Nearly 20 years have passed since a (then small) German rifle maker introduced a straight-pull rifle that turned the market upside down.
Since then other straight-pull designs have entered the rifle scene and a few have vanished as fast as they turned up. A lot of the designs have been technically complicated and neither very reliable nor fast repeating.
The new Browning Maral is derived from the latest version of the well known semi-automatic BAR (Browning Automatic Rifle) that has been in continuous production since 1966. The relatively new Browning BAR Zenith is the closest ancestor of the Maral.
The main difference between the two rifles is that the gas system in the forearm of the BAR is replaced by a newly developed set of constant force return springs in the forearm of the Maral and the bolt of the rifle is equipped with a handle.
The shooter delivers the force necessary to work the action and thus the Maral is, technically speaking, a straight-pull bolt action repeater.
Operating the rifle is incredibly straightforward: Pull the handle all the way back and let it go. The return springs slam the action shut. As the headline states: Pull and let go – there is no way to do it wrong. It is built to shine in any hunting situation where you need to send swarms of bullets flying towards your targets in a very short while.
On the continent, there is a specific need for this kind of firepower on the popular driven hunts. The simple semi-automatic solution is rapidly growing out of fashion as more and more countries take steps to limit the legal magazine capacities of semi-automatic rifles – or simply ban the autos altogether.
In most of Europe, semi-automatic rifles must be limited to two shots in the magazine plus one in the chamber, which is considered too little by most hunters. Fast firing repeaters are thought to be in growing demand and this is the niche the Maral is meant to fill.
It is the second time that Browning has launched a repeater based on the BAR. The previous model was called Browning Acera. It was not a commercial success and quickly went out of production, but to look at the new Maral as the “Acera II” would be a mistake.
The Maral is a completely redesigned rifle with many new features and details that set it apart from anything you have seen before. The Maral mainly stands out from the crowd of straight-pull rifles due to its unique return spring system.
Under the supervision of Claude Dodrimont, who has been designing Browning firearms for more than three decades, Browning’s engineers have succeeded in designing an incredibly smooth functioning action. The force needed to pull the bolt back is surprisingly small and constant all the way.
On the closing of the bolt, there is plenty of speed and inertia in the spring-loaded system to reliably feed the cartridge and rotate the bolt into a closed position.
The dual constant force springs in the patented Quick Load System are two rolls of high yield stainless steel guaranteed to withstand at least 5,000 cycles. They have been tested at the factory to more than 6,000 cycles without signs of failure, so nobody really knows how long they will last in the long run.
When broken, they are easily replaced and the gun works as a regular straight-pull rifle without them.
The bolt knob is ergonomically well placed over the front end of the trigger guard. This puts the shooter in control when repeating, contributing to the rifle’s high rate of fire.
It is worth noting that the bolt is a rotating bolt with seven lugs locking directly in the barrel – nothing fancy about that. In fact, the bolt itself, its housing, the barrel and the stocks are only mildly modified versions of BAR components – tried and tested in more than a million rifles for 47 years.
Like most of its competitors, the Maral is equipped with a manual hand-cocking system. During the practical test of the rifle, I noticed that the hand cocking system works smoother than similar systems on popular German designs.
In my humble opinion, this is a clear advantage as some of the designs out there are too hard to operate for women and elderly hunters and a general pain to work with for the rest of us when it’s cold and wet in the woods.
Due to its close relationship to the BAR, the bolt of the Maral is fully enclosed in metal. Absolutely nothing moves towards the face of the shooter when the action is worked so there is no need to move the head and lose sight of the target when repeating.
In case of a punctured primer, a ruptured case or a blown chamber, the closed system offers far better protection than any open bolt design.
The trigger has been developed especially for this rifle. In the prototypes it was good and clean, albeit a bit heavy.
The Browning technicians have promised that the production rifles will have a trigger pull of less than three pounds, which is fully acceptable even for a stalking rifle.
At the moment Browning is planning to make the new rifle in .308 Win, .30-06, 9.3×62 and .300 Win Mag calibers.
More calibers are likely to follow – a .338 Win Mag might be in the pipeline, which should make even the heaviest eastern European wild boar tuskers with thick, ice-glazed winter coats start to worry.
The dropbox magazines are easily replaced. As they are double stacked, they contain lots of rounds for their size. The standard magazine in .30-06 caliber contains five rounds, whereas the special high capacity magazine developed specifically for driven hunts has room for ten shots.
In other words, including a shot in the chamber you have no less than 11 rounds waiting in line to be hurtled into low orbit – and that is something none of the competitors can match. In 9.3mm and .300 Win Mag, the standard magazine contains four shots and the high capacity magazines will probably hold seven or eight shots when they are ready later this year.
Using a hex key, the butt stock can be dismounted in a matter of seconds so that the rifle can be stored and transported in the short travel case it is delivered in – a great advantage for travelling hunters.
Having said that, if you need interchangeable barrels this is not the gun for you. Neither do I expect this rifle to be as hysterically accurate as, for instance, the Blasers usually are. It is probably not the ideal 500-yard mountain rifle, but neither was it ever meant to be.
The Maral was introduced to the shooting press in late January on a Monteria in Spain. I used a .30-06 with the high capacity magazine on the hunt. It was very easy to make friends with this rifle and I quickly got used to working the action, the hand cocking system and changing the magazines.
The rifle proved to be very reliable, the balance of the gun was suitable for offhand shooting, and shots were fired fast and focused. It was not a good time to be a Spanish red deer.
It doesn’t take many minutes of training to realize that this rifle is faster than all other straight-pull repeaters. The rifles were thoroughly tested: In the two days of Spanish field trials, 13 hunters killed approximately 130 red deer with the Maral prototypes. No malfunctions were reported.
I will refrain from tiring the readers with my own exploits on the action-filled Monteria and simply cut to the chase. The new Browning Maral is an excellent rifle for driven hunts with tremendous firepower.
It is definitely an interesting choice for culling deer and will certainly make a good all-round rifle. I expect it to be a commercial success as it obviously brings several improvements to the world of straight-pull rifles.
And the price? It will be considerably less expensive than the German competition.
Jens Ulrik Høgh