The first rifle I took to Africa during the early 1970s was a Safari Grade Browning in .375 Holland & Holland Magnum. Among other things, I bumped off my very first Cape buffalo with that rifle. In those days Browning bolt guns were built in Belgium by Fabrique Nationale, and two basic actions were used: the FN Mauser for long cartridges and the Sako action for cartridges of medium and short lengths. Those early High Powers, as Browning called them, were fine rifles. But they were quite expensive to manufacture, and it showed in their prices. When I acquired my .375 I could have bought a Winchester Model 70 in the same caliber for $65 less.
In 1977 Browning replaced its series of High Power rifles with a rifle designed by Joe Badali. The design of the new BBR (short for Browning Bolt Rifle), along with the fact that it was manufactured in Japan, where production labor rates were lower, allowed Browning to introduce it at a price more in line with those of bolt guns built by Winchester and Remington. With a 60-degree bolt rotation, unique swing-down magazine, decent trigger and a bolt shroud that did a great job of protecting the shooter in the event of a ruptured case or blown primer, the BBR was not a bad rifle, but it was a bit overweight, and its action lacked the trimness of the old High Power actions.
Realizing this, Browning management made the decision to lighten up and scale down the BBR action and reintroduce it in 1984 as the A-Bolt. The new rifle weighed about a pound less. Among other changes, its bolt had three large locking lugs rather than nine smaller ones. Eventually, it would also be offered with a left-hand action.
Of the design features inherited by the A-Bolt from the BBR, the swing-down magazine box has to be considered the very best of them. I say this because it offers all the advantages of a detachable magazine without the disadvantage of possibly dropping out and becoming lost in the field.
The magazine of the rifle can be loaded with cartridges in four ways: through the ejection port, as Paul Mauser preferred; with the magazine box swung down but still attached to the hinged floorplate; or with it completely detached from the floorplate; or remove the empty magazine box from the floorplate, and quickly snap in a loaded one. The latter two methods allow the magazine to be recharged while the bolt is closed and locked on a cartridge in the chamber–not a bad option to have on a rifle to be used for hunting dangerous game.
Another nifty idea the A-Bolt borrows from the BBR is scissors-style follower struts (in lieu of the more common leaf-spring-powered follower), which discourage the nose of a cartridge from tipping downward in the magazine box as the bolt pushes it toward the chamber. This is why the A-Bolt feeds Winchester’s fat and stubby WSM family of cartridges like grease on glass.
The design of the magazine makes the A-Bolt just as quick and easy to unload. Simply remove the cartridge from its chamber, drop the hinged floorplate, remove the magazine, and the rifle is safe to go. The magazine assembly is also easily taken apart for cleaning: Slide off its bottom retention plate, remove the follower and its spring, and the job is done. Magazine capacities depend on the case diameters of various cartridges: five for the .223 Remington, four for the .30-06 and three for the various magnums.
The A-Bolt action is made in three lengths: long for cartridges in lengths up to .375 H&H Magnum, short for cartridges such as the .308 Winchester and .300 WSM and super-short for Winchester’s .223 and .243 WSSM cartridges. (The latter action is a half-inch shorter than the short action.)
As I write this, 23 model variations with stocks made of natural wood, laminated wood and synthetics, along with barreled actions of blued steel and stainless steel, are available. In fact, if you bought one each of every variant in every caliber available, you would be the proud owner of more than 200 A-Bolt rifles (you’d also need a really big gun safe). Optional stock styles include Monte Carlo, Classic and thumbhole, the latter available only in laminated wood on four variations of the M1000 Eclipse. The Medallion and the Micro-Hunter are available with right- or left-hand actions.
The latest variant is the Mountain Ti, and it just happens to be my favorite A-Bolt for hunting big game where the mountains are tall and steep and the weather often turns nasty. As the name implies, its receiver is carved from titanium, a metal that is about 40 percent lighter than steel. That trims away four ounces when compared to the steel A-Bolt receiver, and the utilization of a bolt-body sleeve made of synthetic composite sheds another three ounces.
The stock, according to Browning, is 10 ounces lighter than the synthetic stocks of other A-Bolt rifles. Lose an ounce or two here and another there, and before you know it you’ve got an extremely light rifle. The Mountain Ti in .300 WSM I used to take a very nice New Mexico elk during the 2005 season is a perfect example. Fully outfitted for the field with a Zeiss 3-9X Diavari MC scope in a Browning two-piece lightweight mount, a Weatherby nylon sling and three .300 WS
M cartridges resting in its magazine, it weighs precisely 7 1/2 pounds. I didn’t weigh the rifle alone, but the scope, mount, sling and cartridges total 27 ounces, meaning the Mountain Ti is around 5 3/4 pounds–just a bit more than Browning’s advertised 5 1/2 pounds.
|BROWNING A-BOLT MOUNTAIN Ti .300 WSM ACCURACY|
|Winchester 180-gr. XP3||2,879||1.43|
|Winchester 180-gr. InterBond||2,931||1.91|
|Winchester 180-gr. Fail Safe||2,927||1.36|
|Winchester 180-gr. Power-Point||2,921||1.51|
|Winchester 180-gr. Ballistic Silvertip||2,916||1.38|
|NOTES: Accuracy listed for each load represents an average of five three-shot groups fired at 100 yards. Velocity is an average of 15 rounds clocked 12 feet from the muzzle of the Browning 23-inch barrel.|
I remember a time when sheep hunters would have traded their souls for such a rifle. By the way, this same rifle with its shorter action in .223, .243 and .25 WSSM is rated at four ounces lighter. In addition to those three and the .300 WSM I’ve already mentioned, other chambering options are .243 Winchester, 7mm-08 Remington, .308 Winchester, .270 WSM, 7mm WSM and .325 WSM.
Moving on to other Mountain Ti features, a sliding tab atop the receiver tang operates the two-position safety. A spring-loaded detent discourages inadvertent movement of the safety tab from the desired position when in use, and yet it is easily pushed and pulled to its two positions by the thumb. Just as important to those of us who hunt big game, the safety can be operated as quietly as the proverbial mouse.
When a red-colored tab is in view at the rear of the bolt shroud, the firing pin is cocked. In the event of a blown primer or ruptured case, the bolt shroud protects the shooter from propellant gas and debris by completely blocking off the rear of the bolt, as well as the bolt raceway in the receiver. The combination bolt stop/bolt release consists of a grooved tap located on the left-hand side of the receiver bridge. Though seemingly larger than it needs to be, it nonetheless operates quite smoothly. Protruding from the front of the triggerguard, the latch of the hinged floorplate is easy to operate, and yet its spring is strong enough to resist accidental opening in the field.
The 23-inch stainless steel barrel of the Mountain Ti screws directly into a hardened-steel sleeve inside the titanium receiver, and sandwiched between the two is the recoil lug. The barrel measures 1.170 inches in diameter at the receiver and rapidly tapers to a rather slim .555 inch at the muzzle. A deep crown protects the rifling at the muzzle from dings in the field.
The bolt contains three evenly spaced locking lugs; a spring-loaded, plunger-style ejector; and an extractor that’s much stronger than it appears to be. Except for the small extractor cut, the wall of the recessed bolt face encloses the head of a cartridge in a solid ring of steel. Pulling an average of 32 ounces, with a pull-to-pull variation of only two ounces, the trigger is of the ideal weight for a hunting rifle, especially one to be used with fingers made insensitive by extremely cold weather. Lack of detectable creep and a crisp break more than make up for quite a bit of overtravel in the trigger. Or at least that’s how I look at it.
Of the many synthetic stock finishes I have tried, I like the Dura Touch armor coating on the stock of the Mountain Ti best of all. In addition to being warm and friendly to the touch, its velvety texture offers a no-slip gripping surface for cold, wet hands. On top of that, the dull finish won’t spook game into the next county like a shiny finish will. You can get any color you want, as long as the color you want is Mossy Oak BreakUp.
The Mountain Ti had a few surprises in store for me, one being its ability to shoot all five of Winchester’s .300 WSM loads inside two inches at 100 yards. This alone is not bad for so light a rifle, but even more impressive is the fact that it averaged 11?2 inches or less with three of the loads. As should be done when testing any lightweight rifle, I allowed the barrel to cool completely between each three-shot string. I was also surprised by how comfortable the rifle is to shoot. No doubt the excellent shape of the stock and the recoil-absorbing Pachmayr Decelerator recoil pad had a lot to do with that. The texture of the stock finish is kind to the cheek, and that, too, adds to shooter comfort.
|WINCHESTER’S XP3 BIG GAME BULLET|
|Winchester’s New XP3 Big-Game Bullet
Winchester is raising the performance bar of its Supreme lineup of premium-grade centerfire ammunition by adding Supreme Elite. As a Winchester representative put it, Supreme Elite is destined to usher in the very latest in cutting-edge technology as it is developed. The first examples are eight cartridges loaded with a new big-game bullet called XP3, which is short for Extreme Precision, Power and Performance. Billed as an improvement over the Fail Safe, which it will eventually replace, the XP3 offers the high weight retention and deep, bone-smashing penetration of that bullet. But due to a polymer tip positioned at the front of its nose cavity, it will expand at lower impact velocities. The Fail Safe is best suited for use on elk, moose and other heavy
game, and from what I have seen, the XP3 should work equally well in that role and certainly do a better job of expanding at long range on smaller game such as deer and pronghorn antelope.
This XP3 bullet was sectioned to show the polymer tip in its nose cavity and its bonded rear core.
The front of the XP3 is a solid-copper alloy with a deep cavity, while a lead core in its rear section is bonded in place. During expansion the midsection of the bullet swells out to about twice its original caliber for maximum frontal-diameter retention, even if the bullet sheds its front petals. Weight retention after expansion can be expected to run 90 percent and higher. A Lubalox coating worn by the bullet cuts down on bore fouling. Options slated for availability in 2006 are 150 grain only in .308 Winchester; 150 and 180 grain in .30-06, .300 WSM and .300 Winchester Magnum; 160 grain only in 7mm Remington Magnum and 7mm WSM; and 150 grain in .270 Winchester and .270 WSM. Ballistic coefficients are quite high, with an example being the .30-caliber 180-grain XP3 at .527 compared to .391 for the Fail Safe of the same weight. That’s also a bit higher than the .507 listed by Nosler for its 180-grain Ballistic Tip. The .30-caliber 150-grain bullet has a ballistic coefficient of .437, while the .270- and .280-caliber bullets are rated at .496 and .500, respectively.
I used a Browning A-Bolt Mountain Ti in .300 WSM and the 180-grain XP3 load to take a very nice elk in New Mexico while hunting with Elite Outfitters (505/937-7767) and got complete penetration on a shoulder shot at about 95 yards. Impact velocity had to be somewhere in the neighborhood of 2,800 fps, so that was rather a demanding test. As I proved then and while punching paper prior to the hunt, accuracy of the new load was plenty good for big-game hunting. I was also pleasantly surprised to see my chronograph indicate only minor differences in the velocities of Winchester’s five 180-grain loadings of the .300 WSM. As you can see in the accuracy-results chart, the maximum spread was 60 fps, with a mere 15 fps difference between four of the five loads. Regardless of whether the box of ammo you buy is Super-X, Supreme or the new Supreme Elite, you can bet the outcome of your hunt on the fact that Winchester takes the precision, power and performance of its ammunition quite seriously.
My wife, Phyllis, says I can pick nits with the best of them, but I’ll just be darned if I can come up with any major criticism of Browning’s feathery rifle. It is plenty light for toting in the high country, accurate enough for shooting game as far away as game should be shot and durable enough to keep on ticking after taking quite a licking. If (heaven forbid) I had to do all the rest of my big-game hunting in North America with just one rifle, the Mountain Ti in .300 WSM would most certainly be a strong candidate.