Browning BLR Lightweight Takedown Rifle
By the Guns and Shooting Online Staff
Browning introduced a takedown version of their highly regarded BLR Lightweight centerfire rifle in 2007. (BLR stands for "Browning Lever Rifle.") The BLR was first introduced in 1969, revised in 1981 (BLR '81) and the Lightning version was introduced in 1995. Over the years the standard BLR Lightweight has earned an enviable reputation as a smooth, powerful and accurate rifle. It is the only lever action chambered for such powerful belted cartridges as the 7mm Rem. Mag. and .300 Win. Mag. The takedown version sacrifices none of the standard BLR's strength and it is offered in all 14 of the calibers available in the standard BLR Lightweight.
This strength is achieved by means of a rack and pinion operated, fluted bolt with a recessed face and a head incorporating six locking lugs that rotate into a circular barrel extension that serves the same function as the front receiver ring of a bolt action rifle. The result is bolt action strength and safety from a lever operated action. Like a modern bolt action, the front locking BLR minimizes case stretch and is reloader friendly.
The BLR is considerably faster to cycle than a turn-bolt action. Lever actions require only two movements, swinging the lever forward and then back, and it is not necessary to remove your finger from the BLR's trigger. Operating a conventional bolt action requires four movements: up, back, forward and down. Furthermore, the entire strong hand must be removed from the grip and the finger from the trigger to cycle a bolt action. Anyone who claims that a bolt action can be cycled and fired as fast as a BLR is full of prunes.
Although older BLR's had steel receivers, today's Lightweight models use a machined, aircraft-grade aluminum receiver to minimize the action's weight. This is possible because the BLR's bolt head locks directly into the rear of the barrel. The receiver does not bear the stress of firing; it just retains the action's operating parts. A receiver machined from a block of steel would not make the BLR action stronger, just heavier and probably more expensive. (An optional steel receiver would, however, add weight to help control the recoil of the more powerful BLR calibers.)
The BLR action incorporates an external hammer, so there is no question whether it is cocked. This hammer has a very wide and comfortable thumb spur that is positioned low enough for use with a receiver mounted scope. Safety is by means of a conventional "quarter cock" hammer position, but with a twist. Unlike traditional lever action rifles that rely on a quarter cock hammer safety, the BLR cannot be forced to fire by a strong blow on the hammer, even if it breaks internal parts (however unlikely that might be). This is because the BLR hammer is a two-piece design and the upper part, including the striking face of the hammer, rotates down to clear the firing pin if forced forward. A safe, clever design that normally goes unnoticed and takes nothing away from the traditional operation of the exposed hammer.
The trigger and trigger guard move with the lever when it is operated, so there is no chance of spearing your trigger finger when the lever is closed. The lever arc is shorter than the usual 90 degrees to speed cycling. The famous Browning Buckmark symbol is stamped into the bottom of the lever and gold filled. The trigger itself is wide, serrated, sharply curved and comfortable.
Cartridges are fed from a detachable box magazine that holds four rounds in standard calibers. This tapered, all steel magazine incorporates shoulders to prevent damage to the bullet tips under recoil. The magazine release is located in a recess in front of the magazine well. The magazine drops freely into the hand when the release is pushed rearward.
Takedown is accomplished by opening the action and pulling outward (very hard!) on a small, flush mounted lever inletted into the rear of the forend. With the lever open, the barrel simply slides straight out of the receiver. The forend stays with the barrel and, removed, the barrel assembly measures 20.75" in length. Through the thickest part of the forend, it measures about 1.5". Including a barrel mounted Leupold Scout Scope in low rings, it is no more than 4.5" deep. With the takedown lever left hanging down, the receiver/buttstock half of the rifle is also about 20.75" long, 1.625" thick (across the butt pad) and just under 5" deep (from heel to toe of the butt pad).
All BLR rifles are supplied with iron sights and the top of the receiver is grooved to reduce glare. The screw adjustable rear sight has a square notch and the ramp front has a flat-faced brass bead. As open sights go, these provide a good sight picture and are perfectly adequate for short range use. Of course, a serious hunting rifle should wear an optical sight and the top of the receiver is drilled and tapped for mounting scope bases. Because the action has a solid top receiver and ejects to the right through an ejection port, scopes can be mounted low and centered.
In addition, the barrel of the BLR Takedown model is drilled and tapped for an extended eye relief (scout type) scope base, available from Browning. This base accepts all Weaver compatible rings. Although we are not particularly fans of the "scout scope" concept, this is a sensible alternative for a takedown rifle because the necessary absolute alignment of the barrel and a receiver mounted scope may be disturbed when the barrel is removed and replaced, resulting in loss of zero. An extended eye relief scope, attached to the barrel, avoids this potential problem.
Short action, standard caliber BLR rifles (.22-250, .243 Win., 7mm-08, .308 Win., .358 Win, .450 Marlin) come with 20" barrels; long action (.270 Win., .30-06) and WSM calibers (.270, 7mm, .300, .325) come with 22" barrels and 7mm and .300 Belted Magnum caliber rifles are supplied with 24" barrels. Most BLR barrels, levers and hammers receive Browning's usual, highly polished, blue finish and the receiver is finished in gloss black. The fat bolt is polished and left in the white and the trigger is gold plated. The exception is the Stainless/Laminated version of the BLR '81, which is supplied with matte silver/gray metal finish and a gray laminated hardwood stock and forend.
Other BLR stocks are two-piece black walnut with four panel, hand cut, bordered checkering. They are machine inletted and the wood to metal fit is acceptable, but nothing to rave about. The buttstock's comb is the right height to align the eye with a low mounted scope, yet not so high as to preclude use of the supplied iron sights; overall a good compromise for most shooters. The wood finish is a high gloss urethane. The buttstock terminates in a black rubber recoil pad with a sufficiently generous surface area to help ameliorate the effects of recoil and studs for detachable sling swivels are installed.
Two stock styles are offered. The Lightweight Pistol Grip model requested for this review comes with a sporter-type pistol grip buttstock and a Schnabel forend. This grip incorporates a slight (right hand) palm swell and the operating lever is gently curved to match the pistol grip. The alternative is the Lightweight '81 model, a more traditionally styled version that features a straight hand buttstock, straight lever and a slightly thinner, Western style forend secured by a carbine ring. The BLR '81, incidentally, is the rifle depicted on the back of Guns and Shooting Online T-shirts.
Browning offers an economical (MSRP $39.95) Cimmaron soft case (#1410309090) specifically for the BLR Takedown rifle. We requested one of these Cimmaron cases for this review and found it to be attractive and well made. The case is rectangular. It has integral carrying handles and comes with a detachable sling. Stitched inside the case is a pouch for the butt stock, a sleeve for the barrel and Velcro tie downs to keep everything in place. It is not necessary to remove a scout scope from the barrel to fit the assembly into the case.
The Cimmaron case is well padded and a good choice for protecting the rifle from bumps and scratches while being transported to the range or to a hunt by privately owned vehicle. Unfortunately, not being a lockable hard case, it is not TSA approved and cannot be used to transport your BLR by commercial carrier. The padding is open-cell foam, which literally absorbs moisture like a sponge, so the instructions specifically warn against storing a rifle in this case. It is strictly for protecting the BLR while in transit. A change to closed-cell foam padding would be desirable, as unlike open-cell foam, closed-cell foam is waterproof.
Here are some basic specifications for the Browning Cimmaron case:
Our only real complaint about the Takedown Cimmaron case is that it is "one size fits all" and designed to accommodate the magnum BLR with its 24" barrel. Thus, the case is at least four inches longer than necessary for our carbine length Takedown test rifle with its 20" barrel. Four inches does not sound like a lot, but it makes a surprising difference in the overall size of the case and the volume of space that it occupies. Individual cases designed for BLR Takedowns with 20", 22" and 24" barrels should be offered.
Our test rifle is chambered for the .358 Winchester cartridge. This is a powerful medium bore, medium range cartridge suitable for hunting all North American big game except bison and the great bears (grizzly, brown, polar). At short range and given maximum loads with adequate bullets (available to handloaders or factory loaded from Stars & Stripes Custom Ammunition), it should be capable of giving even the big bears a fatal case of lead poisoning. The BAR Lightweight Takedown .358 could thus serve as a rifle for protection in the field (a "guide rifle," as it were), although the .450 Marlin caliber would be an even better choice for this purpose, provided the shooter could stand the heavy recoil. Taken down and stored along with a box of ammunition and a sling in a BLR Cimmaron Takedown case, it would occupy a minimum amount of space in the cargo area of a vehicle, fishing boat, yacht or light aircraft.
Here are some specifications for the BLR Lightweight Takedown carbine with pistol grip:
As soon as we got the BLR Lightweight unpacked and into our hands, we were impressed by the action's smooth operation. Its trigger also felt better than we had expected. The trigger has some take-up and its release is preceded by a moderate amount of smooth creep, but it is not gritty or difficult to control. Out of the box its pull weight measured 5.25 pounds; by the end of our testing this had dropped to 4.75 pounds. We expect that the pull weight will decrease a little more as the parts continue to wear in. (Browning advertises a 4.5 pound trigger pull for the BLR.) We would like to see Browning reduce the trigger pull to about three pounds. As is, the BLR trigger is definitely better than we have come to expect from pump and autoloading hunting rifles, including Browning's own BAR.
Our friends at Leupold provided one of their excellent FX-II 2.5x28mm IER Scout Scopes and a set of low mount, QRW quick detachable rings for use in this review and the kind folks at Browning included a scout scope base with our BLR Takedown rifle. Scope mounting was just a matter of screwing everything together and bore sighting.
The Leupold FX-II 2.5x28mm IER scope is a very high quality optic that incorporates accurate ¼ MOA click adjustments, super hard anodized finish, fully multi-coated optics, a genuine Duplex reticle and Leupold's legendary reliability in a lightweight (7.5 ounce) package that is only 10.1" long. This scope's 22' field of view at 100 yards is the widest available in a scout scope of its magnification. (The actual magnification is 2.3x.) It is, in fact, the sight pictured in Browning's catalog and web site illustrations of a scoped BLR '81 Takedown rifle. That should tell you something. (There is a full review of this scope on the Product Review Page.)
.358 Winchester factory loads are not thick on the ground. We requested ammunition for this review from Winchester (Olin) and Stars & Stripes and both manufacturers graciously complied. Without their help, the shooting part of this review would not have been possible.
The sole Winchester Super-X factory load comes with a 200 grain Silvertip semi-spitzer bullet loaded to a nominal MV of 2490 fps (ME 2753 ft. lbs.) from a 24" barrel. The trajectory shown in the Winchester Ammunition Catalog is typical of maximum .358 loads and looks like this: -1.5" at the muzzle, +3.0" at 100 yards, 0 at 200 yards and -12.9" at 300 yards. This is the load that made the .358's reputation.
Stars & Stripes provided two of their Custom factory loads. The first was loaded with the Hornady 200 grain Interlock Spire Point bullet at a MV of 2400 fps from the BLR's 20" barrel and the second was loaded with the Speer 220 grain Hot-Cor Flat Point bullet at a MV of about 2300 fps from a 20" barrel.
We also reloaded some .358 ammo for this review using Winchester brass. One reload used a 200 grain Hornady Interlock RN bullet in front of 52.0 grains of H335 powder and a CCI 200 primer for a MV of about 2490 fps. The other used a 200 grain Remington Core-Lokt PSP bullet in front of 44.9 grains of IMR 3031 powder and a WLR primer for an estimated MV of 2460 fps. These are maximum loads, but our strong BLR rifle easily digested them.
The .358 case can accommodate bullets weighing from 150 to 250 grains. However, bullets lighter than 180 grains lack the sectional density required for serious big game hunting and bullets heavier than about 225 grains must be seated so deeply into the case to stay within the .358's maximum COL of 2.80" that they intrude well into the available powder space. We feel that bullets in the 180 to 225 grain range are most appropriate for the size of the .358 Win. case. 180 grain bullets are excellent for minimizing recoil and appropriate for hunting all CXP2 class game. The consensus "all-around" (CXP2/CXP3) bullet weight is 200 grains and that is the weight provided in Winchester factory loads. (Winchester specifically recommends their Super-X 200 grain Silvertip factory load for hunting CXP3 game.) For the heaviest game, or dangerous game, 220 to 225 grain bullets in front of maximum powder charges are an appropriate choice.
Participating in this review were staff members Chuck Hawks, Gordon Landers and Bob Fleck. As usual, we did our shooting at the Izaak Walton outdoor rifle range south of Eugene, Oregon. This facility offers 25, 50, 100 and 200 yard target stands, but we confined our accuracy testing to 100 yards. Bench rest groups for record consisted of three shots fired from a Caldwell Lead Sled DFT weighted with 50 pounds of shot at Score Keeper targets. We also did some informal offhand shooting to get a feel for the BLR's handling and recoil. The early fall weather was partly cloudy with a high temperature of 68F degrees. Following are our shooting results.
First, all three shooters were convinced that they could have shot smaller groups with a higher magnification scope. The small bull's-eyes printed on our Score Keeper targets, excellent for scopes of about 6x or more magnification, are difficult to see through a 2.5x scout scope; the crosswires covered the point of aim at 100 yards, making real precision problematic. We are not really fans of scout scopes in general, as their focus point is typically between our corrected vision with glasses and our un-aided naked eyes, so they are never really sharp, another factor mitigating against pinpoint accuracy. This due to the eye having lost its ability to focus on nearby objects and it is a common problem for older shooters using scout scopes. Bob was particularly troubled during our testing and it significantly affected his ability to shoot tight groups. Chuck later found that his "computer" (work) glasses, nominally focused for a working distance of about 22", made the test scope perfectly clear to his middle-aged eyes.
These factors caused the rather broad spread between some of our smallest and largest groups and degraded the average group sizes, not any inherent inaccuracy of the rifle or defect in the Leupold scope. The scopes's low magnification would not be a problem if the target were as large as a CXP3 game animal, one of the very real differences between target shooting and hunting. In any case, a scout scope is better than having to re-zero the rifle every time it is taken down!
This time out, Gordon consistently shot the smallest groups. Congratulations, Gordon! The Stars & Stripes factory loads performed best in our test rifle. The Winchester Silvertip factory load also performed well and any of these bullets would be a good choice for hunting CXP2 and CXP3 big game.
We found that the BLR's magazine goes right in when it is tipped slightly, allowing the rear to enter the magazine well first. Tip the front of the magazine upward (so that the front enters the well first) and it becomes difficult or impossible to insert. We also learned that the full magazine should be inserted only with the bolt closed to ensure that the top cartridge does not pop out of the magazine when it is shoved home.
Although a lightweight rifle, the BLR's stock handles recoil well when fired from an offhand position. However, it is not much fun to shoot full power .358 loads from a bench rest over sandbags with any lightweight rifle and after a few shots the cumulative effect of the recoil became unpleasant. The Lead Sled that we used for firing our groups for record, of course, eliminated the recoil problem.
We have no serious complaints about the BLR Lightweight and only a few, relatively minor, suggestions for improvement. The reintroduction of an optional steel receiver that would add a few ounces of weight to reduce the effect of recoil without changing the balance of the rifle would be nice for the more powerful calibers, including .358 Winchester. The bolt, and consequently the whole receiver, is very large and it would be nice if both could be slimmed-down. The rifle's lines could be improved if the "belly" of the Schnabel forend were slightly reduced so that it fit flush with the bottom line of the receiver. A checkering pattern that wrapped around the bottom of the forend (similar to the Safari Grade BAR) would be both a functional and aesthetic improvement. The bottom of the pistol grip should be protected by a metal cap, especially on a rifle in this price class.
Also, we'd like to see .350 Remington Magnum added to the list of available calibers; it's great for hunting elk, moose and bear and it is just about the optimum blend of power and recoil for protection in the field. The .350 Mag. would make the short action Lightweight BLR an even better guide rifle. It would kick like the devil in such a lightweight rifle, but so do the .450 Marlin, 7mm Magnums and .300 Magnums that are already available.
One final suggestion: A TSA approved hard case would make a very appropriate addition to the BLR Lightweight Takedown product line. (Something along the lines of the Americase that Merkel offers for their K-series takedown rifles would be great--see the Merkel K3 review on the Product Review Page for details.) Taken down, the scoped rifle would fit nicely in a hard case with inside dimensions of about 23"x12.5"x4". We have been looking for an after-market hard case and nobody seems to make one anywhere near the right size. The biggest pistol valise cases are too short and the smallest takedown shotgun cases are about 10" too long. (They need to accommodate 30" barrels.) The BLR Takedown is ideal for the traveling hunter who must fly by commercial carrier, but we lack an appropriate TSA approved hard case. Right now, converting a piece of hard luggage into a gun case or a custom fabricated case appears to be the only alternatives.
In summation, the Browning BLR Lightweight is a modern lever action rifle with some updated traditional features (such as takedown models and an exposed hammer). The pistol grip model is not as sleek as the long discontinued Winchester Model 88 or Sako Finnwolf and the '81 Model is not as traditional looking as the Winchester Model 94, Savage 99 (both also discontinued) or Marlin 336. However, in our estimation, its design is more sophisticated than any previous lever gun and it is chambered for more powerful, flatter shooting cartridges. It is offered in both long and short actions for a wide range of calibers to suit practically any need, from .22-250 to .450, and its design allows the use of conventional pointed bullets. It is also finished better than other lever guns.
The BLR shares many of the advantages of modern bolt action rifles, including a front locking bolt for maximum strength and accuracy, side ejection, low scope mounting, removable box magazine, modern ergonomics and a decent trigger. In a pinch, it can be fired much more rapidly than a bolt action. Although somewhat slower to cycle than autoloading hunting rifles, it is less susceptible to jams caused by defective ammunition or an accumulation of dirt and it is far less hassle to clean.
We all enjoyed the time spent with our BLR Lightweight Takedown test rifle. Depending on the specific model and the cartridge for which it is chambered, the BLR can serve as a predator, mountain, woods, dangerous game, inclement weather or all-around rifle. It is handy for a hunter to use in a tree stand and light enough to be carried for protection from dangerous predators. For the traveling hunter who needs a powerful, compact, easy to transport, repeating rifle there is nothing quite like the BLR Lightweight Takedown models. Browning rifles subtly exude quality and engender pride of ownership and the BLR is no exception. No wonder Browning's Lightweight BLR has such a devoted following!
RIFLE REVIEW SUMMARY
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