May - June 2002 Volume 34, Number
3 ISSN: 0162-3583 Number 201
cover... The D'Arcy Echols Legend rifle is built on a Winchester Model 70 bolt action. A Leupold scope is secured in custom rings and mounts. Rifle photo by Gerald Hudson. Dall sheep photo by Mike Barlow.
Except for the new shooters at the
club, the guys I spoke with regarding the .22 rimfire all agreed it was their very first
real gun. Some started out with a BB gun - mostly the Red Ryder - but it was the rimfire
rifle as the gun of choice for their youthful entry into the world of the outdoors and
hunting. Most grew up on farms or had access to open fields around their childhood homes,
and for young boys on paper route money, the .22 rimfire offered tons of fun with a
minimal outlay of cash. I was certainly one of them. As soon as the last day of school
came, I was off the next morning to upstate New York for a summer of goofing off and
shooting chucks on 300+ acres of prime clover-laden fields. Life was good!
Today the .22 rimfire is still the
cartridge for great informal plinking sessions or the pursuit of small game in all areas
of the United States. Plinking is still a great sport, especially if you have a youngster
or grandchild with you. For fall fun in the New England woods, small game are easy to
harvest if you can match their ability to elude you with your shooting and stalking
abilities. Sure, rimfire rifles have come and gone over the years from the Marlins to the
Rugers, Winchesters and vintage Mossbergs, but still they are around to help bait us back
into the past.
Browning has done its fair share,
and one look into the current catalog shows quite an assortment in rifle and handgun
choices. While the handgun end for Browning seems to be the most lucrative with 19
Buckmark models, long arms comprise two standards in the line that have been around for
years. One is the Semi-Auto 22; the other, the ever popular BL-22. Except for the addition
of the Browning BAR and BLR back in the late 1970s that were chambered for the .22 Magnum,
these two rifles have remained with this Utah firm as part of the lineage started by John
The Browning Semi-Auto 22
Back in 1913 John Browning came up
with this self-loading rifle and presented it to Fabrique Nationale after his breakup with
Winchester. It came at the right time as, for all intents and purposes, European rimfire
ammunition burned cleaner in the chambers of small semiautomatic rifles, which led to
their ability to function more reliability over the long run. Later as Remington started
to market its now-famous Kleanbore rimfire ammunition, they placed the
Browning design in production calling it the Model 241.
For small game enthusiasts, this
semiautomatic is a joy to have in the field. Here was a rifle that handled great, had
bottom ejection and with a bottom operational lever (bolt) the receiver remained devoid of
any levers or knobs. Add to the fact, this rifle checked in at around 4+ pounds and you
could break it down into two sections that measure no more than 19 inches each.
In its present configuration, the
Browning Semi-Auto 22 has been made since 1965. Since Browning is always after the
connoisseur in all of us, two grades are offered. The standard Grade I offers all the
features well go over minus the finer wood and engraving. The Grade VI, on the other
hand, comes with a fully engraved receiver complete with 24-karat gold inlays, fancy wood
and a choice of either a blued or grayed receiver.
Fit and finish on both rifles is
above average. All the inletting is precise with the area around the receiver finished
proud, meaning it is not flush with the metal on the receiver. This is not a
cheap or shabby way of doing things, in fact while many prefer a flush finish, I like it
this way as it accents the line between wood and metal.
Length of pull on the Semi-Auto 22 is 13 3/4
inches, about right for theaverage
male especially when wearing a light jacket. While the drop at the comb looks a bit
severe, Browning has reached a compromise for those using either iron sights (supplied) or
a scope. Your eye should line up perfectly with either. While we are on the subject of
sights, an interesting point soon becomes apparent. Because the rifle is a break-down
design, both the standard iron sights and optional scope bases attach to the barrel, not
the receiver. This prevents a change in zero if you take the gun apart for travel, and if
you have two barrels, zero would remain the same with both barrels. Mounting a scope on
this rifle requires no special skills, and Browning even has the mounts and bases in stock
if you care to order them with your new rifle.
Stock work is always an important
consideration with any firearm, and here Browning shines. Wood on the Grade VI is a much
higher quality than on the Grade I, and the price will reflect this. In looking at
Browning firearms over the years in various gun shops you can - if you have the patience -
find a Browning with some pretty spectacular wood that is rich in grain and coloring. I
remember once on a hunt in Montana, I came across a gun shop near Billings. Naturally my
partner and I had to go in. Once inside I spotted a Browning BAR in its typical Grade I
with the most impressive wood I had ever seen on a production grade gun. Needless to say
it was shipped back to my house posthaste.
While this Grade VI doesn’t
quite match my Montana rifle, it is straight grained and rich in color and appearance. The
pistol grip is large and full enough for the average male hand even with gloves on. There
is no pistol-grip cap, so watch it here when you’re kicking around the woods. The
checkering is typical Browning, point pattern in design and full enough to be functional
when holding or using the rifle. The forend while seemingly a bit on the small side is
actually handy when in the field. In fact the slimness of this piece actually aids in
pointing the rifle. Beautifully finished, it carries a three-panel point checkering
pattern that covers just about the whole piece of wood, which is coated with a durable
When delivered, the semiautomatic
will be in two pieces in the box, so you have to take a look in the instruction book to
see how it assembles. Don’t guess, take the time to read the book and do it right.
All you have to do is make sure the safety is on – a good practice no matter what you’re
doing with a firearm - and the barrel lock (on the forend) is in the forward or muzzle
position. If it’s toward the rear (the receiver) you will not be able to attach the
the receiver. Looking inside the receiver you’ll note interrupted threads. This
allows, via a quarter turn, the barrel to be attached to the receiver with a minimum of
fuss and bother.
Now hold the barrel by the forearm
with the left hand and take hold of the receiver (not the buttstock) with your right hand.
Retract the breech bolt about 1/2 inch with your thumb, insert the barrel as far as it
will go into the receiver and turn it into position. Finish off the assembly by allowing
the breech bolt to go forward, draw the barrel lock rearward and check for overall play
between both pieces. If you find, after settling in the barrel lock, there is still some
play, you can take the barrel off and adjust the ring at the breech end of the barrel one
click at a time to fine tune the barrel so it is a perfect match with the receiver.
The semiautomatic features a
gold-plated trigger that is factory set for 4 1/2 pounds. The safety is mounted forward of
the trigger guard. In operation it is most convenient for right-hand shooters. Pushing the
cross-bolt safety to the left allows you to fire the rifle. Loading is simple with a
capacity of 11 .22 Long Rifle rounds.
Looking at the butt of the rifle,
you’ll find a tab that connects to the magazine rod assembly. Turning this a
quarter-turn allows it to be backed out for loading. Drop 11 rounds of .22 Long Rifle
(Shorts and Longs don’t work because of the blowback operation) into the recess cut
in the buttstock, push the rod back into position and lock it snugly. To fire, all you
have to do is pull back on the bolt, release the safety, and you’re ready to go.
The Browning BL-22
Although brought on line in 1970, the BL-22
has roots that run deep in Browning heritage. Looking back into history, John Browning
never did invent nor did he develop a rimfire lever-action rifle. But he did design the
Winchester Model 1886, 1892 and 1894 leverguns that I’m sure had a great influence on
this smaller caliber version that has seen great popularity among sports-minded shooters.
The BL-22 comes in two flavors.
Just recently introduced is the new Grade I Classic BL-22 that includes full
cut checkering, satin wood finish and that famous gold trigger. While this will certainly
appeal to the shooter in everyone, the Grade II is for those who like a few extras in
their favorite firearms. This grade has the famous high-gloss finish, fancier wood and
engraving (sans gold) on both sides of the scalloped receiver. Done in a very tasteful
scroll pattern, the design is repeated on each side with one larger center panel followed
by four outer panels that fit neatly into each corner of the receiver. To further
compliment the receiver, the rest of the surfaces are either polished in a high-gloss or
matte finish depending upon location or heavy use.
The barrel measures 20 inches. Like
the receiver, it is polished and blued in a bright blue finish that includes both barrel
bands. The magazine tube is finished in a satin luster and extends right out to the muzzle
of the barrel. At this point there is a knurled lock that makes loading an easy chore.
Simply press inward on this lock, pull the tube up until the loading port is exposed. Drop
in either 15 Long Rifles, 17 Longs or 22 Shorts and youre ready to go. Thats
what I really like about this rifle. For casual plinking or just teaching the younger
generation how to shoot, you simply cant beat the fun factor of .22 Short
Topside you will find that Browning
has thoughtfully included iron sights. For those who like (or need) optical sights, the
receiver is machined for standard tip-off rings. Browning makes these to fit therifle perfectly and feature a high-gloss
finish to match the rifle and scope finish. A Leupold 2-7x Rimfire Special was mounted for
testing. In years past Redfield had a neat little scope that had a tube measurement of
just 7/8 inch, just about perfect for small stature rimfire rifles like these Brownings.
Now that Redfield is back under the Blount name, maybe well see it again.
In operation, the levergun is a
hoot. The lever travels only 33 degrees, which makes it finger flickin fast,
as Browning touts in its literature. Additionally, with this type of design, finger pinch
is virtually eliminated as the trigger travels with the lever. The rifle cycles easily
when fired from the shoulder.
Again, following tradition, there is
no outward safety on this rifle - no buttons, no levers, just the half-cock position of
the hammer. Of course, there are interlocks that prevent firing unless the lever and
breech are fully closed. Still another prevents firing - even with the trigger pulled to
the rear - while operating the lever. Home, field or range shooting uses the hammer in a
full-cock, half-cock and dropped or fired position.
The full-cock is with the hammer all
the way to rear or in the position to fire a cartridge upon the release of the trigger. If
you change your mind and still want to do more shooting, lower the hammer to half-cock by
merely applying pressure to the trigger while lowering the hammer to this halfway
position. It is only meant as a temporary fix to a temporary interruption. Finally, the
fully down position is the best when walking in the field or storing the rifle. To fire
the rifle, simply pull back on the hammer for the next shot or cycle the lever. As it
comes from the factory, trigger pull on the Grade II sample was 6 1/2 pounds.
Final fit and finish on this rifle
are true Browning. The wood is a cut above average, and there is even a bit of feathering
in the buttstock that is then carried very mildly into the forend. The length of pull is
13 1/2 inches, and the stock is patterned after the British straight stock. It can be
carried over the shoulder with little discomfort and, when a quick shot comes up, the grip
area is less constricted than a pistol grip, hence more forgiving. The forearm is
proportional and fits the average hand perfectly for snap shooting. Again, point pattern
checkering is standard with two panels on the grip and forearm. To complete the package,
Brownings high-gloss finish is applied before the checkering is cut.
At the range both rifles performed
admirably. Both had their merits, the autoloader obviously being quicker on the second
shot than the levergun but not as accurate (as a scope was mounted only on the BL-22), but
thats to be expected. I did like the lighter weight of the Semi-Auto 22 for quick
handling, but I also liked the ability of the levergun to digest everything from Shorts to
Long Rifle cartridges even when all three were mixed together. Groups are shown for about
30 yards, and if I sound casual about the whole thing I am. The .22 rimfire was made to be
enjoyable, and getting too serious about the whole thing spoils the therapy of a relaxing
outing. Even chronograph readings were not taken. Why? Because a few short years back I
ran hundreds of controlled tests that showed the difference between 18-, 20-, 22- and
24-inch barrels using common .22 Long Rifle ammunition was only (on average) a mere 48 fps
between the shortest and the longest barrel while group size increased 25 percent with the
longer (24-inch) barrel. So when push comes to shove, Id opt for an 18- to 20-inch
barrel in any rimfire rifle. Anything more is wasted.
Accuracy was on par with past
Browning products, and these rimfire examples show their ability to shoot good groups with
or without optics. For example, the BL-22 was equipped with a scope, and groups on average
were much tighter. I was especially pleased with the Remington CBees. A really neat
five-shot group showed four out of the five hit a group around 5/8 inch with the last shot
opening the group to an even inch. The CCI Longs were also a pleasure to use in the
levergun but because of lower power do not function in the semiautomatic. The rest of the
ammunition fell in line with past experiences with rimfire fodder, the star of the day
being Winchesters Wildcat brand of hyper Long Rifle ammunition. For some reason
ammunition like this and Remingtons Viper always seem to do well with groups for the
most part falling at or below an inch at 25 to 30 yards.
In short, I was having too much fun to worry
about general ballistics, drop tables and velocities over the long haul. Thats the
power of the .22 rimfire, or the lack of it. For more information, drop a line to
Browning, Route One, Morgan UT 84050.