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The black laminate used on the new Browning Ultra XS not only lends it a certain look, but improves its shooting qualities too, as Mike Yardley finds in this review.
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This month’s test looks at a new Browning Ultra XS BL (Black Laminate) over-and-under sporter – a special edition model which arrived only recently in the UK after making its first appearance at a shooting trade show in Germany last year. The gun weighs in at almost 8½lb, which is reasonable for a 30" sporter (although my personal preference would be ½lb less). It has fleurs-de-lys, 2022 steel-proofed barrels, multi chokes, and an adjustable comb and trigger (and a stock pre-drilled for balance weights). The RRP is £2,599 – which is mid-range today.
The action, which is simple in its style, is finished in matt silver with the Ultra XS BL logo in neat lettering at the bottom of the otherwise completely plain action walls. The barrels are matt blacked – undoubtedly better on a competition gun. The charcoal grey laminate wood – which has drawn many comments – will not appeal to all but it is practical and very stable. This XS BL may not be graced with highly figured walnut or much decoration, but it looks business-like and its basic form is sound. Functionally, all the boxes are ticked. Without giving too much away about the shooting, the laminate (most interestingly) seems to improve the gun’s performance by reducing vibration and felt recoil.
The grip feels especially good too – I am a fan of the basic and much copied Browning shape. The comb and fore-end are well conceived too. The chokes are the longer, Invector Plus type with a colour coded knurled section protruding from the muzzles. The 30" barrels are back-bored too at 18.7mm (with a 32" option) and equipped with a subtly tapered rib. The single-selective trigger is of the usual bob-weight inertia type (back in the day, some Brownings were mechanical).
The gun feels a little stock heavy when dry mounted, and indeed, a little heavy overall – no bad thing in a clay buster and probably to be put down to the stock material and adjustable comb. The gripping surfaces are excellent and give an immediate feeling of control. My only potential criticism might be that the perfectly adequate fore-end could be a little narrower. I find large beavertail fore-ends tend to move my hand too far from the barrels. My preference is for a rounded design without finger grooves.
The stock length was about 14⅞". Good. Drop was about 1⅜" at the nose of the comb and 2¼" at heel. The full pistol grip felt comfortable, as noted. The great thing with a Browning grip is the even depth (here about 45mm as measured forward). I liked the laser cut chequering too (although I was undecided about the large 'Buckmark' logo now incorporated into it). Wood-to-metal fit was impeccable and the stock was nicely finished, as one expects on Browning guns.
Barrels are monobloc. This has not always been a given with Brownings, as it is with most other makes. Monobloc construction came in halfway through the production of the 425. Before that, barrels were the arguably more desirable demi-bloc – the over-and-under equivalent of chopper lump (where barrels and chamber are one piece, whereas a monobloc has two tubes inserted into a breech block). Monobloc construction is, nevertheless, very strong if well done, and is cost-effective. It is adopted by nearly all makers now mass-producing over-and-unders.
What of the specific model history? Let’s be unspecific and start with the 525! This series of guns, all made in the B.C. Miroku factory in Japan (as most Brownings have been since the 1970s), started with the Citoris and evolved through 325s, 425s and now 525s. There was a very similar 625 in the States too, and, in recent years the improved and excellent 725 with a lower action profile and sealed DS chokes appeared. The 725, a cleverly refined design, has still not displaced the 525 though, which, like the Beretta Silver Pigeon, remains ever popular with the shooting public.
The XS series has been around for 15 years. It’s the stylistic offspring of the once popular GTI ‘plain Jane’ competition gun which morphed into the first ‘Ultra’. The ‘XS’ and 'XS Prestige' were launched as higher grade models, and various versions have since appeared, often introduced as IWA gun show limited editions.
The Ultra XS, moreover, is to be distinguished from the ‘XS Pro’ (which comes with extra bells and whistles including optional trigger blades, eight titanium chokes, stock and barrel weights, and butt pads). So, the plain XS is slightly de-spec’d to keep the price keen. Essentially, it’s the same well-proven gun, and still carries a 10-year mechanical guarantee and a three-year one
The 525 action, like all the series guns, is based on the original, Belgian-made Browning B25 Superposed. Save for the trigger, most of the action design work was completed in the 1920s. It was the last and arguably greatest firearm design of John Moses Browning. He died at his bench in Herstal perfecting it. Miroku then modified it slightly for ease of production for themselves in the 1960s, and for Browning from the 1970s. They dispensed with the attached fore-end of the original and introduced coil-spring-powered hammers fairly early on.
Actions have become a little longer, shallower and narrower over the years (the test gun is 39mm wide and 68mm high). Other key features include a full-width hinge pin, lumps beneath the barrels rather than the bifurcated lumps of a Beretta or Perazzi (or Woodward), a wide flat bolt engaging a slot bite beneath the bottom chamber, and simple and effective hammer ejectors carried in the fore-end. The Superposed has been in production for 100 years now, and Miroku must have been copying it for over 60.
I have shot several Browning 525s with laminate stocks and all have impressed. There is something about the laminate woodwork which seems to change the vibration characteristic of the guns and improve the shooting quality. Although we all love beautiful walnut, beauty is as beauty does in a competition gun.
This gun was first-class. It felt quite heavy, though (both laminate and adjustable stock contributing to this as noted). The balance, unusually, was about ½” behind the hinge-pin. The grip felt particularly good – with plenty of purchase throughout its length enhancing muzzle control. I also liked the slightly tapered sighting rib, the tromboning for the multi-chokes was subtly done and therefore did not impact pointability. Felt recoil was low with the 21g and 24g cartridges. The handling was forgiving. The Ultra XS BL would be a serious contender for anyone looking for a club level competition gun at a good price. It shoots exceptionally well.
Model: Ultra XS BL
Barrels: 30" (28" and 32" options, but no 28" in UK)
Chamber: 3" (Liege fleur-de-lys steel proofed 2022)
Rib: tapered 13-10mm
Chokes: Invector Plus multi
Phone: 01235 514550
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