Browning Maral SF Big Game Rifle

Quirks work for Browning’s bold venture

Senior correspondent John Dunn

During the past few years I’ve had the chance to review three different straight-pull rimfire rifles, all of which I found very shootable, and I’m aware of how popular straight-pull shotguns have become. So when Winchester Australia offered Australian Shooter a Browning Maral SF Big Game straight-pull rifle for review, I was happy to accept mainly because I wanted to know how it worked.

The rifle arrived in a Browning-stamped, purpose-built ABS carry case and such devices always imply something special. Assembly took no time at all and the completed rifle had a touch of the ‘wow’ factor with its high-quality wood and metalwork, mechanical excellence and Belgian pedigree.

Rifle

The Maral bears more than a passing resemblance to the BAR it was adapted from. The receiver is similar and even uses the same rotating bolt head system though the way it operates is quite different. Introduced in 2014, it came into being as a result of makers like Browning moving to comply with changing regulations in European countries and increasing restrictions on the use of self-loading firearms.

The owner’s manual describes the Maral as a manual linear bolt-action using a servo bolt return system,  industry speak for a straight-pull rifle with a breech that closes itself when the bolt handle is released. How all that is achieved is what makes the rifle so interesting.

Receiver and action

The steel receiver is flat-sided with a blue-black finish which highlights the panels of high relief engraving - wild boar on the right, maral (deer) on the left - the top drilled and tapped to accommodate bases for mounting a scope.

Internally the receiver houses a two-piece bolt with fixed body and rotating bolt head. The bolt body rides in grooves machined into either wall, a pair of arms extending forward of the breech to engage with a spring housing under the barrel. The housing accommodates two flat section springs attached to and wound around a transverse pin through the walls, the tail ends of the springs secured by an anchor block screwed to the bottom of the barrel.

As the bolt is pulled back the springs unwind, coming under linear tension as they’re stretched straight and flat and when the bolt handle is released, the springs snap back into their stable, wound position, dragging the bolt assembly with them to close the action. As the bolt closes it strips a cartridge off the top of the magazine and pushes it into the chamber as the action is locked by the rotating bolt head.

The bolt head rotates courtesy of a helical slot machined in its stem. The stem slips inside the bolt body where it’s held in place by a through pin. When pressure is applied to the face of the bolt as it’s closing, the bolt head turns clockwise with the locking lugs around its circumference engaging corresponding slots and lugs inside a bolt casing machined integral to the breech end of the barrel. With the bolt closed the breech of the barrel is totally enclosed inside the bolt casing, the only straight-pull to do so.

Lock up is secure, assisted I expect by the pressure applied forward of the breech by the bolt springs. Essentially the locking system uses an interrupted thread, the similarities obvious when the rifle is turned over and interaction of the various parts viewed closely through the magazine well.

With bolt closed the Maral is locked and loaded but not yet cocked as to do that a hand cocking button on the tang of the receiver must be engaged by pushing it forward until it locks into place and a red dot appears on the tang.

Trigger group

Unlike conventional bolt-actions the trigger group is not directly connected to the bolt, it’s a unit acting independently, an important safety feature as it means the rifle can be carried with a cartridge in the breech but can’t be fired until the hand cocking lever is engaged. This compresses a hammer spring and cocks the hammer, both of which are part of the trigger group.

When the trigger is depressed the hammer swings up to strike the rear of the bolt and fire the rifle, the bolt then pulled back and released to reload until such time as no more cartridges remain in the magazine. When that happens, the bolt will stay open. If no shot is taken the rifle can be made safe again by disengaging the hand cocking button and decompressing the hammer spring.

The trigger group is secured in the bottom rear of the receiver by four small screws and like the base of the magazine well the triggerguard is made of black plastic with a gold embossed Browning deer head on the outside of the bow. The trigger weight is factory set at 1kg +/- 100g with a minimum of take-up, making it comfortable and efficient to use. A trigger lock is supplied.

Magazine

This has a steel box with a black plastic base and green plastic follower and held four rounds of .308 in staggered columns (in Magnum calibres that capacity is three). To insert, the magazine is hooked under a crossbar at the front of the well and swung up into place, secured by a lever at the front of the triggerguard and when released the magazine drops directly into the hand. A 10-shot magazine is available.

Barrel

The fluted, hammer-forged barrel has a length of 56cm, a diameter of 31.5mm at the knox-form, tapering to 17mm at the muzzle which has a square cut recessed crown, the rear sight fitted to a battue rib screwed to the top of the barrel. An extended ramp almost 17cm long, it has a central white line that leads the eye to a U-notched rear sight with fluorescent green fibre optic dot on either side. The rib can be replaced by a fixed rear sight supplied with the rifle and stored in the carry case.

The fore sight is also ramped with a fluorescent red dot adjustable vertically and horizontally if required. As it comes from the factory the sights are adjusted for 90m using Winchester ammunition of an unspecified bullet weight. Stampings on the left of the barrel indicate the rifle was made for Browning International Belgium by FN Herstal and assembled in Portugal by Browning Viana. The calibre is stamped on the right side.

Woodwork

Both buttstock and forearm are made from Grade III Turkish walnut, beautifully finished to bring out all the character of the grain. The buttstock is European in design with a hog’s back comb complemented by a sculpted cheekpiece on the left-hand side. The butt is fitted with an Inflex Technology recoil pad, one of three supplied with the review rifle, all of differing thicknesses to provide choices on stock length and length of pull. The pistol grip has a comfortable palmswell and panel of fine chequering.

The forearm is quite long at 34cm, hollowed out to accommodate and hide the arms and spring housing set-up of the bolt mechanism. At the rear, short wings project back over the front edges of the receiver on either side, the rounded bottom hand-filling with a wrap-around panel of fine chequering, finger ridge and flared fore-end tip.

Cleaning

Given the Maral has an enclosed receiver, the barrel can only be rod cleaned from the muzzle which raises two potential problems - that residues from the barrel will be pushed into the action and a chance of muzzle damage from the rod - though both can be overcome quite simply. With the magazine in place and bolt held open a rod can be inserted from the muzzle, a brush attached inside the receiver then drawn back to take any residue out the muzzle, the use of a rod guide at the muzzle recommended. Alternatively the barrel can be cleaned with a bore snake.

Range testing

For testing I fitted the Maral with a 3-9x42 Meopta Meopro supplied by Winchester, set up in QD mounts on two-piece Recknagel bases. I sighted it in and test fired at 100m using a packet each of 150gr Deer Season and Power-Point loads as well as 168gr Ballistic Silvertips, only the Deer Season load shooting consistently, producing three-shot 18-26mm groups off the bench.

The other two loads are capable of taking pig or deer-sized animals at 100m but obviously aren’t on the Maral’s preferred list.

Overview

The rifle was comfortable to shoot, the trigger a tad on the heavy side but manageable. The action functioned flawlessly, reloading quickly with a minimum of sight disturbance when shooting offhand and recoil was inconsequential.

I like quality firearms and that’s exactly what the Maral is. I can see the marque winning a following among hunters chasing pigs in the lignum country or sambar hunters working over the hounds and there are lots of professional shooters out there who could put it to good use, especially in feral animal control.

Specifications

Make

Browning

Model

Maral SF Big Game

Receiver

Enclosed, blued steel with engraved side plates

Action

Rotary head straight-pull bolt with servo return

Magazine

4 + 1 (tested) 10+1 available, 3+1 in Magnum calibres

Trigger

Two-stage, 1kg +/-100g weight of pull compatible with Browning International S.A. European Safety Standards

Safety

Tang mounted trigger cocking button

Barrel

56cm hammer forged, fluted with blued finish

Calibres

.308 (tested) .30-06, .300 Win Mag, 9.3x62

Sights

Battue rear, ramp-mounted front adjustable for windage and elevation, receiver drilled and tapped for scope mounts, alternative open sight supplied with rifle

Stock

Two-piece Grade III Turkish walnut with interchangeable butt pads, sling swivels supplied

Weight

3.2kg

Case

Fitted ABS plastic carry case supplied

Distributor

Winchester Australia

RRP

$3595

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