Browning BAR: Svelte Sporting Rifle Royalty

By Todd Burgreen

With “black rifles” dominating the gun media of late it is easy to forget that other firearm types exist. Sometimes a little inspiration is needed to get an article idea out of one’s head and down on paper. Memories never disappeared of family members carrying something “different” during West Virginia and South Carolina hunts compared to others using lever or bolt action rifles. The same rifle type used in Colorado for elk further served to intrigue and anchor it in my psyche as something special. The rifle being talked about is the Browning BAR. The BAR being referenced is NOT John Browning’s legendary M1918 Light Machine Gun. However, John Browning is connected to the sporting BAR via his grandson, Bruce, who teamed with FN engineer Marcel Olinger in designing it. The sporting BAR was introduced in 1967 to compete with Remington’s semi-auto offerings. Browning had decided to increase its presence in the US hunting/sporting market. Semi-automatic rifles in the hunting arena were a new proposition in the late 1960s. What we take for granted now with the preponderance of ARs (Modern Sporting Rifles) afield was not dreamed of back then.

It is hard to resist the svelte lines of the BAR. The slab side solid receiver is sandwiched between graceful buttstock and forend. The BAR had the “it” factor from its inception in terms of aesthetics. The BAR’s appeal was further cemented by its ability to handle a wide range of cartridges from .243Win to .338WinMag. The BAR is still unique as being a semi-auto that can accommodate magnums such as the 7mm Mag, .300WinMag and .338WinMag. The forend surrounds the simple, yet ingenious, gas operating rod actuating system that contributes to the BAR’s effectiveness. An operating rod acts on an inertial block that drives action rods rearward working the action. Research literature draws comparisons between the BAR semi-automatic being a pump action minus the required hand manipulation. Browning engineers created a gas system capable of handling the different levels of gas pressure associated with a wide range of cartridges. Cartridges are fed from a detachable box magazine that is recessed inside the receiver on a hinged floorplate. BAR magazine capacity is either three or four depending on caliber.

The seven-lug rotating bolt locks up tight into the receiver contributing to the BAR exceeding expectations in terms of accuracy. Similar to an AR, the BAR’s rotating bolt head makes sure the bolt is centered and aligned with the bore with perpendicular breech face. Similar to a bolt action, the BAR’s bolt face is recessed. A chambered cartridge is surrounded with three rings of steel—receiver (certain recent BAR models have aluminum receivers), barrel and bolt face. All of this makes for a rock solid design, especially important considering the powerful upper end of cartridges available to use in the BAR.

Production of the BARs was altered in the 1970s when assembly was moved to Portugal with manufacturing remaining in Belgium. A design modification of the gas system and other tweaks resulted in the BAR Mark II in 1992. In 1997, aircraft aluminum alloy receivers were introduced in the BAR except for the Safari and White Gold Medallion models that remained steel. The aluminum receiver BAR is offered in two action lengths; ShortTrac for .308 Winchester length cartridges and LongTrac for 30-06 Springfield length cartridges, including belted magnums of that length. The MK III BAR was introduced in 2017 featuring an aluminum receiver and new styling of the stock.

The Browning BAR’s longevity and reputation as a hunting rifle are gained from combining semi-automatic speed of follow-up shots with bolt action accuracy. BAR barrels are hammer-forged by FN in Belgium. Barrels are also air-gauged to monitor quality as well as checked for straightness with the interior rifling finish also hand-inspected. In fact, Navy Special Warfare experimented with a modified BAR chambered in .300WinMag such was the platform’s potency. The BAR’s gas system helps to lengthen/soften perceived recoil. This is attractive to hunters who want to use 7mm Mag, .300WinMag, or .338WinMag power while not sacrificing long-range accuracy. The BAR was ahead of its time as being drilled and tapped for scope use. The stock design was also based on the assumption of optic use.

Browning has offered a multitude of BAR variants over the years. Sister company FN has even borrowed the design for a tactical/competition model (FNAR) with a 20-round detachable magazine. The BAR is a semi-automatic hunting rifle that can be used for antelope, deer, elk, moose and grizzly/brown bear. No other production semi-automatic rifle can make this statement without a stretch. Browning has always appealed to hunters with a variety of stock options such as wood, composite or camouflaged pattern. The BAR’s hunting application is maximized via stocks offered, barrel profile and available calibers. For example, a BAR Lightweight chambered in 243Win weighs 6 pounds, 9 ounces and has a 22-inch barrel; whereas a steel receiver BAR Mk II Safari .338Win features a 24-inch barrel and weighs 8 pounds, 3 ounces. Other Browning options such as the Browning BOSS muzzle device allows for the BAR to be tuned to a specific load for optimum accuracy. This same flexibility is carried through the variety of calibers offered. The BAR’s flexibility in fitting to a user is exemplified by the ability to change length of pull with optional recoil pad and even more impressively with shims that can modify the buttstock’s degree of cast and drop via six shims that are included with each rifle. The goal here is to help the individual shooter get to a natural position where his eye is in line with the gun’s sights and cheek in proper place on the stock.

Hard to imagine a more flexible hunting rifle than a Browning BAR chambered in .300WinMag with a variable power optic. A user can adapt to a myriad of situations by paying attention to the bullet chosen. This perhaps is the optimum rifle/cartridge combo. Beware of the saying, “beware of the individual that [who] owns only one rifle, for surely that individual is familiar with its use.” Most BARs are more than capable of 1.5-inch MOA or better accuracy. Good marksmanship in the field starts with confidence. Confidence is built through firing a rifle that is not overly punishing (each of us has different standards and tolerances with this) and is inherently accurate as demonstrated from the bench. A rifle that shoots well off the bench offers the shooter no excuses or alibis when serious practice starts, using field shooting positions or in the woods.

Initial favorable attitude toward the Browning BAR developed years ago was recently re-justified at the range via a BAR Mk II Safari. The BAR’s buttstock allows for a good cheek weld that aids in handling recoil by preventing a “slap” of the face that is more typical of the jaw welds found on a lot of rifles when scopes are used. The BAR Mk II Safari .300WinMag proved potent on the “Jungle Walk” range at Echo Valley Training Center (EVTC) with targets placed at 30 yards out to 120 yards. The BAR’s polished blue receiver and glossy oiled walnut stock was not the normal fare for the “Jungle Walk” experience. The ability to move through its varied terrain and engage randomly placed targets hidden within cover suited the Browning BAR perfectly. Multiple shots fired at most of the targets. The emphasis was on accurate shot placement and how the BAR’s smooth recoil impulse facilitated follow-up shots. The 8-pound, 24-inch barrel BAR proved easy to handle with no searching for the target required when the rifle was brought up to the shoulder. A spare magazine on the belt or pocket allowed for efficient reloads by simply releasing the BAR’s hinged floorplate and swapping out detachable magazines. Another option was to insert rounds directly into the empty magazine after exposing it via dropping the floorplate. The BAR proved just at home on EVTC’s Known Distance Range #5. Steel targets out to 500 yards were engaged with the BAR from the prone position with multiple hits possible and with second rounds sent downrange with echo from the first round hitting steel still audible.

The Browning BAR, with its portability, is intended for stalk or still hunting forays. This translates into fluid off-hand shots at game and not off-rests or bipods. If lucky, the hunter will be able to adopt a kneeling or sitting position in lieu of off-hand. While not empirically quantifiable, the BAR “hangs” well and is very manageable in getting into and out of field shooting positions.

The purpose of this article on the Browning BAR was not to coerce similar behavior or thinking, but to stimulate thought in how one picks a rifle/cartridge for hunting. One more worthy point—all of the performance criteria listed for the BAR dates back to a design created in the late 1960s. New designs should not be automatically accepted as superior to anything prior.


Browning North America

Echo Valley Training Center

This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V21N6 (July 2017)
and was posted online on May 19, 2017


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