Browning T-Bolt all class

Senior Correspondent John Dunn

The Browning T-Bolt action was introduced to the US rimfire market in 1965. Made in Belgium, the early T-Bolt was recognised as a masterpiece of innovative engineering - handy, accurate and easy to use, it should have been a winner. Sadly that didn’t happen. Instead it was largely ignored by a conservative shooting public, probably because it was so different to what most people were used to and was consequently withdrawn in 1974.

Reintroduced in 2006-07 it persists as a low-profile participant in the market place ‑ admired and respected by those it’s known to but generally overlooked by the rest of us. Why that should be is something of a mystery as everyone I’ve met who has owned or used the T-Bolt tends to sing its praises. That includes this writer, a convert after Winchester provided a Mossy Oak Bottomlands model in .22 WMR for review a couple of years back. The rifle shot extremely well in a calibre not generally noted for its accuracy so when Australian Shooter was given the chance to look at a current T-Bolt Target/Varmint model in .22LR I wasn’t about to refuse.

Rifle

New rifles are always a joy to handle and the T-Bolt Target/Varmint is no exception. As befits the Browning name it’s put together the way good rifles used to be, the old-fashioned wooden stock perfectly complemented by blued metalwork to eye-catching effect. Its designation as a Target/Varmint model doesn’t do it any harm either, providing the expectation of better than ordinary performance. A left-handed version of the walnut/blued steel T-Bolt is also available as are grey laminated wood/stainless and composite/blued variants.

Receiver

The cylindrical receiver is machined from solid bar stock and nicely finished with a semi-gloss, blue/black, an ejection port machined into the top with receiver ring and bridge drilled and tapped to accept screw-on bases. A magazine port is machined into the bottom of the receiver, once again the receiver ring and bridge drilled and tapped. The front of the receiver ring is also fitted with a small, protruding pin which helps relocate the receiver when it’s replaced in the stock.

The rear section of the receiver is slotted along the right-hand side to accept the bolt handle, which also acts as a bolt guide when the action is being cycled. At the front of the slot is a 15.88mm hole and on the left directly opposite a 12mm hole which work together to accept and laterally lock the T-shaped cross bolt when the bolt assembly is pushed home.

Barrel

This is rated by Browning as heavy, with a diameter at the receiver of 22mm tapering gently down to 17mm at the muzzle which has a small recessed crown, barrel length listed as 589mm. The left side is stamped with ‘Browning Arms Company, Morgan, Utah. Made in Japan/Miroku’ while the right side shows ‘T-Bolt Cal. .22 Long Rifle Only.’ The barrel is finished to the same colour as the receiver and no sights are fitted.

Bolt

This is what sets the T-Bolt apart from most other rimfires, its straight pull operation faster and less complicated than conventional bolt actions that require the handle to be turned down to lock the bolt closed. In the T-Bolt, lock-up is achieved with a cross bolt that slides laterally to engage holes either side of the receiver when the bolt is closed.

When the bolt handle is pulled back to open the action the handle pivots to the right on a large pin through the rear of the bolt body, pulling the cross bolt out of engagement with the receiver walls and allowing the bolt assembly to be drawn back. When the bolt is pushed forwards, the process is reversed with the rifle loaded and ready to fire.

The mainspring for the firing pin runs through the middle of the pivot pin, cocking effort equally split between opening and closing of the bolt for ease of operation. When the bolt is cocked a red indicator is visible atop the firing pin, disappearing when the rifle is fired. The bolt has a cylindrical, one-piece body that houses the firing pin and mainspring internally, the firing pin short travel with super-fast lock time.

The bolt face is recessed with dual extractors that function like similar set-ups on other rimfire rifles. To remove bolt from receiver the safety catch must first be engaged, the bolt handle then pulled back until the cross bolt disengages. The bolt release, a small serrated bar under the bolt, must then be pushed down before the bolt can be removed and to reinsert the bolt into the receiver the bolt handle must be in the unlocked position.

Trigger and safety catch

The T-Bolt uses a three-lever trigger system contained in a polymer-bodied housing that includes the triggerguard and appears to be pinned and screwed to the bottom of the receiver. The system is externally adjustable to meet individual needs with appropriate instructions and warnings in the owner’s manual.

As it arrived the trigger broke cleanly and crisply with a minimum of effort, no obvious take-up when firing and minimum over-travel. The sliding safety catch is on the top rear of the trigger housing behind the tang of the receiver and sliding the catch to the rear locks the trigger yet still allows the bolt to be cycled and with the catch disengaged a red dot is visible behind it.

Magazine

The double helix magazine holds 10 rounds of .22LR ammunition and features a torsion drive spring and interlocking gears to maintain correct timing and alignment for smooth feeding.

The opaque walls of the magazine make checking the number of rounds easy, unfired ammunition smoothly inserted or removed by turning a plastic gear at the top rear section to ease spring tension internally. The magazine fits into a polymer well inlet in the belly of the stock and is retained in situ by the action screws, the magazine held in the well by a simple spring-loaded catch at the front of the well.

Stock

This is made from a piece of straight-grained American walnut with satin finish which lends a nicely understated appearance, something that appeals to true believers like me who never warmed to plastic composite stocks which have become the new norm.

The butt has a synthetic buttplate carrying the Browning name, the stock itself having a nicely sculpted Monte Carlo comb that sits suitably against the face and brings the shooting eye up high enough to see through the scope without craning the neck, always a plus when it comes to shooting well. The pistol grip is hand-filling with a slightly oval shape that provides a comfortable fit, the panels of chequering on either side giving plenty of grip.

The receiver sits proud in its mortice until just forward of the locking hole, from there the top of the forearm rises up, finishing with an almost square fore-end tip. Laterally, the forearm spreads out into a beavertail shape forward of the knox form to provide a good wide grip that’s equally at home in the field or on the range. The bottom of the forearm is wide and only slightly rounded to guarantee it will sit correctly on a sandbag off the bench.

Internally the receiver mortice is cleanly cut and sealed against moisture as is the barrel channel, pads of bedding compound ensuring the receiver goes back into the same place whenever it’s taken out. Similar pads are provided in the mortice for the magazine well to make sure well and receiver go back into alignment every time to warrant proper feeding from the magazine. When the rifle is properly assembled the barrel floats, steel sling swivel bases fitted to both the toe of the stock and forearm.

Testing the T-Bolt

For accuracy testing the Meopta Meopro 3-9x42 scope provided was set up in Talley mounts on Recknagel bases screwed to the top of the receiver, the rifle then tested at 50m. I also shot some responsive steel targets offhand to see how the rifle handled under field conditions and was pleasantly surprised with my strike rate.

Overview

Though the straight pull difference takes a little getting used to, the takeaway message is the Target/Varmint T-Bolt Browning is a classy rimfire and with ammunition it likes will serve agreeably as both a target and small game hunting rifle. It handles well, is light enough to carry around without a sling and will deliver all the accuracy most rimfire shooters will ever need. I like it and am sure lots of other hunters and shooters will too.

50m target results (mm)

Ammunition

Best

Worst

Average

Winchester Super Speed

20

35

24

Winchester Expert

8

25

14

Winchester Subsonic

12

30

16

Winchester T22

12

25

14

Winchester Wildcat

8

25

12

RWS HP

22

30

25

 

Specifications

Make

Browning - made by Miroku in Japan

Model

Target/Varmint

Action

T-Bolt straight pull with enlarged handle. Blued steel receiver

Calibres

.22LR (tested), .22Win Mag., .17HMR

Trigger/safety

Three-lever adjustable, two-position safety

Barrel/sights

559mm, heavy varmint profile, semi-match chamber, target crown, blued finish. No sights fitted, receiver drilled and tapped for bases

Magazine

10-shot detachable, helix design

Stock

Satin-finished walnut

Overall length

1022mm

Weight

2.49kg

Length of pull

343mm

Distributor

Winchester Australia

RRP

$1245

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