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Big Game Rifle
Rifle Magazine
January - February 2003
Volume 35, Number 1
ISSN: 0162-3583
Number 205
On the cover...
The BAR lightweight with Burris 1.7-5x scope in Browning rings and bases is shown with the Browning Grade V BAR. Clair Rees discusses spotting scopes on page 28. Rifle photos by Stan Trzoniec.
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Of all the semiautomatic rifles in production today, Browning has the broadest choice. They started back in June 1967 when the first rifles came off the line in Grade I and Grade II configurations. At that time only the .243, .270 and .308 Winchesters, along with the ever-popular .30-06, were available. The next year magnums were added to include the 7mm Remington, .300 and .338 Winchesters, with the latter dropped the following year. Presently the .338 Winchester is back online. In 1971 the high grades started to appear as Grade III, IV and V in regular and magnum chamberings.

The BAR progressed over the years with various models in both traditional and limited editions, but it wasn’t until 1997 that a new model termed “Lightweight” was brought online with a 20-inch barrel and chambered in most all the popular cartridges. While the drop-in weight really didn’t seem to be that much, the changes that were apparent made the rifle what it is today. Current BARs check in at 7 pounds, 9 ounces in the .270 Winchester with a 22-inch barrel. The Lightweight has an alloy receiver and weighs 7 pounds, 2 ounces with an overall length of 41 inches. You have to handle the rifle to believe how compact it feels.

Browning always seems to have the best-looking wood around and, depending upon the grade, fits that price point perfectly. The sample I have looks like it is what they call “quarter sawn” and has some nice fiddleback on the buttstock and forend. It is dark in color and free of knots. Over the years slight changes have been made in the stock design to accommodate the more traditional shooter. Gone are the so-called California “white line” spacers from the recoil pad and some of the bulk around the pistol-grip area. To complete the stock work, the finish is high gloss to bring out the true character of the wood, and the checkering was cut in a point pattern design after the finish was applied. For those who might want this rifle with a synthetic stock, it’s called the BAR Lightweight Stalker. It’s the same rifle chambered for the same cartridges plus the Winchester .300 WSM. You’ll save around $24 over the wood model. Weight for the wood and synthetic stock are the same.

The Lightweight is chambered in seven cartridges to include the .243 Winchester, .308 Winchester, .270 Winchester, .30-06, 7mm Remington Magnum, .300 and .338 Winchester Magnums. That’s not as many as the larger model with that machined ordnance receiver but more than enough to choose from for all game on this continent.

Overall the BAR is a handsome rifle. Although the alloy receiver looks massive, when a scope of modest proportions is attached, the rifle has a balance point under the frame/barrel juncture. The receiver is finished matte; the barrel and related parts are polished and then finished in a high-gloss blue. I mounted a Burris Safari 1.75-5x in Browning bases and rings. Open sights are standard. The rear sight is click stop adjustable, while the front sight has a gold bead surrounded by a classic hood. Both are easily removable. The BOSS system is not an available option.

The patented gas-operated system powers the unique seven-lug rotating bolt. According to Browning literature, the company redesigned the action in the 1990s. Aside from its already stellar performance qualities, Browning engineers added such additional features as a self-cleaning gas system, a bolt release lever and a redesigned trigger group that is easily removed for cleaning or routine maintenance.

The seven-lug rotating bolt fully encloses the cartridge head by means of a recessed bolt face. Extraction and ejection are positive (all spent cases are sent about 3 feet to the right front of the shooter) and, aside from some experiments with low-powered loads, works every time in the field. Browning has also made headway in the barrel vibration department by reengineering the action bars (there are two of them to equalize the rearward force on either side) and the inertial block, then adding a buffering system that reduces any strain on the system and accounts for a reduction in wear. While the gas system (gas cylinder, gas piston) is termed self-cleaning, I’d strip it down and clean it, especially before an important hunt. For this I’d refer to the detailed instructions in the book supplied with this Browning semiautomatic.

This goes equally for the cleaning and disassembly of the trigger assembly. There are two pins near the trigger guard that allow you to drop the firing assembly for cleaning. According to Browning, and I quote, “this procedure should rarely, if ever, need to be performed,” but again from Browning, “if the receiver area of your BAR should become excessively dirty it might be helpful to remove the trigger group and expose the inner cavity of the receiver for cleaning.” With that there is reason to believe Browning is also concerned with the operation as it relates to the bolt, and dirt in the receiver cavity would surely hamper that as well.

Unlike my 20-year-old Browning, there is a bolt release incorporated into this newer model. Located on the front part of the receiver, when the bolt is back, just push it down about .25 inch, and the bolt slams shut. No more pulling back on the bolt after you insert a magazine to load the chamber. The rifle still incorporates the detachable magazine feature that allows one to load the magazine either in or out of the rifle. Depending upon the cartridge, the BAR will hold four or five rounds, which includes one in the chamber. Spare magazines are available; I have one extra and have never had the need to purchase any more. The release to drop the floorplate to expose the magazine is located just in front of the trigger guard; pulling it to the rear releases the floorplate, allowing full access to the magazine.

The safety is located at the rear of the trigger guard and moves from right to left. Trigger pull is 5 pounds on the nose. (My personal, regular-sized Grade I dropped the sear at one pound less.) The trigger is gold plated, and the trigger guard has the usual Browning logo etched in gold.

The rifle received for testing was chambered for the .270 Winchester. Armed with a variety of factory ammunition and handloads, I was curious to see how the .270 Winchester would do in a semiautomatic rifle. Sure, accuracy would be a big factor (it always is), but this would be a good chance to compare it to a more rigid bolt gun where any bleed off from the action might affect accuracy and velocity.

Range testing was a real treat, and aside from my own prejudices in the positive with semiautomatic rifles, this BAR, like others I’ve had and tried, did extremely well. My pet load with a Remington 130-grain Core-Lokt over 57.0 grains of IMR-4831 recorded groups around 7/8 inch at approximately 2,900 fps. Other handloads did almost as well with the Speer offering coming in around an inch with a velocity of about 2,600 fps. The 150-grain Swift opened groups and also took a dive in velocity but, considering the additional bullet weight, is just under the factory loads. One of the top groups of the day went to Remington’s tried and true offerings with the 130-grain Core-Lokt. This little number placed three rounds (my parameters for practical accuracy) touching into a group that measured only 3/8 inch! While the velocity was a little below my handload, who’s complaining! Winchester’s fine Silvertip boat-tail managed to increase velocity somewhat but at the expense of the group size increasing to 1 1/2 inches at the century mark.

Remington’s fine Safari Grade 140-grain Swift A-Frame placed three shots into a measly .5 inch with almost 2,700 fps; Winchester hit 2,652 fps and Sako’s Hammerhead bullet did the honors with 2,562 fps and group sizes to 1 1/4 and 1 1/2 inches, respectively.

In retrospect, the Browning BAR has plenty going for it and really deserves a much closer look. Those with shoulder problems should give it more than a passing glance, as the recoil sensation is more of a push than the more direct, almost short punch one receives from a bolt-action rifle. This Lightweight is the perfect rifle for a teenager just getting the hang of hunting and might be a tad on the shy side when it comes to recoil, especially with the larger calibers. Shooting this .270 Winchester BAR is akin to something in the smaller cartridges but delivers more punch at the terminal end.

By now you are thinking this guy is very positive toward the newer Browning BAR Lightweight. You’re right, of course. For a mountain rifle it would be a great addition to any hunting trip, and it has accuracy potential for longer ranges.

For more information on this Browning BAR and the full line of regular, high grades and even special editions of this classic rifle, contact Browning Arms at One Browning Place, Morgan UT 84050.

Awesome Art
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