Browning’s New A5 Sweet 16: How Sweet It Is

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Browning’s new A5 Sweet 16 semi-auto revives a classic and creates an upland hunter’s dream gun.

Officially launched in 2016, the latest reincarnation of the Sweet 16 harkens back to a day when the 16 gauge was in its heyday. The original Sweet 16 first hit stores in 1937, and was built on a 20 gauge frame, presenting more firepower than the 20, but in a gun lighter than a 12. Introduced in 1902, the Auto-5, and its cousins manufactured by Remington and Savage, were the first commercially successful autoloading shotguns. These early models worked on the long recoil method, where the barrel moved about three inches backwards to eject the shell and recock the hammer. Upon moving forward, a new shell was reloaded and the action closed.

The Auto-5 was known for its distinctive humpback, and earned that nickname. Browning claimed the square back extended the sighting plane and keeps the shooter on target. Since the original Auto-5 ceased production, other Browning semi-auto shotguns have had a trace of this shape, but none were as distinctive until the current A5.

Browning A5 Sweet 16 action

The new Browning A5 Sweet 16 humpback semi-auto.

Launched in 2012, the new A5 sports the traditional humpback, but in a completely redesigned gun. It uses Browning’s new Kinematic Drive, the company’s only inertia-operated semi-automatic action. Its other semi-autos are gas operated.

The Kinematic Drive is similar to the original Auto-5 in it uses the energy generated from recoil and converts it to the mechanical energy needed to operate the action. That’s where the similarities end as the barrel stays stationary. The action on the A5 is more similar to the inertia action Benelli design than its predecessor. Browning’s Kinematic Drive, like Benelli, harnesses recoil energy and converts it into the mechanical motion needed to operate the action. With Kinematic Drive, the new A5 becomes more resistant to extremes of weather, temperature, moisture and grime. Browning has so much confidence in the Kinematic Drive system that the new A5 is the first ever auto-loading shotgun from Browning to carry a 100,000-round or five-year guarantee.

Kinematic drive

The Kinematic Drive of the new Browning A5 Sweet 16.
Top: Gun at rest.
Middle: Gun fires and the internal spring accumulates recoil energy.
Bottom: The spring bounces back, unlocking and cycling the action.

The original Auto-5 was not a light gun, but was known for being well balanced. Today’s A5 is a light gun and Browning promotes its handling under the name Ergo Balanced.

One of the reasons many hunters favor the 16 gauge is it offers a payload closer to a 12 gauge, but in a gun with a weight of a 20 gauge. The A5 takes that one step further. With the Sweet 16 tipping the scales at 5 pounds, 12 ounces with the 26-inch barrel, it is almost a full pound lighter than the 12-gauge model. In fact, it’s considerably lighter than Browning’s Silver 20 gauge, which weighs in at 7 pounds, 4 ounces. It is even lighter than the Franchi semi-auto 20 gauge, which is known for its light weight. The only other option is a 28-inch barrel that weighs an ounce more. 

The new Browning A5 Sweet 16 comes packaged in an ABS case with A5 embossed on the outside. The case is made for the gun with storage holes to hold the disassembled gun and foam in the lid. 

A5 exploded view

An exploded view of the new Browning A5 semi-auto.

The stock and forearm are both high-gloss walnut. One note of caution is the directions point out the fore-end should not be squeezed when it’s made of wood as it could crack. Checkering is well done and is cut with a machine. The pistol grip cap is plastic with A5 on it.

Browning’s new Inflex II recoil pad graces the back end of the shotgun with its rounded lines, designed not only for looks but also to minimize snagging on clothing. It is also designed to minimize the gun hitting the shooter’s cheek. 

The receiver and barrel are both high-gloss bluing. “A5 Sweet Sixteen” is engraved on the receiver. The receiver is aluminum to reduce weight. 

Of course the gold Buckmark is found on the bottom of the trigger guard and the trigger is gold to match. The front bead is fiber optic as is found on many guns these days, but it was nice to see an ivory mid-bead standard on the gun. 

Browning A5 Sweet Sixteen 0118005004

The new Browning Sweet 16 semi-auto retains many styling cues of the original model.

Three chokes – improved cylinder, modified and full – are supplied in a neat plastic storage box. The A5 is choked with Browning’s DS chokes. The DS stands for double seal and there is a brass ring at the back that seals gun powder residue and grime from getting in, making the choke easier to remove. These flush mount choke tubes are longer, to provide a more gradual constriction of the shot and lessen deformation.

Asked about the goal of the Sweet 16, Tim Frampton, Browning’s Firearms Product Manager, Shotguns, answered, “We wanted a light weight upland gun that pointed nicely. The original Sweet 16 was a tremendous success, and we saw that there was a hole in the market that could be filled with a new 16-gauge model. Truth be told, the gun has been a huge success for us. You would be surprised how many people still want a new 16-gauge auto-loading shotgun.”

Browning A5 Sweet 16 hunter

The new Browning A5 Sweet 16 in its native habitat.

I took the gun pheasant hunting a couple of times and was amazed at how light it was and how smoothly it handled for a gun that light.            

For all the positive things that can be said about 16-gauge shotguns, they have definitely fallen out of favour with consumers. This is not a new trend, but one that started decades ago. Many put the blame on corporate executives who decided 16 gauge wouldn’t be part of skeet competitions. It could also be that small game hunting, where the 16 gauge is at its best, is not as popular as it once was.

Browning has done better than most to keep the 16 gauge alive. Besides the Sweet 16, it also produces a Citori and BPS models in 16 gauge. A quick search found outside of Browning, CZ and Merkel were the only major manufacturers with 16-gauge guns in the line-up. 

This translates into more limited availability for ammunition. Although it varies by region, I found 16-gauge ammunition in both big box and local gun stores. One gun store even had 16-gauge steel shot.

Ammunition challenges aside, this gun is rare in it’s a semi-auto built for the uplands, where it shines. Its light weight and nimble handling are made to order for the grouse woods or pheasant field. 

Jeff Helsdon is a multi-species hunter and angler from Ontario. He was the second person to complete a Canadian slam of turkey hunting, bagging eastern birds and a Merriam’s in Western Canada. When he's not turkey hunting, Jeff enjoys fishing with his family, especially on Lake Erie and hunting for upland game, waterfowl and deer. His articles have been published on both sides of the border and have won awards from outdoor writer's groups. He is also a field editor for the Ruffed Grouse Society.

Jeff Helsdon

Jeff Helsdon is a multi-species hunter and angler from Ontario. He was the second person to complete a Canadian slam of turkey hunting, bagging eastern birds and a Merriam’s in Western Canada. When he's not turkey hunting, Jeff enjoys fishing with his family, especially on Lake Erie and hunting for upland game, waterfowl and deer. His articles have been published on both sides of the border and have won awards from outdoor writer's groups. He is also a field editor for the Ruffed Grouse Society.