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Ramshot Powders
Rifle Magazine
July - August 2001
Volume 33, Number 4
ISSN: 0162-3583
Number 196
On the cover...
Beretta Mato features a muzzle brake, walnut stock with cut checkering and Swarovski variable scope. Cape buffalo photo by Gary Kramer.
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Product Tests

Browning Lightning BLR - Short Action

 Browning’s Lightning BLR is the fastest-operating lever rifle ever to come my way - the most accurate too.


Thanks to the rack-and-pinion gear design of the lever/bolt relationship, ejecting a fired case and chambering a fresh round takes 1.25 to 1.5 seconds, according to my stopwatch. With a bit of practice that might even be reduced a bit. Even so, that’s faster than any other lever action I ever fired.

Lockup is tight - and positive. The BLR’s bolt head is adorned by six healthy locking lugs. When the bolt slides forward, each lug cams into a corresponding slot milled in the barrel’s breech. Not the receiver, mind you - the breech. That surrounds each cartridge head with a ring of steel, just like a bolt action does. Empty cases are flipped to the right, out an ejection port milled in the receiver. That last, machined from an aircraft-grade aluminum alloy, encloses the entire action. Its solid top permits scope sights to be mounted low and close to the eye.

No matter how well conceived the design, there always seems to be at least one fly in the ointment. In this instance, it’s the trigger/sear relationship, which is sadly reminiscent of the late and mostly unlamented Model 88 Winchester’s.

Like the 88Õs, the BLR’s trigger is pinned to the lever assembly. Consequently, it loses contact with the sear each time the action is opened and closed. As a result, let-off is anything but crisp.

When the trigger is pulled, the actual sequence of events goes something like this: First, there’s .08 inch (measured) of free travel as finger pressure is first applied. Next, as finger pressure slowly increases, the trigger begins to move rearward, by fits and starts, for approximately 1/16 inch or more before the sear releases and the hammer falls. That distance is approximate because I wasn’t able to devise a foolproof method of measuring it. According to the RCBS scale, pull ranged from 6 3/4 to 7 1/4 pounds.

Being a graduate of the Winchester Model 88 School of Trigger Management, I simply took my time at the bench and applied pressure against the trigger as slowly and as consistently as possible. The result, on target, was amazing!

A certain amount of luck may have been involved in the range results since all the rounds fired were handloads. It’s possible I may have stumbled on just the right combinations to get the best out of the BLR.

When Nosler 150-grain Ballistic Tips were seated over 50.0 grains of W-760 and touched off by Remington 9 1/2 Magnum primers in Winchester cases, velocities, 15 feet from the muzzle, averaged 2,631 fps. At 100 yards, three-shot strings grouped from 1.5 to 1.25 inches. (They tightened as I became better acquainted with the rifle.) In fact, the last string fired clustered into exactly .5 inch - but that was judged a lucky fluke.

Switching to Nosler 125-grain Ballistic Tips and 50.0 grains of W-748 plus Remington standard 9 1/2 primers gave average velocities of 2,833 fps 15 feet from the muzzle. Out at the 100-yard line, three-shot strings were reassuringly consistent, grouping from 1.0 to 1.1 inches.

Three-shot strings were fired because that slender, 20-inch barrel heated rapidly. A few experimental four-shot strings fired in the beginning revealed that fourth round was usually .25 to .5 inch apart from its predecessors. Traditionalists may insist on five or even 10-shot strings, but as far as I’m concerned, if a lightweight hunting rifle can keep three rounds inside an inch at 100 yards - consistently - it needs no apologies.

Short, light rifles merit short, light scopes, so a Burris Compact 4x was selected for the range tests. It is only 8 1/4 inches long. Clamped to the BLR’s flat-topped receiver with the aid of Burris alloy mounts, it brought the rifle’s weight up to 7 1/8 pounds.  Its bright, clear sight picture was worth every one of those additional ounces. At 100 yards, it was no problem at all to quarter the 10-ring with the duplex crosshairs. No two ways about it, that little Burris scope deserves its share of credit for those bragging-sized groups.

Best of all, adding the small scope had no adverse effect on the rifle’s balance or handling. In my opinion, one of the factors that contributed to the demise of Winchester’s Model 88 and the Savage Model 99 was that neither rifle was scope-friendly.

When an iron-sighted Model 99 was carried by one hand, that hand’s thumb could be curled comfortably across the top of the receiver. A 99 could be carried that way for hours and, whenever the need arose, could be shouldered quickly and easily.

If they were scoped, both 88s and 99s felt top-heavy. They tended to cant to one side or the other, placing a strain on a hand’s muscles. As a result, most wound up being slung over a shoulder - and it takes considerably more time to bring a shoulder-slung rifle into action than it does one dangling from a hand. When scoped, neither rifle was as handy to carry as they should have been and that, I’m convinced, cost them a lot of popularity among lever lovers.

Not so with the BLR. Thanks to its relatively narrow (1 1/4-inch) receiver, it can be carried in one cupped hand for hours at a time. That permits it to be brought into action with one quick lift to the shoulder, supporting hand under the forearm and finger on the trigger.

Would a larger, more powerful scope have an adverse effect on a BLR’s balance and handling qualities? Possibly. In any event, selecting a scope for any lever-actioned rifle deserves a lot more thought than it usually receives.

Fit and finish are typically Browning, which is to say, first-class. Steel and aluminum are burnished blue-black. No run-overs could be found in any of the checkered panels, and the diamonds were sharp, offering a good, solid grip. Some may feel the buttpad is too thick, but it was certainly comfortable against my shoulder. Best of all, it tamed recoil at the bench and made the light rifle a lot more controllable there.

Browning depends on a natural product called Kanabe to coat its stocks. No doubt it’s durable, but it gives a varnish-like finish and glitters in bright sunlight. That isn’t a particularly desirable characteristic on a hunting rifle. Seems to me that something duller, less conspicuous might be in order.

Short-actioned BLRs are chambered in .22-250 Remington, .243 Winchester, 7mm-08 Remington and .308 Winchester. All sport 20-inch barrels. Long-actioned models are offered in .270 Winchester, .30-06, 7mm Remington Magnum and .300 Winchester Magnum. The .270 and ‘06 rifles have 22-inch barrels and their catalog weight is listed as 7 pounds, 4 ounces. Magnum versions carry 24-inch barrels; their advertised weights are 7 pounds, 12 ounces.

Browning’s Lightning BLR represents a clever combination of traditional and modern design. It’s easy-toting, responsive and accurate; offered in a wide range of useful calibers too. A trigger tune-up wouldn’t hurt though. - Al Miller

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