For Richard Atkins, the master is truly at work as he checks out the credentials of Browning’s newly launched B725 Pro Master target O/U.
Browning designers have been very busy over recent years, with a steady stream of new models reaching the market. Some, such as the XS Pro Sporter we reviewed last year, are based around the more established B525 action.
Others, including the recently developed Pro Master, are built around the lower profile action of the B725, which has already proven itself to be a strong, robust and user-friendly action that retains the essential features of its famous ancestor, the B25.
The B725 Pro Master has been designed and developed to provide a single gun that can be easily adapted to suit Trap or Sporting disciplines. Those purists who naturally prefer to have a separate gun for each discipline are already well catered for in both B525 and B725 format. For the rest of us, what does this versatile over-and-under offer?
Model: Pro Master (hybrid trap/sporter)
Barrel Length: 30” / (32” option)
Gauge / chamber: 12g / 2¾” (70 mm) steel proof
Overall length: 48” (inc. chokes)
Pull length: 14¾” (375mm) with 20mm butt pad
Weight: 8lb 8 oz (3.86kg) + balance weights
UK Distributor: BWM See www.browning.eu
A feature common to all guns in Browning’s Pro series is the Pro Balance System. This allows the gun’s balance to be adjusted to suit the individual shooter’s preference; it can be brought in front of the hinge pin to achieve a barrel-heavy feel, located precisely on the hinge pin to give a neutral feel, or tipped rearwards.
To increase forward weight two tungsten weights are used. These are precisely profiled to fit snugly into the valley between the two barrels, with two special screws passing through the slots in the ventilated side ribs to join and clamp the weights into place. They can be positioned out of view under the fore-end or further forward depending on the balance desired.
A second set of six 20-gram weights is available to be fitted inside the stock by first removing the butt pad. These are retained on a stainless steel threaded rod with a mounting plate at its end, which enables the weighted rod to be bolted securely inside the stock and eliminates any distracting movement.
Adding any combination of weights will, of course, increase the overall weight of the gun, as well as altering the weight’s distribution and therefore modifying the gun’s handling. When weight is increased further away from the central ‘between the hands’ area then the moment of inertia is altered.
This can make the gun feel a little less lively. While Trap shooters tend to prefer the steadier handling characteristics of such a set-up, Sporting shooters often like a more responsive feel.
With the Pro Balance System owners can experiment and fine tune the handling characteristics to suit themselves and the discipline they intend to use the Pro Master for.
Another feature of the Pro series guns is the excellent Browning adjustable comb, which allows comb height and cast to be easily customised. The comb itself is quite broad and deep, making it comfortable for the shooter’s cheek to rest upon and effective in enabling a good fit to be achieved.
It’s mounted using two steel pillars that fit into clamps within the stock. Height is set with metal spacers, which make for a secure and repeatable system.
The clamps also move laterally to achieve the desired cast. These adjustments are achieved by inserting the supplied hex key into a locking screw within the stock, via a hole in the top of the butt pad. This makes for a neat and secure arrangement without the need for any screw holes in the side of the stock.
Browning’s master stroke
The additional feature that sets the Pro Master apart from the rest of the Pro series is its adjustable top rib. This is a beautifully crafted high rib machined from high strength aluminium alloy. The top sighting plane is tapered from 11.5 mm at the breech to 8.5mm at the muzzle, and it has an anti-glare, cross-milled top surface.
This rib is connected to the battue-style barrel ramp via a sturdy metal pin at the breech. This provides a pivot point from which the rib can be raised and lowered by means of a thumb-wheel at the muzzle. A centrally positioned guide provides support, keeps the rib straight and prevents vibration.
The rib is easy to adjust; undoing a lock screw allows the thumb-wheel to rotate. There are graduation lines on the front mounting post that provide a useful reference when adjusting and re-setting the rib from one mode to another.
The key question with this rib arrangement is whether it achieves the desired effect. I therefore checked to see how much it could be used to affect the gun’s point of impact (PoI). To check the extremes I first screwed the rib fully upward (note that you would expect this to lower the PoI) and then repeated the exercise with the rib screwed fully down.
I checked both top and bottom barrels this way and was pleased to note that the results showed both barrels printing their patterns very close to the same point.
As can be seen from the PoI photos, the adjustment works – with the rib set high the PoI is approaching a relatively flat 60/40 pattern placement, which became almost 90/10 once the rib had been set low. This is a greater effect than I had anticipated and it shows the system works!
My first checks showed a PoI slightly to the left of my point of aim. This was easily adjusted by moving the cheekpiece over. I found that having the comb near its lowest setting, with just one thin washer underneath, gave me a clear view along the top rib. For those that may need to raise it more, there is ample scope to do so.
The top rib has Browning’s now familiar fibre optic light pipe front bead, with red, green and white options and different diameters included. These are easily interchangeable using the plastic wedge supplied to safely free them. There is no central bead.
Barrels and action
At 64.5mm overall height, the B725 action is almost 4mm lower than the B525. Putting a high rib with a battue-style ramp on a B725 tends to make this advantage less obvious, so the difference between the B525 and B725 difference is a little masked.
Putting this point aside, the key difference with the B725 is that its action internals work on the mechanical reset principle rather than relying on inertia to reset the second trigger pull.
The Pro Master has clearly benefited from some hand work by a gunsmith during its final fit and finish, and its trigger pulls are very good indeed; both the top and bottom barrel triggers consistently broke with a short, crisp release within two ounces of 3lbs.
These are the sort of trigger pulls that come with more expensive guns and are a great assistance to improving shooting performance and scores.
The 30” barrels of the review gun (32” are an option) weighed 3lbs 8oz including chokes – that’s just over an ounce more that the 32” barrels of the XS Pro we reviewed. The muzzles accept 100mm long Browning DS chokes.
Although these are 20mm longer than Invector Pro chokes, they are slightly lighter – a Full Choke DS weighs 44 grams compared to 46 grams for the Invector. The increased length of the DS chokes clearly enables them to be thinner than Invector chokes and still be sufficiently strong, as the choke constriction can be applied more gradually.
The feature that makes DS chokes different to all others, and gives them their ‘DS’ designation, is the inclusion of the bronze gas seal at the seating end. This ‘Double Seal’ is intended to prevent propellant gases from leaking behind the choke tube in use, and it clearly works well, because even after a considerable number of shots DS choke tubes come out far cleaner than chokes that lack a seal.
Do be aware that any after-market choke tubes you buy will not have this gas sealing feature. The Pro Master comes with eight choke tubes, ranging from Cylinder to Extra Full, so it’s unlikely you’ll need to buy more.
The DS chokes are designed to complement Pro Master’s back-bored barrels which, as the proof marks indicate, have a bore size of 18.7mm, a little above the once-standard bore size of 18.4/18.5mm.
The forcing cones are lengthened to the Browning Vector Pro profile. A fleur de lys symbol on the barrels near the monobloc shows that they have been proofed for steel ammunition. Patterns and shooting performance proved excellent with a variety of plastic wad ammunition, from budget loads to premium competition types.
As I have highlighted previously, more care is usually required to find the best performing fibre wad cartridges to use in any gun with longer cones, and that again was the case here.
With so many options it is not possible to specify the fibre wad cartridges that will perform the best; just be aware that when gas gets past a fibre wad it can disrupt patterns at the very least, so I recommend checking fibre wad cartridges on a pattern plate to find those that will perform best.
The Pro Master’s stock and fore-end are made from excellent grade 4 walnut with tight grain and attractive figuring. The fore-end is of the beavertail form that is currently enjoying renewed popularity.
I like it, as I have long owned a Miroku 800 S with a similar hand-filling, natural point and comfortable form. The fore-end also houses the renowned Browning ejector hammers. These give well-timed, firm strikes that reliably eject cases via the two-piece extractors, giving a clean, consistent result.
The stock is substantial, with a competition-style, close-radius pistol grip with right hand palm swell and an adjustable comb. Taken together, the action and stock weighed over half a pound more than those of B525 XS Pro.
The chequering on the stock and fore-end is a conventional, neatly-cut, fine diamond pattern with around 20 lines per inch. The palm swell is well positioned and provides a nice relaxed grip without putting unnecessary strain on the wrist.
If you want a quality gun, the Pro Master looks the part. Its black lustre finish barrels and brush finish receiver set off its machined alloy top rib. It’s supplied in a hard case with a VPI gun sock, additional optic front beads, two extra styles of trigger and two boxes that contain extra chokes and Pro Balance System weights.
The Pro Master was a fascinating gun to trial; it performed well on both Trap and Sporting targets. With just a basic set-up I managed a 23 at DTL first time out. A line of Universal Trench went less well, but that’s a discipline that requires some work!
Winding the rib up a couple of notches, I put the gun through its paces around a Sporting layout. Only one stand, a distant crosser against the sun, spoiled a card filled with nines and tens.
The Pro Master felt heavier than the XS Pro, and the scales confirmed this, showing 8lbs 8oz with no weights added. The gun’s unweighted balance was almost exactly on the hinge pin, mitigating its weight and allowing it to move well.
I found it steady rather than lively, but that can help with holding a line on longer targets and smoothing out those faster, closer Sporting targets that encourage a hurried swipe. For Sporting clays I would add no weights. I might play with weight and balance for ABT.
The gun is solid, with a bank vault feel upon closing and well-controlled recoil. Adding weight will reduce felt recoil further, of course. I like high rib guns with their upright head positions and good peripheral vision. Combining this with crisp but light trigger pulls, the Pro Master is definitely capable of helping many shooters get the most from their clay shooting.
While most will probably choose to use this gun for one discipline predominantly, the ability to fine tune it for that, and for another discipline if needed, makes it a versatile option. This is indeed an interesting hybrid, as near as it gets to being two guns in one!
More gun reviews from Clay Shooting Magazine
- Fausti XF4 review
- Best clay guns for 2020 – Our top picks
- Browning B725 Sporter: Gun test
- Richard Atkins on the Browning B525 SL
- Best clay guns for 2020 – Our top picks