Compared: Browning BLR Lightweight and Henry Long Ranger Lever Action Carbines
By Chuck Hawks
Although there are a number of excellent lever action hunting rifles from several manufacturers that are chambered for traditional rimmed cartridges (.30-30, .25-35, .38-55, .444 Marlin, etc.), I know of only two current production lever action rifles intended for use with modern high intensity cartridges (.243 Win., .308 Win., etc.). These are the Browning BLR and the Henry Long Ranger, both of which have been the subject of full length Guns and Shooting Online reviews. These two rifles have numerous similarities, but also significant differences.
Both are based on a geared (rack and pinion) lever action that operates a bolt with a rotating, multi-lug head that locks into a barrel extension via cam action when the lever is closed. The result is a lever action rifle with the strength and operating pressure handling capability of a bolt action rifle. This also allows the receiver to be made of lightweight aluminum alloy, reducing the weight of the rifle, since the receiver merely holds the operating parts and is not a factor in the operating strength of the action. The .308 Win. carbine versions of both rifles that are compared here come with 20 inch barrels.
Other similarities between the two actions include right side ejection, a removable/replaceable box magazine and an external hammer designed to allow safe carry with a round in the chamber. Neither has, nor needs, a separate manual safety. The solid top receivers are drilled and tapped for convenient riflescope mounting.
Both rifles use two-piece stocks with a butt that terminates in a functional recoil pad. They are available with open iron sights. Aesthetically, both rifles attempt to combine a modern appearance with a traditional styling. There is only an inconsequential $5.04 difference in their 2017 MSRPs.
Of course, these are different rifles from different manufacturers that are made in different countries and none of their parts are interchangeable. Therefore, a comparison is in order and should prove interesting. I am reasonably familiar with both rifles, having used and reviewed both of them.
Browning BLR Lightweight
The BLR has been in the Browning line for many years and is consequently available in more calibers (a current total of 14, from .223 Rem. to .450 Marlin) and permutations than the Long Ranger. Although this comparison is based on short action, blued steel, solid frame carbines chambered for .308 Winchester, the BLR Lightweight is also available with a long (.30-06 length) action and in stainless, rather than blued, steel.
The standard BLR Lightweight comes with a pistol grip stock and a Schnable fore end, but there is also a BLR Lightweight '81 model with a straight hand stock and a fore end secured by a carbine band. There is even a stainless/laminated, takedown version of the Lightweight '81 model.
The BLR Lightweight with a pistol grip walnut stock, the subject of this comparison, comes with a 20" carbine length, chromoly, button rifled barrel in short action calibers. However, long action calibers (.270 Win. and .30-06) and WSM Magnum calibers come with 22" barrels, while the 7mm Rem. and .300 Win. Magnums come with 24" barrels.
The Grade 1 black walnut stock is given a high gloss finish that brings out what grain and figure the stock possesses and matches the highly polished and blued barrel and gloss black anodized receiver. Additional classy touches include a fluted bolt left in the white, gold finished aluminum trigger, steel sling swivel studs and a solid black recoil pad. Like most classic Browning offerings, the BLR is clearly a deluxe rifle.
The BLR is manufactured in Japan by Browning's long time partner, Miroku. Browning/Miroku firearms have earned an enviable reputation for high quality, precision assembly and fine finish.
Henry Long Ranger
The Long Ranger was introduced in 2016 by Henry Repeating Arms. They wanted a new lever action design specifically intended for use with high intensity, short action cartridges (primarily the .308 Winchester family) and the Long Ranger is the result. Initial calibers are .223 Remington, .243 Winchester and .308 Winchester, with additional short action calibers to come. (See our series of suggested caliber offerings for the Long Ranger under the "Henry Long Ranger Rifle Information" heading on the Rifle Information index page.) The current barrel length is 20" for all calibers.
Before actual design work was started, the Henry team debated a rear locking bolt design, along the lines of the Savage 99, versus a front locking bolt design of the Winchester Model 88 type. Either approach is sufficiently strong, but the front locking bolt won out.
The result is a forged steel lever operating a rack and pinion system to move a machined and industrial hard chromed bolt with a six lug rotary head. However, instead of burying the receiver in a one-piece stock in Model 88 and bolt action style, a two-piece stock design more reminiscent of traditional lever action rifles (Savage 99, etc.) was chosen. The magazine release button is located in the right side of the receiver, also reminiscent (but less intrusive) of the detachable magazine versions of the Model 99.
The new Long Ranger incorporates Henry's interpretation of certain Model 88 and Model 99 design elements, along with their own innovations. Henry chose an unobtrusive matte metal finish and satin stock finish for the Long Ranger. Included are steel sling swivel studs, Weaver style scope bases and a solid black recoil pad.
With its rack and pinion bolt, hard anodized aluminum receiver, external hammer and two-piece stock, the Long Ranger inevitably invites comparison to the existing Browning BLR. Like all Henry firearms, the Long Ranger is "Made in America Or Not Made At All."
The Long Ranger is noticeably heavier than the BLR Lightweight. The extra heft moderates recoil, but makes the rifle more tiring to carry in the field.
The Henry receiver is longer than the Browning receiver, but lightly shallower and not quite as wide. Visually, the biggest difference between the receivers (other than the finish) is that the Browning's detachable magazine protrudes below the line of the receiver, while the Henry's detachable magazine does not.
Speaking of magazines, both are all metal, detachable, double stack, hold four .308 cartridges and feed smoothly. They are about the same size and equally easy to load. Extra magazines are available from the manufacturer.
Neither magazine is particularly difficult to eject or seat, although the BLR magazine, the shape of which is more tapered, seems to be smoother and easier to remove and replace. The BLR mag release is a short, recessed lever at the bottom of the receiver, directly in front of the magazine, which I find easier to use. The Long Ranger mag release is a commendably small, flush button on the right side of the receiver.
The advantage of a detachable magazine is there is no need to cycle cartridges remaining in the magazine through the action to empty the rifle. The disadvantage is that the magazine may be separated from the rifle and lost, rendering the rifle a single shot that is usually very difficult to load, due to the yawning opening left by an absent magazine. This means the cartridge must be placed most of the way into the chamber with the muzzle depressed before the bolt can be closed; otherwise the cartridge will fall out through the magazine well. The typically small ejection port of most autoloading and side-ejection lever actions makes getting a cartridge into the chamber difficult.
The lever throw of both rifles is less than 90 degrees. I don't have a protractor, but I would estimate lever throws in the 60-70 degree range. In any case, the lever stroke is shorter than that of a Winchester Model 94 or Marlin 336.
Operating the BLR lever requires more effort than the Long Ranger, especially as the bolt cocks the hammer. However, the BLR's bolt feels like it slides more smoothly once the hammer is cocked, perhaps because the BLR bolt is heavily fluted. Both levers have very little play and provide a solid feel. Subjectively, at least to me, operating the Long Ranger action feels a little better.
A notable difference is that the BLR's trigger is attached to and moves with the lever, like the long discontinued Winchester Model 88. This prevents stabbing the index finger with the end of the trigger as the lever is closed. (Keep your finger outside of the trigger guard as you operate the action of traditional lever action rifles and the Long Ranger.) It also means a more complicated connection between trigger and sear and usually degrades the trigger pull. A spongy, heavy trigger was one of the most common complaints about the Model 88.
The BLR is supplied with a wide, gold finished, aluminum alloy trigger with a grooved face. The Long Ranger comes with a medium width, blued steel trigger with a smooth face. The Browning trigger has a tighter curve that may be favored by those with thin fingers, while the Henry's more open trigger curve may be favored by those with thick fingers. My more or less average size finger found both triggers comfortable to pull. There is a lot more space inside the Henry's trigger guard, which might be important if you need to wear winter gloves while hunting.
The Long Ranger's out of the box trigger pull is about a pound lighter than the BLR's trigger. It also has less creep (almost none) before release. The Long Ranger's trigger is definitely superior.
Either rifle would normally be carried in the field with the chamber loaded and the hammer lowered (to the "quarter cock" position in the case of the BLR and all the way to the frame in the case of the Long Ranger). To fire a shot, you just manually cock the hammer; there is no manual cross-bolt or sliding tang safety to forget or fumble.
The Long Ranger safety is an automatic transfer bar mounted in the hammer face. Pulling the trigger raises the transfer bar as the hammer moves forward, allowing the hammer to hit the firing pin. Even if struck by a sledge hammer blow, the hammer cannot hit the firing pin unless the trigger is pulled all the way back.
The BLR safety system requires the shooter to draw the hammer back to a "quarter cock" position. Unlike traditional lever action rifles that rely on a quarter cock hammer notch safety, the BLR cannot be forced to fire by a strong blow on the hammer, even if it breaks internal parts. 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 by a blow on the hammer.
The Long Ranger hammer has a longer travel and requires noticeably less effort to cock. It feels exceptionally smooth. However, the BLR hammer spur is about twice the width of the Long Ranger hammer spur (approx. 0.6" vs. 0.3") and less angular, which gives the cocking thumb a superior platform.
The Long Ranger stock has a slightly longer length of pull (1/4") and a lot more pitch down, although the drop at comb feels similar. Only the Browning's comb is fluted, a thoughtful touch.
Both stocks fit me fine and my eye lines up correctly with a scope mounted in low or medium height rings when I bring the rifles to my shoulder. The Henry stock has a slimmer fore end and a smaller circumference at the grip, which feels better to me, as I am a fan of slender stocks.
As a gun writer, I shoot a lot of different rifles and have done so for a long time. I probably accommodate to different stock shapes more readily than the average shooter. Stock fit is a personal matter and anyone considering one of these rifles should try both of them for him/her self.
One obvious advantage of the Henry stock is the higher grade of black walnut used, at least in my test rifle. This is semi-fancy wood with attractive grain and figure. The Browning's black walnut stock is described as "Grade 1," which is standard grade walnut.
Both stocks are adorned with functional, single border, laser cut checkering. The BLR's checkering is applied to the grip and fore end in four panels. The Long Ranger's checkering wraps around the grip area in one panel and wraps around the fore end in another panel. Were it hand cut, this would be the more expensive checkering scheme.
Aesthetics are a personal matter. The two rifles share a somewhat similar profile. Both are handsome, but neither is as trim as, for example, a Winchester Model 94 carbine. The Henry has a slimmer stock and fore end, which provides an overall sleeker feel and silhouette that I prefer.
On the other hand, I find the Browning's high gloss wood and metal finish considerably more attractive than the Henry's understated matte receiver and satin stock finish. The Henry may be more "practical," but the Browning's finish is prettier and very durable.
The .308 Winchester is widely considered to be an accurate cartridge. With their front locking bolts, the BLR and Long Ranger are as intrinsically accurate as comparable autoloading, falling block and bolt action hunting rifles. I found no quantifiable difference in their inherent accuracy.
Such things as the difference in trigger pulls and stock fit may make one or the other easier for an individual shooter to shoot accurately under field conditions (practical accuracy). Practical accuracy (the ease of shooting a rifle accurately) is more important in a hunting rifle than intrinsic (mechanical) accuracy.
Actually, hunting rifle accuracy is very over emphasized today. Several big game hunting rifles from major manufacturers, not just custom shops, come with MOA or sub-MOA accuracy guarantees. This means a rifle that will shoot 3" or smaller three shot groups at 300 yards! Any big game rifle that will shoot within 2 MOA is more than sufficiently accurate for its purpose and that certainly includes both of these lever actions, which typically deliver about 1.5 MOA with factory loaded hunting ammunition.
Suitability for Reloaders
Because their bolts lock at the head, case stretch in minimized in the BLR and Long Ranger. This makes them eminently suitable for reloaders. Like all manually operated actions, and unlike autoloading actions, they allow reloaders to eject fired cases into the hand or onto a shooting bench to prevent dirt, dents and scratches.
Like most Guns and Shooting Online rifle comparisons, the point is not for the article author to tell the reader which rifle is better, but to present an honest appraisal of each rifle, allowing you, gentle reader, to form your own conclusions, based on your unique needs and experience.
With their smooth receivers and no bolt handle sticking out the side, these lever actions are more comfortable to carry in the hand, or slung over the shoulder, than a bolt action or autoloading rifle. Both offer fast repeat shots, should it become necessary.
In the case of the Browning BLR Lightweight and Henry Long Ranger carbines, my honest opinion is they are both very good rifles. The devil is, as usual, in the details, which I hope this comparison has helped to clarify.
Copyright 2017 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.