Assessing the rarity that is a straight-pull rimfire, Byron Pace puts the Browning T-Bolt to the test
I first heard about the Browning T-Bolt from an old keeper friend of mine. Ernie was one of those souls who had a wealth of knowledge to share, collected over decades of hard graft and time in the field. Over one of our catch-ups in front of the fire, Ernie spoke fondly of the old T-Bolt he had back in the 1960s and the many thousands of rabbits that fell to the little straight pull .22LR. With his endorsement of Browning’s old rifle still firmly fixed in my mind, I was keen to see what the modern day version had to offer.
The timing couldn’t have been better. The bulk of this year’s young rabbits were now out in force, and there was a desperate need to thin out the numbers before the foliage got too high. Armed with the T-Bolt in .22LR, a zero at 45 yards and a few test shots out to 100 yards, I was ready to go.
The first thing I noted was that the trigger wasn’t quite to my liking. Apart from the blinged up gold blade, it had quite a heavy pull, breaking around the 4lb mark. My initial shots scattered a little more generously than I expected at 45 yards, and I had a sneaking suspicion that the trigger was to blame – or that I wasn’t used to the heavy pull and this was causing the rifle not to perform to the best its ability. Concentrating a bit harder on my trigger finger soon solved the problem, dropping Winchester subs in a five shot group a little over half an inch apart.
Rather unusually in the world of rimfires, the T-Bolt is a straight pull, recently being joined in the market by a straight pull from Anschütz. Most hunters will be familiar with the premise of the design through full bore rifles, which are particularly popular on the Continent, where faster reloading is a big advantage on driven hunts. The increasing popularity of Blaser rifles in the UK has also introduced the straight pull concept to a greater number of people. Essentially, instead of having to lift the bolt up before dropping it back to eject a spent round, a firm, rearward pulling motion does the same job. When loading a round simply push the bolt forward until it locks into the receiver – no need to drop the bolt handle back down. In this way you can reload ready for fire noticeably quicker than a traditional bolt action.
Of course, as with most things, there is a down side as well. The price you pay on the T-Bolt is that the action is a bit noisy in operation. It is also a bit on the stiff side when disengaging the locking disks from the action, and requires a firm, positive motion to lock up the bolt again.
The straight-pull design is interesting in itself, and for those who have not seen one before, it may not be immediately obvious how the whole thing works. The key is in the sliding lugs, which move at ninety degrees to the bolt shaft when operating the bolt handle. In this way the internal locking disks can be extracted and inserted in the corresponding holes in the receiver at the same time as cocking the action. It’s a pretty simple, yet clever alternative that seems to do the job just fine.
Case extraction is achieved in the same manner as most rimfire I can think of, with twin claws on the bolt face and a fixed stop ejector. Releasing the bolt itself did make me scratch my head enough to look at the instructions. For this you first need to drop the bolt back, but just enough so it’s disengaged. Then, after taking the safety catch off, depress the ridged release lever directly behind the back of the bolt. With that done, the bolt will just slide out.
The magazine of the T-Bolt is worth a special mention, as it varies considerably from most other rimfires on the market. Most hunters will be used to the straight stack design seen in a CZ or Anschutz, but Browning have opted for a twin rotary mag. Easy enough to load with the aid of a de-tensioning wheel, this compact design allows a full 10 shots to be loaded almost flush with the rifle. Of course, rotary magazines are never likely to be as reliable in the long run as a traditional metal straight stack, but I couldn’t find any fault with it during the time I had the rifle.
Taking the rifle apart did provide one surprise: Browning has gone to the trouble of bedding the rifle into the stock around the action screws. It may not be the best bedding job in the world, but I couldn’t recall any other off-the-shelf rimfire with resin bedding. The T-Bolt also sports a small recoil pin sitting at the end of the action, and this too is bedded. Turning to the bottom assembly, synthetic washers form a kind of bedding platform for the plastic magazine housing and integral trigger guard. It may not be the robust undercarriage I have ever seen, but it looks good.
The safety catch on the T-Bolt is a straightforward affair, found in the same position as a shotgun, with a forward for ‘fire’ and rearward for ‘safe’ operation. Although it’s convenient in location, it is very noisy unless carefully and deliberately slid back and forward.
I would classify the barrel on this model as a heavy sporter, a nice compromise between weight and the benefit of having a thicker barrel for extended use. At 16.5in long, the free-floating barrel was also perfectly compact for shooting from a vehicle, finished off with a recessed crown.
The rifle itself handled well, and I found the stock design adequately comfortable, facilitating a very pointable little rifle that brought my eye to the mounted scope with little effort.
All in all, I have to admit that I rather enjoyed my time with the T-Bolt. It offers something a little different, and although from a pure accuracy standpoint it never blew me away on paper, it was very successful in the field. More than 300 bunnies must have fallen that week, with deliberately placed shots up to 95 yards. The action is, of course, faster than the standard bolt-action design, but the result of this design is an action that really has to be worked – and this means it’s also a bit noisier.
Coming in at around the £470 mark, it’s £100 more than a CZ but still £200 less than the switch barrel Sako Quad, sitting comfortably in the middle ground of the rimfire world.
For more information, contact Browning UK on 01235 514550 or www.browning.eu.