Browning Maral SF Compo Nordic in 308 - test & review
PUBLISHED: 16:49 11 July 2018 | UPDATED: 16:49 11 July 2018
This 308 rifle from Browning impressed Chris Parkin so much in its test that he crowned it the "fastest gun on the market"... and Mr Parkin has shot a LOT of guns!
LIKES: Length-of-pull adjustment with controlled recoil; Large magazine capacity with fast changeovers; I find this the fastest gun to shoot with the least ergonomic deficiencies; Quiet de-cocker operation is reassuring
dislikes: Not strippable for a serious cleaning; “Grip it and rip it!” Don’t try assisted soft bolt closure – just let it go!
verdict: I have liked the Maral concept for some time now and think the SF Nordic version brings more up-to-date looks with tough durability. I can shoot this faster than anything else, and like the supplied length-of-pull spacers to modify fit for the fully-integrated, ergonomic delight it becomes
Overall length: 1060mm/41 3/4”
Weight: 4.15kg/9.14lbs (inc. scope and mounts)
Magazine capacity: Detachable box, 4+1 (9+1 available)
Trigger: two stage, 500/1500gr pull weight
Barrel length: 510mm/20” Fluted, threaded M14x1
Stock type: Synthetic with adjustable comb and pistol grip
Length of pull: Adjustable Inflex recoil pad, 12 & 25mm spacers included
Finish/accessories: Blued Matt, ABS Travel case, Nomad Hybrid scope mounting rail
Browning UK www.browning.eu 01235 514550
Kite Optics 2-12x50 illuminated scope, Winchester Extreme Point and Browning BXC ammunition
Browning UK www.browning.eu 01235 514550
IN DEPTH REVIEW
After a few hunting trips using the Browning Maral and enjoying its fast, intuitive handling, I was pleased to see new synthetic versions launched at IWA this year. The Composite Brown and Nordic versions follow similar paths, showing only minor colouration differences with the former hosting open sights compared to the latter’s naked barrel. I was sent the Nordic as it seemed to fit the UK bill more appropriately, with few of us seeming drawn toward open sights these days.
The blued matt finish barrel is 510mm (20”) for a compact gun, and comes threaded 14x1 for a sound moderator. It is fluted and flows into the synthetic fore-end with a square section large enough to fill your hand, without your fingers and thumbs encroaching on the barrel. It remains fully floated throughout with a QR sling swivel stud in the tulip tip, with a similar fitting to match at the rear end below the butt.
There are minimal thumb and finger grooves along the fore-end which, like the pistol grip, is a co-polymer moulding with a softer, rubberised grey texture on the underside for assured grasp in fast-fire situations.
The looks of the rifle are more seamless than walnut stocked versions because the split stock (the fore-end and butt are two separate components encapsulating the central steel action) is less obvious, and I think this combines well for a more fluid, homogenous visual character. More modern, too, dare I say?
The butt is similarly textured with an ambidextrous grip and excellent reach to the trigger blade from the tighter radius. It shows an adjustable comb with 33mm of travel, locked in position by an easily secured triangular knob to the right-hand side of the gun.
No left-hander is available, but surely that is only a matter of time as popularity of the concept increases. Shooting left-handed is still possible with a role reversal on the controls, and the neutral balance is actually very noticeable (a positive) when you remove your right (forward) hand to cycle the action with the left supporting the gun via the pistol grip.
An Inflex recoil pad is fixed at the butt end with twin screws allowing its removal and adjustment, with 12mm and 25mm spacers supplied for extensive length-of-pull variation. I set it at 14” (355mm) for comfortable average fit across multiple shooting positions. This soft pad exhibits an equal density from heel to toe – a co-polymer moulding, with a slightly smoother texture surrounding the heel to improve gun mount, allows it to slide rather than snatch or snag on clothing as it lifts into your shoulder pocket.
Browning, as a shotgun maker of great repute, certainly know a thing or two about fast, intuitive gun mount, so to find the Maral so naturally pointable is no surprise whatsoever.
Lifting the slender comb allows perfect vertical head position to be retained to achieve repeatable position on whatever sight option you prefer. I hate bulky combs – they are supposedly better for cheek weld, so are loved by prone shooters, but when your head lolls over, your eyes are no longer level – and it really diminishes your spacial awareness and ability to see, point and shoot.
Browning have distinctly pleased me here. A comb should engage your cheekbone, not your jawbone, and this one is perfect! Floating above the stock, it also prevents too much recoil vibration being translated, and although hollow, the stock exhibits no echo when bumped or knocked.
The trigger guard is quite angular in styling with twin pins to drift out for a full strip-down, although that’s not something I want to think about in the field. The trigger blade at 8mm wide shows a smooth face and just enough space ahead for light gloves, but for the cold weather I would prefer something a bit more spacious.
The trigger has two stages. The first is just to take up the slack, with the second stage breaking with about 1mm of creep. I would never call the Maral concept a precision rifle, more a fast-fire hunting tool.
Flicking your index finger up from the trigger with a slight reach forward will see it touch the 23mm polymer ball on the action’s operating handle. When reloading, the controls are sited ideally for the right hand to lift straight to the handle and pull it back through its linear 115mm stroke to cycle the gun.
The carrier unlocks the rotary bolt lugs within the barrel and, when operated fast and furious (grip it and rip it!), it is the fastest gun out there. This is for a few reasons. Firstly, you don’t have to push the bolt forward; it is carried back into battery by a spring and this means you are never pushing the gun out of your shoulder and displacing your hold on it.
Secondly, the reach to that bolt-handle is easy, with no outstretched grasping hand needed. Thirdly, no bolt-shaft or carrier emerges from the rear of the action with the possibility of impacting your nose, so you don’t need to lift your head at all.
Lastly, the Maral has a 4+1 round magazine capacity with fast changeovers from the release catch on the front of the trigger guard. Extra mags lift in nose first, a bit like an AK47, and swing up into position with a secure click. Best of all, a nine-round magazine is available (10 in .30-06, eight in 9.3 and five in .300 Win Mag (calibres dependant on exact model)).
Having shot all the dominant straight-pull actions on the market, I shoot the Maral fastest, hands down. The magazine capacity is hard to beat as well, so these factors combine to make a thoroughly sorted, integrated package. A single round dropped through the ejection port will load cleanly from the top of the magazine follower and, if removed from the gun, this top-loads into twin staggered columns. Rounds just need to be pushed down, not slid in from the front, a major benefit when wearing gloves.
No rifle is without some compromise, and the Maral’s enclosed action is slightly harder to clean of debris. Bore cleaning must be done from the muzzle end, but in true Browning fashion, perhaps evolving from the original BAR, the Maral doesn’t seem to gum up and isn’t weakened by that old Germanic ‘problem’ of being made too well to tolerances too tightly relied upon.
The barrel showed good thermal stability when getting hot which, believe me, it did after 150 rounds in less than 30 minutes at a competition. A deep clean wasn’t too arduous and copper fouling was fairly easy to shift from a smoothly finished bore with very few tooling marks to retain the copper.
This Maral was also my first encounter with the Dentler-engineered Nomad scope-mounting set-up. This was an early prototype rifle with slight dimensional differences from the full production versions which will accept Picatinny mounts, but the Picatinny-style rail screwed to the action carries a central recess, into which a stud on the upper scope mount locks.
Recoil transfer is handled by the usual lateral bars found on the Weaver/Picatinny systems, yet a single slotted head on the left side, operable with a coin or Leatherman in an emergency, is all that is needed to swap scopes. A half turn unlocks the upper, which remains attached to the scope tube, so you can have a red dot and sporting scopes zeroed for this rifle with perfect return to zero. Yes, I tried it, and yes, it did!
It also shows modest looks without undue bulk and I think it is a great addition to the Browning range, especially for the UK market where we are less inclined to have a rail-mounted scope. This an understated product – working without fuss or drawing attention, yet under the skin enjoying great functionality and seamless machining standards.
The rifle doesn’t have a fore-end stud for a bipod, but I was happy to do my accuracy testing from bench bags or a rucksack in the field. Although seen as a fast-fire wild boar tool, I think the Maral is unfairly considered as an inaccurate tool. This one had no problems engaging animal silhouettes in hunting conditions with realistic kill zone shots out to 400m with the best premium ammunition I could feed it.
Winchester and Browning’s BXR (rapid expansion) and BXC (controlled expansion) ammunition was paired up to the gun for ranges out to 200m where I could keep all the prone shots within a 2-3” group tested on paper.
The gun shoots well from quad sticks and, of course, free standing was its highlight. I was lucky to attend an event where all participants were shooting a competition with Marals. Five rounds in 10 seconds at 100m on reactive hit/miss targets was testing for pointability, accuracy and speed against the stopwatch. This, of course, isn’t hunting, but none of the 25 participants seemed at all perturbed by this enabling rifle.
Recoil absorption shows minimal barrel lift from what is a lower profile action, directing the bore’s low linear recoil pulse in line with or under the comb, rather than 10-15mm above it as can be found on designs when external bolt operation is a necessary design and ergonomic factor.
The Inflex pad is not too soft either and it shows modest texture for assured grip on clothing. Even though twin screws are recessed within it, it shows no hard spots that will dig into your flesh.
Fitting a moderator for more extensive prone shooting when testing the gun on paper further lessened recoil and muzzle blast noise. To be fair, this did make the sound from the sprung-loaded bolt a little more obvious, but no rifle exists without some compromises. It’s impossible to see if the bolt-head is fully closed and, if not, you get a click on firing rather than a bang, but it’s all still safe. It is very binary in the fact that with correctly head-spaced ammunition, and under its own spring-powered travel, it will either definitely close or not with bad ammo headspace, but if you do assist its closing, it can visually appear shut but isn’t quite there, so won’t fire.
It certainly isn’t dangerous, but I have witnessed a ‘dead man’s click’ on a 20m wild boar because the shooter had tried to be too gentle, so it is a factor to bear in mind.
This gun had seen several hundred rounds before it got to me and I gave it another couple of hundred too, so it was well worn in and cycled superbly.
Here is my opinion: once they are really slick and worn in, you do get a feel for the bolt. If you want to minimise noise, rather than letting it go from the fully back 115mm position to spring closed, let it go from about 50mm back and the noise is halved. It’s still there, but at least it’s certain to operate.
A de-cocker is present on the action’s tang, so it can be carried fully uncocked with no possibility of a slipped trigger releasing the firing pin, which is reassuring for a long carry where you want to be loaded and ready long in advance of possibly encountering quarry. It doesn’t lock the bolt from operating (which is unlikely to snag on clothing anyway), lies close to the gun’s outer profile, and is, of course, held closed by a beefy action spring.
Feeding, extraction and ejection was 100% reliable at all times, with a single extractor claw and plunger-style ejector sited on the push-feed bolt-face with its multiple locking lugs. The bright green magazine follower locks the bolt open after the last round, so you won’t run out of ammunition without noticing, and as a visual reference, this colour stands out well from the black action internals for easy visual reference.
With the magazine out you can, if needed, manually lift the bolt-locking latch within the mag well to hold it open, so the whole world can see a safely carried unloaded rifle.
I have had some memorable hunting experiences armed with previous Marals on boar and deer in Europe, and I like this Nordic version even more. I like the looks, the compact handling, pointability and adjustability of both length-of-pull and comb height.
All my shooting at home requires minimal noise and, to be fair, the Maral is not suited to that. But I do think it is the fastest rifle with large magazine capacity, and if these things appeal, you won’t go wrong with one.