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Rifle Magazine
May - June 2002
Volume 34, Number 3
ISSN: 0162-3583
Number 201
On the 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.
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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 Browning himself.

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 we’ll 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 the    average 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 high-gloss finish.

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 barrel to 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 you’re ready to go. That’s what I really like about this rifle. For casual plinking or just teaching the younger generation how to shoot, you simply can’t beat the fun factor of .22 Short ammunition.

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 the   rifle 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 we’ll 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, Browning’s 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 that’s 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, I’d 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 Winchester’s Wildcat brand of hyper Long Rifle ammunition. For some reason ammunition like this and Remington’s 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. That’s the power of the .22 rimfire, or the lack of it. For more information, drop a line to Browning, Route One, Morgan UT 84050.

The Original Silver Bullet
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