Like many a rifleman, I progressed up the cartridge chain. Naturally, the Red Ryder BB gun was my introduction to the shooting world, then the .22 rimfire moving up to the lighter, then heavier centerfire cartridges.
However, looking back, the innocence of my adolescent youth brought out the best of memories with the .22 rimfire, something that has stuck with me today.
As a young boy, I was privileged to have an uncle with a sprawling farm located in the southern tier of New York state. Every summer for years on end, my folks would take me up to the farm, never to see me again to the start of school in the fall.
Together with a good friend down the road, we would shoot woodchucks, fish in the brook and yes, drink the water — downstream from the cows of course!
Weapon of choice? Well actually, no choice, as it was the faithful Winchester Model 67A that hung in the barn waiting for my arrival. Capable of shooting .22 short, long and long rifle, it was a handy gun for swallows in the barn or long ranging woodchucks on the north forty. I still have that gun today.
Times change and things move on, and since that time in the late 1940's, the .22 rimfire has been chambered in more guns that I could ever have imagined at the time. From fancy bolt guns, semi-automatics, pumps and even western styled lever guns, they were all there for the asking.
As a writer, I get to shoot all makes and models from dozens of manufacturers and while there were numerous guns that passed through my hands favorites do surface. Those great custom shop guns from Remington, the now passed Weatherby Mark XII semi-automatic and the Browning BL22 lever gun are all guns at the top of my list.
As a lever gun, the Browning BL22 is unique. First made in 1969, the gun has longevity. That's important to me as parts will be available for some time and it shows that the lever gun is still popular with shooters, albeit even in .22 rimfire. It is short and handy and since it can shoot .22 short, long and long rifle ammunition, it reminds me of the Winchester Model 67A that I carried around summer after summer.
For collectors, over the years, Browning has made the gun in all kinds of configurations from blue to nickel receivers, in calibers from the .17 Mach 2; something twice as fast as current .22 long rifle cartridges. There have been Grade I and Grade II guns, field grade models, rifles with octagonal barrels, and barrels from the more common 20 inches to much longer 24-inch tubes. In short, if you are a serious investor, the Browning BL22 offers much in collector diversity.
Current models now include the Grade I "Micro Midas" with a curt 16¼" barrel and with a 12 inch pull is great for kids in the younger generation. The somewhat original Grade I and II is represented with the former having a plain receiver, the latter has scroll engraving.
Grade I has no checkering, Grade II has checkering on the pistol grip and forearm. Other than that, they are the same. Additionally, if you have a Browning Full Line Dealer in your area, there are some extra models to choose from to include a Grade I and Grade II with a nickeled receiver, with or without checking as before.
Finally, there is a Grade II rifle with a longer 24-inch octagon barrel with all the trimmings. This model year, prices go from $580 to $980 for the top of the line Grade II octagon barreled rifle.
Okay, getting to the meat of the gun, how does it look, handle and shoot. For looks, it's hard to beat any Browning gun in this department. On my Grade II, the usual Browning spit and polish is there in both wood and metal. All of the metal parts are polished smooth and finished off with a rich coat of blue.
Even hard to reach places like the inside of the lever and within the borders of the receivers are flawless. The flat sides of the receiver are polished before the scroll engraving has been cut (Grade II) and the juncture between barrel and receiver has received similar attention. Overall, the bluing is not a high gloss, but a rich satin patina adding a classic touch to this rifle.
Other accessories add some flavor to the gun. For example, the front barrel band has been individually polished, the trigger on the Grade II is gold plated with the area forward of the lever and around the hammer stippled for effect. The gun comes with open sights; the rear has visual markers with setscrews and adjustments for vertical adjustments.
This assembly sits within a dovetail so windage adjustments should be made only with a brass drift pin. The front sight is pedestrian but with a black top bead that fits within the rear sight notch perfectly. The top of the receiver is grooved for so-called "tip-off" mounts, which I finished off with the installation of a Leupold 4X — 28mm Rimfire scope.
The barrel has a target crown, is 20 inches on this gun, but as mentioned before, if you opt for the Grade II Octagon barrel, the front sight will reach out to 24 inches.
The fit of wood to metal on this gun is excellent, just a little bit "proud", but surely not enough to be a bother even to the most discriminating owner. Up front, you have the barrel band set back about an inch and into a relief as to keep the wood from moving forward over time.
This part of the gun is slim enough to hold the rifle in one hand while walking even with a scope. There is ample coverage of checkering on this forearm and with a tasteful border only brings out the pedigree of this weapon. What I like about the forearm is that it was cut from the same blank as the buttstock of the gun as the grain and color match both pieces.
The gun has a straight grip something I like in a handy weapon like this lever gun or an upland bird shotgun. It makes the gun handy to move around and rest on the shoulder with your hand around the pistol grip.
Like the forearm, ample checkering is cut here in a classic point design with a slight extension to the bottom rear of the pattern complete with a border.
One of the perks you get with purchasing a Grade II gun is that — if you scout around — and on average, the wood is much better in color and / or figure. My sample has a bit of crotch feathering coming up from the pistol grip towards the heel of the stock and is finished off with a clear, glossy coating to bring out the figure, color and grain of the stock.
There are no sling swivel studs and a handsome plastic butt plate adorns the rear of the stock.
In operation, the lever is quick with only a 33° downward throw. Great for teaching the younger set as there is less chance of getting any fingers caught or pinched here as everything including the trigger moves with the lever.
Breaking at near seven pounds, the trigger is not target quality, but good enough for field duty with a half cock built in for safety. To load the gun, press in the release at the end of the tubular magazine, pull it forward and drop in as many as 16 rounds of .22 long rifle ammunition.
At the range, this is a fun gun and great for younger shooters! I took samples of shorts, longs and long rifle ammunition for some shooting at the bench.
Groups? Not interested today, as I was out to have some fun. In the past, at 50 feet, I can count on the gun to shoot within two-inch circles, closer in, tighter groups, which is perfect for shooting squirrels in the thick cover of New England.
The BL22 never faltered even when I mixed shorts, longs and long rifle cartridges in the same load. It is a gun I fully enjoy.
One important note here, if you do purchase the BL22 Micro, take note that Browning offers a "Growth Insurance Program" where you can purchase a full sized stock at 50% off the current retail price at a later date.
Pretty neat I'd say as when the kids move out, for a small investment you can enjoy that weapon you have had your eyes on for years or keep it going with your son or daughter as part of their family inheritance!
The Browning BL22 rifle is made for both serious hunting and fun. The gun is quick, accurate and considering the quality, is priced accordingly. For more information, contact Browning at browning.com.