July 15, 2020
The original Browning T-Bolt was in production from 1965 to 1974. It was chambered in .22 Long Rifle, had a 24-inch barrel, a peep rear sight and a ramped front sight. The rifle weighed 6 pounds, had a five-shot magazine and was available in left-hand models.
The T-Bolt gets its name from the “T” shape formed by the locking lug that sits perpendicular to the bolt body. It forms the top of the T. The bolt handle is connected to the bottom of the T, and pulling on it moves the locking lug sideways in the receiver. Once the locking lug clears the receiver wall, the bolt assembly moves rearward. Operating the T-Bolt is noticeably faster than a traditional bolt because instead of lifting the bolt up and then pulling back, the shooter simply tugs it rearward.
One of the most endearing features of the T-Bolt is its cock-on-close action. This is the most flawlessly executed cock-on-close action. Most bolt-action rifles are variations of the classic Peter Paul Mauser design. Once fired, lifting the bolt moves the cocking piece up the cocking ramp while simultaneously moving the bolt body slightly to the rear. The rearward bolt movement that occurs when lifting the bolt handle is called primary extraction and it helps unstick cases from the chamber. This makes it easier for the shooter to extract fired cases when it comes time to pull the bolt rearward. The T-Bolt approach only moves the firing pin about one-third of the way necessary to cock the rifle when pulling the bolt to open the chamber. It isn’t until the bolt is in the last half-inch of forward movement that the firing pin spring compresses all the way to fully cock the action. This gives the T-Bolt its rather unique handling characteristics.
Opening the action only compresses the firing pin spring about a one-third of the way, so there is very little resistance to open the action. This disturbs the shooter’s position far less than Mauser’s cock-on-open design. A quick flick of the fingers is all it takes to open the T-Bolt.
Closing the T-Bolt takes advantage of human physiology. We are much more efficient at pushing than we are at pulling. Pushing the action closed is what compresses the firing pin spring the rest of the way, getting everything ready to fire. There is a big difference between the T-Bolt and a Mauser action when opening, but little difference in feel on closing.
The long-time weakness associated with cock-on-close actions is the trigger. Historically, they’ve required an abundance of sear engagement to ensure the firing pin doesn’t slip and cause the rifle to fire prior to fully closing the action. That large amount of engagement increased trigger creep and pull weight. This is not the case with the T-Bolt. The pull weight on the T-Bolt Speed was right at 5 ½ pounds and there was no detectable creep. It would be an excellent trigger for any sporting rifle.
Since the T-Bolt is a straight-pull action, it has no primary extraction. However, none is needed since rimfire cartridges operate on low chamber pressures. SAAMI maximum pressure for the .22 Long Rifle is a paltry 24,000 pounds per square inch (psi), and most ammunition run nowhere near that high. A lot of match rimfire ammunition run at about half that pressure. The low pressure means the cartridge doesn’t try to stick to the chamber walls, thus, no primary extraction is needed.
The T-Bolt sent to Guns & Ammo for evaluation was the T-Bolt Speed. It was first seen at the 2019 SHOT Show, and has seen notable improvements over the original. The biggest improvement is the double-helix 10-round magazine. Viewed from the front or rear, this magazine has the same silhouette as a figure 8. This maximizes the number of rounds that can be packed into the least amount of internal volume.
The double-helix magazine is made mostly of a clear polymer that allows the shooter to observe remaining rounds. It is about an eighth-inch taller than other common 10-round rotary magazines, while being about a quarter-inch narrower, fitting comfortably in the pocket. The front of the magazine has an exposed wheel that allows the shooter to remove some of the magazine’s spring tension with the non-loading hand. This makes it easier to insert 10 rounds into the magazine.
Each T-Bolt Speed ships with two magazines, which can be carried simultaneously on the rifle. One mag fits in the magazine well and the other can be stored in the buttstock. Having a spare mag in the buttstock makes it readily accessible, should a second one ever be needed quickly. The latching mechanism is rigid, so it is unlikely the magazine would ever unintentionally fall out.
Each T-Bolt Speed comes with the receiver tapped to accept scope bases. There are several scope-base manufacturers for the T-Bolt including Browning, Talley, and Warne. Talley makes base/ring one-piece mounts that attach directly to the receiver. These are only available for scopes with 1-inch main tubes.
Just as expected with the T-Bolt Speed, the barrel and receiver are Cerakoted in the Burnt Bronze color found on Browning’s Hell’s Canyon Speed rifles. The stock has the same ATACS hydro-dipped finish that makes for a good camouflage, too.
Separating the barreled action from the stock reveals the T-Bolt uses a recoil pin in the receiver, which sits in a bedded recess in the stock to ensure no movement between the two occurs during recoil.
The trigger housing is also huge and serves as a second recoil-bearing surface at the back of the tang. The large radiused surface is additional insurance against any barreled-action movement.
Spending time at the range with the T-Bolt Speed was enjoyable. The action was lightning quick to cycle and required no time before working the action became second nature. Having two magazines that loaded so easily made plowing through more ammo than necessary a real problem. When a rifle shoots so effortlessly and the magazines load quickly, spent cases pile up.
Accuracy for the T-Bolt was better than expected with CCI Standard Velocity 40-grain lead round-nose ammunition. This was the cheapest ammo G&A tested, averaging $8 for a box of 100 rounds, which flirts with the pricing found on bulk rimfire ammo. The best five-shot group at 50 yards measured a scant .41-inch.
At 4.6 pounds, the T-Bolt weighs less that what it weighed on introduction in 1965, thanks to the slender and weatherproof composite stock. Combine the stock with the fast-cycling action, and the T-Bolt promises to remain a favorite in the rimfire world. T-Bolt models can vary from year to year, so if the Speed appeals to you, act sooner rather than later.
Browning T- Bolt Speed
- Type: Bolt action
- Cartridge .22 LR
- Capacity: 10 rds.
- Barrel: 22 in.; 1:16- in. twist, steel
- Overall Length: 40.25 in.
- Weight: 4 lbs., 9 oz.
- Stock: Polymer composite, A-TACS AU camouflage
- Grip: Molded- in light texture
- Length of Pull: 13.5 in.
- Finish: Burnt Bronze, Cerakote (steel)
- Sights: None
- Safety: Two-position, tang- mounted selector
- MSRP: $980
- Manufacturer: Browning, 800- 333- 3288, browning.com
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