In this showdown of upland-bird guns, we thought the pump-action Browning BPS’s workmanship and performance were worth the extra dollars.
The 28-gauge shotgun isn’t nearly as popular as 12- and 20-gauge scatterguns, but it does have a loyal following among experienced bird hunters who pursue mourning or whitewing doves, snipe, quail, woodcock, and grouse, and among small-game hunters who like rabbits and squirrels. However, the little 28 is underappreciated in the field-shooting community because of baggage it brings with it from the competition skeet fields.
“Many people believe the 28 is an expert’s gauge,” shooting instructor and expert wingshot Steve Schultz of Rochester, New York, says. “But that’s true only because so few people have ever shot and learned to love it. I would much rather teach shooters with a 28 than with a 12 or 20 gauge because recoil isn’t a factor, which allows you to concentrate on other aspects of the shot. But it’s generally not practical to buy a 28-gauge shotgun unless you have a dedicated use for it.”
Shotgun writer and wingshooter Bob Brister agrees that dropping down in gauge size can make the hunting experience more enjoyable, when the game and situation allow it. Brister, whose detached retinas don’t take kindly to recoil, says that most upland-bird shooting is more pleasurable and just as effective when using smaller gauges, such as the 28. “It’s not how much shot you throw up in the air,” Brister notes, “it’s where the shot goes that’s important. It’s not hard to understand that you’ll shoot better if you’re not being punished, so it makes sense to match the gauge to the game.”
Unlike most other gauges, the 28-gauge shotshell is available in only the 2 3/4-inch length. Though there are a few heavy field loads in this gauge that contain 7/8 to 1 ounce, standard ammunition is loaded with 3/4 ounce of shot. This is 1/4 ounce less shot than a 20-gauge shell and 3/8 ounce less than a standard 12-gauge shell of the same length. With the reduced powder load needed to drive the smaller shotcharge, the 28 is a much sweeter-shooting round than its two larger stablemates. Surprisingly, it also tends to pattern very efficiently. In fact, as far out as 35 yards, the 28 puts as much of its shot payload (on a percentage basis) into a 30-inch patterning circle as the 12 and 20 gauge. That’s a long of bang without a lot of buck.
Despite these positives, there are only two 28-gauge pump shotguns made in this country. They are downsized hunting versions of the Remington 870 Express and the Browning BPS. We recently acquired both of them for testing. In this head-to-head evaluation, our shooters put 100 rounds of commercial ammunition through each shotgun. Performance testing was done at a local skeet range. All firing, including patterning, was done outdoors on a warm (80 degrees) day with a mild, steady breeze. Here are the results of our examinations:
Remington 870 Express:
Remington’s 28-gauge pump shotgun is a member of the manufacturer’s Model 870 Express line. This no-frills shotgun features a hardwood stock, a steel receiver with side ejection, a four-shot tubular magazine, and a 25-inch barrel with a fixed choke. This type of choke is economical, but it limits the shotgun’s use. Suggested retail price of this model is $319.
Our shooters found the Model 870 Express to be the shorter, lighter, and more evenly balanced shotgun in this test. Shouldering was easy, though the butt plate was a bit slippery in spite of its checkered face. Target acquisition was very fast. But the swing stopped quickly unless the shooter consciously followed through when engaging flying targets.
The Model 870 Express’ sighting system consisted of a ventilated 241/2-inch-long by 1/4-inch-wide rib with a silver-colored front bead on the barrel and a shallow 51/2-inch-long by 3/16-inch-wide groove in the top of the receiver. The sighting plane had a non-reflective finish, instead of serrations, to prevent glare. Our shooters felt this arrangement provided a decent sighting reference.
Movement of the trigger was average for a shotgun, in our opinion. After a moderate amount of slack, it released cleanly at 41/2 pounds on our self-recording pull gauge. There was a lot of overtravel. We didn’t think the squared edges of the trigger’s ungrooved 3/16-inch-wide face were especially comfortable.
The straight comb afforded a fairly comfortable stockweld with a good view of the sighting plane. The 1.90-inch-wide forend and the 1.28-inch-wide pistol grip afforded sufficient gripping area. Although recoil was milder than that of a 20-gauge shotgun, this 28 gauge kicked harder than the BPS, in our estimation.
The gun’s steel parts had a uniform blue/black matte finish. The aluminum-alloy trigger guard had a rougher, sand-blasted black finish. Some superficial tool marks were noted on the interior of the receiver and barrel extension. The bolt locked solidly into the barrel. There was a moderate amount of side-to-side motion in the trigger, while other moving parts had little play.
This Remington’s two-piece stock was made of hardwood with a satin finish. Its pressed checkering was more cosmetic than functional. Some minor grinding marks were found on the sides of the black plastic butt plate, but it was evenly fitted. In stock-to-metal mating, there was a relatively small amount of play in the forend. However, the gap at the back of the trigger guard was much larger than was needed to facilitate the removal of the trigger assembly.
We thought the placement of this Remington’s controls was better for right-handed shooters than for left-handed ones. The manual safety, a crossbolt at the rear of the trigger guard, blocked the sear when pushed from the left to the right. Right-handed shooters could engage the safety with the thumb of their firing hand, and disengage it with their trigger finger. Southpaws had to engage the safety with their trigger finger, and disengage it with the thumb of their firing hand.
The action release was a large, flat lever at the left front of the trigger guard. Pushing the release up and to the rear unlocked the action when it was cocked. Shooters had to move their firing hand forward to manipulate the release.
No malfunctions occurred during firing. Action movement was fairly smooth, making the shotgun somewhat easier to pump than the Browning BPS, we thought. Inserting shotshells into the tubular magazine through the loading port in the underside of the receiver wasn’t a problem. The Model 870 Express utilized a solid-type shell carrier, which helped keep debris from entering the receiver through the loading port. Fired hulls were consistently throw out of the ejection port in the right side of the receiver and landed 3 to 4 feet from the shooter.
The barrel provided with this Remington had a fixed choke that was rated as Modified. Using Winchester Super-X (1 ounce) No. 71/2 and Remington Express Long Range (3/4 ounce) No. 6 shotshells, we obtained good well-distributed shot patterns.
Browning’s 28-gauge pump shotgun is a member of the manufacturer’s BPS line. This deluxe shotgun features a walnut stock, an engraved steel receiver with bottom ejection, a three-shot tubular magazine, and a 26- or 28-inch barrel. Three interchangeable Invector choke tubes are provided, allowing the shotgun to be used for a variety of hunting situations. It has a suggested retail price of $535. Due to this Browning’s greater length and heavier weight, it was the more muzzle-heavy shotgun of the test. Our shooters said shouldering was smooth and natural, and the buttplate wasn’t slippery. Target acquisition and swinging weren’t as fast as with the 870 Express, but following through on flying targets was easier, in our estimation.
The BPS we bought for this test came with a 28-inch barrel. For sighting, the shotgun had a ventilated 251/2-inch-long by 1/4-inch-wide barrel rib with a silver-colored bead on the front. It aligned with a ramped 2 7/8-inch-long rib extension and a groove on the top of the receiver. The sighting plane was serrated to prevent glare. In our opinion, this system provided a very good sighting reference.
Considering this Browning’s comparatively high price, we thought the movement of its trigger should have been better. The pull had a small amount of creep and released at a mushy 61/2 pounds with moderate overtravel. The gold-colored trigger’s ungrooved 3/8-inch-wide face was nicely rounded.
Externally, we thought the BPS’ metal work was very good. All steel parts had an evenly blued and highly polished finish, while the aluminum-alloy trigger guard had a similar, shiny-black finish. Some minor tool marks were noted on the top interior of the receiver. The bolt locked securely into the barrel. Moving parts had little or no play, we found.
This shotgun’s two-piece walnut stock had a high-gloss finish and skillfully cut checkering. Its black plastic butt plate was very slightly oversized on the right, but had no grinding marks or other shortcomings. There was more side-to-side play in the forend than on the Remington in this test, but the front of the buttstock was closely mated to the back of the receiver.
We found that the straight comb provided a comfortable stockweld with a very good view of the sighting plane. The larger 1.94-inch-wide forend and 1.39-inch-wide pistol grip were comfortably shaped, and their sharp checkering afforded a nonslip grasp.
In our opinion, this Browning’s controls could be manipulated by right- and left-handed shooters equally well. The manual safety, a two-position slide on the top rear of the receiver, blocked the sear when moved rearward to the engaged position. It was easily operated with the thumb of the firing hand.
The action release was a rounded lever at the left front of the trigger guard. Pushing the release up and to the rear unlocked the action when it was cocked. Shooters could manipulate the release with the appropriate thumb or finger by shifting the position of their firing hand. Both controls worked smoothly. Our BPS’s functioning was totally reliable. The action’s rearward movement was somewhat stiff because of a number of hitches, but its forward movement was smooth. The port in the underside of the receiver served as both the loading and ejection port. The BPS had a skeletonized shell carrier, which didn’t block debris from entering the receiver through the port. Inserting rounds into the magazine wasn’t difficult. Spent hulls were ejected downward at the shooter’s feet.
This Browning came with three screw-in Invector choke tubes, rated as Full, Modified, and Improved Cylinder, and a wrench. Each choke produced appropriate, uniform shot patterns with Winchester Super-X No. 71/2 and Remington Express Long Range No. 6 shotshells.
Guns, Gear & Game
• We thought the Browning BPS handled and performed as good as it looked. Some may consider it to be a bit expensive, but our shooters felt this 28-gauge shotgun was worth the money.
• The Remington Model 870 Express was well-made and fast handling, but it wasn’t up to the high standards set by the Browning pump gun. Unless you’re on a very tight budget, we think your dollars will be better spent on the BPS 28-gauge shotgun.