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 A rifle that has never been outdated in our battery is the Browning BL-22 lever-action rifle.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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Segmented||656 fps|
|CCI Mini Mag 40-grain Segmented||1,229 fps|
|CCI Mini Mag 36-grain||1,240 fps|
|CCI Suppressor 45-grain||1,010 fps|
|CCI Velocitor 40-grain||1,367 fps|
All groups during this test cut single ragged holes at 20 yards.
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.