Browning T Bolt
By: Pete Moore
Pete Moore looks at the latest variant of Browning’s straight-pull T-Bolt rimfire and finds a good blend of precision and practicality
Since Browning launched their resurrected T-Bolt I have been a big fan. Readers might not know that this original, straight-pull rimfire was first introduced in 1965 but discontinued later. Looking quite different the re-vamped gun was back in 2006 with a new 10-shot double helix magazine in 22 Long Rifle. Not long after the first 22 WMR then 17HMR versions appeared.
As a fan of the 17HMR cartridge I was well impressed with these new rifles though thought the barrel a tad long and slim and the synthetic stocked version a bit flexible. My choice would have been the wood furniture, which is more stable. Over the years I have discovered by trial and error that the HMR does not need such a long barrel as I first assumed. This was brought home to me by CZ’s little 16.5” carbine, which gives very little away in terms of ballistics over a 20” tube. So little in fact the handling advantages near outweigh the minimal velocity/energy drop.
SHORT AND RIGID
At this year’s IWA show Browning were showing off yet another version of the T-Bolt, which to me seemed to address most of the questionable areas and also seemed more UK-specific. Called the Target/Varmint, the major differences were a 16.25” heavy barrel as opposed to the usual 22” version and also threaded ½ x 20 UNF. The stock is walnut and certainly more substantial than the black plastic (composite) version. It shows a wide, beavertail-like forend that free-floats the barrel, along with a raised/ambidextrous comb. Chambered in the usual rimfire options the model that spoke to me most was the 17HMR, which is fast becoming the British, small game/vermin hunting calibre.
Six month latter and the new carbine-length Target/Varmint was in my hands and as always I am impressed with this little gun, but this time perhaps even more so as it now seems near built for purpose. Along with it came 100-rounds of the new, Winchester-produced 17HMR, 17-grain ballistic tip ammo. If you read last months’ Return Fire column you will have seen a piece on this calibre and the general drop in ammo quality and reliability.
Winchester tells us that their new HMR round is produced in-house and not by an outside contractor who apparently makes it for everyone else. I was pleased to try this as I too have had some problems with many makes of 17 over the last few years!
THE LOW DOWN
The rifle with its 16.25” barrel is compact and light, being 34.75” long and weighing just 4.9 lbs. The higher comb combined with the long/angled pistol grip and fuller and more rigid forend all come together to offer a comfortable shooting position. As the firing hand makes the hold the trigger finger near automatically makes a ’first pad’ position on the blade. To put it another way – the T-Bolt Sport was good; the Target/Varmint is better!
The muzzle shows a deep, recessed target crown and the chamber is of a semi-match build. It’s threaded ½ x 20 UNF and comes with a protector. Construction is solid with a short, tubular steel receiver, which is drilled and tapped for bases, which are supplied in the box along with a padlock. However the short spacing between the bases does limit scope positioning to a degree. The trigger mech housing (TMH) is all-polymer and shows the magazine release catch at the front of the well. Pulling this literally shoots the mag out, as it’s under spring tension, great but be aware as if you are not it’s easily dropped.
The magazine is a bit different as it uses two, 5-round rotors stacked one above the other (double helix). This makes it the highest capacity, flush-fit unit of any of the 17HMR rifles. Filling is easy as there’s a thumbwheel on the side that allows you to take the spring pressure when loading. Browning only supplies one clip with the rifle, though the Composite version gets two, as it carries a spare in the butt plate.
DOWN, TEST & ADJUST
The trigger blade is gold-plated and easily adjustable via an Allan screw in front of the guard. From the box the pull breaks at an acceptable 4 lbs, but a 5/32” Allen key allows you to fine tune it. Turn clockwise to decrease and clockwise to increase. There’s no creep, just a firm pressurethat breaks cleanly, which is easy to get used to.
One of the great features of the T-Bolt is the tang-mounted safety catch, which sits under the firing hand thumb and easily pushes forward to FIRE (red dot exposed). The real beauty is minimal disturbance to your shooting position. It reverses for SAFE and only works when the action is cocked.
The stock is chequered at forend and grip with a nicely aggressive pattern and shows QD sling studs front and back. The length of pull (LOP) is 13.5” and the butt plate is a basic plastic design, I would have preferred a rubber pad here as the issue one slides a bit too easily in the shoulder. Were this my rifle, I’d extend the LOP by at least an inch, which would offer a bit more leeway on eye/scope positioning too.
To my knowledge the T-Bolt is now the only straight-pull rimfire rifle in production and the mechanism is simple. The short operating handle sticks out at 90° to the right of the action and shows a flat knob. Pulling it back disengages a cross bolt that locks into both sides of the receiver, operation is a quick pull/push movement. In the bolt channel is a small lug that lies down when the action is cocked and pops up when it’s fired to show gun state. A nice touch is that Browning offer most models in a left hand build too.
So far so good and with my past experience of both 22 LR and 17HMR T-Bolts I was not expecting any dramas either.
For the test I set up an old Weaver/Nitrex 4-20x50 scope (Edgar Brothers) with lockable BDC turrets in Warne mounts. This model has been discontinued but it’s a great piece of glass. Up front an A-Tec CMM rimfire moderator from Jackson Rifles. The test procedure would be zero at 100-yards, check group size and chronograph the load. With my 20” Ruger M77/17 All-Weather I set maximum range at 200-yards and was hoping to see how much difference that 3.75” less of barrel might make.
I found the T-Bolt required more effort on the forward stroke, doubtless this is caused by the striker being set as you close the action. This is less apparent on a traditional turn-bolt as most of this effort is taken up as you close the handle down. None the less with practice it’s fast, with minimal disruption of the firing position!
Average group sizes went to .75”, which is good enough. Out at 200-yards, which is my maximum range in good conditions translates to 1.5-2”, which means a shoulder shot on hares or rabbits is achievable. It should also mean effective head shots at 150-yards too.
I did not have any problems with the new, Winchester-made ammo in terms of reliability or load consistency. However, it appears to be slightly lower powered than the comparable Hornady offering. From the T-Bolt’s 16.25” barrel it was averaging 2449 fps/226 ft/lbs, whereas the Hornady 17 was doing 2505 fps/237 ft/lb. At 200 this drops to 2119 fps/170 ft/lbs and 2171 fps/178 ft/lbs respectively. Not a lot in it and still more than twice the energy of a 22 LR sub-sonic at 100-yards and that can kill rabbits and hares all day long. I would imagine a 20” tube would up the Winchester to around the 2500 fps mark.
Mechanically no dramas - the simple, push/pull bolt action allows for a fast and less interrupted back up shot. Though you do have to be prepared for the extra effort required to close the action, which soon becomes second nature. The shorter barrel as we have seen is no real impediment to down range performance out to what I now consider the 17HMR’s maximum, effective range of 200-yards!
Magazine changes are smooth and easy, as is loading the clip. There is only one potential issue with the generic design and that is the bolt. Though locked to the receiver it can be opened accidently/unknowingly if it were to catch on clothing or even undergrowth. With a turn-bolt system this is not so easy as the lever has first to be lifted up before it can be pulled rearwards. It’s not about safety as the rifle can’t fire out of battery, just something to watch out for!
Overall a sweet, compact and accurate rifle at no real money when compared to guns like the Ruger M77/17 All-Weather and Anschutz 1717 DB, which are now hitting the grand mark.
|Name||Browning T-Bolt Target/Varmint|
|Weight||4.9 lbs (un-scoped) Scope bases included|
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