The Browning A-Bolt II Hunter Rifle
By Chuck Hawks
As I write this, Browning is owned by Belgian interests, but is still headquartered in the U.S. Browning A-Bolt II rifles are manufactured for Browning by Miroku in Japan. Other Browning models are made in Belgium and the U.S.A. Regardless of country of manufacture, Browning firearms are known for their high level of quality, fit, and finish.
The standard Hunter, the subject of this review, is probably the best known of the Browning A-Bolt II rifles. It comes stocked in a "practical" grade of walnut (Browning's term). It features a pistol grip stock with a straight comb, sharp cut checkering, a rubber buttpad, and a durable high gloss finish. There is no contrasting forearm tip or pistol grip cap. The low-luster bluing on the barreled action is durable and detachable sling swivel bases are standard. The Hunter comes with a 22 inch, 23 inch, 24 inch, or 26 inch barrel depending on caliber. Available calibers for the standard A-Bolt II Hunter rifle include .223 Rem., .22-250, .243 Win., .25-06, .270 Win., .270 WSM, 7mm-08, 7mm WSM, 7mm Rem. Mag., .308 Win., .30-06, .300 WSM, .300 Win. Mag., .325 WSM, and .338 Win. Mag. Left-hand models are available. The 2005 MSRP was $705 in standard calibers (right-hand action). The actual retail price is often lower.
The Micro Hunter is basically a shortened and lightened "mountain rifle" version of the standard Hunter. Barrel length is 20 inches for standard calibers and 22 inches for WSM calibers. Length of pull is shortened to 13 5/16 inches, making the Micro Hunter a good choice for persons of small stature. Weight is approximately 6.25 pounds.
The Hunter FLD is sort of a cross between a Medallion and a standard Hunter. It features a select walnut Monte Carlo stock combined with the low-luster blue metal finish of the Hunter. It is available only from full-line dealers.
In 2003 Browning announced an ultra-short action version of the A-Bolt II Hunter rifle designed for the Winchester Super Short Magnum cartridges. These actions are about .5 inch shorter than the reqular A-Bolt II short action. Hunter WSSM rifles have 22 inch barrels and weigh about 6.3 pounds.
All Browning A-Bolt II rifles share many common features. One of the most important is a highly refined and adjustable trigger system, which incorporates a chrome-plated sear. (This trigger assembly is one of the two major improvements over the original A-Bolt rifle--the other is the anti-bind A-Bolt II bolt assembly.) The A-Bolt II trigger itself is wide, grooved, and gold-plated.
Another key feature is the fluted, anti-bind bolt, which has a non-rotating bolt sleeve with a rotating head and three locking lugs rather than the usual pair. This allows a short 60 degree bolt handle lift for fast cycling and increased scope clearance. It also has a recessed bolt face with a plunger ejector. The small, cleverly shaped, claw extractor is built into the front of one of the locking lugs. A gas escape port vents into the magazine well. The bolt knob is one of the highlights of the design. It is a smooth flattened circle in shape, canted at an ergonomic 30 degree angle. This knob fits the hand more naturally than any other design I have used. There is also a streamlined shroud at the back of the bolt to keep escaping gas out of the shooter's face, and a cocking indicator. The bolt release is at the left rear of the receiver. Browning will engrave the customer's name on the bolt of any A-Bolt II rifle for a very modest charge.
There is a detachable box magazine (steel) which is attached to and concealed beneath a traditional hinged magazine floor plate (aluminum); this is a Browning patented design. The magazine may be loaded in place or detached for loading or replacement. The magazine floor plate release is a steel button in the front of the aluminum trigger guard.
Other good features include a sliding shotgun-style safety mounted on the tang, which I regard as the fastest and most convenient location. The safety locks the trigger and blocks the striker. It also locks the bolt closed, preventing inadvertent opening if snagged in the field. The checkered areas on the stocks of all Hunter models feature good coverage in a traditional Browning diamond point pattern, and all models have fluted combs.
The rifle test for this review is a standard A-Bolt II Hunter model in caliber .243 Winchester. Here are the specifications for this rifle, taken from the Browning 2005 Master Catalog:
The rifle reviewed wears a multi-coated Simmons Whitetail Classic 2.5-8x36mm variable power scope in a Leupold mount with Burris rings, which is a good match for a medium game rifle of this caliber. The matte finished scope goes well with the low-luster blue of the barreled action.
This rifle's walnut stock is straight grained and attractive in color, nicely checkered, and carefully inletted. The high gloss finish brings out the grain of the wood and lends the rifle a touch of class. The 22 inch barrel is free floating. With its scope and mount this rifle weighs about 8 pounds.
I have covered the .243 Winchester cartridge in my article "The .243 Winchester and 6mm Remington," and since it is one of the best selling cartridges in the world it is generally well known. Suffice to say that it is a flat shooting combination varmint and medium game cartridge. The Browning A-Bolt II Hunter rifle is clearly intended for the latter and the .243 has proven adequate for deer, antelope, sheep and goat hunting under a wide range of conditions.
Typical .243 factory loads such as the Remington Express and Winchester Super-X loads tested in the Hunter launch a 100 grain spitzer bullet at a muzzle velocity (MV) of 2960 fps and muzzle energy of 1945 ft. lbs. The premium Winchester Supreme factory load tested in the Hunter advertises a MV of 3100 fps with its 95 grain boat tail spitzer bullet, and the Hornady Light Magnum premium load also tested claims a MV of 3100 fps with its 100 grain boat tail spitzer bullet.
All testing consisted of three shot groups fired outdoors on a 100 meter range. Groups were fired over sandbags from a bench rest. The actual shooting was done by G&S Online Technical Assistant Jim Fleck and myself. The barrel was allowed to cool between groups, although this rifle showed little change in point of impact even with a hot barrel. (A five shot group fired with Winchester Super-X 100 grain Power Point ammunition from a hot barrel went into 2 1/4 inches right at the point of zero.)
Cartridges can be single loaded directly into the chamber of an A-Bolt II rifle, which is typical of push feed actions and a convenience at the range. The extractor will ride up and over the cartridge's rim when the bolt is closed.
With the Remington Express factory load using the 100 grain Core-Lokt PSP bullet the A-Bolt Hunter's average group size proved to be 1 1/2 inches. The smallest group of the day was fired with this ammunition, and measured 1 5/16 inches. This is the load for which this rifle is zeroed, and it centers groups 2 5/8 inches directly over the point of aim at 100 meters.
The Winchester Super-X factory load with the 100 grain Power Point bullet shot into 1 5/8 inches at 100 meters. This load shot 2 1/2 inches high at 100 meters.
The Hunter put the Hornady Light Magnum factory load using the 100 grain Interlock bullet into an average 1 5/8 inch group at 100 meters. This ammunition centered 2 3/4 inches high at 100 meters.
Winchester Supreme factory loads with the 95 grain Ballistic Slivertip bullet averaged groups of 1 3/4 inches. This load struck the target about 2 5/8 inches high at 100 meters.
As you can see from these results, the A-Bolt Hunter performed very consistently with all of the ammunition tested, showing little preference for any particular brand or load. All ammunition printed 2 1/2 to 2 3/4 inches directly over the point of aim at 100 yards, which is how this rifle is zeroed. These are exceptionally uniform results for any rifle, let alone a light weight sporter.
Its smooth, ergonomic bolt handle and slick operation made the Hunter a real pleasure to shoot at the range. As expected, there were no malfunctions of any kind.
The Browning A-Bolt II Hunter is a fine rifle with some unique features and nice touches. As is typical of Browning rifles, the quality, fit, and finish are of a very high standard. The A-Bolt II Hunter is basically a premium rifle at a price comparable to that of many standard rifles.
RIFLE REVIEW SUMMARY
Copyright 2002, 2006 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.