February 27, 2021

Range Report: Browning BAR Mk3 in .243 – Part 2, by The Novice

(Continued from Part 1.)

The First Cleaning

About a week later, the muzzle guard arrived, and I settled down to clean the gun.

There was even more rust preventative compound in the barrel and on the other steel parts than I had initially noticed. The bore required extensive scrubbing using kerosene as a solvent before a patch finally came out clean. In the process I spilled my bottle of kerosene on the kitchen table, filling the room with fumes. This created a dramatic scene that disturbed the domestic tranquility for a time. Fortunately, the finish on the table was not harmed, and harmony was eventually restored.

During the cleaning, some details came to light that had previously escaped my notice. I noted that the lugs behind the chamber that engage the bolt are very sturdy looking, and suggest the likelihood of a solid and consistent lock-up.

The aluminum receiver has steel seats recessed into the inside of its top in order to anchor the screws for the optics. This was reassuring since I had previously stripped one of the optic mount holes in the aluminum receiver of my Ruger 10/22.

The receiver required less cleaning than the barrel, since there was no need to coat the aluminum with rust preventative compound. The bolt, on the other hand, required a fair amount of elbow grease with a kerosene rag and a brass dental pick.

The recessed crown of the barrel is more angular than I expected, but it looked like it would do a good job of protecting the rifling. The bluing on the barrel is satisfying to someone who grew up assuming that bluing was the only appropriate finish for the external metal parts of a firearm. The bluing on the BAR is attractive, but not quite the rich, lustrous, seemingly almost translucent blue/black of my Father’s A5.

I was interested to note that the magazine is made in Italy, since the rifle is manufactured in Belgium and assembled in Portugal.

About a week later the scope arrived. Upon opening the box, I was disappointed to discover that Leupold accidentally sent a quick release base rather than rings. So I ordered a set of rings from Amazon that would work with the Picatinny rail that I had previously ordered.

About another week later, the rings arrived from Amazon. Almost exactly three weeks to the day after I had picked up the rifle from my FFL, I finally had everything I needed to actually fire it.

Mounting the Scope

The filler screws on the top of the receiver were extremely difficult to remove. I broke the first two screwdrivers I used trying to loosen them. Several sturdier screwdrivers were just a bit too large to fit the tiny slots on the screw heads. Finally, I found a screwdriver that was both small enough to fit the slots and strong enough to turn the screws. I was beginning to wonder if I would have to take the rifle to a gunsmith just to have the filler screws removed.

I then mounted the Warne Maxima Zero MOA rail that I had purchased from Amazon. After my experience with the filler screws, I appreciated the T-15 head on the rail screws and the supplied wrench. If I owned the gun, I would have applied Loctite to the threads of the screws, but I did not do so since the gun was only borrowed.

Next, I mounted the bottoms of the Leupold Rifleman Detachable rings (which I had also purchased from Amazon) on the rail.

The scope Leupold loaned me is a VX-Freedom 3-9X40 Tri-MOA. I established the proper eye relief, leveled the scope, and then gently and evenly tightened the screws on the ring tops with the supplied Allen wrench. I was pleased with the crystal clear view the scope provided. I hope to give a more extensive review of the scope in a subsequent article.

The next task was to make a preliminary adjustment to the scope using the cartridge red laser bore sighter that I also purchased from Amazon. The comb on the buttstock seemed just a little lower than I would have preferred. I was concerned about whether I would be able to achieve a consistent cheek weld. After I had the rifle boresighted, I practiced closing my eyes, shouldering the rifle, and then opening my eye to see if I had achieved a consistent cheek weld. I consistently found the red dot from the bore sighter right in the middle of the crosshairs, so the cheek weld seemed to be adequate without the need to add anything to elevate the comb.

The bore sighter began to function erratically near the conclusion of this process, so I made arrangements with Amazon to return it for a full refund.

I realized belatedly that I could have taken the rings off of my cheap scope, and gotten a one week head start on the process of testing and evaluation.

The First Range Session

I took the gun to the range behind my barn for a get-acquainted session. I set up six targets on the bottom half of my target backstop. I usually use nine targets, but I wanted to keep all of the shots in the lower half of the backstop, since there is more mass there to stop bullets. I usually use the backstop with pistols, and did not want to blow through the top half of the backstop with a rifle bullet.

I used both earplugs and earmuffs, since my range is in a kind of natural bowl that tends to amplify the sound of shots fired within it.

I was using PPU Rifle Line SP 100 grain ammunition for the initial evaluation. I found the magazine to be easy to load, and the rounds easy to chamber from the loaded magazine. Loading a magazine attached to a trap door hanging from the bottom of the rifle felt a little strange at first, but was not particularly difficult. I fired a total of seven 4-shot groups in this initial session.

I had some initial problems with the earmuffs and hat brim interfering with the cheek weld, but I eventually got those challenges squared away. The mosquitoes, on the other hand, were a distraction that I just had to learn to live with, adding a touch of hunting authenticity to the range session.

My first four-shot group was about 4 inches high and 1 inch to the right. I used the next several groups to dial in the scope so that the point of impact was centered around the bullseye.

The first round of the forth group failed to go fully into battery. I dropped the magazine, cleared the chamber, and reloaded the round into the magazine. It worked flawlessly on the second attempt. This was the only hiccup that I experienced the entire time I was testing the firearm.

My groups made it obvious that I will never be a Bob-Lee-Swagger-esque super sniper. I have never been extremely proficient in the use of a scope. It is not unusual for my shots from iron sights and especially red dot sights to be almost as good as my shots using scopes. I decided I should do three things to try to improve my groups.

First of all, I thought it would help to put in some serious scope time. I use iron sights and red dot sights more frequently than I use scopes, so it should not surprise me that I am more proficient in their use. If I spent more time behind a scope, my proficiency with its use would probably improve. With the cost of ammo being what it is, after I am done testing the BAR, I should probably move the scope to my Ruger 10/22 and practice, practice, practice. Greater scope proficiency with the 10/22 would probably translate into greater proficiency with other platforms as well.

Secondly, better sandbags would probably improve my groups. My large sandbag had a tendency to leak, and sand on the bench is distracting as well as being not ideal for keeping the firearm and ammunition clean. I also did not have a smaller sandbag, so I placed my left hand under the butt of the gun instead. That probably explained the scope bouncing gently in time with my pulse.

Thirdly, I might need to build up the comb just a little to give myself a more consistent cheek weld. I ordered a new laser bore sighter that I hoped would allow me to spend more time experimenting with my cheek weld.

Anyway, my groups were nothing to brag about, but once the sights were adjusted, they were within an inch of the center of the target from 25 yards. That would put them in the vitals of a deer at 100 yards. The area where I hunt does not often present shots longer than 100 yards.

I noticed over the course of the range session that my shoulder was getting a little sore. This soreness was several orders of magnitude less than the beating I received from my .30-06 at its last range session. It was like the difference between getting hit in the shoulder by your kid brother, and getting hit in the shoulder by the neighborhood bully. I fired my last couple of groups in this session just for the fun of it. I was not having any fun during the last couple of groups during my last range session with the .30-06. I hoped that greater comfort firing .243 instead of .30-06 would translate into a greater desire to practice, which in turn would translate into greater proficiency.

The barrel heated up more quickly than I expected. I could see heat waves flickering in the scope by the time I fired the last couple of groups. The barrel was much too hot to comfortably touch, and took a significant amount of time to cool off.

(To be concluded tomorrow, in Part 3.)

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