four supplied. Balance would be further rearward with flush chokes, so if you want any additional choke tubes I suggest you go for the same type as those supplied.
Solid B525 features
The B525 receiver and action is recognised for its immense strength, which stems from its robust design and precise build that will withstand many years of heavy use.
The hinge arrangement and lock-up are based on the sound principles around which John Moses Browning designed his all-time classic B25. Under-barrel locking lugs are machined integrally with the breech monobloc, into which the barrel tubes are soldered.
These lugs fit closely into the floor of the tall receiver, with the front lug serving as the hook which fits the full-width hinge pin passing through the receiver knuckle.
These three locking lugs, together with the substantial hinge pin, provide a locking surface area substantially larger than that found in most guns. All guns pass proof testing, of course, otherwise they could not be offered for sale.
However, the greater the surface area resisting the forces produced upon firing, the less the strain on the pressure-bearing parts – always provided they are well fitted and maintained of course. Many of these Browning guns continue to give good service.
Miroku, who build the B525 and B725 guns for Browning, use time-consuming hand techniques to build the locking system, including the full-width locking bolt that emerges from the base of the standing breech to engage with the recess under the bottom barrel chamber. That is why these guns give that solid feeling upon closure – they lock with a reassuring ‘clunk’ akin to a bank vault door.
The B525 also retains the efficient two-piece Browning ejector system. The extractors have a smooth, positive cam action to lift unfired cases for removal, while easing fired cases ready for the powerful hammer-operated ejector system in the fore-end to eject tight or reluctant fired cases.
Many makers have gone to simpler spring systems that do not have hammers. These are good, but cannot match the ejection the hammer system provides.
If you enjoy shooting clay flushes, simulated game days or use your Browning Sporter for game shooting too, you can rely on not being hampered by stuck cases during fast reloads!
Barrels are profiled to keep weight down along the central portion while thickened up at the muzzles to accept the threads for the internal Invector Plus chokes and gives the characteristic Browning feature of a slightly flared muzzle.
The option to make the flare less evident is to thicken the barrel walls for a much greater distance. This increases forward weight of the barrels so guns may become barrel heavy. The B525 SL barrels have ventilated side ribs, which truncate under the fore-end, aiding cooling and reducing weight.
Barrels are back-bored to 18.7mm (0.738”) internal diameter to suit the Invector Plus chokes. The forcing cones are lengthened to 35mm; this is far less than some brands extend their cones to but is still worthwhile, ensuring any fibre wad cartridges you choose will perform as you would like.
Lengthened cones and slightly larger bores can work very well with virtually all plastic wad cartridges and also help avoid problems with steel shot loads (which almost invariably use sturdy plastic wads).
The B525 SL’s barrels are well struck off externally and deeply blacked; internally the bores are straight, well polished and chrome lined. They have 76mm (3in chambers), are proofed for steel shot and carry the CIP Fleur de Lys proof mark.
Note that Miroku/Browning make such a neat job of joining their barrel tubes into the breech monobloc that the joint is almost imperceptible. Most guns using this method of barrel manufacture disguise the join with a line of engraving.
A neat, low profile, 10mm wide, parallel Sporter top rib with cross-cut anti-glare finish and recessed central strip completes the barrel set. The rib is fitted with a Browning interchangeable optic fibre front bead; one green insert is provided and other options are available. A small white mid bead comes in handy when checking your mount consistency and setting the comb.
The B525 SL has much to commend it. I like the laminate look and suspect a good many shooters will too; it might surprise at first but may well grow on you!
Once I had set up the adjustable stock I was able to achieve consistent clean kills on a variety of stands. I did initially detect slightly increased muzzle rise, especially on some long crossers.
I suspect this may, in part at least, be a result of the slightly more rearward balance of this gun after the more forward balanced longer barrels of other recent test guns.
However, with comb adjusted and wearing leather gloves that enabled a slightly firmer grip, long crossers were consistently dealt with next time out.
With excellent trigger pulls, nice sighting rib, good weight for a clay gun to soak up recoil and now set to suit me, the B525 SL proved well capable of a tackling a wide variety of clays, from fast incomers to distant crossers plus a mix of loopers, teal etc.
A shooting pal who uses a Beretta A400 tried it and even he commented on how smooth it was to shoot with. So with good looks, a solid build and performing well, all at an attractive price, I expect to see plenty of B525 laminate models turning up at shooting grounds very soon; they will certainly be easy to spot!