Browning .17HMR T BOLT

Retrieved from NZGuns & Hunting ISSUE 122 JAN/FEB 2011

The Browning T-Bolt is a classy, distinctive rifle, and in all respects a delight to carry and shoot with … 

Peter Maxwell 

With its pleasing ergonomics and excellent trigger, the T-Bolt makes a fine light varmint rifle.

As a hunter with a lifelong interest in rimfire rifles, I eagerly accepted the offer to test fire one of the first samples that became available.

The principle feature of the T-Bolt is, as its name suggests, a straight-pull bolt. The bolt handle does not rotate downwards to lock the mechanism, instead the bolt locks by means of a spring loaded cam- ming system that inserts disc shaped sections into corresponding cut-outs in the walls of the receiver (one each side). The bolt handle is pushed forward into the locked position and pulled straight back to open. The movement is slick and swift to operate, and on the Browning all the components are very precisely machined and finished for an excellent fit.

Whether the T-Bolt system offers any advantages over a standard rotating bolt is a matter of opinion, because rotating bolts are very well developed and understoodpieces of machinery that work just fine. Nevertheless, the T-Bolt works just fine too, and one thing no one can argue about is – it’s different. 

The rifle itself is pleasing to behold, so much so that the first shooter I showed it to wanted to buy it for his son, an offer I declined because I was already consider-ing buying it for myself! We’re talking about a full size rifle measuring 1020mm 

overall (just over 40-1 /8″) with a length of pull of 340mm (13-3/8″), weighing ?lb 4oz (3.2kgs approx) complete with a Zeiss 3-9×50 scope in an alloy one-piece bridge mount. The stock is walnut, hand chequered, with a semi-beavertail fore-end. Sling swivel studs are supplied, and although this particular model had a straight stock, I understand that a high-comb Monte Carlo style stock does come on the full blown target/varmint model.

TECH SPECS 

The T-Bolt has a 22″ {558mm) medium profile barrel tapering to 18mm at the target-crowned muzzle. The trigger pull is crisp and clean, breaking at exactly 4lbs on the test rifle with no creep. It’s so smooth it actually feels lighter, and it’s adjustable too, via a small hex bolt located just in front of the trigger guard. Tweak this around and you can dial in pull weights ranging from 3-1 /4lbs to 5-1 /4lbs. The steel receiver, machined from tubular bar-stock, is drilled and tapped for scope mounts, and as mentioned the rifle came fitted with a one-piece cast alloy bridge mount that nicely matched the appearance of the rifle itself. The safety catch is a tang-mounted slider with a red dot indicator, and operates on the trigger blade – as you slide the catch back into the safe position the trigger blade can 

be seen to move forward, which physically separates it from the sear. The trigger guard and mag well unit is synthetic with a Browning logo moulded into it to add a little pizzaz!

The bolt does have a cocking indicator; a small red painted section on the firing pin shaft, but it’s located on the top of the bolt near the middle of its length and therefore covered by the scope. To see it you need to roll the rifle over to the left and look beneath the scope mount. This is usually a dark, shaded area, so although it’s there, for practical purposes the cock-ing indicator is something you’re going to have to mostly live without. 

The 10-round magazine is unique in my experience – it’s a kind of double chamber rotary style constructed out of heavy duty clear plastic, with an alloy end-cap and a cog-wheel set into the side near the top. When the cog is turned with the fingertip it tensions the internal spring, which makes it easier to slip more rounds in against the spring pressure. I’ve never seen a magazine quite like it, but it certainly looks good and works the way it was designed to. Inadvertently, as I was getting out of my vehicle I dropped the fully loaded magazine onto the concrete floor of my garage. It bounced knee high but it didn’t break or even develop a crack in the plastic, which was a relief because these units look expensive. So the magazines are tough and highly functional, there’s just one gripe – when you shake them the rounds rattle quite noticeably inside. Gee, it’s hard to get everything perfect! 

Left: The small brass-bound hex screw in front of the guard is the trigger adjuster. The trigger blade itself is gold plated in typical Browning style.
Right: The T-Bolt’s muzzle is target crowned.

THE SCOPE 

Locked into the bridge mount sits a Zeiss Conquest 3-9×50 MC scope. I own a couple of Burris scopes that offer excellent viewing, and a couple of Weavers and Leupolds too, but the contrast and brightness of the Zeiss are in a different league – the Zeiss isn’t just good, it’s phenomenal. Later, when I lined it up on a hare sitting on a hillside about 120 metres away I could count the hairs on its coat. The reticle’s thin stadia hold-over lines stood out sharp and clear against the ani-mal’s mottled fur. I actually felt a tinge of regret as I squeezed the T-Bolt’s trigger – I wasn’t just shooting at the vague outline of a hare, I was shooting at an animal I’d seen up close and so clearly that I felt I almost knew it personally. 

The stadia lines mentioned above are part of the scope’s patented RAPID-Z® 600 reticle system. Zeiss has a number of different models in this series which have an integrated ranging feature and are calibrated to match the ballistics of your particular cartridge. The Z600 reticle is designed for rifles in the .243 to .325 WSM range (a bit over the top for a rimfire rifle!), and offers hold-over marks from 200 to 600 metres, assuming your rifle is zeroed at the 100 metre mark. These reticles are located in the second image plane, meaning that they don’t enlarge and cover up a small target as the magnification is increased. 

I didn’t need all this technology for my shot at the hare of course, but it was nice to know it was there . 

THE OPENING SHOTS 

Having familiarised myself with the T-Bolt’s features I headed up the gravel road to the range with the rifle and two brands of . l7 HMR ammo; Winchester “Supreme” and Hornady “VarmintExpress’; both of which came loaded with those tiny sharp-pointed 17 grain V-Max projectiles, listed on the boxes as having a muzzle velocity of 2550fps. The only difference in appearance being that the Hornady’s have a red tip and the Winchesters a grey one.

In short order I had the T-Bolt zeroed about 1″ (25mm) high at 50 yards and producing tight little three shot groups with both brands of ammunition, the Hornady’s averaging .49″ (12mm) and the Winchesters .51″ (12.7mm). The point of impact with the Winchesters was a fraction higher and a little more than that to the right. Not a lot in it. 

Next I backed off to 100 yards and fired again, noting that the bullets were still climbing at that distance with the groups impacting some 1-1/4″ (33mm) above the point of aim. That’s certainly a flat trajectory for a rimfire cartridge. The points of impact had begun to separate much more noticeably at the 100 yard mark: though, with the Winchesters striking some 3mm higher on average, and about 28-30mm to the right of the Hornady’s. All of which means that if you want to use your .17 HMR T-Bolt at extended ranges, which you will, you’d have to either go with one brand of ammo, or re-zero your scope when you switch brands. 

At 100 yards the Winchester V-Max projectiles impacted slightly higher and ro the right of the Homadys, but both brands grouped around the 1 ” (25mm) mark).

I did experience a couple of mysterious misfires with the Winchesters. On two occasions the rounds in the breech failed to fire and after extracting them and examining them closely I found that although they’d been struck by the firing pin, the indentations were very shallow, and not sufficient to ignite the primer material. It could have been just that particular batch of cartridges, perhaps with harder brass in the rim?

Nonetheless, leaving that· minor glitch aside, I ended up very impressed by the Browning rifle, its Zeiss Optics and its .17 HMR cartridges. All up this is a really top rate little varmint rig. 

ACROSS THE HILL 

Later the next day I took the T-Bolt for -a walk along beside a creek and up the rolling hillside that bordered it.- Near the top of the ridge I sat and glassed for a minute or two until I located a hare away out in the middle of a paddock at about 300 metres. I ducked downhill, kept low and halved the distance, before bellying another 30 metres closer. I finally gained a small rise in the ground that enabled me to get the rifle in position without blades of long grass covering the muzzle. The .17 HMR is a great little cartridge, but I don’t imagine it would be much good at punch-ing bullets through thick wet foliage of any kind. 

As indicated earlier, I ended up with the Zeiss’s reticle centred on the hare, and with a squeeze .of the T-Bolt’s excellent trigger it was all over. The animal leapt in the air and fell back twitching for just a moment. I found that the bullet had struck it through the front shoulders and exited without leaving any discernible traces of copper or lead behind.

The following afternoon I got the chance for shots at two more hares, one in a pad-dock on the other side of the same creek, and –another near a hawthorn hedge along a nearby ridge. I fired again from the prone position, shooting through a gap in the willow trees at about 160 metres with similar success. Two shots, two clean kills. 

Both hares were clean one shot kills at a distance of around 160 metres.

Peter Maxwell 

The perfect gift for yourself or a loved one!