Browning BLR ’81 Stainless Takedown Review

posted on November 22, 2010

Although the lever-action rifle is a traditional and distinctively American design, Browning’s latest BLR, produced by Miroku of Japan, reinterprets it in a uniquely modern way.

In the original BLR, a geared, rack-and-pinion mechanism transported a cylindrical bolt body within a steel receiver, locking its separate rotating head into mating lugs machined directly into the receiver’s walls. The bolt body’s underside was toothed, and an elliptical cog on the lever rotated a small gear attached to a larger pinion gear that drove it fore and aft.

In the BLR ’81—a revision designed to lighten the gun and modernize its manufacture—the same basic mechanism is housed in an unstressed aluminum receiver. The bolt body features six longitudinal splines that mate with corresponding grooves in the receiver. The bolt head has a cam cut in its neck that acts on a transverse pin in the bolt’s body to rotate it into and out of battery in a steel breeching ring threaded to the barrel.

A plunger ejector is at 4 o’clock on the bolt face and a sliding-plate extractor moves within the face of the locking lug at 10 o’clock. The gun’s manual safety is in the form of a clever folding hammer spur that pivots on a cross pin in the hammer’s body. After moving the hammer to its half-cock notch, pushing it forward with the firing hand’s thumb causes it to abut the bolt body but disallows its contact with the firing pin’s tail.

Whether old or new, the BLR has several features that set it apart from most other lever-action designs. A detachable box magazine allows the use of spitzer-profile bullets. Between shots, the trigger travels with the lever, eliminating the potential for the shooter to pinch his finger between the trigger and the stock. And perhaps most significantly, because of the secure lockup afforded by the BLR’s rotating bolt head design it can accommodate true magnum chamberings. Both short and long actions are offered in a wide variety of chamberings from .223 Rem. to .300 Win. Mag. We opted to evaluate the BLR Lightweight ’81 Takedown in .308 Win.

The BLR ’81’s newer design lends itself well to a takedown mechanism, and Browning heeded the call for such a variation with several models including walnut-stocked BLRs in both straight-grip and pistol-grip/schnabel styles. Our test rifle, with a gray, laminated, straight-grip stock and stainless steel barrel, is arguably the most visually striking and feature-laden model of the entire line.

The heart of the Takedown mechanism is a simple but effective lever that raises a locking bar into a transverse cut in the breeching ring. When engaged, the lever is recessed into a channel at the fore-end’s rear. Inserting a fingertip into the oval cutout at the front of the channel allows the lever to swing down, freeing the barrel assembly to slide out the front of the receiver.

Another of the Takedown’s features that is rarely encountered on factory lever-actions is a facility for a forward-mounted optic in the so-called scout position. The gun’s barrel is drilled with four extra holes—one untapped for a recoil pin and three tapped for screws—to accommodate an optional aluminum scout scope rail. Its installation requires removal of the fully-adjustable rear, iron sight, which is mounted on the barrel. The metal front sight base is screwed to the barrel and is dovetailed for its metal fiber-optic insert, which features an orange pipe. Of course a conventional scope can be mounted to the receiver. Four threaded steel inserts, which appear to have shoulders and splined bodies, are pressed into it from the underside and accommodate bases designed for the BLR’s somewhat rounded receiver top.

Our initial impressions of the BLR were favorable. It exhibited a high degree of fit and finish, with the receiver’s satin nickel anodizing complementing the stainless steel barrel’s slightly darker matte appearance and the gray laminate stocks’ satin polyurethane finish.

We tested the BLR Lightweight ’81 Stainless Takedown for accuracy with a variety of loads and a conventionally mounted scope, in this case a 3-12X 40 mm model by Vixen Optics, and also shot it with the optional barrel-mounted scout scope rail and an Aimpoint Micro R-1.

Our sample BLR experienced no failures to feed, extract or eject throughout shooting more than 100 rounds of factory ammunition.

In testing, the BLR Lightweight ’81 Stainless Takedown proved quick-handling, with its comb providing an acceptable cheek weld regardless of which of the three sighting options were employed. With the Aimpoint in place on the scout rail, the gun was fast to the target. And thanks to its smooth lever-action, which allowed an uninterrupted sight picture even while cycling, follow-up shots were quick and easy to execute. While we would have hoped for better accuracy from the BLR, we had to remind ourselves that the American Rifleman protocol of five consecutive, five-shot groups is a stringent one, especially for a fairly light-profile, 20-inch-barreled takedown design. On the positive side, we did manage several respectable groups and noted that several successive three-shot strings formed tight clusters on the target. Likely, barrel heat was the culprit. In addition, we found no appreciable change in point of impact when comparing groups fired before and after disassembly and reassembly of the gun.

With its pull-apart design, scout-sighting capability and weather-resistant materials, Browning’s BLR Lightweight ’81 Stainless Takedown propels a proven design even further into the non-traditional category of lever-action rifles than its forebears. For those who appreciate such nods to modernity in a timeless American form, the BLR resides in a class by itself.

Manufacturer: Miroku Firearms Mfg. Co., Japan
Importer: Browning Arms Co.; (800) 333-3288;
Action Type: lever-action center-fire rifle
Receiver: aluminum alloy
Barrel: 20"
Caliber: short action, .223 Rem., .22-250 Rem., .243 Win., 7 mm-08 Rem., .308 Win. (tested), .358 Win. .450 Marlin, .270 WSM, 7 mm WSM, 300 WSM, 325 WSM; long action, .270 Win., .30-’06 Sprg., 7 mm Rem. Mag. and .300 Win. Mag.
Rifling: four-groove: 1:12" RH twist
Magazine: detachable box, four-round capacity
Sights: fully adjustable notch rear, dovetailed fiber-optic front; barrel drilled and tapped for optional scout scope rail
Trigger Pull: 7 lbs., 9 ozs.
Stock: gray laminated wood with laser-cut checkering and matte polyurethane finish: length of pull, 133⁄4"; drop at heel, 15⁄16"; drop at comb, 7/8"
Weight: 6 lbs., 8 ozs.
Accessories: owner’s manual, lock
Suggested Retail Price: $1,149


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