Tuesday, 08 September 2009 01:00

Peer Review: The Browning Silver Lightning

Written by Irwin Greenstein with the opinions of Rick Cundiff, Tim Hoff and Scott Rosensteen
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I’ll be the first to admit that I may have been suffering from a mid-life crisis, but ultimately I really wanted to prove that a mainstream semi-auto like the Browning Silver Lightning still had what it takes in our digital era of composite gladiators such as the Maxus and Vinci.

I was in a similar state of mind as when I had turned 30 and happened to be on assignment as a reporter in New Orleans. As I found myself hurling toward senility, there was no better town to prove that I still had what it takes to party till dawn. (Unfortunately, when my wife and I were packing up to move several years later she came across a photo taken that night of me in Pat O’Brien’s hanging off two babes, my eyes sort of ga-ga and my tongue lolling around.)

I wanted to pursue the mortal limits of the Silver Lightning in the same way I put myself through the wringer on that wicked night long ago in New Orleans.

The Browning Silver in Mossy Oak Tree Stand.

And with that tender thought in mind, I decided to try and kill it. I had weather and timing on my side, but the Silver Lightning is one of those stoic shotguns that can go on to become a family heirloom. With their reliability taken for granted, they are subject to more neglect than most, but persist in their endurance.

Like most of us, the Silver Lightning does a highly competent job without fanfare or hype. Browning’s Silver Lightning won’t cause your buddies to drool with envy. You won’t find dazzling decals on the stock declaring it an inertia-driven marvel. Nor will your Silver Lightning take the crown in a gun-rack beauty show.

But what the Peer Review Posse discovered is that the Browning Silver Lightning will exceed your expectations for reliability and handling. Tweaked for the 21st century by Browning engineers, the Silver Lightning is an old-school semi-auto in the most endearing way possible.

As fortune would have it, I was off to a good start when it came to stress-testing the Silver Lightning.

When shotgun manufacturers circulate review models to the media, the specimen that usually arrives in the box has already been manhandled pretty heavily (it’s sort of like rock stars with hotel rooms). You’ll get shotguns that have burned through tens of thousands of rounds in Argentina with zero maintenance, or shotguns with barrel bores so encrusted that the screw-in chokes refused to budge.

The Silver Lightning I received had been thrashed, judging by the scratches on the wood and carbon-charred chamber (although the choke did unscrew). But nothing rattled on the shotgun and the wood-to-metal fit remained tight. There was no slack in the trigger and the bolt shut with clear authority. When I mounted the Silver Lightning it felt right and true.

So while this Silver Lightning had already gone a few, bruising rounds it still had legs. That was good, because looking at the 10-day weather forecast a spring storm front was racing my way. I knew it would be my opportunity to inflict a heaping measure of watery abuse on the shotgun. If Mother Nature cooperated, the plan was to run 500 rounds through the shotgun during the worst of the impending downpours. I figured with a name like Lightning, if the gun couldn’t stand up to the rain it was sure to receive a double-thumbs down from the Peer Review Posse.

My ground rules were simple: get the gun as wet as possible (without throwing it in a lake) and never clean it or dry it. No oil or solvent or rag would touch the Silver Lightning on my watch.

Since it was too early in the year for wingshooting, I would put the shotgun through its torture test by shooting sporting clays, trap and five-stand.

I couldn’t ask the rest of the Peer Review Posse to be as fanatical when it came to evaluating the Silver Lightning in the rain, and so their comments, which follow below, were rendered under more reasonable shooting conditions.

At first it was hard to tell how the Silver Lightning would hold up. The shotgun was positioned in the Browning semi-auto line-up between the new Maxus fighter jet and the more traditional 10-gauge Browning Gold.

The heartbeat of the Maxus is the state-of-the-art Power Drive Gas System. Its gas piston features larger exhaust ports to dump gases faster on heavy loads. The piston also has a 20-percent longer stroke travel to reliably handle lighter loads. It’s a completely different beast than the Browning Silver or Gold shotguns. Designed from a clean sheet of paper, the Maxus was intended to inflect devastation on the duck-hunting killing fields of Mississippi, South Dakota and Alberta under the harshest conditions endured by the baddest, macho, camo-clad warriors ever to set foot in a blind.

For the rest of us who enjoy a waterfowl adventure that starts at 4 am with flapjacks and bacon, the Browning design team wanted the Silver and Gold to prove a reliable and competent companion. The Silver and Gold share the same DNA. Both employ identical trigger groups and are built around Browning’s self-adjusting Active Valve gas system.

As Browning explains it, the Active Valve system is designed to cut recoil to the shoulder caused by gas expelled from spent shells. When shooting light loads in the Silver and Gold shotguns, most of the gasses drive the action. With heavier magnum loads, however, only a fraction of gas operates the action. The Active Valve vents the remaining gases through the forend and away from the receiver. By diverting the gasses through the front of the shotgun, the recoil is reduced at the shoulder.

The Silver’s suggested retail prices of between $1,079 and $1,419 make most models only marginally less expensive than the Maxus, which can list for between $1,199 and $1,379. Meanwhile, the three models in the Browning Gold line-up range in price from $1,579 to $1,639.

Browning Silver Tale of the Tape


Barrel Length

Overall Length

Length of Pull

Drop at Comb

Drop at Heel

Nom. Weight


12  3½"



14 1/4"

1 3/4"


7 lbs 9 oz


12  3½"



14 1/4"

1 3/4"


7 lbs 8 oz


12  3"


48 1/4"

14 1/4"

1 3/4"


7 lbs 6 oz


12  3"


46 1/4"

14 1/4"

1 3/4"


7 lbs 4 oz


20  3"








20  3"








Source: Browning (www.browning.com)


Browning’s family of Silver semi-autos includes 13 models. They are available in several finishes and include slug guns for taking down deer. The Silver Lightning features a gloss, walnut stock with the Lightning-style forend that we found was well-matched in grain and finish.

Across the entire line of Browning shotguns, the Lightning designation means you’re getting a forend sans the Schnabel pout but tapered toward the front for faster maneuverability. Combined with the satin-finish receiver, 1-inch ventilated recoil pad, gold trigger and ventilated rib on the 28-inch barrel, the Silver Lightning was the picture of a classic semi-auto.

The Browning Silver in black composite.


Any questions about the Silver’s lineage should be put to rest when you recognize that Browning describes the aluminum alloy design of the receiver as “semi-humpback.”

Sound familiar? It should because the Browning Automatic 5 shotgun was the first mass produced semi-auto. It had the distinctive profile of a raised receiver that flowed into the barrel but abruptly dropped down into the stock, as though sliced on a Tootsie-Roll assembly line. Over the years, the A-5 earned the endearing nickname of “Humpback.” Designed and manufactured by John Browning in 1898, the inertia-driven “Humpback” A-5 saw continued production through 1998 – firmly establishing the A-5 in the annals of shotgun history.

Given the number of years I had already taken off my life expectancy during that single night in New Orleans I certainly didn’t anticipate hanging around long enough to see if the Silver Lightning now laying on my bench would survive even the next decade.

All the equipment was now in place for the shotgun’s trial by water: the Browning Silver with its 28-inch barrels, the three Invector-Plus chokes that came with the gun (Improved Cylinder, Modified and Full), the owner’s manual (just in case) and 25 boxes of Federal 12-gauge, 2¾-inch, 1? ounce, #8s packed with lead shot and rated at 1,200 fps. I grabbed the cheapest, flimsiest gun sleeve in my possession and tucked the gun away. The only thing left to do was pray for rain.

The author shooting the Browning Silver Lightning in the rain at the Loch Raven Skeet and Trap Center.

First stop was my home club, the Loch Raven Skeet and Trap Center in Phoenix, Maryland. It has two voice-controlled trap fields that work perfectly fine in the rain, and with the steady downpour in progress I was off to a good start.

When I arrived there, I put the Silver Lightning on the gun rack of a trap field, went back to the club for my gear but got caught up chatting around with some of the regulars. I would say I was in the club house for about 20 minutes, the Silver Lightning just sitting out there in the mean time. The gloss finish on the wood beaded the rain, as it would continue to do over the next three days.

I shot 100 rounds of wobble trap from the 16-yard line, going through four boxes of shells (plus a few extra shots). One aspect of the Silver Lighting that immediately impressed me was its forward ejection system – eliminating the possibility of hitting other squad members to the right (a pet peeve). Naturally, the forward ejection would be appreciated in a blind.

At first the trigger felt a bit stiff, but that soon passed. The other feature I liked about the shotgun was its large triangular safety designed for shooting with gloves. With a Modified choke, the low-flying birds could be shot dead-on, but the high-fliers needed some float off the muzzle. True to its name, the Silver Lightning handled very quickly without running away on the wide sweepers. In fact, you would think it weighed less than its 7 lbs., 6 oz.

Shooting it, I didn’t feel any recoil to the shoulder, but there was slight jar to my cheek. Part of the problem may have been that the shotgun was wet and slippery, but when I finished there was no experience of lasting discomfort you would find with some real thumpers. Maybe I got used to it over the next few days, but ultimately recoil never proved to be an issue during the 500-round test.

Most important, though, of the 100 shells that cycled through the gun none of them jammed.

The following day I went to Central Penn Sporting Clays in Wellsville, Pennsylvania. It sprinkled throughout the 100 rounds of shooting. Central Penn can throw some very fast targets, many of them crossing mid-trajectory. The Silver Lightning handled beautifully and I shot in the high end of my range. Once again, the shotgun did not jam at all.

On the third day of my testing, I returned to Loch Raven Skeet and Trap for a few rounds of 5-stand. There was very heavy rain and I really felt bad for my stalwart trapper. During my 100 rounds, the shotgun jammed twice, once during the third game and once during the fourth game.

As I was ready to leave, I saw a couple of guys shooting skeet. Turned out they couldn’t wait to try a new Savage over/under that one of them just bought. I asked if I could join them and we shot two games together for another 50 rounds. The Browning Silver performed flawlessly.

I still had 150 rounds to shoot to meet my 500 goal and opted for sporting clays at the Prince George’s County Skeet and Trap Center in Glen Dale, Maryland. It was now the fourth consecutive day of shooting in the rain without cleaning, drying or oiling the Browning Silver.

On that day the rain was torrential. The clubhouse regulars started making wise cracks that someone was crazy enough to actually shoot in this miserable weather.  It was a good thing that Prince George’s uses an electronic controller with a solo-delay feature, because their only trapper, engaged in a texting frenzy, didn’t want to go out in the rain.

I grabbed a cart and took off to Station 1. I have to admit that by now I was getting pretty disgusted with being wet all the time. The Silver Lightning cooperated on this last, wettest day. Of the 150 rounds fast rounds I put through the shotgun, only one didn’t cycle.

In the end, of the 500 wet rounds that I shot with the Browning Silver I experienced only three jams – all of them on the second shot. Of course, some of that could be chalked up to user error – not holding the gun tight enough against my shoulder to cycle the next shot, not loading it properly or even a bad shell. When all is said and done, I thought that under the grueling circumstances three jams out of 500 rounds was pretty darn good for this semi-auto.

Now let’s hear from Shotgun Life’s Peer Review Posse:




Rick Cundiff

Investment Banker

Gun of Choice: Caesar Guerini Forum


“It pointed very well and came up perfectly. I liked the fast action. It had no felt recoil."

“I didn’t notice the noise of the action, which tends to bother me on some semi-automatics."

“I thought it could use longer barrels. I’d like to see 30-inch barrels.”




Tim Hoff


Gun of Choice: Beretta 390


“The gun was very responsive. I thought it would be a lot faster because of the light weight, but it’s evenly balanced between the hands so it handled nicely."

“I would like to see longer barrels."

“I didn’t even notice the recoil. It has as much recoil as my (Beretta) 390."

“I thought it swung rather smoothly. I didn’t get that jumpy feeling you would expect with a gun that has a shorter barrel.”





Scott Rosensteen

Marketing Representative

Gun of Choice: Beretta 682 Gold

“I thought the gun was too light for me."

“I’m 6’4” and I felt the gun was just too small for me."

“I found that the gun kicked the heck out of my face.”

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Read 22886 times Last modified on Saturday, 26 January 2013 15:20