In the early 1990s, I was visiting the Armalite factory in Geneseo, Ill. Then-company president Mark Westrom took me into a back room and said “have a look at this.” It was the prototype of an AR-10 rifle.
I was familiar with the original AR-10 from examining the example we had in the NRA museum. It had been confiscated by BATF for a while in the late 1970s, when NRA couldn’t come up with its paperwork. The ensuing legal battle demonstrated that BATF couldn’t, either, so it was returned, none the worse for wear. NRA’s copy of the paperwork eventually turned up in a desk drawer.
The original AR-10 was a very interesting gun, quite light, thanks to aluminum and fiberglass construction, with a relatively light barrel. It had been dewatted, so I never had the chance to shoot it, but I enjoyed looking it over, especially when writing up the then-new Knight’s SR-25.
So, when Westrom showed me his rifle, I was intrigued, though I thought its potential market would be limited to far-gone students of AR history. I told him it was fun, but that I couldn’t imagine him selling more than a few thousand.
That estimate demonstrates why I was better suited for magazine work than for product planning. Not only was the rifle a success for Armalite, but makers like DPMS quickly issued their own versions, to the point that AR-10s are quite widely available, and have at times been sales stars when AR-15 sales have been down.
All that aside, I am not a big fan of the type. It’s not an accident that the Stoner design achieved its success in tandem with the 5.56mm cartridge. In contrast to the original AR-10, commercial guns are large, angular and heavy.
If you’re shooting from a bench, they’re certainly fun enough, but carrying one any farther than the distance from the car trunk to the firing line has all the pleasure of the Bataan Death March.
If you’re a snake-eatin’, throat-cuttin’ former special forces man like Guns & Ammo contributor Kyle Lamb, you might even find an AR-10 suitable for hunting, but most of us don’t have enough road marches in full pack under our belts for that.
So, what’s your alternative if you want a semi-auto .308 for defensive or hunting purposes? Browning has a new rifle that really fills the bill.
That it’s coming from Browning may be a surprise, since most “tactical” products in the FN universe come from FNH USA rather than the more hunting-oriented Browning. The once-bright line between hunting and tactical products has come to be blurred, however, so the latter-day Treaty of Tordesillas between the corporate cousins may not be so prescriptive.
The Browning BAR (and here we are speaking of the commercial rifle, not the one beloved of Bonnie & Clyde and the U.S. Marine Corps) has been made since 1967 in a quite impressive variety of configurations, grades and calibers.
You can have a BAR in everything from .243 Win. to .300 Win. Mag., including .270 and .300 WSM. For a few years, it was even made in .338 Win. Mag. Browning has done a lot more with the BAR than Remington ever did with the Model 740/742/7400 or Winchester with the Model 100, though you wouldn’t know it from counting magazine articles.
Now comes the BAR MK3 DBM, the acronym standing, as you might guess, for detachable box magazine. BARs have always had a detachable box magazine, but it was hidden under a hinged floorplate that gave the BAR a nice smooth surface on the bottom for comfortable carrying.
To reload, you dropped the floorplate, unclipped the three-round (magnum calibers) or four-round (standard calibers) magazine, refilled it, clipped it back to the floorplate and closed the whole assembly. This relaxed loading pace certainly didn’t qualify the original BAR for defensive duty.
Why such a complicated system?
Younger readers may be surprised to know that in the 1960s, and for many years thereafter, a detachable magazine was regarded as the symbol of a cheap rifle. Good examples are the economical (but very accurate) Remington Model 788 or the Savage 340 that was the faithful sidekick to the firm’s flagship Model 110. So, there was no way Browning could have a detachable magazine hanging out the bottom of the original BAR.
Things have turned 180˚, and detachable mags are now desirable, even in top-grade guns. In the MK3 DBM, Browning has cashiered the hinged floorplate in favor of a large aluminum magazine well with integral catch that smoothly accepts a 10-round magazine.
The magazine well assembly fits in the same recess in the receiver bottom where the original magazine fit, and is retained there by a third crosspin in the receiver just above the release buttons. The slot in front of the trigger guard where the original release would have been installed is smoothly filled in.
There’s a release button on either side, well protected by a molded fence. The magazine itself is blued steel, and while one would immediately suspect it’s a modified FAL mag, Browning assures us it’s purpose-built and not interchangeable with FN’s most famous product.
That lets the MK 3 DBM be 50-state compliant, so even downtrodden California shooters can enjoy it.
The MK 3 designation denotes an aluminum receiver and updated trigger guard and stock design. If you demand polished steel, you can still get it in the BAR Mark II Safari range, which is also the last Browning rifle on which you can specify the accuracy-adjusting BOSS system.
The MK3, MK3 Stalker and MK 3 Mossy Oak Break-Up are similar to the Mk 3 DBM, but use the original magazine system.
The injection-molded buttstock and fire-end have swoopy, modern lines, with overmolded grip panels for a firm hold in bad weather. The buttstock is capped with Browning’s Inflex recoil pad, which has migrated from the shotgun line. Internal ribs cause the comb to drop slightly under recoil, reducing punishment of the face. This is not so much a problem with a .308, but it’s very handy with a 10-gauge or 3½-inch 12-gauge.
There’s a QD swivel cup in the ventral surface of the buttstock, and another at the tip of the fore-end. A conventional sling swivel stud in the fore-end accommodates a bipod.
The 18-inch barrel is fluted for half its length toward the muzzle. The BAR operates on a short-stroke piston system. The stainless steel piston is captive in a gas block dovetailed in the underside of the barrel.
On firing, the piston is driven rearward on a guide rod that also passes through a weight that spans the operating rods. After traveling about 7/16″, the piston stops, exhausting any excess gas through a hole in the bottom of the block.
The weight, action bars and bolt carrier assembly continue rearward. A buffer at the bottom front of the receiver helps prevent battering. The carrier rotates the seven-lugged bolt head out of engagement with the barrel extension, allowing the assembly to recoil fully.
The empty case is tossed to the right by a plunger-style ejector, allowing the bolt to pick up a round from the maqazine on the return stroke.
The gas system is easily accessed for cleaning by turning out a hex socket screw in the fore-end tip and then turning out the swivel stud at the bottom front of the fore-end.
The rifle has a shotgun-style safety at the rear of the trigger guard, and there is a red dot in the ejection port that lets you visually check to see the bolt is in battery.
There are no iron sights, but rather two sections of 1913 rail dovetailed into the receiver top. With three slots in the forward mount and five in the rear one, I had no difficulty mounting both short hunting and large target scopes.
My first chance to shoot the MK3 DBM was at Castle Valley Outdoors near Emery, Utah (castlevalleyoutdoors.com). A huge ranch about three hours southeast of Salt Lake City, its business has primarily been bird hunting, but it is expanding into long-range rifle training. Shots up to 2000 yards, uphill or down, are on offer, along with excellent accommodations.
We’d shot a fair amount of five-stand sporting when a new game was proposed: shoot at a rolling rabbit target with the MK3 DBM: two rounds per run.
It was topped with the Leupold VX-R HOG 1.25-4×20 scope. This is a compact and very bright 30mm tube scope with a Pig Plex reticle. This has very heavy outer crosshairs (the horizontal bars bear the name of the scope) with much finer, but still heavy, central hairs.
There are stadia and a circle for ranging and windage compensation, though the emphasis is on a fast sight picture in whatever lighting conditions you might encounter.
The DBM rotated among the group several times before someone finally broke the fast-rolling rabbit target, but everyone agreed the MK 3 DBM was exactly the tool for the job; fast-swinging, light-kicking, and with an excellent single-stage trigger. It’s accurate, too, easily producing groups below an inch at 100 yards.
I immediately thought, what an excellent alternative it would be to the AR-10 for most users. Put a scope and a loaded 20-round magazine on an AR-10 and you’re usually above 10 pounds. Add a light, a bipod and a vertical foregrip, and you’re closer to 12.
The MK 3 DBM starts at a svelte 7 pounds, and adding a VX-R and mounts takes it only to 8. Even with a bipod, 10 rounds of ammo and a clamp-on light, you’re not going to make 10 pounds. And it will, I promise you, be a lot more comfortable to carry.
Not combat proven, you sneer? Have a look at this video (www.wsj.com/articles/how-floating-armories-help-guard-cargo-ships-from-pirates-on-high-seas-1422934573?) that shows anti-piracy forces using the very similar FNAR rifle to deter Somali pirates from attacking merchant vessels in the Indian Ocean.
If you’re determined to have an AR-10, by all means, get one. But before you do, check out the Browning BAR MK3 DBM. You may decide the AR-10 can wait.