The Autoloading Action

By Chuck Hawks

The gas operated autoloading action (also called a "semiautomatic" action) was invented by John Browning around the turn of the 20th Century. The U.S. Army's M-1 Garand service rifle of WW II and Korean war fame was probably the best known of all gas operated autoloading rifles, at least until recently. A gas operated autoloader bleeds off a small portion of the expanding gas created by the burning gunpowder when the rifle is fired. This gas flows into a cylinder, where it forces a piston to move the operating rod that works the action.

The two premier autoloading hunting rifles from the major manufacturers today are the Remington Model 7400 and the Browning BAR Mark II. Both are gas operated designs with dual action bars, a front locking rotating bolt, and a good reputation for reliability and reduced recoil. They are both modern, good-looking rifles.

The autoloader's gas operation definitely makes hard kicking high intensity cartridges more pleasant to shoot, an important advantage over other action types. Of course, the strong point of the autoloader has always been fast repeat shots, in this case 4 or 5 rounds as fast as you can aim and squeeze the trigger. This could be a great comfort if it came to stopping a beast intent on terminating the hunter who irritated it! Another advantage of the autoloader, for left handed shooters, is that they are ambidextrous. Oddly, at least for most of my life, autoloaders have had a good reputation for accuracy, probably better than lever actions, whereas the nearly identical pump actions have not. In reality, all of these types can be equally accurate.

The main disadvantage of the autoloader is the possibility of less than totally reliable operation, especially when dirty, or in very cold weather. Cleaning and lubricating with a product like Prolix (which does not attract dirt, and will not freeze), should go a long way toward quieting these fears. Another disadvantage is their relatively complicated, and thus creepy, trigger mechanisms. This latter problem can be solved by a competent gunsmith.

The Remington 7400 is the direct descendent of the 740. The standard model comes with a nicely polished blued metal finish and a checkered, satin finish, Monte Carlo, walnut stock and forearm. It has a detachable box magazine and comes standard with iron sights. Its receiver is decorated by what Remington calls its "fine-line engraving process." At 7.5 pounds, the 7400 is noticeably lighter than the Browning BAR. A carbine length barrel and glossy stock finish are available in certain calibers. There is also a rather ugly version with a matte finish on all metal surfaces and a black synthetic (fiberglass reinforced plastic) stock called the Model 7400 Synthetic. Calibers are .243, .270, .280, .30-06, and .308. The carbine model is available in .30-06 only.

The Browning BAR Mark II autoloader, which is currently made in Belgium and assembled in Portugal, comes in two basic models. The Safari model has an engraved steel receiver and 22 inch (for standard calibers) or 24 inch (for magnum calibers) barrel. The Lightweight model has an alloy receiver and 20 inch barrel. The steel receiver and barrel are highly polished and deeply blued. Like most Brownings, the overall fit and finish is outstanding. All BAR's come with glossy select walnut stocks, studs for detachable sling swivels, a seven locking lug rotating bolt, and a detachable box magazine. Iron sights are standard on the lightweight model, and optional on the Safari model. The BOSS (ballistic optimizing shooting system) is an option available on the Safari model only. Lightweight model calibers include .243 Win., .270 Win., .308 Win., and .30-06 Spfd. The Safari model is chambered for standard calibers .243 Win., .25-06 Rem., .270 Win., .308 Win., and .30-06 plus belted magnum calibers 7mm Rem. Mag., .300 Win. Mag., and .338 Win. Mag. I would like to see the available calibers expanded to include 7mm-08 Rem. in the Lightweight model, and .257 Roberts, .35 Whelen, and .458 Win. Mag. in the Safari model.

The Safari model BAR's principle drawbacks are its creepy trigger, and its relatively heavy weight of 8 lbs. 6 oz. without a scope. Of course, the heavy weight, gas operation, and BOSS combine to make it very pleasant to shoot.

I have not mentioned the military style autoloaders, the "assault rifles" as they are called by the antigun media, that are so popular today. While these do not appeal to me, I believe they should be called "Freedom rifles." These are exactly the sort of privately owned military style (militia) rifles the Founding Fathers specifically granted the people the RIGHT to maintain and bear without interference, in order to preserve our freedom. The Second Amendment in the Bill of Rights was written to insure that this freedom would never be abridged. These are generally gas operated, like the 7400 or BAR, and while some of these could be used for hunting or target shooting, that is not their primary purpose. However, that is another article . . . .

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Copyright 1999, 2013 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.