America has roughly 3 million waterfowl hunters, and they all vary in many ways: Some prefer hunting puddle ducks in small ponds, while others chase divers on large bodies of water. Those who hunt in the northern portions of the country are often exposed to bitter winter weather; those in Florida and Louisiana might get away with short sleeves for much of the season. There are hunters who prefer a big spread and those who prefer just a few dekes on the water; and some who rarely call and others who rarely stop calling.
But despite their differences, duck and goose hunters across the country can agree on one thing:
The new Wicked Wing line of firearms from Browning comprises the coolest waterfowl guns to come along in years. Not since the invention of the Mojo decoy has a new product moved the average duck and goose hunter to such high praise. These new Browning A5 and Maxus Wicked Wing guns are so popular and so sought after, in fact, that even at this early stage in the game, they are already being ordered in very high numbers. (That’s the kind of problem that all gun companies would like to have.)
Gone are the days when shotgun companies primarily focused on designing scatterguns that could be used for a wide range of different applications. Today’s shotguns are specialized to a single task—whether it is defensive shooting, breaking clay targets or waterfowling. These Wicked Wing guns are designed for shooting ducks and geese in any location and under any conditions.
Despite their new visage, the Wicked Wing guns are familiar to Browning fans. The basis for these new waterfowl guns: two of Browning’s most time-tested and proven semiauto shotgun designs, the Maxus and A5. And while they might bear the same brand name and share many similar features, there are more differences between these guns than the A5’s signature humpback profile.
“Despite their new visage, the Wicked Wing Guns are familiar to Browning fans.”
The Maxus utilizes Browning’s advanced Power Drive gas system. At the heart of the system is a revolutionary piston design with larger gas ports to dump gas more quickly with heavy magnum loads. The piston stroke length is increased by about 20 percent, which allows for light shells to be cycled effectively, too. This is a gun that can handle everything from 2¾-inch loads up to 3½-inch magnums efficiently and reliably. The Power Drive gas system is also very effective at dampening recoil.
In its Wicked Wing get-up, the Maxus comes with a Cerakote Burnt Bronze finish with custom accents that include a Wicked Wing logo on the left side of the receiver and long grass (or corn, or cattails—use your imagination) accents on both the left and right sides.
The barrel, too, is Burnt Bronze, and the Dura-Touch polymer stock comes in Mossy Oak Shadow Grass Blades, Mossy Oak Bottomlands or A-TACS AU camo, all of which look strikingly good against the Cerakote metalwork. There’s even a special set of choke tubes for these guns that—get this—look like a waterfowl band and have GPS coordinates for Browning’s home base in Morgan, Utah. Other touches add to the appeal of this gun. An oversized bolt handle is easy to use with gloved hands, and the bolt release button (which is cleverly designed to look like the base of a shotgun shell) is also enlarged. There’s also a fiber-optic front sight.
Like other members of the Maxus family, the trio of Wicked Wing guns comes with the Speed Lock forearm design. It shuns a magazine cap in favor of a lever design that looks more like what you’ll find on one of Browning’s competition over/unders than the traditional semiauto setup.
By eliminating the need for a magazine cap, you’re eliminating one piece of equipment that can be lost or damaged; and once you’re familiar with the Maxus Speed Lock design, you’ll wonder why everyone hasn’t tried to develop a similar design. The Maxus guns also come with Browning’s Lightning Trigger, which is among the lightest and smoothest of any scattergun, as well as a recoil-reducing Inflex recoil pad.
“Not since the invention of the Mojo Decoy has a new product moved the average duck and goose hunter to such high praise.”
The Wicked Wing guns feature the Maxus Speed Load Plus System that allows you to load and unload the gun without manipulating the bolt. When you load the first shell with the action open, the two-piece carrier design automatically feeds that shell into the chamber. You can also drop the shells directly from the magazine tube into the hand. Another clever feature on this gun is the magazine cutoff switch, which allows you to lock the action open, engage the magazine cutoff and load the tube. All you have to do when you’re ready to hunt is flip the cutoff lever forward and instantly chamber a shell. All the Maxus shotguns utilize Invector Plus choke tubes.
The MSRP for the 3½-inch guns is $1,869.99; the 3-inch versions have an MSRP of $1,739.99.
NOT YOUR DADDY’S A5
When I was a kid growing up in shotgun-loving Ohio, the Browning A5 was a standard against which other semiauto scatterguns were judged. The A5 was a relatively reliable gun, but it was also very stately, with its polished wood stocks and fine blued finish. The new Wicked Wing version of the modern A5 is connected to those early guns in the same manner that a 1964 Mustang convertible is kin to the brand-new Saleen 302 Black Label—they share one soul, but they are very different machines. The original A5 utilized a recoil operating system that required the bolt and the barrel to move rearward. The new Kinematic Drive operating system utilizes a spring that compresses when the shot is fired and initiates the cycling operation.
Browning engineers understood the level of scrutiny to which the new A5 would be subjected, and the company produced 100 non-serialized guns with production parts to thoroughly test the Kinematic Drive system. The results of that test showed that these guns worked well for everything from target loads to the largest, most powerful magnums.
That humpback profile adds more to the new A5 than a traditional aesthetic; it also adds length to the sight plane, helping improve your shooting. Browning lessened the distance between the front hand and the bore axis and gave the A5 a near-perfect balance point—something the company calls Ergo Balance. The A5 also comes with Invector DS choke tubes, an Inflex 2 recoil pad and the Speed Load feature.
The Wicked Wing A5 receives much the same treatment as its Maxus cousin — Dura Touch coating, Cerakote Burnt Bronze on the receiver and barrel, the trademark “banded” choke tubes—but the A5 is available with a Realtree MAX-5 stock, as well as the Mossy Oak and A-TACS-AU camo options that carry over from the Maxus. And because it lacks the Speed Latch feature, the A5 comes with a traditional threaded magazine cap. There’s a 3-inch version of the Wicked Wing A5 in Mossy Oak Shadow Grass Blades, which carries an MSRP of $1,829.99, and the 3½-inch guns carry an MSRP of $1,979.99.
ON THE RANGE
I tested the Wicked Wing guns at Castle Valley Outfitters in Utah on a five-stand course that was set up by Browning’s Public Relations and Shooting Promotions Manager Scott Grange. You can rest assured that Grange didn’t set up an elementary course with easy shots to make everyone feel good about themselves and heap praise on the shotguns. Instead, the layout was designed to challenge the shooter at every turn: report pair rabbit targets and hard crossers; true pairs coming from the left and right at different speeds; even a machine that threw mini targets at an angle directly over the top of the shooter’s head.
This wasn’t a course that was designed to stroke the egos of a group of gun writers. Rather, it was a course set up to test the handling and balance of Browning’s new guns. The Wicked Wing versions of the A5 and the Maxus handle exactly like the less-ornate versions of these guns, which is a good thing. I can’t decide whether I like the balance and feel of the Maxus or the A5 better (today, it’s the Maxus, but check back later to see if I’ve changed my mind).
I personally believe a shotgun’s balance and handling characteristics are far more important to successful waterfowl shooting than most hunters imagine. Consider for a moment the shot angles and presentations you’ll encounter in a single season in the blind—divers coming in just off the deck at low angles, dabblers arching overhead, teal bombing in from any and all directions, and much more. Good grief, what about trying to shoot from a layout blind? It’s not exactly like toeing the line at station 2 on a skeet field.
The Maxus and A5 are superbly balanced between the hands, and recoil is manageable, even with 3-inch loads in both guns (I know, because I shot a portion of the five-stand course with magnums). This is thanks, in part, to the overall design of the gun—but also because of the Inflex 2 Recoil pad. There is a lot of marketing hype behind the features found on many guns, but I can say that the Inflex 2 pad lives up to its claims. I have Inflex recoil pads on my competition shotgun (a Browning Citori CXS), as well as a Winchester XPR in .300 WSM, and I’ve shot perhaps a dozen other guns equipped with the same pads over the last year or so.
The Inflex system is designed to not only cushion the shoulder against recoil, but to also help direct the force of recoil down into the shoulder and away from the face. Having a hard polymer comb jab you in the cheek with every pull of the trigger is not conducive to first-rate accuracy.
Another feature that is often overlooked in the evaluation of a new shotgun is the quality of the trigger. Rifle shooters are extremely particular about the feel of the triggers in their guns, but many shotgunners don’t evaluate the quality of the trigger in their guns (the primary exception being competitive clay shooters).
A heavy, creepy, sloppy trigger in a scattergun can cause you to miss, so it’s worth noting that both of these shotguns come with good triggers. The Maxus gets Browning’s Lightning Trigger, which has an ultra-fast lock time (5.2 milliseconds) to reduce lag time and improve accuracy. Both of the guns tested operated perfectly well with all the loads in the test, and the addition of the Speed Load feature really is handy. When either gun runs dry, you simply feed that first shell into the tube, the shell is chambered, and the gun is ready to fire.
“The new Wicked Wing line of firearms from Browning comprises the coolest waterfowl guns to come along in years.”
The Dura Touch coating is also a very nice feature that shouldn’t be overlooked. It’s easy to grip—tacky but not sticky—and it keeps your hand planted on the gun. That’s a feature you especially appreciate when it’s the dead of winter and you’re trying to erupt from a coffin blind to take a shot while wearing gloves that are wet and slick. There’s no question that waterfowl hunters will jump on the Wicked Wing guns; in fact, they already have.
And the enthusiasm around these guns is understandable. Browning took two of the most popular autoloading guns among duck and goose hunters and gave those guns the coolest (“wickedest,” you might say) treatment imaginable. Browning collectors will also be standing in line to own one of these guns. But the most telling conversation I had about these new shotguns came from a friend who saw some of my photos from the Castle Valley shoot and commented that he was buying a Wicked Wing Maxus with a Mossy Oak Bottomland camo stock. “You don’t even hunt waterfowl, though,” I said. “Who cares?” he replied. “Have you seen those guns?”
ACTION: Recoil-operated semiauto
CHAMBER: 3, 3½ inches
CAPACITY: 4 (2¾-inch shells)
FINISH: Cerakote Burnt Bronze
STOCK: Synthetic with Dura Touch; four camo options
LENGTH: 475/8 to 515/8 inches
WEIGHT: 7 pounds, 3 ounces to 7 pounds, 7 ounces
BARREL LENGTHS: 26, 28, 30 inches
ACTION: Gas-operated semiauto
CHAMBER: 3, 3½ inches
CAPACITY: 4 (2¾-inch shells)
FINISH: Cerakote Burnt Bronze
STOCK: Synthetic with Dura Touch; three camo options
LENGTH: 47¼ to 49¼ inches
WEIGHT: 7 pounds, 0 ounces to 7 pounds, 2 ounces
BARREL LENGTHS: 26, 28 inches
Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in the November 2017 print issue of Gun World Magazine.