January 03, 2011
Browning bragged on the reliability of its new Silver Hunter autoloader, so Greg called them on it with an 1,100-round field test.
I first learned of Browning's Silver Hunter in, of all places, a camp high in the mountains of British Columbia where I was hunting mountain goats with Browning's Scott Grange. As is often the case when Grange and I get together, the talk turned to shotguns. Eventually, we got around to the high cost of good semiautomatics.
The author put 1,100 rounds of 12-gauge target loads through the Browning Silver in about 3 hours. The author and his helpers were sore, but the gun was no worse for wear.
Grange and I discussed Browning's popular Gold line as well as the then-new Silver Hunter. He was honest about reliability issues with early versions of the Gold Hunter and went into great detail about how Browning's engineers fixed those problems with a little help from some very expensive high-speed cameras. As several experienced sporting clays competitors I know can attest, those problems are long gone, and all the research that went into fixing those early issues paid off big time in subsequent offerings, such as the Winchester Super X3 and the Browning Silver Hunter.
The Silver Hunter
Browning's newest autoloader, the Silver line, is built on an aluminum- alloy frame and employs a gas-operated, semiautomatic action. With several stock and finish options, as well as a few 3 1/2-inch variants, you can have your Silver just about any way you want it as long as it's a 12 gauge. I chose to evaluate the classic wood-stocked Silver Hunter with 3-inch chamber and 28-inch barrel.
|Model:||Browning Silver Hunter|
|Purpose:||Waterfowl, upland game, sporting clays|
|Magazine type and capacity:||Three rounds (3 1/2 inch); three rounds (3 inch); four rounds 2 3/4 inch)|
|Receiver Material:||Aluminum alloy|
|Gauge, chamber:||12 gauge, 3 1/2 and 3 inches|
|Barrel Length:||26, 28, 30 inches|
|Barrel features:||back bored|
|Chokes:||Invector-Plus screw-in chokes (F, M, IC)|
|Sights:||Ventilated rib, front bead|
|Finish:||Satin silver, DuraTouch Armor Coating matte black, DuraTouch Armor Coating Mossy Oak New Break-Up camo, DuraTouch Armor Coating Mossy Oak Duck Blind camo|
|Drop at heel:||2 inches|
|Drop at comb:||1.75 inches|
|Length of pull:||14.25 inches|
| Recoil pad:||Black, 1-inch-thick, ventilated rubber|
|Weight, empty||7.25-7.6 pounds|
|Pistol grip cap:||None|
|Overall Length:||50.5 inches (30-inch barrel)|
|Accessories:||Owner's manual, choke tube wrench, 3 choke tubes (F, M, IC)|
The Silver Hunter's receiver has an attractive matte silver (of course) finish. It has a nice, trim profile that fits nicely in my small hands. The receiver has a bevel near the back of the receiver, the
n flows neatly into the stock. The top of the receiver has a distinctive semi-humpback design that is reminiscent of the old Browning Auto 5, albeit on a smaller scale. Just below and to the front of the ejection port is a carrier-release button. An unusual, oversized triangular safety button with a knurled surface lies just behind the trigger guard that houses the classic Browning gold trigger.
The Silver Hunter's barrel has an attractive deep-blue finish and a fairly light profile. It has a ventilated rib with a white bead out front. The rib, a semi-humpback design, and the serrated receiver top make for an eye-catching sight picture. The barrel is threaded for Browning's Invector-Plus choke tubes, three of which come with the gun (IC, M, F).
The heart of the Silver Hunter is its self-adjusting Active Valve gas system. As with most gas systems, the Browning system directs gas from fired shells through ports in the barrel to the gas piston. The gases move the piston and gas sleeve rearward, which forces the bolt to the rear and operates the action. Active Valve differs from competing systems in that it doesn't direct any more gas than is needed back into the action.
When shooting light loads, the Active Valve system uses most of the expended gases to operate the action. With magnum loads, Active Valve only uses as much gas as necessary to operate the action and vents the rest through the Active Valve, out the top of the forearm, and away from the receiver for clean, reliable operation.
Because the gas piston and Active Valve operate independently, less pressure is exerted on the gas piston. This amounts to greater longevity and more efficient operation than many competing models. The Active Valve expels unnecessary gases out the front rather than driving them back towards the shooter; therefore, it significantly reduces felt recoil, which means faster follow-ups and greater all-day shooting comfort on the clays range or in the duck blind.
The test gun had an attractive walnut stock with a satin finish and well-executed checkering. The wood was dark and attractive, although somewhat straight-grained. It had a satin finish, rather than the traditional Browning gloss. The stock was capped with a cushy, 1-inch ventilated recoil pad. Length of pull was 14.25 inches.
The author was impressed with the Silver Hunter's excellent wood-to-metal fit.
So far, the Silver sounds pretty much like the rest of Browning's autoloaders. But Browning did make a few changes to simplify the Silver line, thereby making it less expensive and possibly even more reliable, despite its lower price tag.
First, Browning's engineer borrowed the one-piece carrier from sister company Winchester's Super X3. The SX3 has enjoyed an enviable reputation for reliability, so Browning's engineers studied the SX3 on high-speed film and decided that its simpler one-piece carrier was one of the keys to its reliability.
However, the one-piece carrier does not allow the speed-loading feature the Browning Gold shotgun utilizes. Still, the speed-loading system is something I can live without if it means more reliability.
|A DIRTY JOB|
| I could have left the gun as-is and wiped off the exterior for photographs after my 1,100-round shootout, but my conscience wouldn't let me. I had to give the Silver Hunter a thorough cleaning before I could get a good night's sleep. Fortunately, the miracles of modern chemistry made clean-up a snap.|
I do not use cleaner-degreasers as a matter of course, but they are a huge help when cleaning up any gun that's been neglected or subjected to a high round count without a cleaning. I used the Brownells TCE Cleaner Degreaser to clean up the Silver Hunter. A few blasts from the aerosol can were all I needed to make the working parts sparkle.
Next, I used Birchwood Casey Barrel Boss and a bit of Brownells Shotgun Wad Solvent to clean the bore. I used Briley's excellent Turbo Choke Cleaner liberally soaked with Wad Solvent to scrub the chokes, and then I followed up with a few passes of the Barrel Boss soaked with Shooter's Choice.
Finally, I lubricated the working parts with Shooter's Choice. Be sure to lubricate liberally after using a cleaner-degreaser because it strips all the lubricant off the metal; you are literally starting with bare steel. --Greg Rodriguez
Some of the Silver's other changes are less noticeable. For example, the cartridge stop is built into the cartridge latch rather than on the slide. Also, the Silver's action does not have to maintain a delicate balance between the action spring and the magazine spring. These features combine to prevent the shells in the magazine from trying to open the action when the shotgun is resting on its butt.
Putting It To The Test
I really liked the Silver Hunter. The 7.5-pound gun felt good in my hands, and it fit surprisingly well, despite the fact that the length of pull was a half-inch too long for my short, stocky frame. I was anxious to put it through its paces--but not in a conventional manner.
Grange really emphasized the Silver Hunter's reliability when we first talked about the gun, so I decided to put his claims to the test and try to make the review gun cry "uncle." I called up Winchester Ammunition and had them send over four cases of Winchester's superb AA clays loads for my little experiment. If 1,000 rounds without cleaning or lubrication didn't stop the test gun, I reasoned, nothing would.
At the first opportunity, I took the Silver Hunter to the Rio Brazos shooting preserve near Simonton, Texas, to test it on hard-flying chukars and sporting clays. Some may have negative images of preserve birds, but the Rio Brazos's birds fly fast and hard, and the sporting clays course there is an ever-changing nightmare for even the most experienced clays shooters. Fortunately, manager Robert Young keeps a special "corporate" course for more challenged shooters like yours truly.
I started out the day hunting with my friend John Wood. I am not sure how many rounds of game loads I fired, but it had to be at least 100 based on the number of birds we shot. The Silver Hunter handled nicely and came up quickly, which certainly contributed to my excellent hit rate.
After a hearty lunch, I drove over to the clays course with Young and another friend, James Jeffrey, who offered to lend me his considerable shoulder for the duration of the endurance test. Since I had alrea
dy fired a little over 100 rounds through the gun and still had 1,000 rounds to go, I sprayed a bit of FP-10 into the action before opening up the first case and bringing on the pain.
To get a better feel for the gun, Jeffrey and I fired Young's corporate course with the Silver Hunter. We fired 200 rounds at a pretty good clip, and the gun didn't even stutter.
Before beginning the 1,100-round shootout, the author sprayed FP-10 lubricant into the Browning Silver's action.
Next, we opened all the cases and commenced to shootin'. I fired the first 100 rounds--half at clay targets and half into a small hill across the pond. Next, Jeffrey fired four boxes into the hill. We fired all the rounds as fast as we could load the gun, yet the gun didn't falter. A closer examination revealed that the Silver Hunter was not as dirty or hot as I would have expected. That's clear evidence of the Active Valve sending unused gas and gunk out the front of the gun rather than back into the action.
The gun was still working fine, so we took turns loading and shooting as fast as we could. At about round 600, my "friend" Jeffrey said he'd had enough. "Maybe your job isn't so great," he opined. No kidding.
Fortunately, Young was game for a little bit of shooting, so we kept going. At round 670, the Silver started to feel a bit balky. It continued to run, but I couldn't help but think its flawless run was about to end. Then, as suddenly as it started, the clunky feeling disappeared, and the gun continued on without missing a beat. I can only assume that whatever piece of crud was binding the action worked its way out somehow.
All told, we fired 1,000 rounds of sporting clays loads and about 100 rounds of field loads without cleaning the shotgun. Through it all, the Silver Hunter performed flawlessly. Jeffrey and Young were a big help, but I still ended up running more than half those rounds myself in less than 3 hours. My head ached, my neck was a bit sore, and my thumb looked like it had been run through a meat grinder. But the gun was no worse for wear.
After digesting 1,100 rounds, the Browning Silver Hunter's mechanism was not as filthy as the author expected. The Active Valve gas system expelled excess gas and gunk out the forearm rather than back into the action.
After taking a few Advil, I gave the Silver Hunter a thorough examination. The inside of the action was dirty, but it was not as filthy as I expected it to be, based on my experience with other brands of shotguns. The bolt was a bit tougher to pull back than it was before the shootout began, but the stiffness was not enough to be a bother, and it disappeared after I cleaned and lubed the gun.
Further disassembly revealed a dirty bolt carrier and gas piston, but both parts were in better condition than I expected. The trigger group was also surprisingly clean. Mechanically, everything worked as well as it did when I started, and the cosmetic stuff cleaned up pretty easily.
I test a great many guns. At the conclusion of my testing, I weigh the pros and cons of each gun. In the end, it always comes down to one question: "Would I buy one?"
Browning's Silver Hunter certainly possesses many of the qualities I admire in a shotgun. It is reliable, feels good in my hands, has some smart design features like the Active Valve gas system, and is attractive to my eye. And perhaps most importantly in my book, it is a great value. I may not purchase the test gun just yet, but next time I'm in the market for a sporting shotgun, you can bet that Browning's Silver Hunter will be at the top of the list.