By Adam Heggenstaller, American Hunter
The obvious allure of a semi-automatic 12-gauge chambered for 3½-inch shells is you can use it for anything that flies—and a lot of stuff that runs, too. This is an important point to exalt when justifying the purchase of said semi-auto, which may come with a price tag that’s all too easy to round up to two grand (“… but this should be the last shotgun I’ll ever need …”). Browning is one manufacturer that supports this notion with its Maxus All Purpose Hunter. Not only does the shotgun’s name ring of versatility, but the features of this 12-gauge stretch its utility across multiple seasons.
It’s been nearly a decade since Browning introduced the Maxus, and since then the company has offered its flagship in two dozen variations. Most have differed in stock and metal finish, and barrel length. All have contained Browning’s Power Drive gas operating system, which is the very reason for the shotgun’s existence. When Browning realized 10 years ago it could improve on its Gold shotgun’s Active Valve system, it designed a whole new 12-gauge platform to showcase Power Drive technology. Shortly thereafter, the move earned Browning and the Maxus our Golden Bullseye Award for Shotgun of the Year in 2010.
The Maxus continues to owe its success to the Power Drive system, and its reliability—particularly with 2¾-inch, 1-ounce loads—is perhaps nowhere as applicable and as appreciated as in the All Purpose Hunter configuration. The dirty little secret of some 3½-inch 12-gauge guns is they don’t really cycle all loads equally well. It’s usually the light loads, which produce less propellant gas than standard and magnum loads, that cause hang-ups. They don’t generate enough “push” to move the piston and operating rod assembly with adequate force to drive the bolt fully rearward, thereby ensuring extraction, ejection and the proper timing needed to chamber the next round. The Power Drive system in the Maxus has an elastomeric seal inside the piston to capture additional gas from light loads, which the operating rod then harnesses for a 20 percent longer stroke. This ensures the necessary bolt travel for reliable cycling. In the case of heavier loads, larger gas ports in the piston expel excess gas more quickly, which makes cycling magnum rounds easier on both the gun and the shooter.
If you plan to use the Maxus solely for turkeys and waterfowl, its reliability with light loads will be of no concern and instead you will likely extol the virtues of its Inflex recoil pad, which Browning says significantly reduces felt recoil and muzzle jump when compared to competing semi-autos. Realize, however, you will not be getting your money’s worth out of the shotgun. The All Purpose Hunter will serve just as well on quick, little birds like grouse and dove. It’s remarkably nimble; most hunters I handed the Maxus to commented on this immediately and were surprised to learn it was a 3½-inch gun. It certainly doesn’t handle like one, thanks to a slim aluminum-alloy receiver and a 26-inch barrel, which brings the weight of the All Purpose Hunter down to about 7 pounds.
A shotgun’s handling qualities are mainly based on subjective assessments, but one aspect of the Maxus that is measureable is a slim fore-end that certainly aids in balance. Unloaded, the All Purpose Hunter balances at the junction of the fore-end and receiver; shells in the magazine tube shift that balance slightly forward of course, but the gun still feels lively and responsive.
The fore-end attaches with what Browning calls Speed Lock, a built-in push-button/lever mechanism toward the front of the fore-end that does away with the conventional magazine cap. Integral to the Speed Lock lever is a portion of the front sling-swivel stud, which pivots to the closed position when the lever locks the fore-end to the magazine tube. The design is streamlined but has one potential drawback: the sling-swivel stud is recessed into a pocket, which may not provide enough clearance for the buckles on some slings. Removing the fore-end exposes Browning’s Turnkey magazine plug. Like its name suggests, simply insert the tip of any key into a slot in the plug accessed through the end of the magazine tube, give it a quarter-turn, and withdraw the polymer plug.
The All Purpose Hunter retains a few Browning staples that waterfowlers and upland devotees alike have come to appreciate. Located toward the front of the receiver’s left side, the magazine-cutoff lever is easy to access and intuitive to operate (“forward to feed, back to block”). The Speed Load feature automatically chambers the first round pushed into the magazine tube when the bolt is locked back. In the Maxus, Speed Load becomes Speed Load Plus, meaning shells are unloaded from the magazine tube simply by pressing a tab to unblock their passage rather than cycling them through the action by manipulating the bolt.
In addition, the synthetic stock of the All Purpose Hunter is coated in Browning’s Dura-Touch armor treatment, making the hard polymer surface feel almost cushioned while improving grip. The treatment is applied with a Mossy Oak Break-Up Country pattern, which matches the finish on the barrel and receiver.
To maximize its versatility, the All Purpose Hunter comes with two sight setups: the typical front brass bead and a fiber-optic set from HiViz that attaches to the barrel’s ventilated rib (and is removable). Some shotgun hunts—turkeys, predators, deer—require aiming, and the orange HiViz rod that serves as the front sight is easy to align with the elevation-adjustable rear notch, bracketed by green elements, in all lighting conditions. Furthermore, Browning includes six shims with the shotgun to adjust drop at comb and heel, and cast. Length of pull can also be adjusted by adding spacers (not included) in front of the recoil pad. The All Purpose Hunter accounts not only for different game species, but also different shooters with different body types, shooting styles and even dress.
Over the past year I’ve taken the Maxus All Purpose Hunter along while calling turkeys and coyotes, hiking the hills for grouse and squirrels, and even sitting in a blind for whitetails. During that time it has cycled loads containing 1 ounce to 2¼ ounces of shot, plus 1-ounce slugs. Only two shells did it fail to cycle—and that was its first time out of the box with light target loads. Whether shooting dove loads or duck loads, patterns were even and centered slightly above my point of aim. Magnum turkey and predator loads, along with rifled slugs, were easy to zero thanks to the adjustable HiViz sights. The shotgun was easy to carry, quick to point and reliable in all kinds of weather. That’s the kind of performance hunters seek in any season.
• Type: gas-operated semi-automatic shotgun
• Gauge/Chamber: 12/3½″
• Barrel: 26″; vent rib; threaded for Invector-Plus choke tubes
• Sights: brass bead front sight; HiViz fiber-optic front and rear
• Magazine Capacity: 4, 2¾″ shells
• Trigger: 6.25-lb. pull weight
• Safety: cross-bolt
• Stock: synthetic w/Dura-Touch treatment, Mossy Oak Break-Up Country finish; LOP 14¼″; drop at comb 1¼″; drop at heel 2″
• Metal Finish: Mossy Oak Break-Up Country
• Overall Length: 47.25″
• Weight: 7 lbs.
• Accessories: 4 Invector-Plus choke tubes (IC, M, F, EF) and wrench; 6 stock shims for adjusting drop and cast
• MSRP: $1,739.99; browning.com