Browning T-Bolt Target/Varmint .17 HMR Rifle
By the Guns and Shooting Online Staff
The original Browning T-Bolt, made by FN and introduced in 1965, featured a straight pull bolt action and was designed for the .22 LR cartridge. To operate the action the bolt handle is simply pulled straight back to eject the spent brass and pushed straight forward to chamber a new cartridge. It gained an enviable reputation for accuracy and was produced for nine years, before being quietly discontinued in 1974.
Straight pull bolt actions have never gained much traction in the US market, although they are simpler and a little faster to operate than the conventional turn bolt action. Perhaps this is because the WW I vintage Ross straight pull high powered rifle, designed and built in Canada, developed a bad safety reputation and North American shooters have never fully recovered from that experience. Nevertheless, the original Browning T-Bolt worked fine and was entirely safe. The .22 LR cartridge is easily accommodated by a well-designed, straight pull bolt action such as the T-Bolt.
Apparently, some people at Browning missed the T-Bolt, so in 2006 a new version, this time made for Browning by Miroku in Japan, was introduced. The new T-Bolt gives Browning a well-rounded rimfire rifle line-up, with bolt action, lever action and autoloading models from which to choose. In addition, the new T-Bolt is available with right or left hand actions, both of which eject to the right side. (For some right-handed shooters, a straight pull action with a left-hand operated bolt handle is faster than the traditional right side bolt handle, because the shooting hand need not be removed from the pistol grip and trigger to operate the action. The reverse is true for some left-handed shooters.)
The new T-Bolt is similar to the original, but incorporates some "modern" features, such as a plastic trigger guard and magazine. Originally available in .22 LR, the T-Bolt line was expanded to include models chambered for the .17 HMR and .22 WMR cartridges in 2007. Also introduced in 2007 was the model reviewed here, the Target/Varmint version, with a heavier contour 22 inch barrel.
Despite its name, fatter barrel and varminter stock, the Target/Varmint is not a heavy rifle. It weighs only 5.5 pounds, so it is certainly not a burden to carry in the field. It would be an excellent choice for the hunter who has to walk to his varmint shooting. Following are some basic specifications for the T-Bolt Varmint/Target.
Action features include a blued steel barreled action, enlarged bolt handle, free floating barrel with target crown, top tang safety and three-lever externally adjustable trigger. Guns and Shooting Online's Gunsmithing Editor, Rocky Hays, adjusted the latter for a clean, 1.5 pound, target quality release.
The receiver is machined from steel bar stock. The action locks by means of what Browning describes as a cross-bolt and the cocking effort is divided between the opening and closing motions for ease of operation. The main spring runs through the pivot pin.
Browning's Double Helix rotary magazine deserves special mention. It has long been our opinion that rotary magazines are superior to conventional box magazines and the Double Helix merely reinforces that opinion. It holds 10 cartridges, is easy to load using the little thumb wheel on the side of the magazine (so that you do not have to fight against the magazine spring to force cartridges into the magazine) and functioned perfectly in our testing. Browning says of the Double Helix magazine that, "Torsion spring driven interlocking gears provide added reliability plus easy loading and unloading." The magazine release is right in front of the magazine well. All we can add is that the system works.
The black walnut Target/Varmint stock features a level Monte Carlo comb, wide forend, synthetic satin finish, four panel cut checkering, black plastic butt plate and detachable sling swivel studs. The comb is fluted and the pistol grip is attractively and comfortably curved in a segment of a circle. The synthetic stock finish is rather dull and we feel that a semi-gloss finish would show the grain of the wood to better advantage. A semi-gloss finish would also better match the nicely polished and blued barreled action.
To complement the T-Bolt Target/Varmint, we mounted a Nikon Monarch 4-16x42mm side focus riflescope with a BDC reticle. This fine scope was previously reviewed on Guns and Shooting Online and you will find that article on the Product Reviews page. We used Browning bases and rings to mount the scope on the rifle and it all went together properly. This scope turned out to be a good choice for the rifle.
Overall, we were favorably impressed by the T-Bolt and were anxious to get it to the range to see if it shot as good as it looks. For once, the Western Oregon weather cooperated with a string of warm, sunny days with temperatures in the low 70's F, albeit with variable wind gusts that tended to play havoc with the tiny 17 grain, .17 HMR bullets in flight. We tried to shoot between gusts and succeeded about eighty percent of the time.
Guns and Shooting Online staff members Rocky Hays, Gordon Landers and Chuck Hawks participated in the test shooting. As usual, this was accomplished at the Izaak Walton gun range south of Eugene. This facility offers covered shooting benches and 25, 50, 100 and 200 yard target stands. We did our preliminary sighting-in at 25 yards and moved out to 100 yards to shoot the groups recorded below. We used a Lead Sled DFT weighted with 50 pounds of shot to minimize human error.
For ammunition, we had Hornady Varmint Express, Remington Premier and Winchester Supreme, all with 17 grain plastic-tipped varmint bullets and CCI varmint loads using the Speer TNT 17 grain JHP bullet. All of these are loaded for a MV of about 2550 fps. Our 100 yard, five-shot groups for record were fired at Hoppe's Crosshair targets. Here are the results (excluding wind caused flyers):
AVERAGE GROUP SIZE, ALL BRANDS OF AMMUNITION = 1.13"
This time out, Chuck shot the single smallest group, using Winchester ammo. As you can see from those results, our T-Bolt is a very accurate rifle and it is not sensitive to different brands of ammunition. In three out of four cases, the smallest group measured 1 inch and in three out of four cases, the largest measured 1-3/8 inches. We'd call that amazingly consistent. Any of our four brands of ammo would do just fine for varmint hunting. However, as with most rifles, the groups fired with the different brands of ammunition were not centered at exactly the same place on the targets, so you will still have to pick one brand and stay with it.
We all liked the Double Helix magazine and appreciated the excellent trigger, which made it easy to take full advantage of the Browning's inherent accuracy. (After Rocky worked his magic, that is; the trigger was too heavy out of the box.) The stock fit all three shooters well and there were no malfunctions of any kind. The T-Bolt is actually so good at what it does that it made for an uneventful review and, in this case, that's a Very Good Thing.
RIFLE REVIEW SUMMARY
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