- By Pete Moore
- 8 Comments
- Last updated: 03/08/2017
For driven boar I love my Mauser M03 in 8.5x63, however if I had a choice, which I don’t, then I would pick a semi-auto, either the Browning BAR (Browning Automatic Rifle), Sauer 303 Xtro or a Benelli Argo. I toyed with the idea of buying something in Europe and stashing it in Croatia where I do most of my hunting. Good idea but I like to have my guns on hand, so Browning’s Maral straight-pull looks like it might strike a practical balance between gas/piston and turn-bolt systems.
The Maral is in essence a purpose-made, manually-operated, straight-pull BAR and a definite departure for Browning, also an indicator of the winds of change sweeping Europe in terms of gun types! I’m not saying the semi-auto sporter has had its day, but individual countries laws seem to be leaning towards more legislation on self-loaders. In Austria for example you can legally own a semi-auto Steyr AUG; however it requires a butt load of paper work and permissions. However, you can also own a man-opp version as a normal bolt-action rifle far easier. Suffice to say the Maral despite what some might think was not made primarily for the UK market!
UP FOR IT?
I am fortunate to have hunted with semi-auto rifles and for driven-type work they are excellent. As you might imagine; no fumbling with the bolt or position, just keep the gun in your shoulder, swing and shoot. So is the Maral up for it, as experience with hybrid systems like this shows that primary extraction (un-sticking the fired case from the chamber) can be a weak point?
The Maral is not Browning’s only straight-pull action. Many years ago they came up with the T-Bolt, which they resurrected in the last decade to offer a slick little rimfire. Their first centrefire segway was the Acera, which never really caught on. So reverse engineering the BAR appears to be a cost-effective solution.
Technically the Maral stands alone as it’s very much a horse for a course and in that is a little different from the popular Blaser R93/R8. It’s not a switch barrel/calibre design and only offers four chamberings – 308 Win, 30-06 Springfield, 300 Win Mag and 9.3x62mm.
The Maral comes in a fitted, ABS, combination locked carry case with compartments for a scope, etc. It also arrives with the butt removed, making it a compact package for travel, Browning provides a T-key to fit it. A butt spacer is included and you can get thicker recoil pads. Visually the rifle is elegant and well presented with some nice Grade III, oil-finished walnut. The butt is classic European with a slight hog’s back comb, Bavarian cheekpiece and R/H grip with palm swell. The forend is a tulip-type with a deep/tapered shape and semi-Schnable tip. There are wood panels on the side of the action, not to my taste but not over the top either. Browning does not offer a synthetic version, which is a pity, as it would be tough and probably bring the price down a bit; never a bad thing!
Chequering is well cut but a bit too fine for my liking. QD sling swivels are fitted fore and aft. The straight-line mechanism is simply a modified BAR system that locks by a 7-lug rotary bolt. The bolt sits in a carrier and is cammed in and out of battery. The major change is the drop-back, dog leg cocking handle with large ball end, which and like most hybrid straight-pulls is ugly but does the job. Up front the barrel has no gas port with the gas block (un-drilled) providing a location for the tandem, tensator return springs. Think roll-out metal tape measure and you’ll get the idea!
This assembly connects to the bolt by twin action rods, similar to a gas/piston semi-auto shotgun like the Remy 1100. To operate pull the handle back all the way which opens the bolt and at the same time unravels the springs to store energy. Releasing it allows the springs to reassert so closing the action to feed, chamber and lock!
The American BAR has a normal, cross-bolt safety catch located at the rear of the trigger guard, which was simple and practical. With the Maral and the Belgium BARs Browning has fitted a massive, tang-mounted, thumb lug de-cocker that I have to say is very heavy in operation, so much so you cannot push it to FIRE when in the shoulder. When set you have to press a button on top to let it slide back down to SAFE mode.
TOO SHORT MAYBE?
Control-wise the mag catch is well placed at the front of the trigger guard and the clip pops out easily. Browning offer three capacities 3, 5 and 10 - the latter only in 30-06. The 3 and 5 clip into the plastic, flush-fit base unit so look no different. The 10 is longer and of a distinctive, swept back design! The barrel is semi-fluted and offers a light, sporting-type profile and is 22” in 308, 30-06 and 9.3, but you get a whole, extra ½” (22.5”) in Win Mag. They are all a bit short with the exception perhaps of the 308; however, 24” would be a better, all-round length. Barrels are made at the FN Plant in Belgium and hammer-forged so I was expecting good performance!
Iron sights are fitted as standard, my tester came with a battue (driven hunts) rear, this consists of a large, reversed ramp with a white line painted on it that leads to a U-notch flanked with Day-Glo, green dots. Up front is windage/elevation-adjustable blade with red insert on a low ramp. The battue rail will restrict scopes with larger objectives for that read much over 24mm! A lower/smaller base is also included, which in use I found gave faster and better acquisition! A Weaver rail is screwed onto the receiver to offer optical mounting and is low enough with its central gutter not to obscure the irons sights.
Weighing in at 7.25 lbs the Maral feels light and handy, though bulks up a bit with glass on top! I matched it up with a Kahles CT 3-12x50 in Warne rings to check accuracy; equally you could fit a red dot for driven use. Chambered in 30-06 the importers supplied some of the new Winchester (non-lead) Power-Core, 150-grain factory. To check reliability I had a cross section of loads from PPU (180 S/P) Winchester 180 Silvertip and GECO 165 Express and 170 PLUS. Recoil with the true semi-auto BARs is good in both 30-06 and 300 Win Mag, however the self-loading action tends to help here, so it would be educational to see how the Maral behaved!
ON THE PULL
My initial concerns were ease of function and primary extraction, though as it turned out I did not have to worry. Firing 5-rounds as fast as I could cycle the action and repeating for 20-shots showed it hooked out those empties hot or cold no matter what type of ammo used. Equally the spring-closed action fed and chambered flawlessly and was fast and smooth too.
In the shoulder control was equally impressive; to be honest, though a powerful cartridge, 30-06 is surprisingly well behaved when compared to a 308 Win. Recoil was big but smooth and bringing the rifle down on target for multiple aimed shots was not an issue either. I was warming to the Maral and could see that it might just fulfil my needs for a fast fire, high capacity performance.
All this fast fire stuff is very well but how does it shoot? With a weight range of ammo of 150, 165, 170 and 180 grains the Maral showed a preference for the lighter stuff, with the 150 grain Winchester Power Core shooting sub -1”. All the other fodder shot at just over the inch, so good enough for its primary purpose of driven/close range type use. The barrel is light and gets hot very quickly (within 4-rounds) and groups start to drift out. Not a problem from a cold tube for longer ranges but something to bear in mind if you are hammering away, which can happen. For me the thing I like the least is the overly firm de-cocker, but I could live with it for what else the rifle offers!
I recall testing the Browning Acera many years ago and though liking the concept coming away a little disappointed. The Maral is another and better kettle of fish entirely; smooth and quick to shoot and just that bit different and practical yet in a pleasing, sporting layout. At just shy of £2-grand I think it’s a bit expensive as you are approaching Blaser territory and some might prefer investing a bit more for the switch barrel option!