Classic Browning ‘Light Twelve’ Auto-5 Review: Busting Clays With the Old Humpback Shotgun
Firearms don’t get much more iconic than John Moses Browning’s legendary Auto-5 semi-auto shotgun, affectionately called the “Humpback” for its distinctive drop at the rear of the receiver. It’s often stated that Browning himself considered the design one of his “greatest” achievements, but how does this old classic stand up to today’s modern hunting semi-auto scatterguns?
Well, spoiler, but Browning was kind of a genius, and his design has over 100 years of successful hunting and clay-busting experience in the hands of shotgunners across the globe to prove it. I pulled an old Light Twelve Auto-5 from the Guns.com Vault to see for myself just how well his design has stood the test of time. Here’s what I found.
It's hard to talk about the Auto-5 – or A5 or Automatic 5 – without dipping into the well of history a bit. Browning designed the Auto-5 in 1898. In 1900, he filed his 14-page patent for a recoil-operated firearm (Patent No. 659,507) that detailed an ingenious but hardy semi-auto shotgun operating system – then called an automatic – that proved to be robust and reliable.
If there was any need to test that claim, it would be the fact that the design has seen over a century of service in hunting fields, not to mention a brief wartime stint between 1944 and 1945 when production was largely limited to servicemen.
In effect, Browning had created the first reliable and mass-producible, recoil-operated semi-auto shotgun. The next question was how to get it made. If the stories are to be believed, he first brought his new design to Winchester – a regular user of Browning’s designs – but they refused.
He then headed to Remington, but fate stepped in when the president of the company died of a heart attack as Browning waited to present his design. Hence, Browning headed off to Fabrique Nationale Herstal (FN) in Belgium, which proved to be a fateful decision. Production began in 1902 in Belgium, though both Savage and Remington realized the value of the design and later produced their own variants.
Our Light Twelve
Shotguns weren’t my first love when it came to old firearms, but the old Humpback was probably the first shotgun I could reliably name when staring at the gun rack in the back of my local sporting goods store as a kid. The gun has a look, but that look has a function. It’s almost unappealing at first, but it grows on you.
This particular gun had us scratching our heads for a bit. It is marked as a “Light Twelve,” but then it had a serial number that seemed outside of the range of the standard Light Twelve line. Someone smarter than me is needed to place the gun in its best context, but it should be safe to say this scattergun is a post-WWII shotgun, and that is why the “Light Twelve” made it in on the receiver.
Regardless, the gun has some shooting chops even when compared to modern shotguns today. The weight is on the heavier side, despite the Light Twelve designation, but the shotgun swings fast and aims well on even fast low-flying clays. I had it out with a Benelli Super Black Eagle 3 that shot great. But my personal choice would have been the old Auto-5.
The Light Twelve was basically a lighter version of the standard Auto-5 and came into production after World War II. Ours bears “made in Belgium” on the barrel with the corresponding proof marks. While Browning has a host of new A5 shotguns on the market these days, this old classic can still hold its own, and you can snag one at a fairly budget-friendly price.
Surprisingly, original-design Auto-5s are not uncommon guests in the Guns.com Certified Used warehouse, despite their age and long-since-ended production run. This Light Twelve is wieldy, shoulders fast, and feels solid in the hands. I’ve been on a shotgun kick recently, but between 12-gauge pump-action affairs, tactical bullpups, and even a 12+1 Snow Goose gun, I have to admit I enjoyed shooting this all-steel Auto-5 the most.
Specs & Features
It’s almost impossible to miss the “hump” feature on the classic Auto-5, but after shooting the gun, it feels like it’s not worth mentioning. My first thought was that the dramatic angle would impact my line of sight when shooting, but the darn thing defies logic and lines up quick, easy, and naturally. Instead, I find the furniture stands out for me on the Auto-5 family even in the modern sea of polymer molds.
Frankly, the checkering on these old wood stocks and foregrips are more positive over half a century later than your standard fiber/polymer replacements that dominate the market today. The gun feels great in the hand and swings naturally. There are plenty of options these days. The Auto-5 was meant to be a working man’s semi-auto hunter, but it has a level of class that is hard to deny.
I got excited enough to break down this gun into some more specifics:
Trigger Pull: 3.2 pounds
Weight With Sling: 8.4 pounds
Total Length: 49 inches
Barrel: 28.5 inches
Slight Right-Hand Cast (Off): Could be warp from age
Chamber: 2.75 inches
Fixed Choke: Appears to be full
Forward Pitch: 2.5 inches
Drop at Comb: 1.75 inches
Drop at Heel: 2.4 inches
LOP Center: 14.375 inches
LOP Heel: 14.75
LOP Toe: 14.75
I’ve shot some nice wing-shooting guns recently that were lighter and faster, but I am impressed by the overall performance of the Auto-5.
The gun shoulders remarkably well, and it is a joy to wield on the range. Despite its age, the checkering on the stock and foregrip are very positive. More to the point, loading and unloading feel natural and require very little muscle memory.
I’ve carried heavier guns into the field, and I’ve taken some nice modern semi-auto shotguns from Mossberg and a Remington pump out for testing. But the controllability, recoil, and effective shooting of the Auto-5 is noticeable. The gun wants to shoot – and hit – just about anything you’re willing to bring it on as far as targets go.
The recoil is light, which is helped by the weight and the design. Plus, the capacity of five rounds in a gun designed over a century ago is plenty for most purposes.
Pros & Cons
It’s not all roses, and the gun does take a bit more attention to fully take it down for disassembly, with extra care to oil and maintain the old metal parts. But Browning’s original still shoots and feels like a modern gun. It’s fun, and if you haven’t tried one, you should.
Here are my top pros and cons.
Undeniably classic design with a mechanical feel while shooting
Made by FN in Belgium, which is also classic
Over 100 years of hunting success
Nice checkering and grips
Available in 12, 16, and 20 gauges
Regular oiling/cleaning is good
I find it remarkable that the Auto-5 remains a relatively affordable semi-auto option these days. It shoots well, but it recoils light, and I find it to be remarkably easy to get on target despite its unique shape.
It is hard to keep the smile off your face when shooting a classic like the Auto-5. I am a fan of using some more heavy-hitting loads and swapping out my chokes for whatever game I’m chasing. This gun would take a full barrel change to do that, but it’s worth the experience.
I’m almost baffled by the fact it isn’t being made anymore, because I am quite confident there is a solid market for it today. Still, there is some solace in that Browning has an updated and less maintenance-heavy A5 today.