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BSA Sportsman: a utilitarian bargain

Charles Smith-Jones says the BSA Sportsman may be old and prosaic, but it is a dependable and accurate rifle

BSA Sportsman Five

BSA Sportsman

Manufacturer: BSA

Price as reviewed: £50

A couple of years ago, Blast from the Past looked at a Birmingham Small Arms (BSA) product, the No 2 rifle, which entered production in 1909 and persevered well into the 1950s. This month, we look at another of its guns from much the same era, the BSA Sportsman.

Unlike the No 2, which was intended more specifically for target shooting and only ever available in a single-shot configuration, the Sportsman was meant to have a more widespread appeal to field shooters, although both only came chambered for the .22 rimfire cartridge, which limited its use to smaller quarry.

BSA Sportsman

The stock is plain and unchequered as functionality was key

Introduction to the BSA Sportsman

The BSA Sportsman was introduced as a single-shot rifle in 1947. The Sportsman Five  followed a year later with a box magazine that allowed for a quicker reload. The five-round magazine itself was of a somewhat unusual design as the release catch is integral to the magazine rather than the rifle itself. Probably because of an increase in the availability of tube magazine US rifles such as some popular Winchester models, the Sportsman 10 and Sportsman 15 followed with tubular magazines which permitted even greater capacities.

Production of all Sportsman models ceased by 1955 when an upgraded gun, the Supersport Five with adjustable trigger, more sophisticated mechanism and redesigned rotating bolt, replaced them. By then, some 155,000 rifles had been produced across the range, the great majority being the Sportsman Five and 15. The latter has been described as probably the most successful .22 calibre sporting rifle ever produced by BSA.

BSA Sportsman Five

The rifle’s trigger is two-stage, with a crisp, clean release

The mechanism is based on the older BSA No 1, No 2 and No 3 models and has a ‘cock on closing’ design. Rather than the mainspring being depressed when the bolt is opened, the sear instead catches a cocking lug and compresses the spring when the bolt is pushed forward. The safety is engaged simply by rotating the cocking piece.

The one-piece stock is usually constructed from beech. It is rather plain and came unchequered, this rifle being from an era when functionality rather than bespoke features and deluxe models was more commonplace. Likewise there is no butt pad, just grooves on the flat to assist grip when in the shoulder. The trigger is two-stage, often preferred by many shooters, compared with a more modern tendency towards single-stage triggers. It has a crisp and clean release.

The foresight is a simple blade while the rear sight is a stepped adjustable ‘U’ design, giving a clear sighting picture that is quick to use in the field. These rifles were neither tapped nor dovetailed for telescopic sight mounts, so any adapted in this way will be the result of work after they had left the factory. A rifle adapted for telescopic sights will probably feature slightly offset side mounts, these being necessary to enable the unobstructed ejection of fired cases.

BSA Rifle

There is no reason these rifles should not still shoot straight, as long as they have been properly looked after


Though any example encountered will now be at least 68 years old, there is no reason why it should not still shoot straight as long as it has been properly looked after. A .22 rimfire bullet, achieving lower velocities than centrefire .22s and usually consisting of unjacketed lead, is less wearing on a barrel’s interior. Take care to check for any pitting within the barrel or around its crown. Both are essential to accuracy, and early propellants could be especially corrosive if the rifle was not regularly cleaned.

Given that Britain was still in a period of post-war austerity, the Sportsman represented great value for money in its day. A Sportsman Five purchased in 1949 had a retail price of £7 and 10 shillings. Taking inflation since then into account, that still only equates to around £210, a fraction of what you might expect to pay for a new rimfire today.

If you are looking for an affordable, practical rifle for vermin control or ‘plinking’, don’t be put off by the age of the Sportsman. It is true that modern guns may offer more features, but this is a robust, no-frills piece that was designed with practicality in mind. Furthermore, it is reliable and without doubt a very real pleasure to shoot. One that has been looked after will still be surprisingly accurate and have plenty of service left in it. Beware, though, that spares such as magazines may prove difficult to source.

The Sportsman is a robust, no frills piece

BSA Sportsman tech specs

  • Country of origin UK
  • In production 1947–1955
  • Action Bolt
  • Stock options Wood, commonly beech
  • Barrel length 24–26in
  • Magazine None (Sportsman), five-round box (Sportsman Five) or tubular (Sportsman 10 & 15)
  • Left-hand version No
  • Weight (bare) 5lb 4oz (Sportsman Five)
  • Available in calibres .22LR
  • Cost new N/A
  • Cost used Upwards of around £50 for a usable example, though the price will rise on model and condition