Preseason Prep: Care of the Browning Auto 5
The Sharptail flushed at 30 yards bolting across the plains as my Sweet Sixteen found its place on my shoulder. I pulled the trigger and missed the shot out of excitement. As I pulled the trigger for the second shot nothing happened. I had just missed an opportunity to take the first Sharptail Grouse I had laid my eyes on. My wife walked over to me and laughed saying "pretty embarrassing that you're a gunsmith and your gun jammed." Giving you an inside look at how our relationship works.
I removed the barrel right there on the spot to make sure I had my friction rings set up correctly. As I removed the forearm and handed it to my wife I immediately saw the problem. The exterior surface of my magazine tube was bone dry.
The Auto 5 History
The Browning Auto 5 is legendary. Holding the title as the first semi automatic shotgun, it was designed by none other than John Moses Browning. Hitting the market in 1902, the Auto 5 or A-5 took the market by storm. John Browning declared that it was his "greatest achievement," which says a lot coming from a man who patented over 120 firearms designs.
With the amount of semi-auto shotguns on the market today, it's hard to appreciate the level of innovation the A-5 entailed. Shotgun ammunition in 1902 was far from perfect and there was very little standardization. The design utilizes a rather unique long recoil system in which the barrel recoils a considerable distance to the rear with each shot. The barrel moves so fast that most A-5 owners have no idea that it is happening. Its travel is slowed down slightly by the use of a series of friction rings that you configure for different shotgun loads.
The A-5 can be spotted a mile away by its signature humpback receiver, and is found in the duck blinds of Louisiana to the Plains of Montana. It is a true classic.
Field Stripping the A-5
Roll your cleaning mat out on a sturdy table and check to make sure the firearm is unloaded and that there are no shells in the magazine tube.
Next, stand your shotgun vertically on the buttplate and pull the barrel down toward the table. Be careful with this step as most of the older A-5 buttplates were made of buffalo horn and can be brittle with age. The barrel will be hard to pull down because you are trying to over power the large recoil spring under the forearm.
With the barrel held back, unscrew the magazine cap. The cap is detented and will be very tough to unscrew if it hasn't been taken apart in a long time. If you can't get it by hand use a pair of padded or protected pliers.
Ease the forearm and barrel off of the mag tube. Before removing the recoil spring and friction rings take a picture of the setup so that you can put it back together in the same configuration if necessary.
Grab the charging handle and depress the carrier latch button. Now ease the bolt forward taking care not to let it strike the receiver hard. If the bolt is released and allowed to slam into the front of the ejection port damage can occur.
The firearm is now field stripped. Detailed disassembly should only be done by someone with the proper tools that is comfortable doing it. The Screw slots are very thin on most A-5s and need to have screwdrivers that fit properly.
The Auto-5 is a very reliable shotgun when properly cared for. The malfunction that I had that day on the plains of Montana was completely my fault as you'll see here. The A-5 is by no means finicky, but does have a few points in which need to be lubricated to ensure proper function.
The Barrel Extension. A light coat of CLP on the inside and outside of the barrel extension will keep it running smoothly and reduce long term wear.
The Magazine Tube. More often than not, if your A-5 isn't running properly the magazine tube lubrication is the culprit. The friction rings work as their name implies, using friction. Too much or not enough oil changes the amount of friction and will cause function issues. Wipe it clean and dry, then apply a very light coat of CLP to it. I usually spray it on heavily then wipe the majority of it off. It is good to make a habit of doing this before and after each hunting season.
Clean the Bore. Grab your bore snake and run it through a few times to clean out all of the debris and fouling.
The friction rings can be another culprit to an A-5 not operating flawlessly. Depending on what model you have, there are many diagrams available online that show you how to set up your friction rings. Originally the diagram was glued inside the forearm, Art's Gun Shop sells replacements if yours is missing. To put it simply, the friction rings allow you to adjust for heavy and light loads.
Reassembly is done in the reverse order as field stripping. As you're pulling the barrel back into the receiver, the barrel extension needs to align in the receiver to go in properly.
Lastly, screw on the magazine cap. You do not need to wrench this part on, hand tight is plenty as it is detented on the forearm. You will have the right amount of tension when the forearm doesn't move and you can see the barrel extension peeking out of the ejector port.
We are nearing 120 years since the Auto-5 started being produced. This means that parts may be getting worn and Grandpa's A-5 might need to take a trip to the gunsmith. Having a gunsmith replace the springs is a good idea if it is used heavily.
If there is one weak point on the A-5 design it is the forearm. There are more A-5s with cracked forearms than not. It is important to notice these cracks early on and have them repaired. If they are taken care of early this isn't an issue, I like to give it a thorough look over before and after each hunting season.
The most important thing to keep an eye on is your barrel extension. You don't need to disassemble the gun to check this, simply look into your ejection port with the bolt closed. If you can see a sliver of your barrel extension you are good to go. If not you may need to take it to a gunsmith. Here's why:
During assembly and disassembly you may have noticed that the forearm plays an important role. Over years of use the wood in the forearm begins to compress and allows the barrel to go forward further and further. Once again, the forearm tends to be the weak link of this design. When it gets to the point that you can no longer see the barrel extension, your bolt may be stopping its forward travel on the charging handle and not the bolt itself. This damages the receiver and can eventually lead to headspace issues.
If you look at my Sweet Sixteen you can see that there is very little of the barrel extension showing, meaning that it may need some work done in the next few years.
In the Field
My dog Sage is the only one that gets more excited than I do when my Sweet Sixteen gets taken out of the gun safe. No other gun makes her this way, she knows that it means we're going out in the field. Taking out old classics such as the A-5 makes a hunting experience that much better in my opinion. While they do require a little more pre season prep and postseason care than a new gun, it is well worth the reward of hitting the grouse woods or duck blinds with a classic shotgun.
Written by Kurtis Martonik