Browning T-Bolt Composite
- By Pete Moore
- 0 Comments
- Last updated: 27/01/2017
Since the 17HMR hit the UK it has proved a massive hit with rimfire hunters. Personally speaking this calibre has all but replaced 22LR for 99% of my rabbit and hare shooting, as it extends my reach out 150-yards+ . My rifle of choice from day one has been Ruger’s M77/17 All-Weather as mine will hold ½” @ 100-yards making clinical head shots easy even out to 120/140 yards. There are plenty of other makes of 17HMR available and all shoot very well, so it’s really a matter of choice and price. But what we have here in my opinion has been long overdue and should prove to be a popular alternative to your standard, turn-bolt 17HMRs…
Two years ago Browning re-introduced their T-Bolt, straight-pull rifle in an improved and updated form. Originally chambered in 22 LR the gun was an excellent shooter and a bit unusual due to its fast, push-pull action and 10-shot, flush fit, double helix magazine. Browning said that in time a 17HMR version would become available and I have been running one for a couple of months now.
The test gun is the Composite and shows a black, synthetic stock, with a little surprise in the butt, the website shows a walnut model too. Apart from that it’s standard T-Bolt – slim, 22” barrel, threaded ½ x 20” UNF, the safety is tang-mounted and slides forward to FIRE and reverses for SAFE. The bolt handle sticks out at 90° to the action and operates a cross bolt locking plunger. Feed is from a bigger version of the double helix magazine that holds 10-rounds of 17HMR, Browning also offer a 22 Magnum (WMR) version. The release catch is at the front of the well and the empty is popped out by a spring. There are no iron sights fitted and the receiver is drilled and tapped for twin Weaver-type bases.
I have to say that when I initially saw the T-Bolt Composite at IWA 2009 I did not like the look of the stock as it felt a bit skinny and insubstantial. However in use it’s far better than first impressions indicated, though not 100% ideal. One welcome aspect of this model is a spare magazine is included, though Browning decided to mount it in the butt plate. It slips in and is retained by a catch and springs out when it’s operated. Great idea, but just be aware of this as it would be all too easy to ground the butt and get mud and crap bunged up inside… Or even damage the mag, however in an unplanned drop test, it proved a lot tougher than I imagined!
Overall a slick and practical package, though the American obsession with long barrels for rimfires is always confusing, as were this my gun I’d lop off two inches off. Saying that the rifle does not feel long or heavy, and even with its 22” tube and moddy fitted is reasonably manoeuvrable inside a vehicle. The straight-pull action is a joy to use and much preferable to a turn-bolt. However, one niggle; even when set to SAFE the bolt is not locked and can open if the handle were to snag and pull against something…
For testing I fitted the new Swarovski Z5 3-18x50, as once zeroed the T-Bolt would be used on rabbits and hares full time. Ammunition went to Winchester 17-grain ballistic tip and their 20-grain hollow point. I used my All-Weather as a benchmark as that rifle can keep it on the ½” @ 100-yards.
Supported off a bag the T-Bolt was grouping ¾-1”, which is not too bad. As with all rimfires there is a simple joy of shooting them – no recoil, minimal noise and the fun of small and frangible targets. With its good accuracy potential a rabbit’s head represents an easy mark at 100-yards and a bit more!
One anomaly was the rifle did not feed the 20-grain, JHP loads that well; certainly from a full magazine and seemed to work better with a payload of eight. No matter as the 17-grain BT is the munition of choice in this calibre for the UK and they feed 100%. What is nice is the ease of filling the magazine, as it has an external wheel that allows you to take the weight of the spring as you slide the ammo in.
The stock lightly free floats the barrel and shows a short forend while the butt has a raised comb. QD sling studs are fitted as standard. Panels of chequering appear on the grip and forend areas. I did find the furniture a little skinny and as you squeeze the trigger the rifle did seem to sort of roll in your grip just a little. Once noticed it was easy enough to compensate as you broke the shot, to be honest I never found this on the wood-stocked 22 version and would prefer timber as opposed to synthetic.
My moderator of choice was a SAK from Jackson Rifles, which is a cost effective design for the 17 and 22 rimfire magnums. Even when fully bombed up (scope, moddy and spare mag) the T-Bolt is like a willow wand in terms of weight and handling. The straight-pull action is fast and slick and allows you to maintain the firing and eye/scope positions far more naturally. Likewise the tang-mounted safety does little to disturb your shooting hand grip when operated.
You do need to be aware of the fact the magazine ejects when you press the release catch and if you don’t catch it as it comes out it could get lost. The spare in the butt is easy enough to access and allows 20-rounds on-gun plus keeps the ammo clean. However, I would have preferred it to be under the butt as opposed to in the plate, which would make access easier and not allow any crud inside.
My unplanned drop test saw me exit the truck to pick up a hare and the rifle slid through my hand to smack into a furrow butt-first. Expecting a horror; all that happened was the mag was driven into the sprung well and the tip of my knife flicked it back out. Apart from that no damage to it or the release catch with everything working OK afterwards.
Apart from that the T-Bolt performed as expected; rolling over a good few hares and rabbits. As always the only weak link being the shooter! The barrel did need a little running in, in terms of cleaning until it settled down at around 100-rounds. As a calibre 17HMR can throw up fouling problems on some makes of rifle. My Ruger initially needed scrubbing after just 16-shots, as accuracy would go to hell; this symptom persisted for a few hundred rounds. But then again you have a tiny 4.5mm bore and commensurately slim rifling, so the build up of debris is expected. However, this is rarer with carbon steel barrels and usually more a symptom of stainless and it did catch me out initially, as I was not expecting it. These days I always keep a rod etc., in my gun bag just in case!
That aside I have few complaints about the Browning T-Bolt Composite. It offers the highest capacity of any 17HMR in a flush-fit magazine and even aces the Ruger by one round. Accuracy is acceptable and allows shots to be taken out to the HMR’s maximum effective range; given you have the ability. The tang-mounted safety is practical and the action fast to operate. Though I can get on with the synthetic stock, by preference I would get wooden furniture as I reckon it will be a bit more rigid.
The price points look excellent for what you are getting; certainly when compared to the top end 17HMRs like the Ruger and Anschütz, which can set you back the thick end of a grand! If you’re thinking about this calibre then as I said at the beginning; there’s a lot of choice out there and the Browning T-Bolt is well worth a look.
• Good 17HMR choice
• Barrel a bit too long
• Great price
Wood stocked version
£550 (no spare mag)