Blast from the Past: Browning SA22
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- Last updated: 24/05/2019
Some old 22 rimfire designs are literally timeless and none more so than the Browning Semi Automatic (SA). It was first made by FN in Belgium in 1914 but until very recently this rifle was still made with very few alterations.
Remington also made it under the model names of Model 24 and 241 but in 1956 Browning introduced their own version of this classic design, where it was made at FN and imported to the USA until 1974. After this, it was made in Japan by Miroku for Browning.
Older, original FN made rifles are sought after and it was offered in varying grades with elaborate engraving, gold inlay and quality walnut, worth many thousands of pounds today.
Originally billed as a ‘compact rugged rifle for men of action!’, it is a testament to the Browning’s design that in its long history it actually appeals to all sports persons of both genders and ages alike. It’s very compact at only 37-inches and weighs only 4.25lbs but it actually does not feel small; indeed, it handles very well and points naturally. This is why it’s so appealing, as almost anyone can hold and shoot an SA22.
Chambered for .22 LR, .22 Short versions were also made and are now quite sought after but lack of ammunition is a problem these days. It is fed via a long tubular magazine but not under the barrel; the SA22 is different! The magazine is through the butt section of the stock and held 11 rounds and was loaded through a hole through the right-hand side of the stock. First, you had to twist and remove the magazine follower or sprung tube that needs to be withdrawn past the loading port. This is a very simple, yet incredibly reliable form of magazine feed system that ensures a speedy operation of the action. You would think the two magazine tubes would bind or jam but it’s a timetested system that works, so why change it. Interestingly, empty cases eject from the bottom of the action, a very Browning trait, which is very handy, not only because it stops jammed cases to some degree, but it also allows left- or righthanded shooters to use the Browning without a hot, spent case hitting them in the face.
The trigger, although simplistic, is actually quite good, especially for a semi-automatic rifle and a cross bolt safety effectively blocks the trigger blade. The action is nicely blued and on Grade One models (Grade Six is top model) comes standard with some crisp scroll engraving. Scope rails adorn some action tops, if not, scopes were attached to the barrel itself on a cantilever mount. Try and get a set of old steel and blued 11mm airgun mounts, as these look in keeping and period to the Browning.
The most interesting feature of this rifle is the fact that three seconds is all that is needed to remove the barrel from the action for storage; or, if you are old like me, a good 10 second fumble! If you turn the rifle on its back, there is a small catch set into the forend that allows the barrel to rotate a quarter turn to separate the interrupted thread unions of the barrel and action join. This is indeed very fast but is also the cause of some concern, as neglect will often cause the threads to wear excessively and result in the barrel/action union being sloppy. If you buy an SA rifle, really check out this area for a tight fit. Browning do use a separate collar that is attached to the sprung lever that can be rotated to take up the slack but check this very carefully, as the little spring can be lost very easily, and the collar will work loose again.
The stock is very plain without a cheekpiece and a simple, rounded forend but as the grade increases the quality of walnut and chequering is enhanced. Original models had very nice shallow forends with a Schnabel tip and some good chequering; some of the higher-grade Browning SA rifles are real works of art and attract keen collector interest. Here is the standard grade with plain walnut and blued action and next to it a grade 2 with a silvered action and engraved game scenes and really nice walnut. A grade 3 has even better walnut and some superb engraving on original Belgium guns, whilst the grade six has gold inlay and select walnut stocks. Even the Japanese versions, like this grade 2, have great walnut and engraved actions but Belgian guns are usually signed and thus sought after.
Check the barrel is 19.25-inches and the quick detachable sporter weight barrel is tight and unabused, easy to take off and look down the barrel. Really check the muzzle crown for damage and pay attention to the locking mechanism. They were never screw cut and this devalues them but to me it makes them more practical to use. The sights are crude open sights with fixed fore-sight but later models had a scope mount option.
The action is a simple blow back semi-automatic; so, check for worn or damaged firing pin and extractors and ejectors. The weight is 4.75lbs with an overall length of 37-inches with the best features being these Brownings are great little rabbit rifles and the higher grades with engraving and select walnut stocks are extremely nice rimfire rifles to own.
Only available as old stock now or second-hand, expect to pay £250 plus for grade 1 and £500 plus for grade 2 upwards in good condition.
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