With the 22 rimfire rifles being by far the most popular calibre and gun type in the UK today, Pete Moore –revisits Browning’s unusual and efficient, straight-pull T-Bolt
I am looking again at the Browning T-Bolt for two reasons – first it’s a great design in its own right and one that offers probably the fastest action of any rimfire bolt-gun today. Second, 2009 looks to be the year that the 17 HMR (Hornady Magnum Rimfire) version will appear in the UK, so I thought I would remind readers about this slightly different design as it will soon be available in both of these popular and effective cartridges.
What sets the T-Bolt apart from any other hunting bolt-action available today is the fact it offers a straight-pull mechanism. So as opposed to lifting, pulling, pushing and lowering the handle in and out of battery; a simpler back and forward movement of the bolt ejects and reloads. OK we have semi-autos, which do it all for you; but personally when it comes to shooting rabbits and hares I’ll stick with manual operation thank you…
Fast and slick
Combine this fast and slick action stroke with the zero recoil characteristics of the 22 rimfire cartridge and you have a very good tool for running game with a fast and stable back-up shot available if required. The T-Bolt design has moved on a little with the 17HM2 (Hornady Mach 2) chambering no longer shown on Browning’s web site, so one must assume it has been discontinued. However, they now offer three model options Sporter (wood/blue) Composite Stalker (synthetic/blue) and the Target Varmint. This last is broken down into two versions – wood/blue and stainless laminate, here the stock shows a raised comb and the barrel profile is heavier.
Wisely Browning offer the rifle in both 17 HMR and also 22 Magnum (WMR) as well as 22 LR and more surprisingly have kept the ammunition capacity at 10-rounds. I say this as when Ruger offered their HMR and WMR guns they had to drop the payload to nine in the same magazine style.
Whilst at IWA 2008 I saw the 17 HMR, Composite Stalker version, which unsurprisingly looks no different, in terms of weight and length. However, its black synthetic stock did not feel as good as the standard walnut. But the picture I have recently seen show what looks to be a better design than the one I handled. Different is the spare magazine storage in the butt of the Composite Stalker, I have not tried it yet but there’s an awful lot of open space to get crud in if you decide to rest the butt plate on the ground.
My test gun was supplied by Browning International in Belgium and is the standard Sporter version, so was not threaded for a moderator, but UK importers BWM Arms Ltd offer the T-Bolt cut 1/2x20” UNF as standard.
Double helix mag
The build is 100% steel with the tubular action locking by means of a cross bolt that engages with the side walls of the receiver. This is actuated by pulling directly back on the angled bolt handle that sticks out at 90°, where the action slides open. To close just push the handle forward until it all locks up. This is a fast and slick movement that has to be tried to be appreciated.
Feed is from a rather curious double helix magazine, this consists of two feed drums one on top of the other in a transparent, synthetic casing, with the ammo stored in a Fig-8 configuration. Most useful is the loading aid that consists of a small, notched wheel, which is part of the top feed drum. It protrudes at the rear of the mag body and you can rotate it with your thumb to take the weight of the magazine spring when filling. Certainly a lot easier than cramming rounds into the more standard designs.
There’s a two-position safety on the tang - forward FIRE, rearwards SAFE. It can only be set with the action cocked and does not lock the bolt, which as I discovered can be a bit of an issue for carriage. At the rear of the bolt channel at 6 o’clock is a cocked action indicator lug, which is also the bolt release catch.
With the action cocked this lug sits up and can be seen and felt, when the gun is fired it drops down. To remove the bolt cock and close the bolt and set the safety to SAFE. In this position open the action about 1/8-1/4” - no further - and press down on the catch, at the same time pulling the bolt out.
The trigger is a smooth and wide, gold-plated blade set in a plastic guard. It offers a reasonable pull of around 4lbs with just a tiny bit of creep, but a decent break none the less. The magazine release catch is at the front of the well and consists of a pull-back lever. A word of warning here; the magazine is forced out by a spring and exits at high speed, so be aware and cup your hand underneath so you don’t lose it.
The barrel, for a 22 rimfire shows a medium profile and is fully floated right up to the action, though the amount of clearance is not massive, but typically that makes no difference to performance in this calibre. At 22” it’s not exactly short, certainly in a country where we consider 20” long. It has a deep, target crown and what Browning describes as a semi-Match chamber, which strikes me as an odd description, as it either is or is not.
The walnut stock is simple with a low straight comb and wide and generous pistol grip. There is chequering in the usual places, which is deep enough to offer a decent hold. The butt plate is plastic, though rubber would have been better to lock it into the shoulder securely. QD sling studs are fitted fore and aft, with length of pull at a decent 13 ½”. I did find the forend a bit short for me and I was naturally holding on to its tip to get a comfortable position. At 40” overall with a weight of 4 lbs 14oz the T-Bolt Sporter comes up as a generally nice rifle. The Varmint Target is near identical with the exception of the raised comb and the fact the heavier barrel though still 22” adds another 10oz to the overall package. Whereas the Composite Stalker is lightest of all at 4lbs 9oz. No version has iron sights and the receiver is drilled and tapped for 1” dovetail bases.
Ammo consisted of Winchester 22 sub-sonic, which is a 40-grain hollow point load and one I like as it has a big, bucket nose, which is ideal for bunny busting. I decided to fit the rifle with a Schmidt & Bender 1.5-6x42 Zenith scope. A strange choice you might think as this is really a driven and dangerous game scope. But the maximum mag of x6 suits a 22 rimfire, plus with its illuminated reticule and lowest x1.5 power would hopefully prove effective on close range rabbits. In this way I could test the T-Bolt’s fast cycling potential and also at the same time see how the S&B did on mini moving game; especially as we do not have an abundance of wild boar queuing up to be shot with a fullbore here in the UK.
The pairing proved highly effective – at x6 the Schmidt’s superb optics showed me the T-Bolt is ½” capable at 50 yards supported, and even at that medium power can reach out to 100 yards with care and attention to hold over to kill effectively.
Likewise the straight-pull action offers far less disturbance to the firing position, so maintaining the rifle on target and rattling off a string of fast shots is easier than with the same shooter using a turn-bolt gun. Magazine changes are good with the empty powering into your hand and the full one easily entering the well and securely engaging without any fiddling or having to clip one end in first.
Minus 1 house point
However, the one niggle I have is that though the bolt is mechanically locked to the action it can happen that you inadvertently knock the bolt lever, which will open up on a loaded chamber. This could occur when moving through heavy cover or even presenting the rifle from the door of a vehicle. This did not happen to me, as I was aware, but it’s a possibility to be considered.
That aside I really like the T-Bolt as it has a lot going for it – it’s light and easy to use, accurate and shows a fast and reliable action for what is a manually operated system. With a decent capacity in a flush-fitting design that’s easy to fill feed is not an issue as it can be with other makes.
Suffice to say if you are looking for an alternative bolt-action rimfire then the Browning T-Bolt certainly fills the bill. Currently in the UK you can only buy the 22, wood-stocked Sporter and I have been told by BWM Arms that when the 17HMR version comes in it will only be available in the Composite Stalker model. Given the choice of options this might change if demand grows…
• Excellent straight-pull alternative
• Good feed system
• Watch that bolt handle
|Name||Browning T-Bolt Sporter|
|Calibre||22 LR (on test)|
|Threaded||½ x 20” UNF|
|Weight||4lbs 14 oz|
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