My very first rifle was a little .22 Browning SA automatic, similar to the one used in fairgrounds in those far-off days. I must have put thousands of rounds through it, and it served me well for years.
Since then, I have owned both rifles and shotguns by Browning, and have found them to be unfailingly reliable and accurate. My own preference for a foxing rifle is normally .223, and this particular model is supplied in just two calibres: .223 and .243. The test rifle was the latter, and having used a .243 in the past, I know what a good all-round calibre it is.
As I have said many times, my preference is for wood-stocked rifles, but recently I have been taken by some of the synthetic models now available. Opening the case, the Browning A-Bolt Composite Stalker UK model really looked good; the overall dark grey and charcoal finish of the stock and the black barrel was set off nicely by the polished, non-rotating bolt housing, the gold trigger and the usual Browning logo etched in gold on the trigger guard.
Taking a more detailed look, the composite stock is excellent – it really handles well. The chequering is really ‘grippy’, which would be excellent in wet weather. There is no cheekpiece that would make it ambidextrous, but there is a palm swell on the right of the pistol grip. To finish off the stock, there is a black rubber recoil pad. Studs are fitted for the attachment of sling swivels.
The barrel follows the current trend for shorter rather than longer and is free-floated. The A-Bolt has a 22in, tapered, sporter-type barrel, threaded 14x1mm for a moderator. I think this barrel length is an excellent compromise and allows for easy handling when used in heavy woodland or within the confines of a vehicle.
The A-Bolt action is already well known, getting its name from the way the locking lugs are arranged; the bolt face is deeply recessed and is fitted with a spring-loaded claw extractor. This system has proved highly reliable for some considerable time.
The bolt, as already mentioned, has an outer casing that remains stationary when the bolt is operated. The plain, flattened and comfortable bolt handle has a low lift, keeping it well clear of the objective lens of the fitted scope.
I found the magazine rather intriguing. It took me a while to work out that what appears to be a floor plate design in fact houses a detachable four-shot magazine (five in .223) and can be released from its housing when the magazine is dropped by pressing the release button on the trigger guard. To add to this, Browning has thoughtfully provided a spare magazine.
The adjustable trigger was set at just under four pounds and released really crisply with no discernible creep. Finally, the safety situated at the end of the receiver is substantial, has a cocking indicator, and comes easily to the thumb.
The rifle was fitted with a Zeiss Duralyt 3-12×50 scope with an illuminated reticle. I have tested another of the Duralyt range before and found them to be really good value for money; this was the larger model and the one that is proving to be the most popular in the range. The illuminated reticle was a crosshair with a dot controlled by two buttons on the ocular bell; only the dot was illuminated in use and could be varied in intensity.
The optics were excellent as you would expect from this manufacturer. At about £850 for the illuminated model, you get a class unit with a name to be proud of. For foxing, which is my main occupation, the low light capabilities of this scope became apparent early on when the recent hot spell broke and heavy cloud cover appeared. Late evening work became much easier thanks to a scope that could cope easily until the light really failed.
The turrets were on the small side and I had to remind myself that the adjustment was 1cm at 100 metres, not my more usual quarter inch at 100 yards. In use, adjustments could be made easily and the zero position can be set by lifting the turret against a spring. Simple but effective.
Finally, for the accuracy test, I used Winchester 95-grain ballistic Silvertips. This is somewhat weightier ammo than I normally use for foxes, but as they say, dead is dead and for test purposes this was what I was supplied with. With their characteristic nickel-plated brass cases, black Lubalox coated heads topped off with a grey polymer ballistic tip, they certainly looked the part. With a muzzle velocity of 3,100fps, they certainly weren’t going to hang around. Zeroing turned out to be easy; it has been some time since I used an unmoderated rifle and although the A-Bolt is supplied threaded for a mod, my 14×1 didn’t fit, so it was back to the old days. I have to say it was rather pleasant using a rifle as nature intended.
Recoil was totally manageable, and as one would expect from a top-class rifle topped with a fantastic scope, accuracy was very good, producing sub-one inch groups from the word go.
I would say Browning has produced a very good rifle that I am sure would give any buyer pleasure of both ownership and practical function. Unfortunately, although I did my best to find an obliging Charlie to try out the 95-grain Silvertips on, there were no volunteers. The rifle needed to be back, so reluctantly I had to abandon the search for a fox, and said goodbye to a rifle that was a pleasure to use. MP