Browning AB3 Hunter Bolt Action Rifle in 6.5mm Creedmoor
The Browning A-Bolt 3, or just "AB3," is Browning's value bolt-action rifle. Previously tested in .270 Winchester with a plastic stock, it proved to be a sub-MOA (three shots) 100 yard rifle. In order to lower cost, corners were cut from the better-finished X-Bolt line. Retailing at $689, this rifle has a 2017 discount retail price in the $580 range.
The AB3 Hunter comes with a straight-grained, black walnut stock and an excellent Browning Inflex recoil pad. The comb is fluted and the pistol grip has a tight curve that is typical of modern Browning rifles. The rather skimpy, four panel, cut-checkering pattern is deep and functional and the AB3 has a hand filling palm swell. Steel, detachable sling swivel studs are included.
The AB3 receiver is apparently machined from bar stock. The push feed, multi-piece bolt uses three front locking lugs, a plunger ejector and has a 60 degree bolt rotation. The bolt knob is the exceedingly comfortable, angled, flattened ball used on Browning bolt action rifles since the original A-Bolt. The recoil lug is simply a thick washer trapped between the barrel and receiver. The trigger has an excellent release, breaking at a crisp four pounds.
The AB3 tang safety is excellent: it is high enough to offer excellent purchase, quiet, and easy to engage and disengage. The AB3 bolt locks closed when you engage the safety, another excellent feature. Most bolts these days do not lock closed which is a negative in a hunting rifle; a bigger negative the brushier the terrain.
While the matte bluing is not highly polished, it is a higher grade of polish than the crude matte finishes that infect many entry level rifles. Unfortunately, like all AB3 models, this rifle has a plastic trigger guard with a molded-in Buckmark logo and a plastic trigger.
This AB3 is about a 6-3/4 lb. rifle, so it does shave over a quarter pound, or so, from its standard length .270 Winchester counterpart. Unlike many universal receiver models, this AB3 is a true short action rifle. It does not just take a long action and block off the detachable magazine for short-action cartridges. Like almost all economy rifles, the sporter contour barrel is free floating.
The Browning X-Bolt Hunter remains one of my favorite rifles, and since those can currently be had in .270 Winchester for about $720, that $140 nets you a flush fitting rotary magazine, gold plated metal trigger that is lighter and crisper, a metal trigger guard and generally cleaner metalwork.
The 6.5mm Creedmoor is remarkably soft-shooting in this rifle and it is a cartridge not yet available in the X-Bolt Hunter. The 7mm-08 and the 6.5 Creedmoor, as best I recall, use the same barrel profile. This means you get a slightly heavier rifle with a slightly stiffer barrel in 6.5mm.
With factory loads, the 6.5 Creedmoor tends to be a softer shooter vs. the 7mm-08. 6.5 Creedmoor ammo tends to cost less than 7mm-08 ammo, and you have better sectional density for the same bullet weight, potentially higher ballistic coefficients for the same weight bullet and consequently less wind drift.
That any deer could live on the difference between a 6.5mm and a 7mm bullet would require a special type of delusion. The mild manners of the 6.5mm Creedmoor with a 129 grain bullet at 2820 fps are easy to appreciate.
Grading the AB3 in a vacuum, it is hard to find great fault with it. It is a sub-MOA rifle with god ammunition, as you might expect from a Browning/Miroku centerfire rifle.
However, the plain walnut is just that, plain. In the aesthetics department, the $380 - $390 Mossberg Patriot walnut is clearly a better-looking rifle. Plastic trigger guards on walnut stocked centerfires are hardly the exclusive domain of Browning, as the Mossberg Patriot and the Remington 783 walnut (also $380 - $390) both have them.
The AB3 is not without other cosmetic deficiencies, for the bolt handle is sloppily cast with visible casting, drip-type wrinkles on the exterior. Nor is the AB3's protruding, detachable box magazine my vision of cosmetic elegance.
The Browning AB3 Hunter is a fine functioning rifle, but it is not worth a 50% premium over certain other walnut stocked economy rifles that are just as suitable for most hunting applications and are more pleasing to the eye. In the same price category as the AB3, it would be hard for anyone to pass up the Weatherby Vanguard Sporter, which has dashing good looks commensurate with the price and significantly more metal and less plastic. If you want a Browning rifle, the X-Bolt Hunter ($899 MSRP) and the X-Bolt Medallion ($1039) are two Browning models that belong on everyone's short list.
Copyright 2017 by Randy Wakeman. All rights reserved.