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Browning T-Bolt

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.

Spring fever

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.

Testing times

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…

We reckon:
• Excellent straight-pull alternative
• Good feed system
• Watch that bolt handle

Technical Specifications
Name Browning T-Bolt Sporter
Calibre 22 LR (on test)
Capacity 10 (DM)
Action straight-pull
Barrel 22”
Threaded ½ x 20” UNF
Weight 4lbs 14 oz
Stock walnut
Price £595
Spare magazine £40

All Prices Are Guides Due to the Changes in US & European Exchange Rates

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User Comments
  • was given a shot of one of these at the rifle club at 25 metres put the full 10 rounds through 2 holes on the target very accurate,light andc easy to use this gives me a dillema the browning or the cz when i apply for my section 1 licence

    Comment by: sam     Posted on: 24 Oct 2009 at 04:08 PM

  • Both good rifles no doubt. The 10-shot, flush fit mag and fast action gets my vote, as I have a T-BOLT cut to 16" and it's no problem head-shooting rabbits at 90-yards.

    The CZ 425 is more basic, but in terms of doing the job is equally as efficient and you can get a 10-shot stick mag for it too. Price is perhaps the decider as the T-BOLT will be more expensive by around £100.

    It's your call... I;ve already made mine!

    PM

    Comment by: pete moore     Posted on: 24 Oct 2009 at 05:24 PM

  • I'm on the other side of the Atlantic and I have to say that I feel sorry for how you guys have to deal with all of the gun laws, but I have a T-bolt and after shooting the cz, I don't think there is really a comparison here. I shot both, but I went with the T-bolt because of accuracy and the way it feels when you put it to your shoulder. It just has something about it when you pick it up and put it to your shoulder. I know this is a personal feeling but, you should definitely test alll of your options out there and see what feels best. For a rifle that you will keep for many years and then pass on to your kids, price should not be a big deal when it comes to quality gun.

    I can say that the browning is definitely a tack driver. I can't tell you how many thousands of rounds I have gone through and how many varmints are gone thanks to this little rifle. I consistently get sub moa groups, if I'm on my game, the rifle will pull 1/2" groups at 100yds with 40g's.

    I have the 22lr version in the standard wood with a Nikon 3x9 40, and I love this little gun.

    Comment by: N     Posted on: 03 Dec 2009 at 05:13 PM

  • No arguments from me on that one. The T-Bolt is a cracking little rifle - quick, pointable, slick action and accurate. I'm expecting the 17HMR version soon for testing and will be keen to see how it stacks up against my Ruger 77/17 All-Weather, which is another serious performer.

    PM

    Comment by: pete moore     Posted on: 03 Dec 2009 at 05:44 PM

  • Hi Pate, Just something that I think would be a good addition to the site, if you were to put a link to a page where all the videos can be accessed that would make viewing them much easier, especially if you end up doing more.

    Cheers and thanks for the mag!
    DB

    Comment by: Dane Brewer     Posted on: 17 Dec 2009 at 11:42 AM

  • Like the idea of a T-bolt in .22 but want a 16" barrel. Is there anywhere that will stock one or modify it for me?

    Comment by: Bill Beaumont     Posted on: 09 Jan 2010 at 07:07 PM

  • Bill

    Any competent gunsmith should be able to cut & re-thread the barrel for you. With re-proofing expect to pay £70-100 depending. Best bet is to go to your local gunshop and ask them to order a T-BOLT from the importers BWM Arms Ltd.

    The T-BOLT is a superb little rifle with high accuracy potential. I have one, which was cut-down to 16", which is a practical length for just about any use, with no loss of velocity etc.

    A word of warning though on getting the barrel cut. Not everyone who says they are a gunsmith is and I have seen some horrible cut/re-thread jobs that left the rifle totally inaccurate. With the shop saying it was not them but the rifle and the importers refusing to sort it out under warranty due to the fact it's no longer factory spec.

    If you trust your shop fine, if not I would suggest, take the gun as it comes (22") and shoot it for group and keep the target signed and dated by a reliable witness. This will show what it's capable of, so if it doesn't do it after the modification then you know who to blame...

    Good luck
    PM

    Comment by: pete moore     Posted on: 11 Jan 2010 at 11:02 AM

  • Hey mate whats the thing on end of your barrel. I want to see if its legal where I am...doubt it though,
    Cheers mate

    Comment by: Scott     Posted on: 23 Mar 2012 at 03:32 PM

  • I used two moderators an SAK rimfire/airgun from Jackson Rifles and a Wildcat Growler, which was the first rimfire, reflex can ever made in the UK.

    Comment by: pete moore     Posted on: 26 Mar 2012 at 11:08 AM

  • Are there any bad things about the t bolt except for the bolt that was mentioned in this review? Thanks

    Comment by: Sam     Posted on: 16 Jul 2012 at 07:43 AM

  • Hi Pete,

    Great review on the T-Bolt, just a quick question!! ive been trying to find out were i cant get the jager arms silencer!! any recomendations on contacts!! also would like to know what brand cheek piece your using there!!

    Thanks,

    Lee

    Comment by: Lee Tonks     Posted on: 21 May 2013 at 04:20 PM

  • Thanks it's a great little rifle. I have not heard from Jager Arms for a long time and am not sure if they are still in business. If you want a good alternative then speak to Third Eye Tactical as they make a reflex rimfire can called the O/B (over barrel). I have just tested it for the July issue of Shooting Sports and it's good.

    The cheekpiece is an Eagle Shooters Stock Pack, which are distributed by Riflecraft, a most practical accessory indeed.

    Cheers
    PM

    Comment by: PC moore     Posted on: 21 May 2013 at 04:29 PM

  • Thanks for the Reply Pete, that is a great help, i will check them out soon as!!

    thanks,
    Lee

    Comment by: Lee Tonks     Posted on: 21 May 2013 at 04:34 PM

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