The Big Guns

What’s the overall story in the gun trade right now? Perhaps one of recovery – consumers having a bit more disposable income as they recover from recession, showing taste in slightly higher-priced guns and accessories once again. As one of the biggest gun brands of all, Browning is at the forefront of that growth – driving it as well as reaping its benefits. So what next for such a bellwether brand? The company’s European press event, on a private estate in Sologne, France, showed that Browning doesn’t want to rest on its laurels. It wants to set the agenda for both product development and marketing, while showing appreciation to those hunters and shooters who put all their spare time and money in the sport.

First off, it turned the standard press-event format on its head. It was more about practical experience than anything else. Each product presentation was prefixed with, “I’ll keep this as short as possible so we can get on with actually shooting the guns… ” – and that wasn’t an empty promise either. At one point during a test on a running-boar range, Browning’s press manager Adrien Koutny emerged holding as many boxes of rifle cartridges as he could carry. “I’ve found a few thousand rounds,” he said, “and I’ve been told we can’t take them home. So you’d better get using them up.”

The continental setting meant BAR semi-automatic centrefires were available

OK, it might have been a staged event, but the semi-auto BAR rifle certainly helped make quick work of the rounds, and in any case, the journos weren’t exactly complaining. “We shot quite a lot – that was the purpose of the trip,” explained product manager, Lionel Neuville. “It’s better to get people to try the guns than to give a long speech about them. We wanted people to give the guns a tough time, to really learn how they handle and how they shoot.” With extended trigger time, the assembled journalists could forget about the context of a press event and actually get to know the guns and optics. And on that note…

Kite takes off

For the first time ever, the biggest thing on the Browning block is not a shotgun or a rifle. Instead, it’s the Kite optics brand, which Browning now works in close association with. Kite is a previously existing company. It’s been going in some form since 1955, though it only started producing observation gear in 1992 and made its first scope in 2015. But this is far more than just a distribution deal Browning has signed. It’ll have a significant say in product development and marketing plans. Best of all, it will be using its considerable might to keep prices reasonable and ensure after-market service is speedy and cost-effective.

“This is a brand that’s going to be built on service,” said Ghislain de Liederkerke, Browning’s programme manager in charge of optics. “We’re endeavouring to repair any scope or pair of binos and have it back with the user with two to three weeks – at a maximum cost of 100 euros.

“What’s more, the scopes themselves are excellent value, offering top-notch optical quality at a mid-range price. Kite is a ‘no nonsense’ brand. We refrain from adding extra bells, whistles and accessories that would drive the price up without improving core performance.” Kite’s flagship scope, the KSP HD2, is set to retail around £1,100, with specifications including 1-6×24, 1.6-10×42, 2-12×50 and 2.5-15×56.

So why work with this brand instead of just setting up Browning Optics? “We don’t have experts optics on board already,” Ghislain said. “We’ve been making rifles and shotguns for years – that’s where our expertise lies. Meanwhile, the guys at Kite had the optics knowledge but no experience in hunting.

“So we can help each other – we can bring both our experience together to create products that fit the needs of the hunter.”

And the guns?

GTN’s editor decides he hasn’t tested the chassis X Bolt enough yet

As for Browning itself, the big success story has been the semi-custom B15 model, part of the newly rebranded John M Browning collection. That’s a success Britain has played a central part in, as Lionel explained: “We’ve been amazed by the uptake of the B15. We still have guns on back order from last year.

“Britain was the biggest country of all in terms of orders. We had people buying them over the phone without even seeing the guns!” That’s something Browning clearly wants to capitalise on – a 20-bore B15 is due at the end of June.

Meanwhile, the rifle side sees the addition of new X Bolt models this year, including a chassis model and Macmillan-stocked version. Several of the attendees quoted the Macmillan X Bolt as their favourite gun of the entire showcase, particularly praising its stability and controlled recoil – though the rifle tested was a feisty .300 Win Mag, it returned to the point of aim almost immediately on a shot with very little perceivable ‘flip’.

Raniero Testa loads up for another rally of trick shots

Winchester is the final part of the puzzle: a huge brand name in its own right. It’s owned by Olin as opposed to Browning, but once again Browning have more than just a distribution deal in place. They control all the product management for Winchester rifles and shotguns.

It’s a budget brand, in contrast to the mid-range shotguns making up the core of the Browning stable, but Browning’s clearly itching to bring a lot more innovation to this price point. The newest addition to the brand – the SX4 semi-auto – can by all accounts compete with guns far higher up the price ladder when it comes to reliability and speed of cycling. On hand to demonstrate this was Raniero Testa, Winchester’s resident trick shooter, who left us in no doubt as to its capabilities by demolishing up to nine hand-thrown clays in one salvo from his own SX4, then repeating the trick blindfolded. Well, if you can’t show off at an international press gathering, when can you…

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