I grew up in the Southeast during an era when semiautomatic rifles were extremely popular among deer hunters. In those days just about every pickup truck you saw had a rifle rack mounted in its rear window, and most held either an autoloader or a lever action. The Remington 742 was king, but it was not uncommon to see hunters in the woods toting Winchester 100s and Browning BARs.
The Winchester is long gone, and after a century of producing semi-automatic centerfires, Remington recently dropped the axe on its latest, the Model 7400. Hunters who prefer a classic sporting rifle that shoots each time its trigger is squeezed are now left with the Benelli R1 and the Browning BAR.
The BAR sporting rifle- not to be confused with the totally different military rifle of the same name covered in the accompanying sidebar- was designed by Marcel Olinger and John Browning's grandson, Bruce Warren Browning. When introduced in 1967, it had a 22-inch barrel and was initially chambered to .243 Win., .270 Win., .308 Win. and .30-06. It was priced at $165 while its competitors, the Remington Model 742 and Winchester Model 100, sold for $160. The BAR was originally built in Belgium, and while all parts are still made there, they are now shipped to a Browning facility in Viana, Portugal, for assembly. Servicing and warranty work are handled by Browning's Arnold, Missouri, shop.
In 1969, Browning one-upped the competition by offering a magnum version of the BAR with a 24-inch barrel in 7mm Rem. Mag., .300 Win. Mag. and .338 Win. Mag. It was about a pound heavier than the standard version. All rifles at the time were built on a long action, but a shorter action was eventually introduced for the .243 Win., .308 Win. and other short cartridges.
Something that makes the BAR unique among rifles of its type is a staggered magazine box attached to a hinged floorplate. You can charge the rifle by hinging down the magazine and filling it with cartridges or by quickly replacing it with a loaded magazine. It is an excellent design, one shared by the Browning A-Bolt rifle of yesteryear. Magazine capacities are four standard cartridges or three magnum cartridges.
The Mark 2 version of the BAR was introduced in 1993, and with it came several modifications. The addition of exposed cross pins in the receiver made the trigger assembly easy to remove for cleaning, and a redesigned slide stop lever allowed the bolt to be locked back with the magazine removed. A friend of mine who has hunted with several BARs through the years is convinced that accuracy and reliability were also improved.
The BAR has a piston-driven gas system and a bolt with seven rotating locking lugs. Lockup of the bolt with an extension of the barrel allows the use of either a steel or an aluminum receiver.
The gas cylinder is dovetailed to the bottom of the barrel about six inches forward of its chamber. Propellant gas flowing into the cylinder during firing drives the piston rearward about half an inch, where energy is transferred to a steel inertia block measuring just over three inches long. As the piston reaches the limit of its travel, excess propellant gas is dumped through a vent at the bottom of the cylinder.
The forward ends of right-side and left-side steel action bars are connected to the inertia block while
their rear ends engage the bolt carrier. During its 4.25-inch travel to the rear, the inertia bar rides on a steel rod containing the action spring. Once the bolt carrier reaches the limit of its rearward travel during firing, forward pressure by the spring on the inertia block pushes it forward, drawing the carrier forward to engage the locking lugs of the bolt with the barrel extension.
A red dot at the bottom edge of the ejection port serves as a bolt position indicator. The dot is in view only when the bolt is fully forward in its locked position.
A spring-loaded bolt catch is located on the right-hand, bottom edge of the receiver. As the bolt chambers the last cartridge from the magazine, the follower pushes the catch against the bottom of the right-hand action bar. Then as the fired case is ejected and the carrier reaches the limit of its rearward travel, the catch engages a deep notch in the bottom edge of the action bar.
The carrier is released by pushing down on the large tab of the latch or, if one or more rounds are in the magazine, by pulling and releasing the bolt handle. The bolt can also be locked back with the magazine removed by retracting it while pushing up on the latch.
The owner's manual does not explain how to access the gas handling system, but I have taken apart the FNAR, which is basically the same rifle sold by FN America. Removal of the gas piston and associated parts of the gas-handling system is quite easy. The first step is removal of the fore-end, which is held in place by a bolt at its front. If a rifle has a front sling swivel post, it also will have to be removed.
During takedown, keep in mind that side pressure from the fore-end holds the two action bars in place. If the fore-end is removed while the bolt is forward in its locked position, the action bars can become disengaged from the carrier and inertia block and fall from the rifle. Placing them back into position is not difficult although there is a short learning curve. This won't happen if the fore-end is removed while the bolt and its carrier are locked to the rear. One hand then eases the bolt forward as the other holds the action bars in position.
The fire control group is also easily removed for cleaning. With the bolt forward on an empty chamber, a nylon dowel is used to push two transverse retention pins from the receiver. A downward pull on the front of the trigger guard removes the assembly from the receiver.
As this is written, the all-steel BAR Mark 2 is available only in Safari Grade. It has a blued steel receiver and barrel and checkered walnut with nice contrasting figure. This one has the original classic appearance that many BAR lovers have long preferred. Caliber options are .270 Win., .30-06, .300 Win. Mag. and .338 Win. Mag.
It comes with or without the Ballistic Optimizing Shooting System (BOSS) attached to the muzzle of its barrel. For the benefit of those who are not familiar with the BOSS, it is a combination muzzle brake and barrel harmonics modifier. Trial-and-error adjustment to its sweet spot for a particular load can have a very positive affect on accuracy. Availability of the Mark 2 Safari will continue into this year.
The Mark 3 version of the BAR was introduced in early 2016, but it actually didn't become available until late last year. The Mark 3 differs from the Mark 2 mainly by a slightly different receiver profile and a new stock and fore-end design. Six shims are included for adjusting drop and cast in the stock, the latter reversible for left-handed shooters. A bit of weight was trimmed away by the use of a trigger group housing and hinged floorplate made of a synthetic material. This particular detail first appeared years ago on BARs built for the European market.
The wood is Grade II walnut with an oil finish and 20-line cut checkering. Drilled and tapped for scope mounting, the aluminum receiver has a satin nickel finish highlighted by a touch of scroll engraving along with the ever-familiar Buckmark in gold. The Mark 3 is offered in .243 Win., 7mm-08, .308, .270 Win. and .30-06 with a 22-inch barrel, .270 WSM and .300 WSM (23-inch barrel) and 7mm Rem. Mag. and .300 Win. Mag. (24-inch barrel).
The BAR Mark 3 you see in this report was in .30-06 and weighed exactly seven pounds. Adding four cartridges and a Trijicon 3-9x40 scope in a Talley lightweight mount increased heft to eight pounds, 8.4 ounces. Wood to metal fit was quite good.
Some Mark 3s I have examined had beautiful wood while others were rather plain. The one I shot had a gorgeous fore-end but very little figure in its buttstock. Checkering was professionally executed with no border run-overs or diamonds left begging to be pointed up. The oil finish won't hold up to as many sloppy weather hunts as a synthetic, but it sure looks nice.
As I discovered while accuracy testing over sandbags, the Mark 3's weight and gas operation make it quite comfortable to shoot. That makes it an excellent choice for those who are sensitive to recoil. Some autoloaders mangle cartridge cases, but handloaders will be happy to know they emerge from the BAR in excellent condition. And some autoloaders become unruly when fed Hornady Superformance and Federal High Energy ammo, but the BAR gobbles up both and begs for more. I wish it had a better trigger but otherwise the rifle gets a clean bill of health.
New BAR additions for 2017 include a Mark 3 Stalker with a matte black aluminum receiver and a Dura-Touch coating on the stock and fore-end for a no-slip grip during a rainy day hunt. Also new is a Mark 3 dressed in Mossy Oak Break-Up Country camo. Both models will be available in the same chamberings as the standard Mark 3.
Feral pig shooters will be thrilled to see the upcoming Mark 3 DBM with 18-inch barrel, integrated Picatinny scope mount, black composite stock and fore-end and detachable box magazine that holds 10 .308 Winchester cartridges. Suggested retail on it will be $1,470.
That other BAR, the one designed by John Browning, will be 100 years old in 2017, and to commemorate that, a limited run of 100 of today's BAR Safari Grade rifles will be offered with special 100th Anniversary markings. The caliber is .30-06, and suggested retail is $2,700.
The BAR sporting rifle is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. Specially marked rifles will be built for the occasion, but as of this writing, no details were available.