Solid performance, consistent accuracy and a good price make this gun a real winner, says Bruce Potts
I have always liked the Browning A-Bolt rifle, because it is such a competent and well-built rifle deserving of more popularity in this country. Now with an increased verve to produce rifles for the shooter with a limited budget for a rifle, scope and sound moderator, the A-Bolt may well have its day.
Designed to compete with Savage’s Axis and Ruger’s American rifles, the new A-Bolt 3 is a blend of the older A-Bolt pedigree and Browning’s newer X-Bolt design. Its fast, low-bolt operating design with synthetic stock and detachable magazine, combined with a good trigger and tang-mounted safety, offers shooters good value at only £499. The AB3 comes in one version called the Composite and at present features only limited calibres and barrel lengths.
“Budget” does not mean poor quality, it just means cost-effective manufacturing techniques and fewer options in such areas as calibre and configurations.
I find the A-Bolt’s action one of the best budget-priced systems around; it feels familiar and is not cheap in any way. The steel action has nice faceted edges and is drilled and tapped for the steel Weaver-type bases supplied and, as with the barrel, is finished in a tough matt/satin blued coating, making it look smart yet very practical.
The bolt is a typical Browning with a flattened round knob that twists outward from the stock, giving a handy, natural grip. The lift is short at 60° to avoid any lowmounted scope and is facilitated by the locking lug arrangement. The A-Bolt gets its name from the bolt lug which has an “A” arrangement; when locked the three locks sit at the 12, four and eight o’clock positions. The eight o’clock lug is recessed for the claw extractor and the plunger-type ejector sits
between the 12 and four o’clock lug.
The bolt is substantial. In fact the lugs are the same diameter as the bolt body that rides smoothly within the action, with the four o’clock lug acting as the force to feed the next cartridge from the magazine to the barrel when the bolt is opened. The rear of the bolt has a fully shrouded metal cap and below this is a visible cocking indicator in the form of a serrated red slide.
The barrel on this .243 Winchester model is 22in long and threaded with a 14x1mm thread pitch and thread protector. It is a slim sporter type that tapers from 1.16in diameter at the receiver to 0.60in at the muzzle that is recessed to protect the crown from damage. It is fully free-floated from the stock to enhance accuracy in any weather condition and its length balances the rifle nicely. There are six rifling grooves with a 1-in-10in twist rate so it is good to stabilise up to 90 to 100-gr bullet weights, but 1-in-8in or 1-in-9in would be better for 100-gr-plus bullets.
The stock is a no-frills a air but is all the better for it. A plain matt-black exterior is moulded in stippling instead of chequering all along the fore-end that joins to similar stippled panels on the pistol grip. Moulded in two halves, it is solid and well designed, if a bit plain looking. The pistol grip has a right-handed palm swell for a sure grip and the straight comb is angled up to give a correct head position for scope use and an average 14in length of pull.
The Inflex recoil pad comes in a nice plain black and has an internal structure to absorb recoil, reducing it by up to 25 per cent and directing the recoil away from the shooter’s face. It works, and though not really necessary on a light-kicking.243, on the .3006 it is welcome. It means this .243 feels like a .223 when red. There is a large recoil lug between barrel and action for solid bedding into the stock but no other synthetic bedding compound is used.
Trigger and safety
Typically A-Bolt, the safety is tangmounted and has a raised sliding button that in the up position is “fire”, with a red dot exposed, and in the lower position is safe with the inletted letter “S” revealed. Like the more expensive X-Bolt model it has a bolt unlocking button behind the bolt handle that allows the bolt to be operated to unload the rifle with the safety engaged.
The trigger is a new design but looks cheap with its smooth plastic trigger-blade and comes off with the trigger-guard when removed. The A-Bolt 3’s trigger has zero creep with a light single stage release, which on this rifle is 3.15lb. The detachable magazine is better than the old A-Bolt design as this is a simple drop box design operated by a lever in front of the polymer-and-metal magazine that in .243 calibre holds four rounds in its staggered loading bay.
Browning A-Bolt field test
A 22in barrel length is relatively short for the .243 cartridge and you have to ensure that velocity and muzzle energy meet deer-legal levels.
However, this AB3 was very good and it shot a variety of bullet styles and weights well. The best factory load went jointly to the Hornady 75-gr SST with 3,287fps for 1,800 ft/lb energy and Winchester 95-gr ballistic silver tips at 3,003fps and 1,903ft/lb. These are good-all rounders for shooting foxes and deer.
In Scotland you require a 100-gr bullet minimum for large species of deer. The Geco 105-gr Express performed well at 2,901fps and 1,963ft/lb energy. The SST and Winchesters shot 1.25in groups, while the heavier Geco shot 1.55in three-shot groups at 100 yards.
Reloads utilising better powders for the barrel length meant some increased velocities per equivalent factory bullet weights. The 75-gr Sierra hollow points were trotting along at 3,284fps for 1,796 ft/lb energy with a load of 41 grains of Vit N540 powder with 1in groups. The Nosler 90-gr ballistic tips were the most accurate at 0.85in with 43 grains of hybrid 100V powder for 3,031fps and 1,836 ft/lb energy.
A good buy that will leave money in the bank for a decent scope and sound moderator