By Jacob Gottfredson, GUNS Magazine
Is there a more famous name than John Browning in the firearms business? Not likely, and the icon has long since left us. Just the use of his name doesn’t make any firearm outstanding, but from my experience, whoever is running the show seems to be holding up their end. Browning has many examples, and the company’s new A-Bolt 3 rifle is a perfect fit for the average hunter.
I remember when I was young and had my eye on one of their superb over/under shotguns. Sadly, it was always just out of the reach of my income. But now for those of you wanting to invest in Browning’s excellence, take a long look at the new and affordable A-Bolt 3 Composite Stalker.
The rifle is currently being chambered in .270, .30-06, 7mm Rem Mag, which our test gun was chambered for, and .300 Win Mag. The first two sport 22-inch barrels, and the latter two are sold with 26-inch barrels. Browning lists many features to make the case for their new offering. It’s a gallant effort to put so much in one rifle at this price. There was a day, not many years ago, when all this stuff came only in competition and custom rifles with price tags in the thousands. Those days appear to be over. The features they have built into this hunting rifle will certainly bag all the game a hunter is after for his and his children’s lifetimes.
Weaver’s Grand Slam 4-16x44mm is short and lightweight. Here shown on Browning’s new AB3 7mm Remington Magnum, it is mounted in Talley rings and bases, which worked well with the AB3 and the Grand Slam.
The bolt throw on the AB3 is only 60 degrees. You can see the cocking indicator below the shroud in this photo. Just under the bolt, and straight up from the trigger, you will see a small button. When the bolt is closed and cocked and the rifle is on safe, pushing that button will allow you to open the bolt.
The sliding safety is quick and virtually silent. The bolt handle rotates only 60 degrees. A cocking indicator is located at the end and below the shroud so you always know when the rifle is cocked. While the rifle is light, the action and bolt are heavy and well made. The rifle is loaded and unloaded quickly by hitting a button to release a box magazine. I have owned and evaluated several box-magazine hunting rifles, and they were sometimes difficult to load in the receiver because you had to engage them at some weird angle. Not this one. It moves into place quickly and with no fuss.
The barrel’s end is recessed to help keep the crown from being damaged. The barrel is button rifled and air gauged for consistency and accuracy. The bolt action is newly designed as well as the integrated trigger. The stock is a composite, offering reliability and stiffness in all types of weather. The barrel is free floated to promote accuracy in the heat or the cold or after several firings. The bolt is withdrawn from the action with the use of a release button on the side of the action. A matte blued finish on the rifle minimizes reflection and provides corrosion protection.
The bolt is the 3-lug variety. I marked the lugs in an attempt to see if all were engaging equally. They were. If they are not contacting evenly, the bolt head allows the case head to rotate slightly, causing the bullet to engage the lands at a slight angle, producing yaw and taking the edge off of accuracy. The angle on the lugs has to be sharper to make a 60-degree lift, making it a bit harder to open than a 2-lug bolt. A bit of lubricant on the lugs helps.
The Browning A-Bolt 3 with Black Hills Gold hunting ammo and targets shot with handloads include (from left) Nosler’s 140-grain Spitzer (plastic tip), Sierra’s 160-grain Spitzer (lead tip), and Hornady’s 162-grain SST (plastic tip). Several other bullets were tried also, and all shot well with only minimum tuning. The Black Hills 140-grain Nosler Ballistic Tip factory hunting ammo also shot well. All bullet weights had approximately the same point of impact on the target.
On the Range
I mounted a Weaver Grand Slam 4-16x44mm, grabbed some Black Hills 140-grain Ballistic Tip ammo, my SuperChrono chronograph, and headed for the range. I shot four groups the first go-around, and learned I could probably work up a handload that would likely shoot 0.5- to 0.6-inch reliably. The first groups were giving me about a 70 fps spread. The last two groups with a very firm hold were only a 5 fps spread. Go figure. The Black Hills ammo was loaded a bit short. I think a handloader can move the bullet slightly forward toward the lands. There is plenty of room in the magazine for a cartridge length increase.
The big bolt and magazine functioned reliably without binding. Very smooth. The trigger is advertised at 3.5 pounds. It was very crisp with no creep and only slight overtravel. A very good hunting trigger. A small button on the right side next to the shroud allows you to open the bolt with the rifle on safety.
I took the rifle home and began cleaning the bore after 20 rounds through it, first with several patches of Shooter’s Choice to clean most of the gunk out. I next took a bronze brush saturated with Shooter’s Choice and ran it through the bore 10 times. My bore scope proved the bore was now clean with the exception of about 1/2-inch from the end of the crown down, which was coated with copper. I applied Sweet’s 7.62 Solvent there with a Q-tip, and a couple hours later the bore was clean as a whistle. Not bad for a hunting rifle barrel.
The next range outing was to find the distance zero of each hashmark (bar) in the Weaver scope. Using an 8.5×11-inch piece of bond paper, I drew lines 1-inch apart with 1/4-inch marks between them. Holding the rifle still on the bench, I could determine the subtension of each bar at 100 yards with the scope on 16X. Using ballistic software, I could then determine the zero of each bar, knowing the ballistic coefficient of the bullet and its velocity.
The bolt is large and features a 3-lug configuration. The magazine for the 7mm Remington Magnum has plenty of length for the cartridge. It is good news for handloaders who might want to get the bullet closer to the lands.
This is the chart (above) Jacob drew to determine the subtension of each bar on the vertical crosshair at 100 yards. Simply put the main, horizontal crosshair on the large black line at the top. From there, the lines are in 1-inch increments with 1/4-inch increments in between each inch. This view is taken through the scope (below). The Weaver EBX is shown on the subtension chart at 100 yards. Using the chart, you can determine the subtension of each bar. From that, ballistic software will tell you what the downrange zero of each bar is.
My first attempt was with Sierra’s 140-grain HPBT GameKing and Nosler’s 162-grain SST and Hodgdon H4831sc Extreme powder. The groups dropped to the low 0.7-inch range. I was pleasantly surprised as I had not even started tuning yet. With only a bit of tuning that dropped to just a little bigger than 0.5-inch range.
Browning has turned out a rifle at an affordable price any hunter would be proud to own.
7mm Rem Mag Factory Ammo Performance
|(brand, bullet weight, type)||(fps)||(inches)|
|Black Hills Gold 140 BT||3,129||1.173*|
|Black Hills Gold 140 BT||3,166||1.375*|
|Black Hills Gold 140 BT||3,139||0.812**|
|Black Hills Gold 140 BT||3,175||0.827**|
Notes: *Firm hold on fore-end. **Very firm hold on fore-end.
Accuracy is the product of 3-shot groups at 100 yards.
Weaver Reticle Subtension
The Weaver uses a “Christmas tree” style of reticle—applicable to
many different cartridges with the use of ballistic software.
For the 140-grain Nosler BT with a BC of .485 and a velocity of 3,160 fps, my calculations gave me the following ranges where I believe I could reliably place a bullet. Let us assume the target is an elk. Any shot in an 8-inch circle in the kill zone would be a productive hit. So, in the chart below for example, using bar number 2 for an animal at 418 yards, you would hit dead center of the 8-inch circle. At 378 yards, you would hit 4 inches high of dead center. At 450 yards, you would hit 4 inches low of dead center. Interestingly enough, if the animal was between you and 322 yards, you need only use Bar Number 1 to hit that 8-inch circle. The distance between Bar 1 and Bar 2 is 152 yards. If the animal is half way in between, that is, 342 yards, just go half way between the bars to make the shot. Looking at the chart, you could also place Bar No. 2 a bit high, still hitting the bottom of the 8-inch circle. Using the TDS reticle, which is very similar to this Weaver, that is exactly what I had to do for a 375-yard shot on a caribou in Alaska. The animal dropped in its tracks. The exact same thing happened on a kudu in Africa. It went down as well, as did a Nilgai here in Texas. It works.
Minimum/Maximum Ranges To Hit An 8-inch Circle
|Reticle (bar position)||Zero (yards)||Minimum Range (yards)||Maximum Range (yards)|
Notes: Calculations for a 140-grain Nosler BT bullet with
a BC of 4 and a velocity of 3,160 fps.
Black Hills Ammunition
3050 Eglin St.
Rapid City, SD 57703
1 ATK Way
Anoka, MN 55303
P.O. Box 369
Santee, SC 29142