A Good Pair: The Browning BLR and the .358 Winchester

Jon Y. Wolfe

BLR Lightweight
Illustration courtesy of Browning.

The Browning BLR lever action rifle has all of the fine qualities of a good lever action with the inherent strength and accuracy of a bolt action. The combination of the BLR and .358 Winchester cartridge create a synergy of characteristics that makes for a practical and extremely useful rifle.

The BLR is more akin to a lever operated bolt action because multiple locking lugs on the head of the bolt rotate into the breech end of the barrel to create a very strong action. The rack and pinion operating design allows the trigger to move with the lever eliminating finger jams, and after several outings I have yet to have a malfunction of any kind.

The BLR has a receiver that is drilled and tapped for scope mounts, a hammer half cock safety, a fully enclosed bolt head, a rack and pinion lever action mechanism, four round magazine capacity, and a good trigger mechanism. It is the only lever action currently offered than can handle the pressures generated by high intensity and magnum loads.

The BLR reviewed has a pistol grip stock, 20 inch barrel, deep blued finish and American Walnut checkered stock. The weight is just 6.5 pounds, and overall length of just 40 inches. Adjustable iron sights are standard. The detachable box magazine allows the use of pointed bullets, and the new forend design eliminates the use of barrel bands.

This is one handy rifle that pokes big holes in targets and packs a lot of punch. I became aware of the .358 after writing an article on the .308 family of cartridges for Guns and Shooting Online. I had completed my article and Chuck pointed out that I had not mentioned the .358 Winchester. At the time I was not fully aware of such a cartridge. I did some research and became bewildered as to how the .358 Winchester had nearly gone into obsolescence and had been such a sales flop.

As I often do, I take things to the extreme when I become interested. I have since bought a BLR (the only production .358 Winchester rifle), and done some fairly extensive ballistics testing using different powders and bullets.

I made two discoveries during this process. First, the Browning BLR is a very dependable, accurate and easy to operate lever action. Second, the .358 Winchester is perhaps the most interesting cartridge in the .308 family. It offers everything one could possibly need for nearly all North American big game hunting applications, yet its sales have been awful.

It is often mistaken as a short range, meek looking deer and elk cartridge; but in real numbers, it offers an excellent combination of killing power, moderate recoil, and efficient powder burn. In fact, grain for grain, the .358 offers more killing power than any of its siblings and is effective out to about 257 yards with the 200 grain Barnes XLB at 2600 fps and 240 yards with a 225 grain Nosler ballistic tip or Barnes XLB at 2450.

A few loads I've tried in the .358 Winchester are 50 grains of IMR 4895 with the 225 grain Barnes XLB at 2479 fps and the 225 grain Nosler Ballistic Tip using 48.5 grains of Varget at 2304 fps. Both measurements were taken 10 feet from the muzzle.

The optimum game weight of the Barnes load stays above 600 lbs. out to 260 yards, with a maximum point blank range of 246 yards. Energy is 3070 ft. lbs. at the muzzle and 2003 ft. lbs. at 250 yards.  The Barnes load was outlined as achieving 2557 but my experience has been that my Browning BLR with a 20 inch barrel, usually falls about 50 to 75 fps slower.

The Barnes manual also has a load with the 200 grain XFB using 52 grains of Norma 201 powder that hits 2742 fps and 2653 fps with 53 grains of Varget. Using the Norma load at 2675 fps, the maximum point blank range is 258 yards.  In fact, the 200 grain .358 Win. is similar in trajectory to the 180 grain .308 Winchester, but the .358 has a greater frontal area and over all killing power. I don't think the .308 is considered a short range prospect?

The .358 case is relatively short, and most of the above loads are compressed. If boat tail/spire point bullets are used, the bullet will likely protrude too far into the powder space and decrease overall burn efficiency.  I would recommend a flat base bullet.

.358 brass is easy to make from .308 cases. I do it all the time as opposed to buying the .358 brass because the latter is more expensive. Reduce your loads initially by 10% and then work from there. I have had no problems converting .308 brass into .358. I use a standard RCBS resizing die.

When considering bullet selection for the .358 Winchester, a flat point or round nose bullet in the 220 to 250 grain range would make an ideal brush load for shots out to about 200 yards. I like the Speer Hot-Cor flat point 220 grain for CXP-2 class game and the Nosler Partition 250 grain for larger game like elk.

For longer shots like power line clear cuts and open fields, I like the Nosler Ballistic Tip 225 with a ballistic coefficient of .421 and a sectional density of .251. I'm shooting out to 175 yards with consistent groups with this bullet and 49 grains of IMR 4895 and 48.5 grains of Varget. Varget doesn't have the velocity of the 4895, but it is more consistent. I regularly get duplicate velocity numbers when shooting five shot groups with Varget. The reloader also has a wide variety of .357" pistol bullets available for plinking.

The Browning BLR in .358 Winchester is an excellent combination offering ease of use, rapid follow up shots, plenty of power and a wide variety of useful applications for the North American big game hunter.

Note: An in depth review of the Browning BLR Lightweight Takedown rifle can be found on the Product Reviews Page.

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