Browning BAR isn’t favorite semiautomatic – for a reason

The Browning BAR has to be the second most popular semiautomatic sporting rifle of all time.
It is second only to the Remington “4” series of rifles, which I went into depth on in my last article.
As I’ve stated before, I’m not a big fan of Browning. They don’t actually manufacture anything themselves (that I know of). It’s all made by other “vendors” and sold under the Browning banner.
I think this hurts Browning customers because the company seems to think that since it didn’t actually manufacture “it,” they are not really responsible for “it” a few years down the road.
Although the customer service of most firearms manufacturers has taken a major dow turn in the last decade, the domestic gun makers, as a whole, seem to have more of a sense of responsibility for their products, for a few years at least.
Browning also seems to have the attitude that since they let you have the privilege of owning a Browning you should be more than happy to pay any price they deem fair for parts and service. Ask virtually anyone who has dealt with Browning on warranty issues and they will have some unhappy experiences to relate to you. The reason I bring this up again is that there are many Browning firearms that are well made and reliable enough that the chances are you will never have to deal with Browning directly.
Unfortunately, the BAR is not one of them.
Right before I bought out the gunsmith I apprenticed under, he sold a brand new BAR Mark II Safari to a customer, chambered in 300 Win. Mag. It never worked right and they returned it to the factory. Browning charged him something like $280 dollars to fix a virtually new rifle and it still didn’t feed properly.
The customer contacted them and was basically told it was his fault the rifle wasn’t operating correctly and left it at that.
I know for sure that many of the first couple of years of the Mark II Safari’s production in 300 Winchester Magnum had the same feeding problems. Somehow, this Lebanon logger got a hold of Browning’s 1-800 number and called them every morning before heading off to work to express his displeasure. They finally blocked his calls.
Compared to the Remington, I think the Brownings are better fit and finished for sure, but I wouldn’t say it’s overall a better rifle. The BAR is more complicated but also available in magnum calibers; the Remington never has been.
The older BARs are also getting hard to find parts for. A bit over a year ago I tried to find a bolt sleeve for a customer, I never could find one and gave up. About a week ago the rifle’s owner finally found one.
The good news is many of the new rifle parts are compatible and to Browning’s credit they have kept may of the older parts available to gunsmiths.
Some of the weak points are that there is a little flat bar timing latch that locks the bolt into the barrel’s locking lug recesses. This little piece has a fairly small pin that retains it and also pivots on. This pin will frequently break. The timing latch also gets peened and beat up, which hinders its function. The point on the bolt that the timing latch contacts can also get peened over very badly, even to the point of needing a new, expensive, bolt.
The action/recoil spring gets weak and even most gunsmiths neglect to change it. The weakened spring causes the recoil buffer to fail and also contributes to all of there timing latch/bolt problems mentioned above.
The gas plug in these rifles is also caliber specific, which is no big deal except you’ll never find anyone who keeps a selection of them in stock. The problem with this is that the gas plug can get hopelessly rusted or stuck in place and the only way to get it out is to weld a nut to it in order to get enough purchase on the gas plug to force it out. This ruins the gas plug, necessitating it’s replacement.
I have seen a few reliable, accurate BARs that just all of a sudden turned into bullet sprayers that shot all over the target. I tried everything to get them back on target – scope mount screws, new scope, extreme barrel cleaning, even recrowning the barrels. None of those usual remedies cured these plagued rifles. When the owners received the quotes from Browning on the cost of barrel replacement, none of them were sent in for new tubes.
The problem is that the BAR barrel and its associated gas system is exponentially harder for a local gunsmith to replace than a bolt action rifle’s is and you can’t get a factory replacement barrel so Browning literally “has you over a barrel.”
There are really only two other contenders in the sporting semi-auto market. The long discontinued Winchester 100 sees some hunters in the field with it every year but it is increasingly becoming just a collector’s piece. Like most older Winchesters, there are pre- and post-1964 versions.
Mechanically, they are identical as far as I can tell but the stocks differ. The pre-’64s wear a classic cut-checkered stock, the latter a floral press-checkered version.
There was also a recall on these rifles. The original round firing pin could fracture into two pieces, then the front end could get stuck with the tip protruding out of the bolt face. When the bolt closed the firing pin would fire the cartridge and usually also pierce the primer. Neither of these things are good.
To tell if a Model 100 has had the firing pin replaced, you have to take it apart and check to see if the “safety” pin has been installed. The gunsmiths who know the particulars of this job will stamp certain letters into the inside top of the receiver that can be seen through the magazine well.
Winchester/Olin Corp. must be contacted for the correct replacement firing pin (at no cost); they can tell you if a replacement pin has been sent for that specific rifle but that doesn’t tell you that the firing pin has definitely been replaced. Parts, especially original stocks are getting very difficult to locate for these rifles as well.
The most recent player is the Benelli R1. This rifle, like most anything Benelli, is quite expensive. The rifle seems to work well but I did have to fight some with one in .30-06 a few years ago. The accuracy is sub-par for a rifle of this cost and quality.
The average Remington auto will usually group into around 1 to 2 inches at 100 yards. The Brownings will do 1 inch when everything is right. Unfortunately, the best the R1 seems to be able to do is 2½- to 3-inch groups at 100 yards.
That pretty much rounds out my least favorite group of rifles. They have many problems, but obviously fill a need in the market since only one of the group is not still in production.

–  Jeff Hutchins writes about firearms-related topics for Lebanon Local. He operates Rangemaster Gunworks at 1144 Tangent St.