Shotgun Review: Browning BPS | Field & Stream


Pump guns, like the Browning BPS, remain a favorite of those waterfowl hunters who value reliability over all else. Pumps keep on shooting when semiautos fail. They aren’t finicky about what ammo they will cycle, either, since they are hand-powered. And, pumps are tough. If someone talks about using a shotgun for an emergency canoe paddle, or as a boat gun, or as a backup in case their main gun goes down, chances are they are talking about a pump gun.

Browning’s entry into the pump market dates back to 1977, when the BPS was introduced. From the start, the BPS was positioned at the higher end of its segment. Even by the standards of its time, when guns were better fit-and-finished than they are now, the BPS stood out from the competition for the quality of its workmanship. It had cut checkering where the 870 Wingmaster had a machine-pressed design, and it had a milled steel receiver in contrast to the alloy receivers of the Mossberg 500 and others. It still stands out from the competition today.

What the BPS did not have was an ejection port on the side. It was a bottom-eject model, inspired by John Browning’s original design for the Remington Model 17. Ithaca copied the Model 17 when its patent expired, using it as the template for the great Model 37. Bottom-eject pumps drop empties at the shooter’s feet, instead of tossing them out the right side of the receiver, which makes them popular with many left-handed shooters as well as those who believe that having one port instead of two helps keep debris out of the gun. Originally introduced in 12 gauge, the BPS has been made in all gauges from 10 to .410, and there have been dedicated slug, turkey, and trap models as well and it continues to be made in walnut, synthetic and camo models.

One of the hunters on our test of the best duck hunting shotguns brought his father’s older BPS along on our waterfowl gun test to see how it compared to the current crop of pumps and semiautos.

Nuts and Bolts of the Browning BPS

Browning BPS Specs:

  • Gauge: 10, 12, 3 ½-inch 12 (tested), 20, 28, and .410
  • Action: Bottom-ejecting pump
  • Capacity: 4+1 (less with 3 ½-inch shells)
  • Chokes: Invector Plus IC, M and F
  • Barrel: 26 or 28 inches (tested) , 26 inches only in .410
  • Finish: Blued steel and walnut (tested), synthetic black, and camo
  • Length: 49.5 inches
  • Length of Pull:  14.4 inches
  • Trigger Pull: 7 pounds
  • Overall Weight: 7 to 9 pounds depending on gauge

As a bottom-ejecting gun, the BPS also loads from the bottom. There’s a single port milled into the bottom of the receiver, leaving both sides uncluttered by any cutout. Like most modern pump guns, the BPS has twin action bars connecting the bolt to the forend to prevent them from twisting or binding. The forend has a cutout in the bottom at the back to allow the empty hull to eject.

There’s also a thumb safety on top of the receiver which is equally usable by right and left-handed shooters. That safety, combined with the bottom ejection, makes the BPS a truly ambidextrous design. Some early guns had a magazine cutoff switch that disconnected the carrier so it wouldn’t lift the next shell in case you wanted to switch the loads in the chamber.

Unlike most pumps that have a solid lifter, the BPS carrier is a fork that lifts the shell up so it goes into the chamber when the bolt closes and it remains up as the unfired shell is ejected, then drops down to receive the next shell from the magazine. The BPS barrel has a long, slightly high-post vent rib that slopes to the muzzle. A rib extension runs back onto the receiver, giving the gun a longer sighting plane.

How We Tested the BPS

We took the BPS teal hunting in the mornings and shot targets with it in the afternoon at the Pintail Hunting Club’s clays range. After testing the gun for both point of impact and patterning it at 35 yards we weighed it, measured it, and checked the trigger pull. Our test gun shot to point of aim, and made an 82-percent pattern at 35 yards with a Modified choke and Federal 1 ¼-ounce Speed-Shok loads of steel 2 shot. The pattern was almost too tight, with most of the pellets clustered in the center 20 inches of the paper. But pattern efficiency is a good problem to have. A different load or smaller shot would open the spread some for over-decoy shooting, as would an Improved Cylinder choke and you could be confident the BPS would shoot tight patterns at long range if you needed it to.

patterning sheet for browning bps shotgun
We patterned the BPS at 35 yards. Stephen Maturen

The trigger broke at 7 pounds, which is a little heavy, although it was not a problem for me or other members of the test team. The test gun weighed all of 9 pounds, which requires an explanation: The earliest 3 ½-inch 12-gauge BPS guns were built on massive 10-gauge frames, the better to absorb recoil and to swing on long range targets. You can recognize the 10-gauge and early 3 ½-inch BPS guns by the magazine tube that extends slightly beyond the end of the forend. After a short time, Browning bowed to consumer demand and offered the 3 1/2-inch gun on a 12-gauge frame, reducing the overall weight by more a pound or more, resulting in a lighter, more versatile gun, albeit one that kicks harder with 3 ½-inch ammo.

How the Browning BPS Performed

Handling and Ergonomics

Heavy guns, so long as you’re strong or practiced enough to shoot them, are easy guns to hit with, and the recoil is mild. We had no trouble shooting the BPS. I have owned several different BPS guns over the years, and the standard 3-inch gun weighs closer to 7 ¾ pounds, and I always found that heft made it shootable. Even the small bores are on the heavy side, with the 20, 28 and .410 all weighing around 7 pounds.

As a left-hander, I should love the BPS and its ambidextrous design, yet I don’t. The top safety is great in nice weather, or for upland hunting, but once it’s cold and my fingers get numb, I find it easier to push a cross-bolt safety like the button on an 870. Likewise, while many left-handers like the bottom-eject feature because it doesn’t throw empties in their line of vision. That never bothered me, but the bottom-eject does make loading the BPS a bit of a chore. You either have to thumb a shell into the magazine, then push the slide-release button and cycle the gun once, or you have to turn it upside down, push the slide all the back, push it forward slightly to raise the carrier, then push a shell into the chamber. The loading procedure isn’t bad in the field, but it is a pain at the range for trap and skeet.

Finally, bottom-eject guns like the BPS and the Ithaca 37 need to have either shorter forends or have them located farther from the receiver so that when you work the action, the forend doesn’t interfere with the empty hull coming out the bottom. You have to reach forward and it feels like you have to take a longer stroke to cycle the gun. I am slightly taller than average, but the BPS always makes me feel like I have short arms when I pump one.

Workmanship and Aesthetics

Browning guns have a reputation for fit and finish, and our gun, built in the 1990s, was a well-made, good-looking gun. Wood-to-metal fit, the gloss varnish, the cut checkering, and the deep blue steel were very well executed. Granted, waterfowlers don’t want shiny guns these days (although I hunt with them all the time and birds don’t seem to mind), and the new wood-stocked BPS guns have a satin wood varnish. Browning guns today don’t achieve the same level of fit and finish that our gun did, but that’s true of almost every manufacturer’s guns.

That said, the BPS is still a quality pump gun, built to look good and made to last. It’s a gun that will give you both pride of ownership and faithful service.

Versatility

A solidly-built pump gun has plenty of uses. I hunted waterfowl with the BPS I owned the longest—a 3-inch, walnut stocked 12 gauge. I hunted pheasants with it from time to time, and used it for turkeys and doves. I put aftermarket iron sights on the rib and hunted deer with it, too. I also shot a 20-gauge BPS at ducks and upland birds for a while. In any gauge, the BPS is a nice gun to have handy for guests, as the BPS is equally suited to left- and right-handed shooters. Although there was a trap model, I don’t like the BPS as a target gun because the bottom ejection makes it awkward to load for clays.

While the BPS is a good all-around gun, there are specific models for almost every hunting purpose. It’s one of only two production 10 gauges still made and it also comes in 12, 20, 28 and .410. Some 16 gauges have been made in special runs, too. The small-gauge guns are fairly heavy for small bores, but that makes them fun, light-kicking, easy-to-hit-with guns for doves or informal target shooting. I owned a 10 gauge for a while, too, and although I didn’t like the long pump stroke, the gun was otherwise heavy enough that recoil wasn’t a problem and I enjoyed shooting it.

Reliability

The BPS, like most pump guns, keeps on shooting in almost any conditions. We had no malfunctions of any kind with the BPS during our test, and in the years I shot the guns, I found them to be rugged and reliable. I once stumbled down a bank, pitching my BPS into a creek as I fell. I rinsed the clogged mud out of the barrel and receiver and shot a deer with it 30 minutes later. I did manage somehow to twist the action bars on another BPS, and until I had a gunsmith set them right, the gun became a little harder to cycle. On another occasion, I shot a BPS at snow geese in a windblown field where fine grit got into everything. My gun sounded like a coffee grinder by the end of the day but it still worked.

You will have to take your BPS apart to clean it, of course, and there is a trick to putting the trigger group back in. You have to line up slots in the shell latches with a pin in the trigger group, or the gun won’t go back together. It’s frustrating until you learn the trick (there are plenty of videos on YouTube about it), and after that it’s no problem.

Value

Starting at $779 in black synthetic, the BPS is expensive for a pump. It can’t compete in price with the Mossberg 500, 835, or a Benelli Nova. But, it’s not made to compete with those guns. The Browning brand has always stood for well-made, well-finished guns, and that’s the BPS. The real comparison is with the Ithaca Model 37, which is an even higher-end pump. The Ithaca is a better-finished gun, as it should be with a starting price of almost $1,200. The BPS is also a gun that will function in any conditions, and if you are looking for a gun that combines the top safety and bottom-eject for true ambidextrous operation, it is the only gun fitting that description.

What the Browning BPS Does Best

The BPS excels in the duck blind, where its bottom ejection doesn’t flip empties at the person next to you, and the lack of a side-ejection port helps keep the inside of the gun free of debris. It’s a good choice for those o/u and side-by-side shooters who want a pump with the safety in the same place as their other guns, and it’s the only gun for anyone who wants a truly ambidextrous design. For those who still want a 10 gauge, it’s one of the only two made, and the only pump.  I like the BPS as a turkey gun, too, although it is not drilled and tapped for an optic.

What the Gun Does Worst

I have owned several Browning pumps—and I haven’t kept any of them. The bottom ejection means I have to take a longer hold on the gun than I prefer, and for that reason I find the guns awkward to cycle. Likewise, loading a bottom-eject gun, while no problem in the field, is also an awkward operation when you’re loading one or two at a time for targets. I like to be able to practice at clays with my field guns, and I’d much rather load a side-eject gun like an 870. As a left-hander I love the idea of a top-safety, bottom-eject gun and I appreciate Browning quality. But as much as I want to love the BPS, I don’t. Plenty of people do love them, though, and they are not wrong.

Final Thoughts

Despite my own quibbles with it, there is no question the BPS is a high-quality pump gun that has stood the test of time since its debut 45 years ago, and it has built a loyal fanbase. It makes a great choice for anyone who wants a truly ambidextrous design without stepping up to an o/u. The bottom-eject feature means loading the gun can be cumbersome to use for targets, but as a hunting gun, the BPS is in a category of its own, as a well-made and finished gun that right- and left-handers alike can shoot. You can get it in any gauge, including 16 if you look for it used, and it’s gun you’ll be proud to own it, for as long as it lasts, which will be much longer than you last.



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