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.)