Test Report: Browning A-Bolt II Composite Stalker

The Browning X-Bolt rules the Browning roost, and justifiably so, but it never pays to underestimate its sibling, the A-Bolt II which sells for roughly $500 less.

It costs roughly $300 more than the raft of so-called “economy models” some of which which have poorly shaped stocks and are sadly lacking in aesthetics.

The A-Bolt II Composite Stalker in .223 Remington under review is not only slim, trim and beautifully balanced, but it incorporates several innovative design features that are really functional.

I remember when the A-Bolt was introduced back in 1985. A year later I got a rifle to review. As soon as I saw the rifle I liked the looks of the angled flats on the top half of the receiver, but then reserved my verdict on the flattened, angled bolt knob until I found how well it fit into my palm as the handle is lifted and pulled to the rear.

When the handle movement is reversed, the top of the knob fits snugly under the base of the thumb/ The flat is set at precisely the right angle to make the bolt so much easier to operate. The bolt rotates and rides the rails without any drag. At least part of the reason for this is found in the unique magazine box which is designed so that the bottom locking lug depresses the follower which is held below the bolt body and does not drag on it as a round is stripped from the magazine.

The unique magazine is a detachable box that clips onto what appears to be a conventional hinged floorplate. But looks can be deceptive because when you press the release in front of the trigger guard, and swing the floorplate down, the magazine comes with it. But you don’t have to thumb cartridges into the box in its swung-down position, you can actually snap it off for reloading or replace it with a full one. When closed the magazine fits nearly flush with the underside of the stock and has the smooth lines of a conventional ‘98 Mauser floorplate – well almost.

The A-Bolt’s magazine has two other unique features: The follower is tensioned by a scissors-type cartridge elevator instead of a normal “Z” spring which makes the cartridges ride up smooth and level without tipping or binding and is smooth and silent in use. And it incorporates a bullet tip protector.

The box is blocked at the front to accommodate the proper cartridge length, but unlike other magazine blocks, this one has extensions running along the inside of the magazine to the cartridge shoulder. When the rifle recoils, the shoulders of the cartridges contact these extensions, preventing any further forward movement and preventing bullet tips from smashing into the front of the magazine.

While the receiver has angled flats on the exposed upper portion, the lower half is rounded. The recoil lug is a bracket sandwiched between the face of the receiver and a shoulder on the barrel. The top half of the recoil lug is milled off and machined partially octagon on top to match the lines of the receiver. It all blends in and the angled receiver flats and flattened bolt handle reduce weight.

The bolt is a one diameter affair with three large locking lugs and a deeply recessed bolt face housing a spring-loaded plunger ejector. The extractor is a sliding T-slot type that moves at right angles to the bolt body when its pressed against the cartridge head. It takes a big bite out of a cartridge rims, yet its designed to require only a narrow 3mm cut from the rim of the recessed bolt face.

The extractor is set in the recessed face of the right hand locking lug, but the slot is very shallow being barely 2mm in depth. Except for the small extractor cut, the wall of the bolt face counterbore encloses the head of a cartridge in a solid ring of steel. The three evenly spaced locking lugs are all 10mm long and none are slotted full length.

The bolt body is actually a non-rotating sleeve with three full length matched ribs which slide in matching grooves inside the receiver and act as bolt guides when the bolt is opened and closed. The grooves end up front to form the locking shoulders for the bolt lugs.

The nicely contoured bolt shroud (taken from the previous BBR) has a large flange to protect the shooter from escaping gas and fragments of brass by completely blocking off not only the rear of the bolt, but its raceway in the receiver as well. The combination bolt stop/ bolt release catch is a grooved tab situated on the left side of the receiver bridge.

Protruding from the front of the trigger guard, the latch of the hinged floorplate is easy to operate, yet its spring is strong enough to resist accidental opening in the field.

A serrated sliding button atop the rear tang operates the two-position safety which is an add-on piece attached to the trigger housing. Engaging the safety locks the trigger, sear and bolt. A spring-loaded detent discourages inadvertent movement of the safety from its desired postion when the rifle is in use, yet it is easy to operate with the thumb.A red indicator tab comes into view at the rear of the bolt shroud when the firing pin is cocked.

The trigger of the Composite Stalker impresses me. Letting off at an average of 1.4kgs with a pull-to-pull variation of only 56 grams, it is the ideal weight for a hunting rifle. Lack of creep combined with a crisp break and complete lack of overtravel make this an exemplary firing mechanism.

The trigger itself is broad, striated and gold-plated in traditional Browning style. It is made of aluminium as are such parts as the trigger housing, trigger guard, floorplate, safety button, safety extension, bolt shroud and bolt stop body. These parts all contribute to the rifle’s light weight. The .223 sample, tipped the scales at 3kgs which increased to 3.4kg with scope and mount.

The A-Bolt’s slimly tapered barrel is 550mm long has a diameter of only 14mm at its muzzle which is deeply recess crowned to protect the rifling, and the barrel is free-floated from the receiver forward. The A-Bolt’s light barrel in .223 calibre balances nicely for offhand shooting

The black classic-style stock is injection-molded, of composite graphite/fibreglass. Due to the close action/stock fit, I expected to remove the barreled action and find the entire action area filled with bedding compound. Instead there was only a small dab of bedding compound in the recoil lug area. The rest of the action area has been precisely molded to the action contour. so exact is the fit that there’s no need for more bedding compound.

The forend of the stock is a shell construction with sidewalls that appear to be about 6mm to 9mm thick. there is a crosswise partition about 75mm ahead of the recoil lug, apparently for added strength, and there is a pillar of synthetic material which accepts the forend swivel stud. Panels of checkering in a point pattern are molded into the forend and pistol grip. The sharp-edged checkering provides a good gripping surface, unlike other molded-in checkering I’ve come across.

The stock has a smooth non-reflective finish which is a perfect match for the exterior metal surfaces. The stock material is already impervious to weather and cosmetically there are no discernable mold lines anywhere on the stock either butt or forend for its full length.

There is a screw-attached grip cap, and removing the screw reveals a hollow grip section with a pillar of material cast in to accept the grip cap screw. The buttstock is fitted with a solid black rubber pad and spacer. The pad on the .223 Remington is about 12mm thick without the spacer.

This is an attractive, lightweight rifle stock. Furthermore, the entire rifle is made to stand up to the most adverse weather conditions. Given the minimum of care, the metal will resist rust, the stock won’t shrink or swell, and the finish won’t wear off the steel – even scratches are hard to detect.

At the time of writing, Winchester is offering three variations of A-Bolts as well as the Composite Stalker; the A-Bolt II Hunter and Micro Hunter with stocks made of natural wood; A-Bolt II Stainless Stalker in stainless synthetic; and the A-Bolt III Composite Stalker in .30-06 only. The options are limited compared with those for the X-Bolt.

How does the Composite Stalker shoot? To find out we attached a new Meopta Meopro 3.5-10x44mm scope in a pair of Talley one- piece ring mounts which add only a few grams to the rifle’s all- up weight, but are strong and dependable.

Getting right down to the nitty-gritty, the Browning Composite Stalker I have been shooting for this report is a very accurate rifle. Any time I get a lightweight gun that will land three shots right out of the box in under one MOA, I’m happy. And that’s exactly what happened with this A-Bolt.

The first three shots went into 0.75” centre-to-centre . But the fourth shot went 12mm high, and the fifth about 12mm low, opening the group pout to 1.10”. This was not entirely unexpected since the temperature was around 34C that day, so I decided that 3-shot groups would be more indicative of the rifle’s true potential.

Four groups With Winchester Supreme ammunition loaded with the 50gn Ballistic Silvertip bullet clocked 3426 fps and averaged 1MoA. The 55gn BST at 3264fps did slightly better with an average spread of 0.980”. The rifle surprised me more when it shot the cheap USA ammo loaded with a 45gn bullet at a nominal 3500fps into an average 0.88”. All the details are shown in the accompanying table:

With this kind of accuracy to go along with an all-weather rifle, it’s hard to beat the A-Bolt II – synthetic stocked Composite Stalker.

Moreover it reinforces my opinion that the “A” in A-Bolt really does stand for accuracy.

Footnote: for those who harbour the notion that the A-Bolt is destined to be discontinued in favour of the X-Bolt; Browning has just released a new A-Bolt III. I can hardly wait to play with one.

Browning A-Bolt II Composite Stalker
Manufacturer: Miroku in Japan for Browning, Morgan, Utah, U.S.A
Type: bolt action repeater
Calibre: .223 Rem. (tested), .22-250, 243Win., .270 Win., .308, .30-06 and .300 WSM
Barrel: length, 550mm; 1:12” R/H twist
Overall length: 1042mm
Weight empty: 3kgs
Length of Pull: 340mm
Safety: two-position tang
Sights: none, drilled and tapped for scope mouns
Stock: synthetic; drop at comb, 15mm; drop at heel, 12mm
Magazine capacity: 5 rounds
Finish: all over matte black
Likely price: $975.00
Contact: Winchester Australia.
Website: www.winchesteraustralia.com.au

This article was first published in the Sporting Shooter March 2014 issue.




Like it? Share with your friends!

What's Your Reaction?

super super
fail fail
fun fun
bad bad
hate hate
lol lol
love love
omg omg