Browning Maral in .30-06 - in depth rifle review
- Credit: Archant
Chris Parkin presents this in depth test and review of the Browning Maral rifle in .30-06
Magazine change speed
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Different cleaning procedure needed
Just be careful of slow closure on the bolt
Many guns are fast on paper; the Browning Maral is fast in real life. Great ergonomics and handling contribute to intuitive point and shoot performance, with the gun held firmly into your shoulder at all times
Overall length - 110cm/43 1/4”
Weight - 3.2kg/7lbs
Magazine capacity - 4+1 (10+1 available)
Trigger - two stage, 500/1500gr pull weigh
Barrel length - 560mm/22”
Recommended retail price
£120 for the ten round magazine
Winchester Extreme Point ammunition
Swarovski Z6i 1-6x24 Rifle Scope
With continental hunting trips becoming ever more popular, a suitable rifle with which to mount, point, track and shoot presents a difference in priorities to the accuracy-obsessed norm. Safety, speed of handling, and shot capacity are at a premium. I’m pretty sure I can say that the Browning Maral is the king of speed. Lever-actions are fast, but I reckon the Maral is faster, not just because of the way the gun opens, but because of the way it closes.
Browning’s BAR (Browning Automatic Rifle) is a rifle of legend, designed by John Moses himself and, essentially, the Maral is the best bits of a BAR without the semi-automatic operation. Its key benefit is what I call ‘grip it and rip it’. After firing, you get hold of the 24mm ball handle to the right side of the action, pull it swiftly rearward, and just let it go. This allows the spring to drive it forward, strip another round from the twin-column magazine, and return to battery. It may not be the quietest, but the spring tension that throws the carrier forwards and flicks the rotary bolt head clockwise into its abutments achieves one very subtle, yet key, thing that other operating systems don’t: it halves the time you are actually operating the gun and, even more critically, means you are never pushing anything forwards away from your shoulder and reducing pressure from the butt pad in your shoulder. This might sound minor, but I think it is very important. Your left hand keeps the Inflex recoil pad glued in place and, consequently, your head and cheek stay put too. All of this retains more sight alignment and a faster following shot. Milliseconds are critical in this game, and milliseconds are what the Maral saves you.
A stalking friend of mine has used a Maral on many occasions for boar in Europe. Although a professional deer controller, long-range vermin shooter and gamekeeper, he sees these benefits in the Maral. I first handled one back in February and my attention was immediately caught by the shotgun-like handling qualities, alongside its ultra-slick yet brutally simple operating procedure. My first shooting encounter with the gun was on a trip to Sweden with Browning, back in April, where myself and another hunter were tracking boar over dogs. I was backup shooter, so I got to watch all the action close up before I got my chance to shoot. After a couple of close misses from my fellow shooter, I took it upon myself to have a follow-up shot at his boar. The gun just slid into my shoulder, pointed to the right spot, and the sights fell to a retreating animal at about 60m. This put a smile on my face, as intuitive handling like that is an utter joy.
During the hunt, the long moments of observation, and the repeated safety checks as we stalked, crawled, climbed and descended, I had the chance to closely inspect the gun I was carrying. Although not the base model I was later to receive from Browning back in the UK on long-term test, it was a gun that felt ‘just right’. Pinpoint accuracy in such conditions is far less critical than gun handling and safety, to which the Maral felt at home. It’s quite beefy in feel at 3.2kg, but centrally balanced – neither too lively nor too sluggish. The walnut stock is in two parts, meeting at the central action. A single Allen bolt in the base of the grip allows partial disassembly in less than 30 seconds, to transport the gun in a supplied fitted case. A de-cocker sits on the action tang. It slides forward to prime the action, at which point a locking button pops up from the top. Slight forward pressure is needed to push this back in to allow the gun to be de-cocked, and it all works quietly enough but, with a scope fitted, thumb space to de-cock is a little cramped. Cocking the gun is always fast though.
The gold trigger blade has two-stage operation: the first stage is precise, with about 500g pull weight; the second stage is nearer 1,500g and does show a little creep, but is quite operable and has no grittiness. A polymer ball caps the steel dog-legged action handle. Sitting less than 50mm above and slightly forward of the trigger guard, it flares out slightly to the right and falls quickly to hand. Just ‘grip it and rip it’, remember; it is not a gun to pussyfoot around with! Fired or not, cocked or not, it operates with about the same weight and speed. The return spring is the overall present force but this is not excessive.
The supplied four-round magazine (+1 in the chamber if required) shows a green follower that, when fully upward, has a small tab to its right side that engages a last round bolt hold-open mechanism. It’s a little more refined than just having a follower that physically obstructs the bolt. If you want to close the action, just press down the follower with your fingertip via the ejection port, or drop out the mag. Of course, with a loaded mag, nothing will get in the way of fast-fire action.
Magazines load a bit like an AK47: the upper-forward nose drives into a mortice at the front of the mag well; swinging it up and back locks it into place with absolutely no doubt. A mag release button sits to the front of the polymer trigger guard and springs the mag out when pressed. It is all utterly well thought-out and seamless for cold, bored hands that have been wearing gloves and waiting in freezing temperatures for hours, all ready for five split seconds of action. I was supplied a 10-round magazine too, which is serious firepower. Yes, fewer shots often focus the mind, but confidence in having plenty of backup never hurts. And who knows, you might just have a string of frischlingen to engage once Mum is out of the way! Feeding from twin columns, the 10-round mag was clearly larger, but not excessively so, and actually it filled the hand nicely for faster magazine changes.
My Maral had a fluted 560mm (22”) barrel which, with 150gr Winchester Extreme Point ammo, produced 865m per second (2,836 fps) for 2,680ft/lbs of energy. The Extreme Point is a new bullet using a very large ballistic tip that compromises the physical length of a bullet. Winchester has chosen to remain at 150gr in 30 calibre, as it prevents stability problems. A 180 or 200gr thumper may physically take the overall length of the bullet beyond stability from a 10 or 12” twist rate sporting barrel, but personally I would use a 180gr bullet on boar; I like to know I’m getting all the energy and penetration I can muster from a slightly shorter tube. These are personal opinions, and recoil is a little lighter with 150s, yet the boar shot showed the bullet’s expansion to be very rapid, possibly at the expense of penetration on these tough animals… Still, this is a rather subjective opinion with such limited experience. I hand-carried the gun at all times; close cover would have discouraged me from a sling anyway, but quick-release sling swivels are supplied that fit into flush cups on the fore-end tip and under the butt. No bipod mount is fitted but that’s no issue, as it would be a little at odds with the ethos of the Maral.
If you are an active gun cleaner, the Maral will not suit you. The barrel cannot be removed from the action so there is no possibility of running a rod through from the rear. Pull-throughs are fine for cleaning a gun at the end of the day and, once in a while, you can use a rod to give the gun a thorough clean. It will have to go in from the muzzle end though, so be very careful to protect the crown, and keep in mind all those mucky patches getting pushed back over the bolt lug abutments. This is a hunting rifle, not a 500-yard varminter or target machine, so I won’t dismiss it due to this point.
When I had the gun back in the UK, and took it to the range, I was fairly open to the fact that it might not be the easiest gun to punch neat holes in paper with, so was a little dismissive and enjoyed the other fast-fire features and the functionality of the gun first. This caused the barrel to get a little warm, and I never consciously shoot ‘groups’ with a hot barrel, especially on a light sporter. Well, I was rather surprised. I got the barrel undoubtedly hot with several full mag ‘point and shoot’ bursts, reload drills, and functionality tests. I had been shooting life-sized driven cut-out targets at 50-75m with the 1-6x24 Swarovski Z6i set on 1x, all standing. I walked back to 100m and went to put the gun away, realised I had three rounds left loose in my pocket, and took a rested group, seated at the firing point. Three shots went slightly low on point of aim (my zero was at 75m) yet two went in one hole, with a third just to the side for a comfy sub 25mm group. Shot on a 75mm target with a 6x optic and a barrel hot enough to make me avoid holding onto it, let’s just say I was impressed. I had doubted a gun that I loved shooting for its other features, and yet it was still a great shooter, even when very hot!
I was impressed with the recoil handling of the rifle. The .30-06 is no masher, yet neither is it a .223, and it was reassuring to find the weight-absorbing capabilities of the walnut and the gun fit allowing me to fire 10 aimed shots in less than as many seconds. The gun was what I term a ‘gentle shove’ with regards to the barrel lifting, yet in fast-fire mode this times well with the reload cycle, and as the trigger starts to squeeze, the sight seems to just fall back onto the aim point. It was a little like the gentle pitching of a boat over waves, and was utterly controllable without any rushed tempo. Remember that not pushing a bolt forward and unseating the gun from your shoulder saves you those few milliseconds… well, here, it really begins to show.
.30-06 is one of the classic rounds, and deserves this qualification. It shoots steadily with deadly performance, it feeds really well from magazines, and with only 115mm bolt stroke on the gun, it hardly strains your physique. Because no bolt comes out of the back of the Maral, you can keep your head and, in my case, my big nose comfortably planted on the stock with no fear of any impact. There is a slight Bavarian/hog’s back hump to the discreetly figured walnut, with a modest cheekpiece. The gun shows ever so slight cast off on the comb, with a touch more at the toe for the right-hander. The palm swell beneath the crisp chequering is ambidextrous, but no left-handed Maral is available yet – however they soon will be, so this is all rather a moot point. The benefits this gun shows the right-hander are just not present if you had to operate it left-handed, so Browning are addressing that imminently. Fore-end shape and finish are very similar to that of a shotgun, filling the hand securely but not floating the barrel (this is not a negative on this gun). There is a slight schnabel tip to the fore-end, which has modest finger grooves to the uppers of each wall, and it falls to the hand just like an over-and-under scattergun.
If you put a Maral in someone’s hands and said, ‘Look at my rifle’, they may pick holes in the operating system, lack of any barrel floating, and thumbhole stocks, but they would miss the point entirely. This gun was put in my hand to hunt a wild boar. In fact, I was as close as 10m away from a somewhat disgruntled keiler and, somehow, the gun just felt right (a gun which, at that time, I had never shot). I wasn’t in a position to have doubts, to be fair; my iPhone would have been a pretty useless backup plan if it had come at me, rather than facing down the jamthund.
Loading and unloading could be done quietly and my only tiny doubt with the Maral is that, if you do physically restrain the return spring of the bolt as it closes, you can upset the action. My hunting companion had a ‘dead man’s’ click on a live round with a 30m broadside stationary shot (I was staggered to see the boar didn’t spook and run) and he was able to reload and get off a second round, although he did miss low. He admitted to me afterwards that he had tried to close the gun manually and blamed himself, but with a fully safe de-cocker, it is a gun you can load ahead of time and carry with certainty. I tried to deliberately initiate a repeat of this, but failed, and I suspect if there was any muck or debris in the lug abutments (the bolt carries three rows of lugs), then this may have caused his issue. When ‘gripped and ripped’ I never had a single misfeed, poor extraction, ejection, or problem, at any time on either gun. Just be firm and positive. It is slick from new and just keeps getting smoother as time passes. Cleaning is a bit of a fiddle as the gun can’t be disassembled much, but spending a few minutes regularly with a lightly oiled cloth and perhaps a toothbrush will keep it running in tip-top condition.
I was supplied with a set of 30mm swing-off scope mounts, so never used the integral open sights on the rifle for anything other than a few test mountings. They align well to the eye and, with a red fibre-optic topped front post nestled between two green fibre pins above your front hand, it was much quicker to sight and align the gun than with plain steel or white beads. It may look a little modern and ‘bling’, but speed and certainty matter, so with open sights available as a backup, why make life difficult? I liked these. The steel action top is drilled and tapped for other mounting systems, and I used the rifle in Sweden, topped with a dedicated Aimpoint unit, which, like all Aimpoints, does the job right (although, I do prefer the 1-6 optics myself; they are just a little more versatile).
This is the second gun I have had from Browning this year that has chosen a different path through life, and yet again, Browning have really impressed me. John Moses Browning was perhaps one of the greatest names ever in firearm design and, unlike others, he doesn’t just have one in the top 10, he has about five. So, a company showing great modernity and somehow continuing to innovate with such functional success, regardless of the company accountants’ demands, gets my serious respect. I would hunt with a Maral without doubt. I love the fact that it is different and still good. It has charisma and passion, rather than a need to be different, at its heart.