Browning AB3 .270 Winchester Bolt Action Rifle
The Browning AB3 is Browning's version of an inexpensive, downgraded, bolt action rifle. The 2015 MSRP is $599, but the current (June 2015) discount retail price is around $500.
The basics of the barreled action include an assembled bolt with three front locking lugs giving a 60-degree bolt lift, plunger ejector in the bolt face, button rifled, free floated barrel and a round bottom receiver sans recoil lug. The latter is essentially a thick washer trapped between the barrel and receiver in the manner popularized by Remington with the Model 721 and used by the vast majority of economy bolt actions ever since.
The fat bolt body is the diameter of the locking lugs with a smaller diameter bolt head, in the manner popularized by the Weatherby Mark V. This design minimizes bolt wobble as the bolt is stroked. The bolt knob is the angled and flattened sphere common to Browning bolt actions since the A-Bolt.
There is a two-position tang mounted safety slider and a red cocking indicator at the rear of the bolt. Cartridges are fed from a detachable box magazine; the release is directly in front of the magazine.
The plastic stock is a new style with a slightly trapezoidal (rather than oval) forend, flared pistol grip, right hand palm swell, deeply fluted comb and textured gripping areas. An Inflex recoil pad and steel sling swivel studs are included.
Features and Specifications
I might as well get the negatives out of the way first, and there are plenty of them. They include not just the plastic stock with visible mold lines, but even a plastic trigger and trigger guard. The detachable box magazine rattles and protrudes obnoxiously from the bottom of the rifle. The AB3 is obviously a big step down in quality compared to the Browning X-Bolt.
On a more positive note, the matte finish of the AB3 is better than the extremely rough, unpolished attempts typical of economy rifles. The Browning Inflex recoil pad is excellent and the plastic trigger's release is actually quite good, breaking at a crisp 3-3/4 pounds. Unlike some economy rifles, the bolt will not flop open if the handle is snagged; it is locked closed and yet it can be easily cycled, with the safety on, by pushing a button on the right side of the receiver.
The X-Bolt Composite Stalker has a sticker price of $859.99, normally retailing in the $750 range. The real-world difference in price between these two models is roughly $250. It all depends how important a couple of hundred of 2015 dollars is to you for a product that is not going to wear out from normal use.
There is a glut of bolt-action rifles designed to be cheaper, not better. Browning can hardly be condemned for wanting a piece of the entry-level pie, just like most other brands.
I mounted a Sightron SI 3-9x40mm scope on the AB3 using a Warne one-piece rail and Warne steel Maxima one inch, medium height rings. You certainly could use low mount rings if you wished, but the important thing for me is not struggling to get a scope low, it is instant alignment of the scope to my eye when the rifle is shouldered. The more important factors are proper eye relief, alignment with the eye with the rifle comfortably at the shoulder and adequate bolt clearance.
At the rifle range, despite my lackluster first impressions, the Browning AB3 performed very well. It shot adequately with most commercial .270 Winchester ammunition and grouped startling well, inside 0.10 inch at 100 yards, with Winchester AccuBond 140 grain cartridges. It does not just shoot touching/overlapping holes with the AccuBonds, groups form a nearly spherical hole.
The bolt itself was not particularly smooth out of the box, but a coating of Rand CLP and working the bolt several hundred times vastly improved the situation. The box magazine does not rattle when loaded. Although the rifle could use cosmetic help, its accuracy was a pleasant surprise and it functioned and operated reliably.
The entry-level rifle field is currently a crowded one, and that is an understatement. Over the last 30-35 centerfire rifles I have tested, there are two brands in the economy class that, for the modest price, are satisfying: Savage and Weatherby.
Browning has done well with the AB3, considering its low price point. I particularly like a bolt that locks closed, so it will not pull open if snagged. Although it is plasticy and matte, the matte finish is not as crude as some of the spectacularly unpolished finishes I have endured. At roughly 6-3/4 pounds unloaded, it can be considered a lightweight rifle and will kick accordingly with powerful cartridges.
The Browning AB3 is better built and better-performing than the Ruger American series, T/C Venture, Mossberg Patriot and most other econo-rifles. While it is hard for me to get wildly enthusiastic about plastic stocks, plastic trigger guards and plastic triggers, the Browning AB3 as tested is an excellent shooter and there is nothing that would prevent it from being an extremely effective hunting rifle for anyone.
Copyright 2015, 2016 by Randy Wakeman. All rights reserved.