Skip to main content

Savage Model 720 Shotgun - A Piece of Auto-5 History

So the story goes: When legendary designer John Moses Browning showed the prototype of what was to become the Browning Auto-5 to the president of Winchester, the president said, "It's the ugliest gun I've ever seen."

Savage Model 720 Shotgun - A Piece of Auto-5 History

Declining the Auto-5 in 1898 was one of the worst business decisions the firm ever made. The glory went to Belgium's Fabrique Nationale.

Variants of the blocky, graceless design were made under license by TOZ in Russia, Franchi in Italy, and Remington and Savage here at home. Savage's offering, the Model 720, was built between 1930 and 1949. Browning-branded guns were eventually made by Howa in Japan, and production continued in limited numbers until the early 1990s.

As the storm clouds of World War II loomed on the horizon, the services struggled to train fighter pilots and gunners in the voodoo science of deflection shooting. Trap and skeet were found to be excellent low-cost methods of teaching lead, and the services bought shotguns for gunnery schools across the country.

Shotguns were also used for guard duty in built-up areas, such as ports and airfields, as pellets carry only a fraction as far as a rifle bullet.


Humpbacks were used across the Atlantic: An interesting photo exists of Luftwaffe ace Adolf Galland hunting upland game with an Auto-5 during a lull in the Battle of Britain.


savage model 720 shotgun
The beefy Colonial Full choke does the constricting outside, avoiding stress in the thin steel at the muzzle. Note the blackpowder residue.

Provenance

I bought the subject gun some years ago from a fellow member of the Los Angeles Adventurers Club. He said his father had purchased the worn 720 just after World War II and had hunted waterfowl with it for years. Army Ordnance Corps proofs on the left side of the receiver indicate wartime service, but whether as a gunnery trainer or guard weapon is uncertain. The internals still seemed tight, but the stock was badly cracked and loose. It was fitted with an ungainly Cutts compensator and a sensible, Modified choke.

I found a replacement stock by calling a now-defunct mom-n-pop, and gunsmith friend Danny Pedersen (928-772- 4060) located a student at his alma mater, the Yavapai College gunsmithing program, interested in working on the gun.

The student cut off the compensator for me and installed a Colonial removable Full choke. This is an internal/external that allows for some beef when constriction occurs. A raised bead was silver-soldered at the muzzle. When I fired some very hot 00 loads through it, the bead's base actually popped off and had to be reattached with serious heat. This is a testimony to the stress that occurs as the shot load stretches the barrel during constriction.

Mechanicals

Browning's odd design is the only successful family of long-recoil operated guns. Upon firing, both the barrel and bolt travel locked together, like cars on an express train, the full length of the receiver.

Unlocking occurs when a top lug is cammed down out of a recess in the barrel extension. This releases the barrel, which is pushed forward by the recoil spring on the magazine tube. When it returns to battery, it trips the bolt release. The bolt is propelled forward by the action spring in the stock, and it in turn cams the feedramp up.

savage model 720 shotgun

The barrel is pulled off the spent case and almost as an afterthought, a small ejector stub on the end of the barrel extension rudely hurls the spent hull out of the action.


The original Auto-5 has a magazine cutoff, but the 720 dispenses with it to save on production costs.

The mass of the entire barrel and bolt carrier group flying back and forth dramatically affects handling, with recoil rapidly followed by counter recoil as the heavy barrel slams back into battery.

An unusual feature is a friction collar on the magazine tube. This can be placed at the front to slow down the action for high-base shells or placed at the rear for garden-variety target loads.


savage model 720 shotgun
U.S. Army Ordnance Corps proofs indicate that this shotgun saw military service in World War II. Ever frugal, Savage stamped "engraving" into the receiver.

Ballistics

Three 12-gauge factory loads and two handloads were used for the shooting portion of this report. Painfully at the top end was Federal's brutal Prairie Storm, packing 1¼ ounces of Flight Stopper lead at 1,467 fps. I've killed pheasant roosters dead at 60 yards with it, but it probably has taken several thousand miles off my rotator cuff. Not for girly men.

Surprisingly, the next hottest round was Gamebore's 2 ½-inch Pure Gold paper/fiber, which stepped out with the others, launching an ounce of No. 7 shot at 1,309 fps.

Docile Winchester AA Light Target, the industry standard for trap and skeet, hosted 11/8 ounces of No. 9s going 1,148 fps.

I traded for a box of reloads with serious trap competitor Greg Holden. He uses a Spolar press and wads over 20 grains of Hodgdon Clays to launch 1 1/8 ounces of West Coast No. 8.5 shot in Remington STS hulls, all ignited by Italian Cheddite primers. Out of Greg's 34-inch Krieghoff, they produce a smidge over 1,300 fps, but the abbreviated barrel of the 720 offered them at just 1,239 fps.

Finally, I had a box of Magtech brass shells loaded some time ago with 51 grains of Goex FFg behind a (there will be a quiz) 10-gauge gas seal, 9/16-inch fiber wad, then a 3/16-inch cork wad, then an ounce of No. 8 shot, finally topped with an over-shot card. These were originally cooked up for Single Action Society doin's. Several years ago I'd used some in my gas-operated Excel Auto, with huge gouts of sooty flame blasting out the ejection port, shearing off the hapless extractor. Hmmm - blackpowder - long recoil.

At The Range

With the Cutts compensator removed, the 720 becomes quite the handy defensive gun. At the Mojave Sportsman's Club's Seven Mile Range, the 720 patterned about 2 feet wide at 40 yards, the Colonial choke and wicked Federal No. 5 loads producing excellent pattern density. The pattern was 90/10, better suited for trap and rising pheasants than coyotes disappearing into the creosote bushes or bunnies and bad guys.

The club uses a Pro Chrono chronograph. Several members were finished shooting, but upon seeing the weird mix of ammo and the Humpback, they decided to stick around to see what would happen next. Their ribald commentary can't be repeated here.

savage model 720 shotgun
The author fired factory loads and handloads in the 720, including (from left) Federal's potent Prairie Storm Pheasant load, Gamebore's surprisingly snappy Pure Gold, Winchester's ever-popular AA Light Target, reloaded Remington STS hull with No. 8.5 shot, and Magtech brass loaded with FFg and No. 8 shot. The blackpowder load would not cycle the 720's action.

I chambered a round and fed four more into the magazine for each selection. In every case the first two rounds would hang up after releasing from the tube. Upon wiggling, the feedramp would cycle, desperately trying to load my left index finger into the gaping maw of the chamber. But experience with Garands has made me an eye blink faster. Rounds three through five would cycle perfectly.

I swapped the friction collar after the first monster Federal round and begged off after two more. Perhaps a pair of Dead Mule attenuators in the magazine tube and stock-bolt hole, combined with a Pachmayr Decelerator pad, would help.

Alas, the beautiful blackpowder loads didn't have enough poop, their action being insufficient to provoke a complete reaction from the Savage 720.

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

Tactical Solutions Introduces New X-Ring Takedown SBR Rifle

Tactical Solutions Introduces New X-Ring Takedown SBR Rifle

Keith Feeley of Tactical Solutions sat down with Michael Bane at SHOT Show 2018 to talk about the new X-Ring Takedown SBR .22LR rifle.

Hornady 6MM Creedmoor

Hornady 6MM Creedmoor

Tom Beckstrand and Neal Emery of Hornady highlight the 6MM Creedmoor ammo.

The Glock 21

The Glock 21

Frank and Tony from Gallery of Guns spice up the Glock test using their non-dominant hands.

The Future Of Special Operations Small Arms

The Future Of Special Operations Small Arms

We're taking a look at what the Army's Elite Units are using for service rifles and what the future of SOCOM sniping looks like.

See More Popular Videos

Trending Articles

The Bushnell Prime 3-12X 40mm riflescope is not the company's newest offering, but it is a relatively lightweight (17 ounces) and short (12 inches) scope.Bushnell Prime 3-12X 40mm Riflescope Optics

Bushnell Prime 3-12X 40mm Riflescope

Steve Gash - January 05, 2021

The Bushnell Prime 3-12X 40mm riflescope is not the company's newest offering, but it is a...

Like situational ethics, standards of accuracy vary according to circumstances.Accuracy: It's All Relative How-To

Accuracy: It's All Relative

Terry Wieland - May 09, 2019

Like situational ethics, standards of accuracy vary according to circumstances.

Uberti's 1885 Courteney Stalking Rifle is a classically configured hunting rifle that's equally at home in the big whitetail woods and on the African savannas.Uberti 1885 Courteney Stalking Rifle Review Rifles

Uberti 1885 Courteney Stalking Rifle Review

Joseph von Benedikt - December 14, 2020

Uberti's 1885 Courteney Stalking Rifle is a classically configured hunting rifle that's...

Starting in the late 1950s, the .338-bore size gained considerable traction — thanks to the .338 Winchester Magnum. Why? Because hunters are often after game bigger and tougher than whitetails. Here's a list of the .338-caliber greats in chronological order in which they were introduced.11 Great .338 Caliber Rifle Cartridges Ammo

11 Great .338 Caliber Rifle Cartridges

Payton Miller

Starting in the late 1950s, the .338-bore size gained considerable traction — thanks to the...

See More Trending Articles

More Shotguns

Savage Arms reveals the Model 212 and 220 bolt-action turkey shotguns, designed to give turkey hunters maximum performance and adjustability.Savage Arms Reveals Model 212 and 220 Shotguns Shotguns

Savage Arms Reveals Model 212 and 220 Shotguns

Shooting Times Digital Staff - March 14, 2019

Savage Arms reveals the Model 212 and 220 bolt-action turkey shotguns, designed to give turkey...

The reduced dimensions and light weight of the Mossberg 510 Youth Mini Super Bantam 20 Gauge are sure to make the shooting experience more enjoyable for younger shooters.Mossberg 510 Youth Mini Super Bantam 20 Gauge Shotgun Shotguns

Mossberg 510 Youth Mini Super Bantam 20 Gauge Shotgun

Stephan Ledeboer - November 05, 2020

The reduced dimensions and light weight of the Mossberg 510 Youth Mini Super Bantam 20 Gauge...

Classy and affordable, CZ-USA's 28-gauge Bobwhite G2 side-by-side is one of the best gateways to shooting a sub-gauge upland shotgun.CZ-USA Bobwhite G2 Double-Barrel Shotgun Review Shotguns

CZ-USA Bobwhite G2 Double-Barrel Shotgun Review

Joseph von Benedikt - May 04, 2020

Classy and affordable, CZ-USA's 28-gauge Bobwhite G2 side-by-side is one of the best gateways...

Once repaired and reconditioned, the Winchester Model 12 20-gauge shotgun has become the author's go-to vintage field gun. Winchester Model 12 20 Gauge Shotgun Review Shotguns

Winchester Model 12 20 Gauge Shotgun Review

Joseph Von Benedikt - December 12, 2019

Once repaired and reconditioned, the Winchester Model 12 20-gauge shotgun has become the...

See More Shotguns

Magazine Cover

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE Arrow

Buy Digital Single Issues

Don't miss an issue.
Buy single digital issue for your phone or tablet.

Buy Single Digital Issue on the Shooting Times App

Other Magazines

Special Interest Magazines

See All Special Interest Magazines

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Phone Icon

Get Digital Access.

All Shooting Times subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit mymagnow.com and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now