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Greatest Shotgun in History? Browning Auto 5

classic shotguns of history Mar 14, 2024
Greatest Shotgun in History? Browning Auto 5

The Browning Auto 5 stands out as one of the most revolutionary and iconic shotguns in history. Notorious for its humpback receiver, the Auto 5 or A5 as it is commonly called, has left an indelible mark on the firearms world. The story of how the Auto 5 came to be and its journey through the decades is fascinating.  


The History of The Browning Auto-5

 Did you know there are several other shotguns that sport the same hump-back receiver at the Auto 5?


All of these guns appear nearly identical, and for good reason: they essentially are. The common thread linking these shotguns and many others is one man: John Moses Browning. Among his 128 firearm patents, the humped-back auto-loading shotgun stands out as one of his greatest accomplishments. The picture below is a modern production model of the Browning A5 in 20 gauge. It shares much of the same look and ergonomics as its predecessors, with one big difference.

The Auto-5 was designed to be the first mass-produced semi-automatic shotgun in the world. Gun technology and manufacturing were much more primitive than today's modern systems especially when it came to the challenge of creating an auto-loading shotgun. So, how did Browning accomplish this feat?

John Browning's genius solution to creating an auto-loading shotgun was to have the entire barrel move rearward to eject the first hull and load the second. This system is known as the long recoil system and it is drastically different than how to the modern A5 operates. The Auto 5 has two main springs that aid in the cycling of the shotgun, one in the stock and one under the forend. When a shot is fired, the barrel and the bolt move rearward in tandem. The bolt momentarily locks back as the the front spring forces the barrel back forward, ejecting the spent cartridge and loading a new shell. Then the bolt is released and the rear spring pushes the bolt forward into battery. 

In today's terms, this design is relatively simple. However, in 1898, it represented an industry-defining advancement. When the patent was presented to Winchester for production, they turned Browning down. The journey of how this modern A5 came into our hands 126 years later is fascinating. Here’s where it gets interesting:

The year is 1899, and Winchester Repeating Arms is at the peak of its success. Just a couple of years earlier, they had broken sales records with firearms like the 1897 pump action and the 1894 centerfire lever action. Meanwhile, Browning had just completed his design for an auto-loading shotgun. He intended to bring it to Winchester, as they had manufactured his guns before. However, Browning had a different idea this time about how he wanted to be compensated: instead of selling the patent outright, he wanted to receive royalties for every Auto 5 sold. Winchester had previously agreed to pay Browning royalties on another shotgun he had designed, but when it came to the Auto 5, they refused.

These negotiations dragged on for nearly TWO YEARS. A frustrated Browning decided to take his patent to Remington in the meantime. However, as he waited to meet with the president of Remington, the man suffered a heart attack and never saw the gun.

Finally, Browning took the patent overseas to FN (Fabrique Nationale) in Belgium. FN stamped serial number “1” onto their first A5 in 1902. They continued production, and the Auto 5 became immensely popular. However, its influence extended beyond hunting.

This shotgun saw military service worldwide, spanning from World War I through the Vietnam War. The A5 was utilized by many countries for various purposes during wartime. Notably, aerial combat gunners used the A5 to shoot skeet to practice shooting at moving targets. It was also popular among British forces after World War II, who praised its effectiveness in “close combat jungle warfare”.


During World War II, production of the Auto 5 moved from Belgium to the United States due to the occupation of Belgium by Germany. During this period, it was Remington that produced the Auto 5. But why Remington? After the deal with FN in 1902, Browning returned to Remington to sell them a license version of the Auto 5 patent. Thus, in 1905, the first American-made semi-automatic shotgun was born: the Remington Model 11.

So, we have the Browning Auto 5 produced in Belgium by FN, and the Remington Model 11 being produced in the United States. But what about those other "knock-offs" like the Franchi 48 and the Savage 745? Well, I hate to ruin it for you, but those aren't knockoffs at all.

John Browning was a savvy businessman. Doing business well means selling your product. In Johns' case, this meant selling firearm designs. With a wife and ten children to support, Browning needed to capitalize on his designs. The Auto 5 design patent was later licensed to Franchi, who created the 48AL, and then to Savage in 1930, resulting in their 720 and 745 shotguns. The common denominator throughout these variations is the genius of John Browning.

Meanwhile, the original Browning Auto 5 continued to be produced by FN until 1975, except for a brief hiatus during World War II from 1940 to 1946 due to Belgium's occupation by the Nazis. These Browning Auto 5 shotguns were made by Remington, which was already producing the Model 11. Auto 5 Shotguns manufactured by Remington during this timer period can be identified by a serial number or receiver stamp that includes and A, B, or C.

Fast forward to 1975, John Browning had long passed away in 1926 and his son, Val Browning, was now in charge. Like his father, Val was a shrewd businessman, and at this time was seeking higher quality products at lower production costs. The Auto 5 made its final production switch to a Japanese company called Miroku Firearms. In 1998, the manufacturing of the Auto 5 ceased, except for a few commemorative models created by FN in 1999. Today, Miroku still manufactures popular Browning shotguns like the Citori line.

With over 3 million Auto 5's manufactured, John Browning's legacy rings especially loudly with this shotgun. And that, is a brief history of the humped-back shotgun: the Browning Auto 5.

Whether our targets in the field or our targets in life, we will only hit what we are focused on, so live the #targetfocusedlife   

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