Range Report: Browning BAR Mk3 in .243 – Part 1, by The Novice

For many years, my go-to deer rifle has been a venerable Remington Model 742 in .30-06 that I inherited from my father. Over the course of time, I became a little venerable myself. As I aged, the old 742 began to kick a lot harder than it used to. Some would say that this is due to global warming, but I have a different theory. In any case, during my last extended range session with the 742, my shoulder got pretty sore. It hurt so much that I dreaded pulling the trigger, and eventually cut the range session short. I ached all the way home, and when I took off my shirt, I found out why. There was extensive bruising on my shoulder.

I was surprised. I heat my home with wood, and split many cords of wood each year by hand. I expected that the muscle mass preserved by that exercise would do an adequate job of absorbing the recoil from a .30-06. I guess that old muscle just doesn’t absorb recoil as well as young muscle.

Based upon this experience, I began to look for a kinder and gentler deer cartridge. I considered options like .30-30, 7.62×39, and 6.5 Creedmoor. I researched the various rifles available in each cartridge, and read reviews about their performance.

The .243 Winchester

After much deliberation, I decided to take a closer look at the .243 Winchester. It has a reputation as a flat-shooting, light-recoiling round capable of taking whitetail deer out to 300 yards.

The .243 Winchester cartridge was developed from a necked down .308 Winchester cartridge case, and was introduced as a target/varmint round by Winchester in 1955. With lighter bullets (85 grains or less), it is excellent for smaller game like prairie dogs, ground hogs, and coyotes. With heavier bullets (90 grains or more), it is suitable for larger game like hogs, antelope. and deer.

The Browning BAR Mk 3

As I began looking at rifles chambered in .243, I became most interested in the Browning BAR Mk3. My Father’s Browning A5 Magnum had always impressed me as a work of art as well as a highly functional firearm. I really like semiautomatics, because if a follow up shot is necessary, I want to focus on the shot and not on operating the action. Plus the gas-operated action of the BAR Mk3 moderates recoil even further.

Now in the interest of full disclosure I should divulge that I have only ever fired a follow-up shot once while deer hunting. I missed. Fortunately my first shot was not a miss. It took effect shortly after the follow-up shot missed, bringing the deer down after a run of about 100 yards. So in practical terms, I might be served just as well by a single shot as by a semiauto.

Also in the interest of full disclosure, I must admit that I am not an eagle-eyed sharpshooter who never misses with my first shot. I have missed with my first shot on multiple occasions. For example, I remember one hunt when I was following a game trail through the woods. Suddenly a deer materialized about 20 yards in front of me. I snapped off a quick shot, and the deer disappeared just as quickly as it had appeared. Convinced that I had a solid hit, I waited a few minutes to give the deer a chance to lay down and bleed out. I then moved to where I had last seen the deer, looking for what I thought would be a significant blood trail. After all, how could I miss from 20 yards? But I did miss. There was not a single trace of blood anywhere.

Even though I have never made a successful follow-up shot, the vision of such a shot is so alluring that it influences my firearms choices. So I contacted Browning to see if I could borrow a BAR Mk3 chambered in .243. They were kind enough to agree. A week later the rifle arrived at my FFL.

The Soldier and the Civilian

A point of clarification: The military’s 20+ pound M1918-series BAR (Browning Automatic Rifle) is totally distinct from its sporting namesake, sharing no common parts at all. The military BAR is a gas operated, selective fire weapon that fires from an open bolt and weighs about 16 pounds. It saw extensive service as a squad automatic weapon for American forces in World War II and Korea, with more limited use at both ends of its service life in World War I and in Vietnam.

The military BAR was designed by John Moses Browning in 1917. John Moses was a prolific genius in the art of creating tools for smiting one’s enemies (“How shall I smite thee, let me count the ways”). In addition to the BAR, he participated in the design of more than one hundred other firearms. Prominent among these firearms are the M 1911 pistol, the M1919 machine gun, and the M2 .50 caliber machine gun.

The civilian BAR (Browning Autoloading Rifle) is a gas-operated, semiautomatic rifle that fires from a closed bolt and weighs between six and eight pounds, depending on the model. It was developed in Belgium by FN factory designer Marcel Olinger in 1966. John Browning’s grandson, Bruce Browning, was a driving force behind the project.

Opening the Box

My loaner rifle was shipped in a styrofoam lined cardboard box that was more flimsy than I had expected. In addition to the rifle, the box held a plastic bag containing documentation (the manual, an invitation to join the NRA, a safety booklet, and a registration card). The box also contained a gun lock in addition to shims for adjusting the angle of the buttstock. The styrofoam was slightly damaged in shipment.

The rifle itself has a beautiful walnut stock with sling studs pre-installed. The barrel is a very deep blue/black. The top of the aluminum receiver is drilled and tapped for optics, with filler screws to protect the threads. The rifle is not equipped with iron sights. Although the lack of iron sights is very common in contemporary firearms, it is always a bit of a disappointment to me. I like something to fall back on if the optics are somehow damaged in the field.

The bolt cover is attractively jeweled. The silver satin finish of the receiver is enhanced with engraving and gold Browning logo inlays on both sides. The trigger is also gold-colored. The trap door that holds the magazine in place appears to be some sort of composite material, which is more functional than attractive. The forestock seems a bit loose, with no clear way to tighten it. It creates an annoying rattle at times. My initial impression of the trigger was that it was not bad or great, but just average.

A review of the manual recommends cleaning prior to firing in order to remove the rust preventative compound that protects the rifle during shipment. An examination of the rifle confirmed that there was indeed a generous coating of said rust preventative compound on the steel parts of the rifle.

It also recommended using a muzzle guard while cleaning to protect the crown of the barrel, since the bore is cleaned from the muzzle rather than the breach.

The manual also recommended that any work more extensive than removing the trigger group should be left to a qualified gunsmith. I was concerned about this, since I would assume that an occasional cleaning of the gas tube would be desirable.

I realized at this point that further testing and evaluation would require a muzzle guard, ammo, and optics.

Muzzle Guard, Ammo, and Optics

I went to Amazon.com to order a muzzle guard to protect the barrel crown while cleaning. I also ordered a Picatinny rail for the top of the receiver for mounting optics.

The only extra scope I had laying around was a cheap one that gives the impression of being worth even less than I paid for it. It seemed likely that the weaknesses of the scope would mask the strengths of the rifle. So I did some research about good but reasonably priced scopes. I then contacted Leupold to see if they would be willing to loan me one for my testing. They were willing, and after some discussion about which scope would be the most appropriate, they promised to send a scope and rings.

I also ordered some ammo from one of my favorite suppliers. Because of the Covid-19 panic, there was a smaller variety of ammo available than usual, and prices were higher. I bought the cheapest plain-Jane ammo I could find for the grunt work of sighting in and general familiarization. I also contacted Buffalo Bore to see if they could provide me with a little more ammo quality and variety for the final testing. They agreed to supply samples of three different types of their premium ammo.

(To be continued tomorrow, in Part 2.)




23 Comments

  1. Interesting article, one thing I agree with is the age age thing. I’ve used a .308 for yrs and now it is starting to beat me up ( not bad, but starting to feel it. I’m in my mid 70’s ). A few yrs ago I won a savage exp in a 30-06 in a drawing, after shooting a dozen of so rounds though, I got got rid of it. Now I’ve been given a sporterized springfield in a 30-06, nope it is going to be a history too.

  2. The .243 Winchester is a great caliber. Started both my kids on it. Browning is outta my comfort spending zone so I opted for a AR build in 6.5 Grendel. I’ve made plenty of follow up shots successfully. Either way I’m sure this rifle will serve you well.

  3. Feel the same way about, what feels like, the rocket launcher calibers. They are quickly becoming the muskets and bayonet adorned rifles of history. The 6.5 Creedmoor is a worthy contender for all the same reasons you mentioned – enjoyable to shoot. And the resent introduction of the (strangely similar to the 243) 6mm ARC has my attention even more. First, because of it’s shoulder friendliness, secondly, trajectory and lastly The Lego Factor of the AR platform. There is nothing however more alluring than blued steel and wood furniture on a JMB designed classic. Look forward to ~ the rest of the story.

      1. I was only 13 yrs old at the time (i forgot the elevation issue)- a cow tag. We were on a cliff 100 feet above…about 180 yards away. I love SB because its for learners and experts ( and even the experts both teach and learn ). Great posts

  4. I’ve owned the Browning BAR in both 308 and in 7mm RM. I sold the 308 in a moment of weakness several years ago, but still have the 7mm. The Browning design makes even the normally hard hitting 7mm pretty nice to shoot. I’ve also got a Remington 7400 in 308. They do kick a little more than the Brownings. The 7mm Bar is actually on par with the 7400 in 308 as far as felt recoil goes.

    I haven’t switched out to a lighter caliber yet, as I tend to be a “one caliber for everything” type of guy. That, and normally cheap, available 308 ammo has kept me from switching calibers. It’s nothing for me to go through 200 rounds in an afternoon at the range, and having to pay for a newer caliber just hurts the pocketbook too much.

  5. Great article and looking forward to part 2. Amazing that I recently settled on a BAR in .243 also as a longer range back up to an AR or AKS platform. Very elegant and beautiful rifle.

    The one caliber mind set got me to also pick up a Savage 99 in .243 and a bolt action Mauser. The large selection of bullet weights is also a plus and very close to a ‘do it all’ caliber.

  6. A failed shoulder surgery and older age caused me to sell my Browning BAR in ’06. It was a reliable, accurate rifle with steel receiver.

    The .243 is a great caliber but in bear country the people who carry it tend to hunt with others carrying the big calibers.

    I wonder how those aluminum receivers are holding up?

  7. People hunting with the smaller calibers are good shots; you’re NOT really a novice, The Novice.
    Years ago, I bought a slip-on recoil pad for a .308 lever-rifle. The wood stock had to be cut down a bit, even when the old ‘pad’ was removed. [I make Elmer Fudd look tall and handsome.]

    The slip-on recoil pad can be made to ‘wobble’ bit on my shoulder, when I intentionally wiggle the rifle. The material of the slip-on pad also has a slight ‘clinging/grabby’ texture that ‘grabs’ my clothing slightly. The attributes are NOT really noticeable when shooting. A lever action is for quick shooting; not for long-range precision shooting.

    Brownells, link here on SurvivalBlog, has pads for reducing felt recoil. Some recoil pads do work. … People need to do some extensive ~research first, to get a ~correct fit. … A larger caliber bullet can compensate, for less than the pinpoint shots needed with a smaller caliber.
    [Some people are just ~natural good shots, and can hunt with a smaller caliber. +Some of us don’t have the money for an arsenal of guns, too.]

    Out in the Far West, a wounded deer can run off a high mountain ridge, and tumble deep into the Abyss.
    “He threw him into the Abyss, and locked and sealed it over him, to keep him from deceiving the nations anymore until the thousand years were ended.” [The good book]

      1. The Novice, if the Browning Company will send you a rifle to test, some company must be willing to send a truckload of recoil pads. … SurvivalBlog is a good source of information. Reliable information on recoil pads would be useful.

  8. Great article. My favorite was a 30.06 six Springfield that was a dead ringer at 300-500 yards. I had a Burris high end scope on it, but I sold it to a sibling before I went to Africa.

    I got into 6.5 Creedmoor and the ammo came down in price even below the Springfield. I use a mix of plain Jane and solid copper (Fort Scott) with it. I know A lot of people don’t like the newer calibers.. But Hornady did create a caliber that hangs tight at 1000 yards. Its about about a 10’ difference in terms of ballistics drop @ the right conditions. I got them discounted, rebated dirt cheap.

    I now believe it’s good to have a number of calibers experience under your belt. I love 30.06!!! Best cal i ever used (yet).

    Thanks for posting.

  9. That’s definitely an interesting rifle. This is the first time in decades I haven’t owned a .243, but plan to purchase another. I traded mine, a Ruger M77 with tang safety, for a new model Ruger in .300 WSM. That was a huge mistake! I’ve since sold that one, and an excellent Ruger M77V in .220 Swift with tang safety to a friend. He wanted the Swift, on a Precision stock, for a long time and I wanted a newer one. As a replacement I bought a Ruger .220 Swift M77V in SS with laminated stock. I love it.
    Another Ruger M77 tang safety heavy barrel I used to own was a Remington 6mm caliber. One of the all around best rifles I ever had. After trading it, I tried to buy it back. The new owner said, “Not a chance!” Great long range rifle it was.
    I’ve decided not to sell or trade any guns again, especially in this strained time, but only attempt to add to what I have.
    I imagine most of us feel the same. And, those older Ruger M77 rifles with tang safeties were bringing a small premium with gunsmiths I know.
    Semper Fi

  10. For those you are not able to get another gun there are reduced recoil load for .30-06 and .308 Winchester. 6.5×55, 7mm-08, 7×57 are cartridges that are mild recoiling, yet still able to take elk and black bear inside of 200 yards.

    1. I again concur with The Rabbit. Chuck Hawkes has reduced load info for ’06 and .308 (and many other calibers) using IMR SR 4759 powder. i also used it to load down .30-.30 Win when my son was very young. Today we both have 30-06’s with removable muzzle brakes, a little loud when shooting, but almost all recoil is eliminated during practice and sight checking. A threaded cap is put on the threads when hunting.

  11. I would most definitely recommend AGAINST the .243 Winchester due to one reason, excessive meat Spoilage. I grew up in a rural countryside and can’t count the number of deer I have killed with this round, without exception the loss of meat due to bloodshot is very great. Otherwise everything you (and others) say is correct.

    I would recommend the old .270 for a very reliable (and field proven) round, which is also flat shooting and easy on the shoulder.

    1. Pat,

      Wow, your comment is spot on. The only centerfire rifles I own are .270s previously owner and operated by my father-in-law whom I considered the most experienced bear guide, boat man and general outdoorsman that I have ever known. He once told me that the .270 is all you need if ‘you know what you are doing’. He has taken Brown Bear with it in the 1930s when they were REALLY big.

      I also took note of yor meat loss statement. The ongoing discussion with my wife is where to shoot the deer. Well, now I’m told not to shoot them in the neck because that is what we use for mincemeat. It’s down to a nose shot, I guess.

  12. I have a 243 STALKER they do not make any more. I ABSOLUTLY LOVE the rifle. bought it used. VERY LITTLE USE though. At 50 yards it drilled 5 shots stacked on top of each other in a line. Did I say its a DAMN Good rifle. This is my 3rd BAR type Browning. 2 safari’s 7mag & a 300 mag.

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