Dependable, practical and great value: Bruce Potts extols the virtues of the new version of a classic.
Straight-pull rifles are not for everyone. The operation of the bolt as a straight pull directly back to you is very fast and smooth, and none more so than in the small Browning T-Bolt rimfire rifle. I love the classic T-Bolts of yesteryear that stopped production in 1975 but were way ahead of their time. Browning has its new versions in .22LR, .22WMR and .17HMR.
There is a good choice of types and styles including walnut wood in Sporter or varmint-target styles, laminate, and an excellent practical synthetic Sporter stock, which we have here.
As well as the standard 22in version there is a shorter-barrel model for sound moderator tment, and you get a very good blued finish and unique 10-shot helical detachable magazine — all for under £550.
Made of tough stuff
You can go the walnut Sporter or varmint-profiled route, but this test rifle is all about practicality, so the composite or synthetic stock is your best bet. Not only is it weather resistant and not susceptible to warping in the heat or changeable weather, it is also light and capable of taking more abuse when out hunting.
The finish is smooth and either black or charcoal grey and has an ambidextrous feel, due to a raised comb acting as a cheekpiece, making it easy to use for both left-handers and right-handers. Grip is obtained via stippled moulded panels rather than chequering and work well. There is one continuous panel on the fore-end and twin panels on the pistol grip.
The recoil pad incorporates a well for a spare magazine, which is included and gives you 20 shots on tap. This is a really good idea and good value, too. The overall stock is very light and a bit hollow-feeling, but very practical for everyday vermin shooting in all weathers.
Action and magazine
The TBolt’s straight-pull design is neat, compact and ultra-smooth and makes best use of this unique cocking system. With no up-and-down bolt motion, the straight-pull design is fast and precise. It has a good locking system too for safety and peace of mind. The bolt handle pivots outward on a cocking cam system, which disengages the twin circular locking lugs, or rings, from the receiver walls, allowing the bolt to move backwards.
The bolt has twin extractors to ensure positive extraction and controlled support for the case. The firing pin is exposed at the top of the bolt with a red strip visible when the T-Bolt is cocked. There is a traditional blued finish with a pair of Weaver-style scope bases supplied for scope use.
The magazine is a real gem. Hunters like load capacity; in other words, the more there is the better — it saves fumbling for extra cartridges in the dark or wet. The T-Bolt holds 10 rounds in a clever double helix arrangement so that the overall magazine size is small. It is released by a forward-mounted lever catch that shoots the magazine out, and a small wheel on the magazine body is rotated a quarter of a turn to load a round.
Being polycarbonate, you can also see through the body to check the innards for dirt or loaded rounds.
There are two options for the barrel length: the standard 22in Sporter version is fine, but the best option is the 16½in screw-cut model for sound moderator use, which reduces the overall length of the T-Bolt. It has a ½in unified national fine (UNF) thread, making it standard for the vast majority of rimfire moderators. The rifling twist is the usual .22LR 1-in-16in, and has an almost flawless internal finish, with a semi-match chamber and target muzzle crown, which contributes to the excellent accuracy in the tests.
“The raised comb can act as a cheekpiece, making it easy to use for left-handers as well as right-handers”
Just as importantly, the barrel is free-floating along its entire length. This has a two-fold advantage when it comes to accuracy. First, with no stock touching the barrel it can resonate freely on ring. Second, changes in the weather will not affect the barrel vibrations.
The trigger and safety are all one housing that also locates the tang section of the receiver with the integral safety catch and plastic trigger-guard assembly. The trigger has a gold colourwash to it and, set at 4½lb, it is a bit heavy, but this model broke very cleanly with minimal creep to the pull. You can adjust the trigger though, and I would set it at 3½lb for field use.
The safety catch is part of the rear tang and is silent and smooth to operate. It allows the bolt to move so that a chambered round can be removed with the safety catch on. In front of this is a small latch to remove the bolt, which is a bit fiddly.
FIELD TEST RESULTS
Accuracy and targets
Original T-Bolts were made in Belgium but modern-day Brownings are made by Miroku in Japan and the barrels are just as good, as is the overall quality of manufacture.
Just as with others I have tested, this T-Bolt shot very well. It was not at all “bullet fussy”, which means you can load up reduced rimfire bullets for close-range feral pigeon in the farmyard or subsonics for rabbits to high-velocity loads for longer shots. I fitted the Hawke Vantage 4-12x50mm scope, which is a dedicated scope for rimfire users with its 22 rimfire trajectory drop reticle, and an A-Tec sound moderator.
A great all-rounder bullet is the new Winchester Max, which uses a 42-gr bullet at subsonic velocity levels instead of the usual 40-gr bullet. Coupled with its very truncated and hollowpoint design, the Winchester Max bullet is an ideal vermin round especially at a quiet 1,088 fps for 110ft/lb energy. Accuracy with this round was one big hole at 30 yards — and at 50 yards it was ½in for five rounds, which was impressive.
Close behind was the Eley Subsonic, an old favourite, with 0.35in groups at 30 yards and a very quiet option at 1,036fps with a sound moderator fitted.
Low-velocity rounds such as the RWS Z-Lang were accurate and all you need for noise-sensitive and short-range use, and act like an FAC-rated air rifle at 46ft/lbs energy.
High-velocity users will like the RWS HV load as this gave superb 0.5in 50 yard groups and less than an inch at 100 yards with a velocity of 1,241 fps for 106ft/lbs energy.
The T-Bolt is very well made and always reliable, smooth to operate and accurate. This model is only £528, which is fantastic value. The magazine is excellent and totally reliable in use and gives a good 10-shot payload without sticking out of the bottom of the rifle like some rimfire rifles. And you get a spare. The short-barrel version is the most practical choice for hunting with a sound moderator fitted.
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Reliable, smooth to operate and accurate