Browning’s British brilliance

The UK version of the Browning A-Bolt Composite Stalker is tailored for shooting on these shores. Mark Stone finds that it’s also accurate and a joy to shoot

The A-Bolt’s exceptional balance and handling make it one of the fastest bolt-actions you’ve likely to encounter

You’ve got to admit that it’s one hell of a name for a rifle. The Browning A-Bolt Composite UK Stalker is not a title that rolls off the tongue in a hurry. As the name implies, the Browning was designed specifically for the UK market. It has a 5cm shorter barrel at 51cm, and is ready threaded for a moderator – two features that aren’t available on the standard Composite or the walnut-endowed Eurobolt versions.

Where the A-Bolt comes into its own is that the choice in the range is limited. Why is this good? It’s a well known fact that the more options you give someone, the more likely it is they won’t be able to make their mind up. But since the core of this Browning is of an excellent, time-proven design, it’s a case of a wood or synthetic stock with the option of open or a raised battue sight rib – and that’s all you need.

The benefit of the Composite UK Stalker’s threading is that if you opt for the correct moderator – such as an Ase Utra Jet-Z or any other short, lightweight can – the overall length doesn’t increase disproportionately while the balance should remain more or less as originally intended. I know this isn’t a point that seems to trouble British rifle shooters, but if any gun doesn’t balance and heft correctly, it’ll invariably be a pain to shoot no matter what you do.

On unpacking the A-Bolt UK Stalker you initially don’t seem to be getting anything more than a working .243 – the black synthetic stock, black anodised barrel and tapped receiver are plain and purposeful. However, once you look beneath the visual skin, the A-Bolt’s potential starts to become apparent. The straight combed stock is rounded off with a thick, soft rubber recoil pad, the carbine style incorporating quite a large palm swell on the grip, and it has fine chequering panels moulded into either side of both the grip and the forearm. And while the surface is in itself hard, the overall feel is tactile and warm to the touch.

Best of both worlds: The trapdoor mechanism holds a detachable four-round box magazine

The crown of the 51cm floating barrel is cut with an M14x1 thread and comes complete with a knurled protector. A pair of bases is also part of the kit, as is a spare magazine. ‘But surely the A-Bolt is of the trapdoor magazine design,’ I hear you say, and quite right, it is. However, when you activate the door release at the front of the trigger guard, the sprung door opens to reveal a detachable, four-shot capacity box magazine. By pushing the mag away from the rifle and against the retaining spring, you can remove it, allowing you to either reload it or quickly change over to the spare, fully loaded magazine. Not a design you see on a regular basis, but one that makes sense and gives the shooter the best of both worlds, especially since the magazines don’t incorporate any part of the firing mechanism.

The broad, grooved gold trigger blade at times looks slightly at odds with the rest of the rifle but is wide and comfortable. Direct only and breaking at a factory setting of 6lb 8oz, it might be a tad heavy for some but is creep-free and predictable with a well defined release point. Immediately above the trigger is the well-sized bolt handle whose large, teacake-shaped knob is angled round towards the shooter, instantly sitting it within the palm. The rotation is noticeably short – 60 degrees from locked to disengaged.

Interestingly, when you remove the bolt, its shape is triangular. The profile of the head continues the entire length of the polished bolt, an outer sleeve rotating the main body. This produces a superbly strong lock-up. Apart from the inherent strength, the operating benefit to the shooter is that the bolt almost runs on tracks. Jacking out a spent case and chambering the next live round is only fractionally slower than a straight pull. If you’ve never tried an A-Bolt I guarantee you’ll be impressed once you cycle the rifle a few times – the overall feel is of mechanical purity.

The two-position sliding safety sits directly behind the cocking indicator

For the purpose of the test the A-Bolt was fitted with one of Nikon’s ProStaff scopes mounted with a set of rings from Bond & Bywater. Combined, the outfit tipped the scales at 7lb 4oz, and since I refrained from fitting a moderator the overall length was a comfortable and compact 41¾in. Adding some of Winchester’s 95-grain CXP2 Ballistic Silvertip polycarbonate tipped bullets, we were in business. To get the A-Bolt on the paper, I zeroed the ProStaff using my Leupold Zero Point Boresighter. The rifle was 2in wide of the mark to start with, but six rounds later I was printing consistent ½-¾in groups from 100-150 yards, expanding to 3-4in when free-standing.

The firing sensation was crisp and defined, the configuration of the stock ensuring what little recoil the A-Bolt and Winchester ammo combination generated was directed backwards along a horizontal plane. As expected, a short barrel did make for a barky report. Just for once, I will say that this gun is actually meant to be fitted with a moderator, but for people like me who abstain from moderators on all but rimfires or specific circumstances, the A-Bolt’s handling and balance more than makes up for the noise. Sitting firmly in the lead hand, the gun pivots perfectly beneath the magazine and comes up extremely well, aided in no small part by the 13¾in length of pull.

What you may eventually start to find, especially during the shooting-in period, is that you may even start to practise speeding up your mount and cycling the rifle. It’s that pleasurable to use, and is a justification of its European popularity as a fast-handling, accurate driven game gun. From a high seat, an impromptu rest or freehand, this rifle is a joy – every aspect of the gun is designed to simplify the process and expedite a positive result.

Working on the theory that a sizeable percentage of potential customers will already have a suitable scope and rings along with an appropriate moderator, at just £550 the Composite UK Stalker version of the Browning A-Bolt has got to be one of the most economical routes into ownership of a stalking rifle. I can thoroughly recommend that you try a UK Stalker for yourself, if only to verify what an excellent tool it actually is.

As an aside I can also recommend Browning’s Upland Parka and Trousers along with the wide brimmed Akubra Coober Pedy hat, all of which I wore while out and about with the A-Bolt. A new lightweight general hunting suit manufactured from Browning’s proven PreVent breathable and silent material, the Upland makes an ideal outfit for warmer but wet late summer or early evening forays, with the ability to keep you dry yet cool.

Likewise, the Akubra hat that is more or less naturally waterproof. Not wide enough to catch on branches yet with sufficient overhang to ensure the rear bell of the scope is fully shrouded from the elements, the hat made an ideal partner for the suit over a variety of locations. So there you have it – look good and shoot well courtesy of the boys from Browning.

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Posted in Centrefire, Reviews

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