Monday, October 14, 2013

The Browning .22 Long Rifle - A Humble Masterpiece

I walked along the trail, Browning in my hand. It was the first one I had ever hunted with, an old 20 gauge semi auto that was twice my years.  I was a beginner but I'd been taught the craft by those that loved me, passing down a tradition of survival and preparedness. At the end of the day, I could field dress the animal with coaching but no hands on assistance, there in the fading light, my bloody hands consecrating to us that which was, by God's will and man's patience, accepted as a gift.

With that first hunt, I grew up , in more ways the one, having learned and watched and waited, until I was ready to handle my firearm, ready to use it as a responsible steward of the land, looking at the deer on the ground, the first worthy blood I had been worthy to take. Sacrifice with grace, for which we are both thankful and repentant and respect for those things which are passed down from one generation to the next.
Today, there was no hunt, but there was still the excitement of holding something in my hand designed by John Moses Browning, himself. The Browning 22 Semi-Auto rifle, also known as the Semi Automatic 22 or SA-22, is a take-down produced by FN Herstal based on the John Browning patent. Still  produced by Browning as the Semi-Auto 22, production began in 1914 and continued through 1974 in Belgium.. After 1974 they are produced by Moriku in Japan.  In addition to the quality that is the trademark of  Browning,  the SA-22 itself is well known as  the first production semiautomatic .22 rifle with some half a million produced since 1914.

What do they say about imitation and flattery? -  A close copy made by the Chinese company Norinco was formerly imported into the US by Interarms as the Model ATD. Remington manufactured a lighter weight version under license early on as the Remington Model 24 and then replaced it with the Model 241 Remington in 1935. Except for the barrel locking mechanism the Remington Model 241 is very similar to the Browning SA-22 and quite popular. Some said that those first close copies didn't quite possess the fit and finish of the design on which it was based, one that had a history of reliability over the long term, and so the Browning continued to be a good seller.

 Having hunted with a Browning firearm, myself, I had high expectations.
Yes, this firearm was not made in Belgium, but in Japan where production for the firearm continued by Miroku. Though it's hard to beat the Belgium model, the ones produced in Japan are by no means of poor quality, and for the price I'd say, worth considering.

It has been offered in several "grades" of engraving and gold inlay with the collectors being the Belgium models (I saw a fairly plain one at an Indiana gun show that was over $1000 FIRM). If you can find a Belgium one with a price that's not in the stratosphere, grab it, but don't overlook it's descendant.

These are sometimes found with a carry case, very nice leather that hold the rifle in its take-down form and some ammunition and which also adds value to the firearm.
The  light engraving is standard with finely detailed checkering on the walnut stock and  grip. Some of the more recent engraved work looks to be machine-rolled and machined cut, then hand finished. It's quite nice, but I miss the  hand-done loops and scrolls of earlier firearms. Still, it is a nice touch and some of the more ornate engraving on the earlier Belgium models is pure art.

You may also see some slightest of variances in the wood-tone on the later Japanese models, with some a bit lighter in color than older ones, at least in my opinion. They are all still tight grained and lacquered to a ultra-high gloss, certainly not like that light colored stuff that was plastered on some guns back in the "gun bling" era, where I first heard the term "Balsa Wood Wetherby". 

This firearm  is certainly not a collectors edition and has some some gentle wear from the field. But this is a firearm, you CAN take out in the field. Unlike some firearms which act like spoiled debutantes when faced with some dirt, hard work and rough handling, the Browning will remain a trusted friend in the field, a favorite with small game sportsmen.  Given its light weight, it would be an excellent choice for something to take along in the wilderness, not for large bears or the rabid Winnebago, but for when you might need something  dependable for small game.
Pieces and Parts - The action, a John Moses Browning original design, is a take-down autoloader with a bottom ejection and rear magazine tube loading (more on that in a bit). The received is machine from steel, with the Grade I, like my piece, engraved with a scroll design and polished blued finish (The Grave VI models are available in polished blued OR satin grayed finish, which is particularly beautiful). The bluing is typical Browning, that is, a deep, rich polished blue that holds up well. 

The butt plate is metal and is a comfortable fit whether you are man, woman, or youth starting out in the shooting sports. Certainly if one wanted to gently introduce a young or first time shooter to rifles,  with the recognition and means to purchase quality, this would be a great choice. There is really no recoil and the report is no louder than a high powered pellet rifle. You're not going to spook cattle OR Aunt Marge with this firearm.

Golden Trigger - Not just Roy Rogers horse any more. If you get a Grade VI .22 the trigger is gold. On this particular grade it's blued, and feels as nice as it looks with a light trigger pull that can be pulled quickly and repeatedly.

The manual safety is above the trigger guard. It's pretty intuitive and easy to use.

The sites are adjustable, the front one being a gold "bead" type that's highly visible in daytime and can be adjusted for windage.The adjustable folding leaf rear site also easily folds down for a slightly lower profile. 

A cantilever scope mount(for 22 style grooved mounts) is available separately. The barrel (not the receiver) is drilled and tapped for these special mounts, on the later firearms, at least..

Take me down to the gun range. The Browning auto is one of the quickest .22 repeaters to take-down, though there are other single shot .22s that come apart easily as well. The classic Marlin Model 39A comes apart by removing the large knurled screw head - so did over a million of Remington's M-12A pump. But I found the  Browning .22 particularly easy, even for a first timer, adding a portability feature that's handy on any .22 rifle.
In the most basic terms, the two halves assemble by way of half threaded barrel and receiver. The slim, forged steel receiver and slender barrel takes down into two compact units without any tools nor brute strength. To disassemble, you simply push a lever forward, give the gun a twist and the barrel will separate from the action.

This works with or without scope, and doesn't impact scope/barrel alignment as Browning mounts the scope to the barrel, not the receiver to optimize accuracy. Additionally, once the barrel is removed, the trigger assembly can also be slid out, to where the firearm is stripped to the point where all the components are easily to access for cleaning and lubrication.

The tubular magazine is in the butt stock of the rifle, pressure provided by the magazine spring in the rod in the back of the rifle to feed the rounds (just shy of a dozen Long Rifle cartridges) into the chamber. The magazine is loaded through a port in the side of the stock -- and the magazine follower is pulled back for loading (or removed entirely) from the butt stock itself. A key on the end of the follower is turned to unlock and the follower pulls back. When pulled back about two-thirds of the way you can drop your rounds into the port on the side of the butt stock (see photo above) where it feeds directly into the magazine tube. You then return the follower tube into the magazine tube, lock the key with a quick turn and you are ready.
I Said Dance! - Empty shell casings are ejected from the bottom of the receiver, chambering the next round by elfin magic. The design was intended to keep the user's face "protected from gasses and flying particles while firing" as well as leaving room for the beautiful engraving.  Designed this way,  it's a great  ambidextrous firearm  but make sure you wear long sleeves and keep your off hand sufficiently far forward or you will end up with a half moon shaped 22 caliber burn from the blazing hot empty case that ejects down one's left shirt sleeve. (If you think the "hot brass down the shirt dance" is a riot, try that tender skin with all the nerve endings on the inside of the wrist). If you have loose sleeves, a simple rubber band can prevent some pain and embarrassment (and is slightly more discretely fashionable than duct tape)
Ammo- This fired best with good quality ammo, NOT the super cheap bulk stuff that you wouldn't give to your ex. And you don't want to put shorts in the LR guns, they won't even hand cycle because the guns are set up for LR only

At the range At 5.2 pounds (2.4 kg) this is a lightweight rifle, one easily handled by all sizes and builds of shooters.  At 37 inches of length (94 cm) with 19.24 inches of that being barrel, it's not cumbersome in the field.  What struck me most about it was how perfectly balanced it was, making for a totally enjoyable shooting experience, sitting OR standing.

Accuracy was good and typical of the Springfield M-187N and Marlin 39A (though I've seen some jamming with the both the Springfield and the Marlin after extended running of semi-auto which the Browning .22 does not appear to display). Even standing, accuracy was very good. It's quick to the shoulder and points like the best black lab I've ever had.

When I think of hunting, I think of big guns and bigger game, the heft of the firearm, the knockdown power of a .30 cal carbine.  Certainly the memories of those first hunts and the skills I learned will stay with me always. But don't dismiss this as a "beginners" gun for adolescents, even if small rimfires don't get the appreciation they deserve among some rifle aficionados. It is deadly accurate and a joy to shoot (even if fuzzy squirrel target looks suspiciously like hairy bad guy target).
Certainly, there are cheaper rimfires out there. But I carried a Browning in my hands when I first took up a firearm. Now, I have in my possession, a humble sporting rifle that is one of the last masterpieces designed by John Moses Browning.  It is a simple weapon, one worn from years of carriage.  But in it remains the remnants of history, there in that design of wood and wonder, there in the science of  brass and gunpowder, those precipitates of earth and air's elemental movements that discharge their duties today as they did a hundred years ago. I am as proud to own it as I will be to pass it on to yet another generation.


  1. I have my Grandfather's Model 24. The first fourth of the rifling is gone and it still shoots like it was new. It sure doesn't look that way, though. I do prefer the slimmer wood on it to the Browning version.

  2. I am so jealous!

    In 1968, I bought one of these for my Dad at a gun show so he could plink at woodchucks behind his barn. That model had the scope mounted in the typical tip-off grooves on top of the receiver. Someone had slid the mount forward, out of the grooves, scarring the knurled nut on the barrel. IIIRC, I paid $65.00 for it.

    Some years later, the folks' house got broken into and that rifle was part of the burglar's loot. He/they left the old single-shot 16ga. hanging on the wall. Dad called the local gun store to find a value of the Browning for the insurance company and was amazed to find the gun was worth $350.00!

    Whenever I see one of those, I look for those scars on the barrel nut.

  3. I have a pair of 241's. You will have to ask me in real life someday how I acquired them, and how they required a trip to the confessional.

    The 241 is made remarkably well, and the two I have, I will put up against an FN Herstal any day- mine were both made when my father was a toddler, and I still win matches with them against shooters with megadollar bull barrel Rugers. And I cannot find any 22 they won't feed, even the crappy steel cased Russian stuff. They are a bit cheaper on the used market than the Browning, but still a very fine rifle, and one well worth owning.

    In case you never tried it, take a red McDonalds straw and tape one end shut. Fill full of 22 Long Rifle. You now have a Browning Auto-22 speedloader. Works like a charm, and you can carry them in your shirtpocket or- erm- tucked away elsewhere.

  4. God Bless JMB!

    My Dad had a J.C. Whitney bolt action .22 in his stuff. I've no idea whatever happened to it - I suspect my step mother gave it away.


  5. I have 2 Browning 22 rifles. The first, Belgium made, I purchased at a US Army PX in West Germany. The year was 1960 and I was a 12 year old Army brat. It has the wheel rear sight. The second is a Japanese made with the folding rear sight. They are both Grade I. Supposedly, when manufacturing moved to Japan, some of the machinery was worn out and replaced. When I put my rifles side by side, even with a glass, I can see very little difference. I paid $34 for the new one in 1960. I still have the box and receipt.

  6. What a woman! I now find that you love the S&W 66 AND a Browning .22 Auto! I still have the Browning .22 Shorts only auto I received for my 13th birthday in 1961. We got it at Rileys Gun Store in Avilla Indiana, and it is an AMAZING little rifle. Did I mention that I have a real "thing" about Redheads?

  7. I love that rifle. A friend of my fathers had one. If I see one around I will pick it up

    take care

  8. Late to the party, as usual.

    That's a beautiful example of a fine rifle, B.

    There's just something about the tube fed .22s.

    I have my grandfather's Remington 12A. Pretty beat up, cloth electrical tape on the stock (I assume to hold a repair) from before I was born. Missing the rear elevation ramp. My dad told me it was missing when he was a kid as well.

    It's a bit over 90 years old, but it was probably the first gun I ever shot, so holds a special place in my small collection.

  9. Great write-up on the Browning. I have a couple bolt action 22 and one Browning 22 semi-auto. My boys like the Browning because it goes bang faster. Then again, anything that burns through ammo faster is of greater fun in their mind. With the comment by OG on the Browning Auto-22 speedloader, it will be even more fun.

  10. The first rifle I ever shot was a Belgian Grade I owned by my grandfather more than fifty years ago. I loved them ever since, but only a dozen years ago got mine. I ran across a used Grade (something) - it has the satin grey finish, but also has gold inlays that have been engraved. The guy I bought it from really wanted me to have it as he refused to take more than 250.00 for it. I have used it many times rabbit hunting over dogs with great success. Such a deceptively simple gun with great balance.

  11. "I walked along the trail, Browning rifle in my hand. It was the first one I had ever hunted with, an old 20 gauge semi auto that was twice my years."

    20 gauge - ? Is this an article about a rimfire or a shotgun?

  12. I recently inherited a Belgian Grade SA-22 from my father. Just so happens it was one of the rifles on which I learned to shoot. It's been well cared for and is in darn near new shape.

    You're right about the ammo. Zero luck with cheap stuff; ditto for hollow points of any grade. Cycles round nose all day long without complaint.

    This rifle is a tack driver for me on iron sights from 100 yards on in. Have not tried it for any range longer than 100 yards.

    And you're spot on with one other point - it's a thrill to own, hold and fire one of the last designs from Mr. Browning. This rifle will be passed on to one of my sons...but not right now ;)

  13. Love those little rifles. They must be the best pointing gun I ever put to my shoulder.
    I had a Belgium Grade II with a case, but sold it 20 years ago when I needed money. Lately I've thought of buying a Japanese one.

  14. Thanks for a great write up! ;-) Brought back great memories for sure. This was my first gun/rifle that my father gave to me when I was ?10 or 11 I think- In time to practice for the first year they let me take riflery at camp when I was 12...and I won "best girl rifleman" whatever sense that makes! haha That beloved rifle is still as accurate and beautiful as it was back then! BTW, I honestly don't remember using anything other than the bulk ammo in mine...just always grabbed a handful from the box and started to drop them in the tube ;-) Oh well- worked for us- LOVE the "speedloader" idea!! Will have to try that sometime soon...

  15. This article actually brought a tear to my eyes and a smile to my face. I am 47 years old and lost my father 9 months ago. When 8 years old our water well pump went out so my dad and a friend went to town to purchase a new one. Living out in the sticks as we did meant that the trip was going to take a few hours anyway but the finally returned back home around 11 pm. In place of a water pump they returned quite intoxicated both proudly showing my mother the beautiful new 22 rifles they had purchased instead.... I have to say that I learned alot about the English language that evening.. Or you could call it French I guess. My mother is a little Irish redhead born and raised in South Louisiana {coon ass) . You can just use your imagination on how that conversation went. Needless to say that my mom wound up with a very nice rifle and my dad was back in town the next morning waiting on the store to open to get the well pump. . He loved to tell this story about how he got momma that sweet 22. Daddy passed away on December 26 of 2014 and momma gave me the 22. It hangs on a wall until my son gets it. Thanks for the memory

    1. Davd - thank you for stopping and sharing that wonderful story. With a Scandanavian Mom and a Scot/English Dad, I remember a couple of colorful conflicts like that. But they were always teasing, never genuinely mad at one another. Thanks for the visit and the smile.

    2. I'm the same age as you, my dad passed on 3/6/2014, it still hurts, but we have a lot of adventures when I dream at night. He bought my 1962 Browning 22 auto secondhand a few months before I was bornot and since then it's seen a lot of field use.

      In what would be considered child endangerment today, me and a friend would run trot lines on an oxbow lake off the Mississippi south of vicksburg. One night the prop fell off the trolling motor so we had to paddle about a mile back to the landing and as we made our way, Mr alligator came off a bank and headed to us. Scared to death, I mag dumped the Browning on his head and he sank away. At camp dad said it was illegal to shoot a gator and I remember asking if it was legal for the gator to eat us!

  16. Browning... Yes, 'tis a name rightly invoked with reverential tones.

    Started hunting relatively late in life. I was familiar with firearms, having shot .22's at summer camp. Uncles, cousins, close friends were shooters and hunters, but not my Dad. He put down firearms after he mustered out of the Army Air Corp in 1944. Never picked one up again. We didn't have them in the house. Mum was adamant.

    My first shotgun was an inexpensive Winchester 1400 12ga. pump. I bought it on a dare. A big ol' Nebraska farm boy worked in the same wood shop. We were talking fishing one day and he asked me why I didn't hunt. I told him. My final sentence: "I could probably shoot birds, but not big game." That statement opened the gate. Long story short, he brought in a newspaper add: "Win. model 1400, three chokes and two barrels - Sale price: $199.00." He told me if I bought the gun, he would provide ammo and clays and a place to practice.

    The trap was set.

    That Fall I went dove hunting opening day and took enough birds to satisfy me. The same year I went pheasant hunting with a couple of friends. We walked the cut corn rows all morning. My friends took a couple birds each. After lunch we walked another field. I was liking the slow rhythm, the sweet high plains air, and the broad, open landscape.

    I recall taking one step around mounded cut cornstalks, hearing a rustle and the raucous, rusty gate call of cock pheasant as he broke cover behind me. I turned, shouldered the Winchester, covered the bird with the barrel and pulled the trigger. That brilliant, autumn colored bird dropped from the Colorado sky. It was magic and I was hooked.

    Five years later while buying a case of bird loads at Gart Brothers, I stopped to look at the sale rack. There was a brand new Browning Citori field grade calling my name. There was minor shipping damage to the walnut fore end and stock. I asked the clerk to see and handle it. It came up to shoulder and fit like it was custom made for me. Once again, I was hooked.

    That was thirty years of hunting and hundreds of clays and birds ago. I have taken everything from quail to wild turkey with the old gal. It is a Miroku Browning, the action still tight and the trigger crisp. Its my favorite firearm.

    Tangent: I shoot another Miroku made firearm, a .270 Winchester bolt action, stamped with the moniker: "Smith & Wesson." Its my go-to game getter. I have harvested plenty of plains deer and pronghorn with it.


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