The semiauto that shoots like a bolt
By Todd Triplett
Classic deer gun and semiautomatic hunting rifle are descriptions that don't seem to belong in the same sentence, but the Browning BAR is indeed a semiauto deer rifle of the highest order. Not only is it likely the most popular semiauto deer gun ever made, but it also was the first capable of handling magnum calibers.
But of all the attributes that have attracted hunters to the BAR over the last 38 years, none are more impressive than its accuracy. With the right ammo, this semiauto shoots as well as a bolt gun.
John Moses Browning demonstrated his original BAR, a light machine gun, toward the end of World War I. Although the BAR was twice as heavy as the M1 Garand, it could be fired in bursts from the shoulder or the hip by advancing troops. The selective-fire gun first saw combat in the trenches in 1918, and variants were used in World War II and Korea. The sporting BAR shares only the name of its military forebear.
When the BAR High Power Rifle was introduced in 1967, it was a hit among hunters. Those who hunted deer in thick cover, or used dogs or participated in man-drives, embraced the gun. In such situations, fast follow-up shots are a must. The BAR delivered.
Alhough the BAR High Power was an exceptional rifle, a new design with a more dependable self-cleaning gas system was announced in 1993. The BAR Mark II featured a recessed bolt face, a seven-lug rotary bolt, a hinged floorplate with a box magazine and an easily accessible bolt lock release lever.
Today's Mark II models are the ShortTrac, LongTrac, Safari and Lightweight Stalker. The ShortTracs and LongTracs have a European design with more angular lines than the American BAR. Chamberings include .243 Win, .308 Win, .300 WSM, .270 WSM and 7mm WSM in the ShortTrac models. The LongTracs can handle .270 Win, .30-06 Spfld, 7mm Rem Mag and .300 Win Mag cartridges. With both Tracs come six shims that change the buttstock angle to fit an individual shooter.
The Safari and Lightweight Stalker models have a traditional look and feel. The top-of-the-line wood-stocked Safari is available in .243 Win to .338 Win Mag calibers, including .300 WSM, .270 WSM and 7mm WSM. The Lightweight Stalker has a composite stock and a receiver of aircraft-grade aluminum. Chamberings include .243 Win, .308 Win, .270 Win, .30-06 Spfld, .300 Win Mag, .338 Win Mag, .300 WSM, .270 WSM and 7mm WSM.
Last year, Browning sent me a BAR Mark II in the Stalker grade to test. Reamed to 7mm WSM, the gun weighed 7 pounds, 8 ounces. Topped with a Leupold VX-II scope, the gun was a pound heavier. The heft, along with the gas cycling, absorbed a great deal of recoil, making it a pleasure to shoot.
From the bench, the Stalker printed a 1 1/2-inch group with Winchester Supreme ammo loaded with 160-grain Fail Safe bullets. Though the rifle wasn't equipped with the Ballistic Optimizing Shooting System, or BOSS, it is an option on certain Safari models. BOSS allows a shooter to adjust or tune the barrel vibration to increase accuracy. The system also reduces felt recoil.
The only drawback I found with the Stalker was its trigger pull, which was heavy at 5 pounds.
After sighting-in the Stalker at the range, I was anxious to test its capabilities in the field. I had drawn a Kansas firearms deer hunting permit earlier in the year, and was soon making the 1,000-mile drive from my North Carolina home.
I'd hunted the area before and wasted no time getting to my familiar haunts to set up. As luck would have it, while in transit from one area to another, I spotted three large bucks crossing from private to public property. Soon, I found a well-used trail that I could easily watch from an adjacent knoll, and made plans to be there at first light.
Because I had chosen to hunt public land, I had taken the risk that other hunters would be nearby. Alhough I prefer to hunt private property for this very reason, having other hunters in the area to push deer from one section of cover to another can be beneficial at times.
In the bitter cold of opening morning, I began the short hike to my vantage point, which overlooked a CRP hillside and a wooded ravine. Along the way, as morning's light slowly began to brighten my surroundings, I spotted several whitetails in the cultivated fields along the river. The whitetails were making their way to the cover of an adjacent wooded hillside.
Peering through my 10x42 binoculars, I could see that all three were bucks. How good? I couldn't tell, but they were bucks, nonetheless. Since the light was dim and the animals were more than 300 yards away, I decided to continue on to my stand site.
After reaching the vantage point, I nestled into a sleeping bag and prepared to sit the entire morning in comfort. It wasn't long, though, before deer began to filter across the field openings below my stand site as well as through the CRP.
About an hour into the vigil, I began to notice movement along the opposite rim of the wooded ravine. Two groups of deer were making their way from the ravine as if they had been spooked. A small group of does never slowed their pace as they ran around the head of the ravine and past my location at nearly 300 yards. Returning my attention to the four remaining deer, I noticed that two of them had large antlers. Checking with optics, I was excited to see the racks were very heavy and tall. Unfortunately, these bucks were 500 yards away - well past my comfortable shooting range.
I watched as the two larger bucks nervously trotted straight away toward the top of the opposing ridge. Nearing the crest, they slowed, looked back, and then disappeared from sight. My heart sank. I hoisted the binoculars to get a closer look at the last two deer of the group. The third was a much smaller buck, and the fourth a dainty doe. As I watched, the small buck turned and began to chase the doe.
This was very exciting to watch.The doe ran back and forth in a futile attempt to lose the persistent buck. Neither deer slowed as the frantic pair ran by me at less than 100 yards. They quickly entered the adjacent woodlot, then after two more appearances, the show was over.
As I sat thinking of the two larger bucks, movement drew my attention to the ridgetop where they'd crossed. I raised my binoculars to find only a lone doe. Within a few minutes, I spotted another deer. A quick head check found it to be one of the larger bucks that had crossed the ridge earlier. My pulse quickened as the 9-pointer cautiously began to nose the ground, paying no attention to the doe that was easily within sight.
Like a good hound, the buck soon found the trail the doe had made. Following the trail slowly, the buck seemed to make certain that it was, in fact, the doe's. At slightly more than 300 yards, the buck stopped to check his surroundings. With the BAR seated firmly on a pair of Stoney Point shooting sticks, I slid off the safety. Slowly I began to squeeze the trigger, stopping short of firing, just as the buck took up the trail once again.
Soon, he would be out of sight, as he had to cross the wooded ravine between us. My only hope was that he would continue through the ravine and re-emerge on my side. Here, any shot offered would be less than 200 yards.
In a few seconds, the buck eased my mind as he walked from the ravine, on the near side. I waited as he slowly approached. At 100 yards, he stopped and looked my way. Settling the crosshairs just under the white throat patch, I once again began to squeeze the trigger. This time, the shot went off without delay, and at the report, the large buck sporting 27-inch main beams and 142 inches of antler lay in a heap. Because of my patience and the flawless function and accuracy of the BAR, I soon put my hands on the largest buck I had ever taken.
Reprinted from the October 2005 issue of Buckmasters GunHunter Magazine. Subscribe today to have GunHunter delivered to your home.