Firearms

Browning BL-22: The Finest Lever-Action Rimfire Rifle?

Man holding the Browning BL-22 rifle at the balance point

My sons began learning safety with a wooden trainer. Not a toy, but a true purpose-designed, non-firing training rifle. Later, they progressed to air guns and finally the .22 rimfire. Along the way, they developed good habits and marksmanship. A rifle that has never been outdated in our battery is the Browning BL-22 lever-action rifle.

The training rifle and Red Ryder were left behind. While we own heavier-cartridge rifles, the .22 has great utility and is used more often. There is no better trainer and small game rifle than a quality .22.

Browning BL-22 lever-action .22 LR rifle left profile
The rifle is light, slim, and easily carried. It also has class and style.

The .22 LR Lever-Action

While I own a number of good semi-automatic rimfire rifles, the lever-action .22 just seems to fit the bill for most of the action the .22s see. And that is a lot of action! Firing for accuracy with a wide range of loads, small game hunting, and just pure fun shooting is the province of the .22 rifle.

Most of my first rifles were pretty inexpensive, including a number of bolt-action and single-shot rifles. I took my share of game. I cannot help but wonder what I would have done with the Browning BL-22…

While some things change, the tools remain much the same. The .22 rimfire is important — it is just a different rifle. On the ‘front line’ of rimfire use, I own four rifles. Two are semi-autos and two are lever-action rifles. One has a red dot, another a modest scope, and the last two have iron sights.

I have fired quite a few bolt-action rifles, and while many are accurate, the Browning BL-22 illustrated is just as accurate as all but the bolt guns with the keenest edge and long barrel. The BL-22 suits my needs well. When folks think lever action, they sometimes think cowboy gun. While this is true to an extent, the Browning BL-22 is no more of a cowboy gun than the modern Browning Lever-Action Rifle. If you close your eyes and work the action, it is still a lever-action despite massive upgrades to the lever-action idea.

The BL-22 was first manufactured in 1969, so it has been around a while. I find it interesting that — and this is particularly true lately — a good, clean, used example often brings MSRP or more. The rifle is in production, and if you are patient, you may find a new BL-22 right here at Cheaper Than Dirt.

push button inner-magazine tube release
Unlike most lever-action rifles, the Browning features a push button inner-magazine tube release.

Browning BL-22 Features

The rifle is relatively light, fast handling, and will handle all types of .22 caliber ammunition from .22 Short, CB Long, Long Rifle, and the ultra-fast Mini Mag and Stinger. My example is the most common 20-inch barrel rifle. There have been a handful of 16.25-inch barrel types and a 24-inch barrel.

Browning has offered a number of special editions. They are nice, and in fact, lovely. I would buy one at a fair price if one came into the pawn shop, but I don’t need one. (The rifle illustrated is the only such rifle to be found used in my many wanderings in over three years!)

The rifle features a straight stock. The forend is a good fit for most hands. The fit, finish, and movement of all parts is simply superb. There is no better fitted and finished factory lever-action rifle. There are no tool marks, and the wood is simply beautiful on my standard edition rifle.

20-yard group fired at a red and white bullseye target
This 20-yard group was fired while sighting in. The BL-22 is one accurate rifle.

Inside the rifle, under the receiver, under the forend, all areas are equally well polished. The BL-22 is supplied with open sights. There are setscrews to adjust the rear sight. The sight picture is very good for fixed sights.

The receiver is grooved for adding a scope is desired. This rifle fits my spelunking and squirrel hunting type of action so there is no scope fitted. The barrel is well finished and supplied with a well-done target crown. The forend is slim enough for a solid, one-hand hold in the traditional manner of taking a lever-action gun afield. You may wish to add a sling. However, my rifle has been around quite a while and doesn’t wear a sling, so I cannot bring myself to making the change.

Loading is simple. Making certain the rifle isn’t loaded, open the action. Inspect the feed ramp and chamber. If the feed ramp and chamber are empty, proceed.

.22 caliber tube feed on a rifle
A standard cartridge opening in the magazine body allows loading 15 cartridges.

A push-button at the end of the tubular magazine releases the inner magazine tube. Alternately, you may simply move it to the point that the rifle is easily loaded. Drop cartridges into the magazine base first. If you own centerfire rifles, the lever throw of the BL-22 takes some getting used to. After all, it doesn’t take much to flip a 33-degree throw lever and the short .22 rimfire cartridge doesn’t need much leverage.

The lever should always be thrust forward, not down, for proper operation. The trigger moves with the lever. The hammer is cocked to the rear — by the bolt — as the lever is operated. The hammer may be lowered by carefully manipulating the trigger. The trigger breaks at six pounds in my example. That is fine for a field gun.

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The rifle has fired several thousand .22 Long Rifle cartridges without a single failure to feed, chamber, fire, or eject that I can recall. I have not cleaned it as I should. A .22 should be cleaned thoroughly every 300 cartridges. I have been more toward 500 rounds between cleanings.

Squirting Ballistol into the action isn’t cleaning! The .22 LR is a dirty little cartridge. However, during the past five years or so, I have noticed that most .22s are cleaner than ever. That is a good thing. I have also fired about 100 .22 shorts and perhaps 200 .22 Long CB caps and a dozen or so shotshells with good results.

Browning BL-22 lever-action rifle top and Browning 1895 30.06 lever-action rifle bottom
The author’s favorite lever-action rifles, the BL-22 and Browning 1895 .30-06.

I sighted the rifle in for a dead-on hold at 20 yards. That works well for the intended use. As for absolute accuracy, the BL-22 is always interesting. My time, ammunition testing, and research indicates the rifle is capable of a three-shot group of two inches at 50 yards. That is more than good enough for any reasonable use the rifle will be put to. The Browning BL-22 is superbly put together, smooth in operation, accurate, reliable, and comes with more pride of ownership than most.

Ammunition Testing Results

CCI Quiet HP 40-grain Segmented656 fps
CCI Mini Mag 40-grain Segmented 1,229 fps
CCI Mini Mag 36-grain 1,240 fps
CCI Suppressor 45-grain1,010 fps
CCI Velocitor 40-grain1,367 fps

All groups during this test cut single ragged holes at 20 yards.

Specifications

Action: Lever action
Caliber: .22 LR
Barrel length: 20 inches
Overall length: 36.75 inches
Weight: 5.0 pounds

Conclusion: Browning BL-22

It was very enjoyable firing and testing these individual loads. Recoil wasn’t a factor, and neither was muzzle report! I was out of the CCI CB long at the time. This is a very useful training load that I try to keep on hand. The Quite load would be a good compromise until I have the CB Long on hand.

Of all the .22 rimfire rifles, are any cooler than the Browning BL-22? Share your choice for the best rimfire rifle in the comment section.

  • CCI bullet segments collected after firing
  • 20-yard group fired at a red and white bullseye target
  • CCI Suppressor .22 LR Subsonic Hollow Point cartridges and containers
  • CCI Mini-Mag .22 LR SHP cartridge box and loads
  • CCI Quiet-22 Segmented HP .22 LR cartridges
  • Man holding the Browning BL-22 rifle at the balance point
  • close up of rear sight with the front being out of focus
  • receiver and par of the wood on the Browning BL-22 rifle
  • push button inner-magazine tube release
  • .22 caliber tube feed on a rifle
  • Browning BL-22 lever-action .22 LR rifle right profile circa 1970
  • Browning BL-22 lever-action rifle top and Browning 1895 30.06 lever-action rifle bottom
  • Forend and folded rear sight on the BL-22 rifle
  • Browning BL-22 .22 LR rifle with the lever and action open
  • Browning BL-22 lever-action .22 LR rifle left profile
  • Browning BL-22 lever-action .22 LR rifle right profile

About the Author:

Bob Campbell

Bob Campbell’s primary qualification is a lifelong love of firearms, writing, and scholarship. He holds a degree in Criminal Justice but is an autodidact in matters important to his readers. Campbell considers unarmed skills the first line of defense and the handgun the last resort. (He gets it honest- his uncle Jerry Campbell is in the Boxer’s Hall of Fame.)

Campbell has authored well over 6,000 articles columns and reviews and fourteen books for major publishers including Gun Digest, Skyhorse and Paladin Press. Campbell served as a peace officer and security professional and has made hundreds of arrests and been injured on the job more than once.

He has written curriculum on the university level, served as a lead missionary, and is desperately in love with Joyce. He is training his grandchildren not to be snowflakes. At an age when many are thinking of retirement, Bob is working a 60-hour week and awaits being taken up in a whirlwind many years in the future.


Published in
Black Belt Magazine
Combat Handguns
Handloader
Rifle Magazine
Handguns
Gun Digest
Gun World
Tactical World
SWAT Magazine
American Gunsmith
Gun Tests Magazine
Women and Guns
The Journal Voice of American Law Enforcement
Police Magazine
Law Enforcement Technology
The Firearms Instructor
Tactical World
Concealed Carry Magazine
Concealed Carry Handguns



Books published

Holsters for Combat and Concealed Carry
The 1911 Automatic Pistol
The Handgun in Personal Defense
The Illustrated Guide to Handgun Skills
The Hunter and the Hunted
The Gun Digest Book of Personal Defense
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911 second edition
Dealing with the Great Ammunition Shortage
Commando Gunsmithing
The Ultimate Book of Gunfighting
Preppers Guide to Rifles
Preppers Guide to Shotguns
The Accurate Handgun
The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (25)

  1. I’ve read a few posts that complained about the accuracy of the BL22. The little rimfire rifles of all makes are very ammo sensitive. One should try different brands and types of ammunition before declaring their rifle inaccurate.

    I was sighting in a scope that I had mounted on a Marlin semi-auto rimfire rifle once. I was unable to get a decent group. The rounds were hitting very eradicately over a 5 inch group at about 50 yards. I thought the scope was loose but it wasn’t.

    I decided to try some Eley standard velocity ammo that I had and the rifle put ten shots in a group you could cover with a dime. All shots touching. Don’t be too quick to declare a 22 rifle or pistol as inaccurate. Try different ammo.

  2. I own a Browning BL22, Henry Golden Boy, Winchester 94/22 ALL bought new I like them all. The best is the Browning!

  3. When I was growing up, about 50 years ago, I scrimped and saved for my first shotgun, a Remington 870 Wingmaster, followed by my first rifle, a Remington 572 BDL. Two of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Sold them to finance a month long trip to Canada and Minnesota after high school graduation. Worst decision I’ve ever made. Fast forward a few years and I met a great friend who happened to be a national junior trap shooting champ. He shot a Belgian made Browning Broadway and convinced me to give Browning a try as I got back into hunting. Thus, I ended up with a Browning BPS, shortly followed by a BL-22. Slapped on a crappy Bushnell with a 1” tube that I had laying around and it was truly an accurate little rig. Shot hundreds of squirrels and rabbits, several taken on the run. But my favorite shot with that rifle was when my family and I returned home from an Easter trip to the in-laws. A bunny was waiting as we pulled into the driveway of our acreage. Pulled out the BL-22 and put one shot in the cranium at 110 yards (I stepped it off). I told the kids I just got supper. My not-yet-ex-wife told them I just shot the Easter bunny! The kids still remember the accuracy of that little gun but, despite all attempts, have yet to talk me out of it.

  4. wonder if those Brownings has”salt stocks”like some of the other FNs?Damne stupid idea of Browning/FN.
    I’d like to get a left hand Belgian T-bolt.Always admired those

  5. My brother gave me a layaway ticket for a BL-22 from the gun shop he worked at in 1977. I can’t tell you how many bricks of .22 ammo I shot thru it. He opened up 50 to 100 boxes and found the one with the best looking wood on it. This thing has never jammed, never misfired and I, at one time, could cover 3 shots with a quarter. LOVE IT!!!

  6. I looked at the Browning back in January. I wound purchasing a Henry. Similar quality, specs and reviews. The Henry was about 200 less.

  7. I’ve never had any issues with my 9422 that I bought before Winchester stopped production. It was used but in excellent condition and is one of the most accurate 22 rifles that I own. It has never failed to function on any type of ammo and is easy to take down for cleaning.

  8. I inherited my Dad’s original BL-22. It is the best .22 rifle I’ve had the pleasure of owning. Yes, I like my Ruger 10/22 and Remington bolt action. Semi-autos and bolt actions have their place; however, I must say this BL-22 is the rifle is the best all purpose, easy to use, and aesthetically pleasing .22 rifle of the bunch.

  9. I am lucky enough to own a BL22 GR1 and will never sell it. There are a few things I love about these guns. They will shoot anything. The lever action design and use. The gun is beautiful and a BROWNING.
    Several years ago I was at a gun show and spotted a NIB BL22 GR2 for about $300. The guy said he would take a bit less, but I wanted to look some more before I committed on my purchase that day. I decided later that was the “item of the day” and went back to buy it. Guess what? Yep it was gone. I think of it every time I am in the gun safe and see mine.
    Motto? See one? Buy it if it is a reasonable price.

  10. Eric, sounds like you got one as accurate as mine. Mine after years of use, broke a few firing pins, rather quickly, like $6 each, but just an FYI: I figured out the reason they break is the firing pin return spring gets weak, and/or the firing pin gets really dirty and sticks, then the firing pin (it is an inertia design) stays out past the bolt face, and when the next POSITIVE FEED round comes up it forces the pin up out of it’s groove, resulting in firing pin failure. Best then is to make sure you have a strong firing pin spring in it, clean and lube it, and a spare of BOTH the firing pin AND the spring on hand. As for those who have stiff or hard triggers, Wilson Combat Lube cures a LOT of problems. Wilson doesn’t require much, stays put until washed off with solvent, and carbon will not stick to it. Mine was new when they first came out, and was always really smooth, incredibly accurate, and never complained about ammo.

  11. 2 inch groups at 50 years with a .22 is very poor accuracy in my opinion. I would not feel comfortable hunting small game with those stats.

  12. In the early 80’s, 11 years old, I saved all my allowance and worked hard for the summer. With the money, my dad bought me a Browning BL-22. It had a defective firing pin and broke after a few shots. Sent it off for warranty repair. I was so impatient, my dad somehow survived the pestering of when it is coming back. After 4 months, it returned fixed. It was perfect. A jackrabbit wasn’t safe under 150 yards. After adding a 3×9 Redfield scope, it held 1 to 2 inch group at 200 yards. Being raised on a sheep ranch in West Texas, I had plenty of opportunity to shoot. I averaged a brick of ammo a week through that rifle. In my 20s it was stolen. I still miss that gun,, and I am waiting for one to come along at the right price.

  13. I shouldve spent the extra few $’s and bought a Henry. If it weren’t for the horrendous trigger, this wouldnt be too bad of a 22lr. Not the best to try and show youth when they cant hardly pull the trigger.

  14. I bought the little Browning to use teaching my granddaughters to shoot. I find myself picking it up for woods walks too. Best? Probably. Favorite still my classic Marlin 39!

  15. Compare to a Browning .22 short pump action like the ones at the Carnival.
    Nice sloppy action of that beautiful fluted walnut forearm slamming out round
    After round and that wonderful smell of oily just fired gunpowder filling the air.
    Who cares if that 10 cent cuppie doll cost you $15.

  16. Two inches at 50 yards won’t kill a squirrel. I bought on of these rifles and it wouldn’t shoot two inches at 20 yards!!!!! Look at other reviews about accuracy on the web and you’ll get the picture. Nice rifle to hold and shoot as long as you don’t want to hit anything.

  17. Back in 73, I was checking out all the .22 rimfire levers one day, because I wanted one. Looked at the Winchester 94, the gold trigger Marlin, both fine, and at the time around $119 each (no Henry’s at the time that I knew of). Then I walked into a pawn shop and spotted this NEW, very shinny, sleek, lever, and asked what it was, and if I could see it. The man said this is a NEW Browning BL-22 (shooting skeet I was well aware of the Browning name and finish). First thing I noticed is the 33 degree lever throw, and that the trigger went with it. It was love at first sight, so I asked how much. The man said, that’s a NEW one and it goes for $96. I went out smiling, and my girl friend asked me what made me so happy. I said I just saw a Browning BL-22 that I really want, and I told her how much it was. She said she would buy it for me for my birthday. So I married her. LOL. True story. An estimated 1/4 million rounds later (mostly Thunderbolts), and having to refinish the stock where the cheek wore through the polymer finish, I have to say it is still more accurate than the example in this article (sorry). I still have it, and yes, we are still married too. LOL

  18. Say what you will but where is the Browning currently made?/6lb trigger pull is excessive/needs fully adjustable rear sight/what is length of pull?,cost?
    Personally I’ll stick with Remington Nylon Series lever action/left hand Savage bolt actions/ Remington 572 slide action series;I’ll even consider older Marlin lever actions

  19. Mike

    I feel the same about the Henry It is a great gun!

    Just the same the Browning is a beautifully made treat to own and fire.

  20. The Remington “Nylon Series”-including their lever action!,Remington 572 slide action[including the smooth bore version],Savage -left hand bolt actions!
    Where is this current Browning made?,length of pull?,6lb trigger is heavy”for serious use”.

  21. I’ve never handled a BL-22, but it sure looks impressive. I do agree with you about the lever action’s role as a “must have” in any serious shooter’s arsenal, or anybody who has kids or grandkids interested in shooting. I wound up giving my Henry Lever action 22 to one of my grandsons when he turned 18. It’s another excellent quality lever action 22.

  22. Disagree. Henry makes some of the finest, smooth action, accurate, lever guns on the planet. Their choices in .22 rimfire are vast and traditional. Never owned a Browning Lever gun but my Henry guns suit me to a tee.

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