Browning T-Bolt Target/Varmint No. 025176204 22 WMR
When members of the Gun Tests staff were contemplating a return to North Dakota for a prairie dog hunt, one of their concerns was the cost of ammunition. The last time they traveled to the Bismarck-Mandan area, game was so plentiful they expended a huge amount of ammunition.
The .204 Ruger bolt-action rifles proved to be an excellent choice, but if they were going to make the trip again, they had to find a way to cut costs. The staff considered a change to rimfire rifles. Their first impulse was to load up on 17 HMR ammunition. But after checking prices and availability, they decided on a more traditional round that was cheaper and easier to find, 22 Winchester Magnum Rifle, or 22 WMR. It's been a long time since Gun Tests has tested varmint rifles chambered for 22 WMR, and one of the rifles chosen was the $729 Browning T-Bolt Target/Varmint No. 025176204.
Ammunition costs ran from $8.99 per 50-round box of Winchester 40-grain JHP from Walmart to $11.95 per 50 rounds of 50-grain Federal Game-Shok hollowpoints purchased at our test site, American Shooting Centers in Houston. The Winchester rounds were tipped with exposed lead, and we think they probably should be listed as semi-jacketed hollow points. The Gun Tests staff also shot some $9.99 CCI 40-grain Maxi-Mag JHP rounds that they found at Academy Sports and Outdoors.
The gun did not come with sights, so Gun Tests mounted a Burris Timberline 4.5X-14X scope. This was the same scope the magazine used in our test of 204 Ruger bolt-action rifles in the September 2008 issue. The Burris Timberline No. 201344 featured a Ballistic Plex reticle and adjustable parallax. This allowed them to adjust clarity at two points. The ring on the bell of the objective was marked with distance calibrations from 7 yards to infinity. The rear lens or eyepiece could also be rotated to adjust focus. Test distance was 100 yards, and the gun was tested with the scope adjusted to 14-power. The fore end was mounted on a Ransom rifle rest. The rear of the gun was controlled by the shooter with the aid of a beanie bag beneath the stock. On test day the Kestral 4000 NV Weather Tracker (sinclairintl.com), registered high humidity (about 88%) and occasional gusts of wind ranging from 5-8 mph breaking diagonally from left to right. The only real detriment was the relatively dim light provided by overcast skies.
The Browning T-Bolt is not a new design, but the shooters were willing to bet most readers have never shot one. The T-Bolt design offers a straight-pull bolt, which is not unique, but it is uncommon. The first clue to its operation was the lack of relief on the side of the stock that typically shelters the bolt when in its lock position. The bolt handle on our Browning jutted out nearly 90 degrees. This prompted us to remove the bolt before sandwiching the rifle in between the foam pads of our rifle case. To remove the bolt we first slid the thumb-operated top tang safety rearward to the on position. Next, we pulled on the bolt so that it unlocked and pivoted outward. Pressing on the chrome-colored release located directly beneath the rear of the bolt freed it from the action.
What was the advantage of the straight-pull bolt? In a word, speed. We found it possible to rock and roll through the capacity of its 10-round rotary magazine faster than most cowboy action devotees can work a lever-action rifle. The Browning T-Bolt was fun to shoot.
The Target/Varmint we tested was one of eight different T-Bolt modelsfour right-handed, four left-handed. Prices for 22 WMR T-Bolts ranged from $709 for a Sporter with composite stock to $739 for a left-handed version of the same Target Varmint model we tested. T-Bolts that come with composite stocks include a storage compartment behind the butt plate suitable for carrying an extra magazine. Thats a handy feature we would have liked on our rifle but given the choice we couldnt resist the walnut Monte Carlo stock with cut checkering. T-Bolts with wood stocks are seamlessly fit with a plastic butt plate of classic design. T-Bolts are offered in three rimfire calibers, 22 LR, 22 WMR, and 17 HMR. Since none of these rounds generates harsh recoil, we saw little need for a more shock absorbent pad. But at times we wished for a buttpad that was less slippery. This would have helped us keep the rifle steady while working the bolt.
Each model T-Bolt is shipped with a 22-inch barrel. Naturally the Target/Varmint models weigh more due to their full profile heavy target barrels. Additional features include a free-float barrel and recessed crown. The trigger was adjustable, but we left it at the factory set resistance of 5 pounds. We could have made it lighter, but we dont think we could have made it more precise. Browning refers to this trigger as its "Three Lever" design. But the only lever we were aware of was the gold-colored one beneath our index finger. There was virtually no hint of movement, negative or otherwise before let off.
The top of the receiver was drilled and tapped for a scope mount. Scope mounts for the Browning were pretty easy to find in stores and catalogs. We foraged through our spare parts box and found a two-piece mount by Warne that fit. Adding low mount 1-inch utility rings by B-Square we mounted our scope and it was off to the range. Setting up at the bench we began loading the Browning Double Helix magazine. This magazine consisted of two spools one above the other inside a translucent plastic chamber. One end of the magazine was metal. The upper spool was smaller in diameter than the lower one and could be rotated manually by way of a knurled wheel available from the right side. We found that rounds entered the magazine easily enough, but loading could be aided by spinning the wheel. If we did flub pressing a round into the magazine, the wheel made it easy to remove it and begin again. We liked the way the magazine popped into the receiver and how easy it was to remove via the release lever located ahead of the magazine well. In our opinion the magazine was secure and there was no danger of it being ejected accidentally. Once seated, the magazine was flush with the stock. This could be helpful when improvising a method of supporting the rifle.
There are a variety of 22 WMR rounds available, but we think our three choices were representative. The most accurate performer in the Browning T-Bolt was the CCI Maxi-Mag 40-grain JHP rounds. We landed groups that printed consistently in patterns ranging in size between 0.9 and 1.2 inches across. The power of these rounds computed to an average of 337 ft.-lbs. of muzzle energy. This was substantially more energy than was produced by any of the three 17 HMR rifles we tested for our October 2004 issue. The highest average muzzle energy recorded by the 17 HMR ammunition was about 276 ft.-lbs. when fired from rifles that were fit with barrels comparable in length to our 22 WMR rifles. Accuracy and power from the 40-grain Winchester hollowpoints ranked not far behind results from shooting the CCI ammunition. The 50-grain Federal Game-Shok rounds moved substantially slower, about 1450 fps on average, and produced a calculated 234 ft.-lbs. of energy. We shot groups measuring about 1.4 inches across with the Federal ammunition.
The overall feel of the Browning T-Bolt was a lightweight rifle with distinct muzzle-heavy bias. The Sporter models with lighter barrels would probably be ideal for those who prefer portability over other concerns. But with the heavy barrel in place, this is a handsome rifle that should take well to high-volume fast-action shooting.