Browning A-Bolt Gold

Last fall(2003) I started hunting with a 12 Ga Browning A-Bolt Gold Slug gun. With the looks and feel of a rifle its quite an upgrade from the sawed off Goose Gun apperance of the Marlin 512. Browning no longer makes this model because of poor sales. Apparently there isn't much of a market for an expensive slug gun. Since I hunt a lot more in the shotgun zone of Michigan than the rifle zone, it only makes sense to me to spend more on the shotgun than the rifle.

12 Ga 2 3/4" Lightfield Hybred EXP ballistics

My first trip to the range with the Browning was a dissapointment. Winchester Supereme Partition Golds 385gr slugs shot best in the Marlin. Best I could do with the Browning was about 3" at 50 yards. Not good enough. I could shoot Winchester Super-X Foster slugs that good and for 1/3 the price.

Back to the drawing board. I can't say testing ammo in slug guns is one of my favorite things to do. The sabots all cost $8-10 a box and getting cracked by a slug gun takes its toll after a few boxes. I think old Elmer Kieth called it "Gun Headache". Well, I'm sure its not as bad as one of his .577 Nitro doubles but its still a little rough off the bench.

I did a little research and it turns out the Browning A-Bolt uses a 1 in 32" rifling twist as opposed to the 1 in 28" twist of the Marlin 512. Now I shoot muzzleloaders a lot and its common knowledge that a slower 1 in 66" twist gives best accuracy with the light round balls and a faster 1 in 32" twist will better stabilize a heavy conical. Based on this experience, I would think the A-Bolt would like the lightest possible bullet. They don't get any lighter than the 385gr in 12ga so thats a problem.

Going on the assumption that the sabot throws this all out the window, I decided to look at some heavier slugs. I picked up a few boxes of 585gr(1 1/8oz) Lightfield Hybrid EXPs and some 438gr(1oz) Remington Buckhammers. These are both "Hybrid" slugs meaning they have a plastic cup attached to the slug to engage the rifling but are not fully encased in a sabot cup.

Next trip to the "range" was a lot more fun. At 50 yards over the hood of the Jeep with a solid rest of sandbags and a carpeted 4x4, accuracy was much improved. I was now holding raged hole groups with both the Buckhammers and the Lightfields. The Buckhammers were a little better so I bought 4 more packs to sight in with and hunt with.

I sighted in 2" high at 50 yards to put it about dead on at 100 and 4" low at 125. The Lightfields hit an inch high and about 1/2 inch left so I could really hunt with either and be in pretty good shape. Might be handy because its sometimes hard to find "your" slug ammo. Especially during near hunting season. Another reason why I don't like testing slug loads. You're tied to factory ammo. Thats why I reload for centerfire my rifle calibers.

The moment of truth arrived the 1st weekend of gun season. I was in my favorite portable tree stand and I had just stood up to get a different perspective when a 6 pt. came wandering in. Damn! I would've liked to have sat down to take a steady rest but I didn't want to risk the movement. I would have to take an off-hand shot standing up straight on the small tree-stand platform. The buck was only 30 yards away but quarting towards me through the popples so that I had to put the cross-hairs on an opening and tried to squeeze carfully. The shot didn't feel very good. In the straight up position the recoil ripped the Browning high and right and I had to shuffle me feet to regain my balance. Not a good follow-through. Did I mention I might have been a little excited? Ha,Ha. I tried to hold over the front shoulder and angle into the heart lung. The buck took off and I couldn't read his body language very well through the thick popples.

Waiting a moment to calm my nerves, I climbed down the tree to take up the track. Heading the direction I last saw the buck, I was suprised that I couldn't pickup the track. I went back to the spot of the shot and started looking close. The first thing I found was some white hair and, of all things, my mushroomed slug about twice normal diameter into the ground.

If I had put the shot where I intended, I shouldn't have drawn belly hair. A little cause for concern but its still a 1oz slug so I'd still expect a lot of damage. Well that wasn't the case. My dad and I tracked the buck for several hours and about 1 mile with just a light blood trail and didn't recover the deer.

I guessing that I hit either right or left of the shoulder and too low so that I only took off some meat and hair from the bottom of the chest cavity. Not the fault of the slugs or the gun, just my own fault for getting buck fever and not taking a careful enough shot. Hindsight is 20/20 but I think I could've either waited for the buck to move broadside, tried to sit down, or both.

This year I'l probably go with the Lightfields. The Buckhammer is a new slug and hasn't been tested nearly as much in the field as the Lightfield. Accuracy is only slightly better in the Buckhammer so I think its pretty much even on paper. If nothing else it might change my luck. I need to get more slugs for this year anyway.

Update for 10-18-2004:

Decided to go with Lightfield Hybred EXP(2 3/4") for this year. Looks pretty good on paper:

Update for 10-15-2005:

Fired 4 shots from the A-Bolt with 2 3/4" Lightfield EXPs. Still right on the money at 50 yards. No change in accuracy or point of aim. I have a $80 Tasco 3-9X40 and I'm always worried that the recoil will trash it. Doesn't seem to be an issue so far.

Update for November '05

Took a spike horn up north with the .270 so I hunted Southern MI farmland with a .41 Mag Ruger Blackhawk for the most part. After unsuccesfully attempting to fill the freezer with a doe with the revolver, I took the A-Bolt out and took a big lead doe with 25 yard shot from my treestand near the end of the Thanksgiving weekend. The Lightfield 2 3/4" Hybred EXP made a full caliber size hole through both lungs that I could see from the tree stand. I was able to watch the doe run about 70 yards while pumping blood out both sides at a tremendous rate. All of the blood on the snow reminded of a horror movie I saw some time ago. How that deer ran so far with a 3/4" hole through her I'll never know.

Update 8/18/2006

Going to shoot a few Lightfields before the season sometime to make sure I'm still zeroed. That's about it. I'll post a target if I can get a bragging size group.:)

Update 8/20/2006

Shoot 3 shells off the truck hood and sand bags. Not a great rest and a pretty good wind made for a group of about 2 1/4". Not too happy with that but it's still sighted in so the scope is holding up. I might have to try another group with a clean barrel, steadier rest, and a calmer day.

Update 9/10/2006

Cleaned the barrel, check all screws and shot again. This time groups were in the 4-5" range. Not good enough.

I decided to try a new scope. This time a big boy expensive one that is designed to handle the recoil with a lifetime warranty incase it's does get damaged by recoil or whatever.

After scouring the net for reviews, I went to Guns Galore in Fenton, MI and picked up a new 2-7X33 Leupold VX-I for the princly sum of $185! That's about $100 more than I've ever paid for a scope. I really don't think the brightness or anything is that amazing on the scope but if it stays zeroed and keeps groups over the next few years it will be worth every penny. I'm going to stick to what has worked for me for over 20 years on the .270 and lower recoil level stuff. Cheap but decent scopes. I'm putting this scope on a high dollar slug gun so it's a combo that makes sense.

Got sighted in and shot enough 1-2" groups to say that the Tasco was killing my accuracy. Going to be nice to have the 2X for treestand and corn stalking situations. Even better for deer drives. We'll see how the season gos and I'll update accordingly.

I'm sticking with the Lightfields due since the accuracy is good and the design has been proven to be a good performer. The Buckhammers still give better accuracy but I think the pure lead design may cause some over-expansion at close range. I want a .730 hole through the deer at any range and the Lightfields should do that.

Update 10/15/2006

Put a new Leupold 2-7X33 VX-I on a month ago and had it sighted in. Then I realized the crosshairs were a little crooked so I started fiddling. Next thing you know I realized the scope wasn't lined up with the barrel because I could see the crosshairs off to one side of the barrell at low power so I fixed that. Great. Now I needed to sight in again.

Sat down at the bench and got the windage dialed in again. Sighted in for 1.5" high at 50 yards again. Had 2 in the same hole and then jerked the 3rd out of the group. The accuracy of the Lightfields in this gun has stayed at or near 1" at 50 yards so I didn't want to waste more shells shooting a perfect group. This thing is good to go now and I won't clean the bore until after the season(if then).

Update 9/22/2007

Shot a group of 5 today at 50 yards. Measured 1.31". I don't remember zeroing in dead on at 50 yards last year but it sure looks like I did! Here is the pic of the target: A Bolt group from 9-22-07

Update 11/24/07

Cold morning in the treestand today. Not much moving but a few yearling does right after day break. About The most exciting thing going on was a group of young hen turkeys trying to yelp. I think they call it the "Kee Kee Run".

I was digging through my pack for a diaphram call thinking that I might be able to practice up a little for spring and maybe get a look at one of the Jenny's. That's when I started to see some does. It occured to me that the turkeys were getting close to a bedding area and their loud calling was probably annoying the does to the point that they were looking for a quieter spot to spend the day. Pretty soon I had 2 does to the South and 4-5 to the North West. Just when I was starting to really lose track of where the deer were I noticed a lone deer with it's nose to the ground and immediately thought "Buck!".

I shouldered the Browning and confirmed antlers through the thick brush at about 80 yards and that was all I needed to start looking for a reasonable hole in the brush to shoot from. Eventually the buck paused long enough for me to settle the cross hairs right behind the should and squeeze off what felt like a good shot.

The buck gave the distinctive "mule kick" that a well hit deer makes. I racked another shell while keeping my eyes on the deer and shouldered the slug gun again. I was getting ready to take another shot when I could clearly see a red hole near the shoulder and decided to save the shell. At about that same moment the buck paused before exiting the woodlot. He didn't take another step.

The shot was about 80 yards through fairly thick brush with my Browning A-Bolt and 2 3/4" Lightfield Hybred EXP slugs. The buck traveled about 40 yards leaving an ample blood trail. The shot was about as good as I'll ever do it, taking off the top half of the heart completely.

This is the kind of instance where the Browning is an ideal tool for the job. The stock fits me well and allows a proper cheek weld that made it easier to make a good shot from an off-hand position. The trigger is crisp and light so the shot went just when I wanted it too. I sight in for 50 yards because I don't want to have to calculate how low to hold on a shot like there where time is off the essence. Sighting in 3" high at 50 is usually recommended for optimum trajectory at 150 yards but I know that 90% of my chances are at much less than 100 yards and I want to be able to confidently pick a hole in the brush and put the slug exactly where I want it, not within 3" up and down.

I usually only get a few chances at a buck each season. This was my first chance in nearly two weeks of hard hunting and I was glad that I was toting a top-notch slug shooter to make the opportunity count.

Buck from 11/24/07