Accurate, Durable, Fun.
Growing up, my friends and I started our shooting careers with rimfire rifles. I still remember the first-time excitement of squeezing the trigger on a real rifle — not a Daisy Red Ryder. Within a few minutes the tin cans and milk jug didn’t stand a chance. Whether it was a trusty lever-, pump- or bolt-action rifle my friends and I felt like we were riflemen. The lucky ones had the opportunity to shoot an original Browning T-Bolt, one of the most accurate, reliable and easy-to-shoot rimfires ever produced.
Browning introduced the T-Bolt in 1965 in .22 Long Rifle. It was manufactured from 1965-1974 by FN (Fabrique Nationale) Belgium. Manufacturing consisted of two models: the T1 and the T2. The T1 was a straight-pull bolt action, 5-shot detachable magazine, with a 22″ barrel, adjustable rear aperture sight and a plain walnut pistol grip stock. An Aperture rear sight was standard for the first nine years of production.
T2 similar to the T1, only with a select-checkered walnut stock (lacquer finished), a pinned front sight blade, and a 24″ barrel. Later production of the T2 featured an oil-finished stock, a press fit plastic front sight and Browning computerized serialization. The T-Bolt was also made in a left-hand version from 1967-1974. Unfortunately Browning discontinued the T-Bolt in 1975.
This type of accuracy means bad news for varmints.
The T-Bolt Returns
Browning reintroduced their sporter model T-Bolt in 2006, right hand only. This time around you had a choice of caliber, .22 LR, .17 HMR, or .22 Mag. The target/varmint models were not available until one year later in 2007, still only available in righ-hand. Three years after the reintroduction in 2009, Browning would expand the T-Bolt line again, this time offering left-hand models in your choice of the same three caliber’s and in most of their models.
The Browning T-Bolt loads and ejects cartridges by simply pulling straight back on the bolt handle and pushing it back forward. This simple design lets you cycle the “T” bolt extremely fast and locks up solid in the receiver with a smooth feel. This is unequaled among most bolt-action rimfire’s for speed.
When using Browning’s unique straight-pull bolt action to chamber a cartridge, the rifle is fed from their 10-round rotary Double Helix box magazine. This consists of two rotors stacked one on top of the other. The cartridges feed into the rotors and form an “S” shape as they go from one rotor to the other. There is no other magazine like Browning’s rotary Double Helix. It’s extremely easy to load when using the manual assist located on the rear of the magazine and is very reliable at loading the rifle in perfect alignment with the chamber.
Another unique feature only available on Browning’s composite stocked models is a spare magazine storage compartment in the butt stock of the rifle. This is a great option to have another 10-round magazine as a backup in the field. The rifle’s receiver is also factory drilled and taped for scope mounts as none of the T-Bolt models are fitted with iron sights. The action is form-fitted to the stock with an accurizing bedding compound; the Barrel is free-floated and has a semi-match chamber along with a recessed crown.
All Browning T-Bolt models include an externally adjustable trigger, which is an Allen headset screw in a brass collar just forward of the trigger guard. This makes trigger-pull adjustments extremely easy to do. The T-Bolt’s trigger is pre-set at the factory, but for those wanting to custom tune their trigger, trigger-pull adjustment range is listed as approximately 3.25 to 5.25 lbs.
I knew I was starting with a rifle capable of some serious accuracy potential so went for a scope I knew would deliver in accuracy and toughness. I chose Leupold’s new VX-3 4.5-14x40mm scope with the Varmint Hunter reticle to see how good the T-Bolt really is.
The 17 HMR T-Bolt was going to be spending lots of time shooting ground squirrels. Long days of looking through a scope is comparable to glassing with binoculars — if the glass isn’t clear sore eyes and a headache are almost a given. Leopold’s better optical clarity comes from the use of lead-free glass lenses with blackened edges. This reduces unwanted glare and diffusion through the lens edges. This provides better resolution and improved contrast for superior optical performance. The lenses are also produced with no environmentally damaging by-products common to standard glass production.
Their exclusive Xtended Twilight Lens System puts an emphasis on matching wavelength-specific lens coatings to achieve the best possible transmission of low-light wavelengths. This is important because the green wavelength where the human eye is most sensitive disappears in twilight conditions, and blue/violet light takes over. Your eye is already handicapped when it comes to seeing in the blue/violet spectrum. If your scope has poor low-light performance and is cutting too much of this spectrum out, soon you won’t be seeing anything.
Leupold’s durability comes from many features including their Diamond Coat 2 an ion-assist exterior lens coating, for higher light transmission and the greatest level of abrasion resistance they’ve ever offered. The waterproof and fogproof integrity comes from their proprietary Argon/Krypton gas blend. Its advantages are twofold: It nearly eliminates the effects of thermal shock, and the Argon/Krypton molecules are much larger than nitrogen molecules, reducing the diffusion of gases sealed inside the scope even more than Leupold’s nitrogen technology already does. Combine the internal upgrades with their long-eye relief and generous Eyebox technology — which makes it easier to get your eye behind the riflescope and achieve a full, clear sight picture — and you have a scope ready for some serious use.
With practice the Ballistic Aiming System will teach you how to calculate the distance to your target, where to place the reticle and how to compensate for wind deflection — it becomes clear how Leupold has become America’s optics authority.
The scope was mounted to the rifle using Leupold’s standard 2-piece windage adjustable base and rings. I like using the 2-piece base setup because it gives you the most accessibility to the breech area of the rifle.
And Leupold’s rings are specially designed with anti-slip grooves on the inner circle to provide tighter contact between the rings and scope. This combination is an extremely rugged and reliable American-made product
This handy storage compartment for a spare magazine is simple and functional.
The T-Bolt is super smooth and makes for really fast follow-up shots
Hornady and CCI 17HMR ammo with 17-grain V-max bullet’s were used for the rifles evaluation after randomly selecting and measuring rim thickness on 50 cartridges from each manufacture. The rim thickness as expected was very consistent in measuring between .045-.046 thousands of an inch, with very few cartridges outside of that thickness range. Both Hornady and CCI have an advertised muzzle velocity of 2,550 fps. After firing multiple 10-round groups from each manufacturer across an Oehler Research 35P Chronograph, the muzzle velocity form the Browning T-Bolt averaged 2,627 fps. The highest velocity recorded was 2,669 fps, while the lowest velocity recorded was 2,585 fps, still above advertised velocity.
The targets I used in the range testing were from Birchwood Casey. Their Shoot-N-C self-adhesive targets are black with a chartreuse background and fluorescent orange aiming point. These were great because a bright chartreuse ring easily revealed bullet holes — a huge plus for my aging eyes. The groups from the T-Bolt averaged just over 1″ and less than 1 5/8″ at 100 yards. Most of the groups had a vertical string to them. I suspect with 84 fps velocity difference between the high and low added to this. Shooting took place from a bench with a bipod mounted to the rifle in varying conditions and temperature, with light crosswinds and a gust every now and then. So keeping this in mind I wasn’t too disappointed with the results.
The Browning T-Bolt Target/Varmint composite stocked rifle shoots and feels very comfortable. I’m sure with a little more time behind the rifle the groups will tighten up. Even with the trigger adjusted down it was still a little stiff for me. Although I have to say the trigger does brake clean with no detectable creep. So I will just have to keep my focus on the trigger press while Leupold’s Varmint Hunter Reticle remains centered on my quarry.
I’m a bit of an overachiever when it comes to accuracy — well I’m actually a HUGE overachiever when it comes to always wanting 1-hole groups. The practical side of me knows this rifle is more than capable of giving the ground squirrels cause to not come out of their holes. This rifle and scope combination would be a great addition to anyone’s varmint hunting lineup. The .17 HMR ammo from Hornady and CCI with its 17-grain, V-max bullet is already known to perform well on varmints giving spectacular results. The T-Bolt sure has made me feel like a kid again — give one a try and I’m sure you will also.
By Vince Sullivan
Photos By Joseph Novelozo
For More Info:
Leupold & Stevens
Birchwood Casey Sporting Goods