Gun Tests magazine compared two 17 HMR bolt-action rifles by Browning and Ruger in the September 2013 issue. The specific guns were the Browning T-Bolt Target/Varmint No. 025176270 17 HMR and the Ruger 77/17 Rotary Magazine Rifle K77/17VMBBZ No. 7027 17 HMR. The magazine’s shooters liked the Browning T-Bolt Target a lot, giving it an A- grade. Following are excerpts from that test, used with permission:
Browning T-Bolt Target/Varmint No. 025176270 17 HMR, $799
Our first impression of the T-Bolt Target/Varmint was that of a very solid structure. The barrel was free floated with about nine dollar bills’ worth of gap between the barrel and the forend. The T-Bolt weighed just 5.7 pounds. Sharp checkering on the forend and on the pistol grip improved its field handling. The lines in the glossy walnut were deftly machine cut rather than stamped. Sling studs appeared front and rear. The plastic buttpad didn’t offer shock absorption, but none was necessary. But thanks to a knurled surface, the plate did offer some grip, and its retro styling added classic visual appeal.
The gold-colored trigger has become one of Browning’s signature accents. The trigger guard was made from polymer but resembled aluminum. The guard was held in place by two Allen stock bolts, but there was also a smaller Allen bolt seated in a brass collar immediately forward of the trigger guard. This was the trigger-pull adjustment screw. Adjustment range is listed as 3.25 pounds to 5.25 pounds. Our T-Bolt was tested with the trigger set at about 4.5 pounds as shipped. We found virtually no creep, just a precise, clean let off. We couldn’t ask for much more than that.
The T-bolt rifles feed from Browning’s double helix magazine. This consists of two rotors stacked one atop the other. The rounds feed into the rotors like the teeth in a gear and form an “S” shape as they snake from one rotor to the other. Loading was made easier by turning the manual assist located at the rear of the magazine body. But the extra help was unnecessary. Magazine fit in the stock was not quite flush, but this didn’t interfere with bench or bag support, and we liked the ease with which the magazines entered and released from the receiver. Magazine capacity was 10 rounds. Only one magazine was supplied, and extras cost $70, which is a expensive, in our view.
The straight-pull bolt action required only about 1.6 inches of travel forward and back. But this was not the time to be subtle. The more swiftly we moved the bolt, the more positive the cycling. Although not the same mechanically as the high-end Blaser (pronounced Blah-zur) rifles or rifles commonly used in Olympic biathlon, the result was much the same. Thanks to linear action of the bolt, it was very easy to refill the chamber with minimum disturbance to the sight picture. Feeding from the double helix magazine was reliable and responsive, no matter how fast we worked the bolt.
Removing the bolt for cleaning and inspection was not quite as straightforward as simply working a lever while withdrawing the bolt. The regimen was to turn on the safety and pull back the bolt only enough to unlock it from battery. Then reach beneath the tail of the bolt and press the silver-colored release downward while pulling the bolt free. With the lever on Safe, the shooter could easily reinsert the bolt and return the action to battery. The one key to reassembly was to make sure the bolt handle was in the open position.
The Ruger’s bolt and bolt handle were much larger than the Browning’s T-Bolt. Feeding rounds through the Ruger was slower and more complicated than the T-Bolt action. And it was not always happy to feed rounds with pronounced hollow points. The straight pull T-Bolt was more reliable the faster it was operated.
The receiver was drilled and tapped for scope mounts. We found that compatible two-piece Weaver mounts were easy to find. We used Warne Maxima mounts to match our Warne Maxima rings and were very satisfied with both the strength of this setup and the ease of installation. At the range we achieved our best results firing the Federal Premium 17-grain TNT hollowpoint rounds. Even at 100 yards, our accuracy data was divided only by tenths of an inch. The Hornady 15.5-grain NTX rounds delivered 1-m.o.a. accuracy on average, but the 20-grain rounds from Winchester didn’t seem as agreeable, firing an average group computed to be about 1.2 inches center to center.
Actual smallest and largest five-shot groups fired from the Browning T-Bolt Target Varmint measured 0.8/1.1 inches, 0.6/1.0 inches and 1.1/1.4 inches for the 15.5-grain, 17-grain, and 20-grain rounds, respectively. Despite the growing availability of alternative bullet weights for 17 HMR ammunition, the 17-grain slug, which was the original commercial offering, seemed to be the best choice. In fact, when firing the 17-grain rounds and aiming with the first BDC circle in the Nikon, our shots proved dead on from 200 yards.
Our Team Said: The straight pull of the T-Bolt may afford the shooter the fastest way to engage multiple targets outside of a semi-auto, making it a great pick for squirrel hunting or prairie dog hunting at closer range. But even if you don’t hunt, this is a rimfire rifle that is hard to beat for sheer fun. It was a treat to set up a row of cans or clays and see how fast we could mow them down — or, thanks to the impact of 17 HMR — blow them up. We’d want to have extra magazines, but they are expensive. Then again, the double-helix magazines were so reliable, easy to refill, and replace in the receiver, they’re probably a bargain despite the cost.