May 24, 2023
By Patrick Sweeney
The Buck Mark first appeared in 1985. At the time, I didn’t pay much attention. I was deep into my IPSC, bowling pins, and Masters competition phase, and if it wasn’t something meant for maximum accuracy, finest trigger, or able to handle bushel baskets of ammo, I wasn’t interested. In other words, a traditionalist. Plus, the Buck Mark quickly gained an enviable record for working reliably and not breaking. A firearm with a rep like that pretty much means it doesn’t come to the attention of a gunsmith.
When I did get a hands-on introduction to the Buck Mark, it was some years later, and it was at an industry prairie dog shoot where we were to wring out a new centerfire rifle. The Buck Mark that was there was simply a spare to be used when the centerfire rifles were cooling off. There were times, however, when the Buck Mark was the main gun, because it was more fun to shoot, and it never failed. It kept on working, regardless of who was using it, or what ammo we scrounged from the back of the range truck to feed it. It kept on working even after the scope that was mounted on it broke, and the reticle spun in a circle in our field of view. By the time we were done, we each wanted the rifle we had used in the shoot, but we also wanted a Buck Mark.
Well, the one to have has just arrived. Planned to be unveiled at the 2021 SHOT Show (we all know how that worked out) the Buck Mark Plus Vision Black/Gold Suppressor Ready is a .22LR pistol that must be on the top of anyone’s list. Let’s take the obvious details first. And, to save myself a lot of typing, and you, repetitive “that’s a long name” reading, I’ll just call this pistol “Gold.”
The Gold is a magazine-fed, blowback pistol chambered in .22 Long Rifle. The magazines are sturdily made, and easy to load. You insert the magazines into the frame just as you would any other self-loading pistol, and the magazine catch/release is a button on the left side of the frame, behind the trigger guard. Just like so many centerfire pistols. Unlike a lot of centerfire pistols, the Gold has a magazine disconnector, so while the magazine is out, you can’t fire the Buck Mark. In a plinking/training pistol, that’s just fine.
Speaking of triggers, the trigger on the Buck Mark is gold-plated, and it is tightly curved. Now, I’m not usually a great fan of curved triggers, and the tighter the curve, usually the less I like them. But for some reason, the curve of the Buck Mark is just right, fitting around my finger in a comfortable way. That may not be the case for your trigger finger, but I’d hazard a guess that Browning worked to get this one right, and it probably will feel comfortable to you as well. Historically, non-target .22LR pistols have tended to have average triggers. Oh heck, let’s not sugar-coat it, plinker pistols usually have nasty, horrible, “what person likes this?” triggers. Not so the Buck Mark. And the trigger on Gold is almost good enough to qualify as a bullseye trigger. Once you deal with the small amount of take-up, the trigger sits rock-solid in the bow as you increase pressure, and then it has a livable amount of over-travel after the crisp release.
The slide is a rectangular block that shuttles back and forth above the frame, and behind the barrel. What makes the Buck Mark particularly interesting is that the rear sight is not mounted on the slide. It is mounted on a rail above the slide, a rail that at first glance appears to be attached to the barrel. You might say to this “Well, duh, where else?” Even as late as 1985, there were still pistols that had the rear sight mounted to the slide, or the frame, and not the barrel. Not unlike a revolver, having a pistol where both the front and rear sights are attached to the barrel improves usable accuracy. However, the Buck Mark goes a step further. Look at the top of the pistol. There are two screw heads. One bolts the top to the barrel, and the other bolts the top to a vertical stud of the frame. That rear sight has no choice but to be firmly oriented to the barrel.
The steel slide has cocking serrations at the rear, so you have a place to get a firm hold on the slide. Not that a rimfire pistol is going to have a recoil spring so stout that you need leverage, but it doesn’t hurt that getting the slide back is easy. The slide is also sculpted at the top, so there is a smooth blend from the slide top edge to the top rail bottom edge. The slide holds the spring-loaded extractor, which has access to the chamber by means of a slot milled into the rim of the barrel assembly. The ejector is a fixed pin on the frame, a pin that pokes out of the breechface as the slide moves to the rear. So far, some details aside, we’ve described many of the .22LR pistols that have been made, or are being made. So, why the Gold?
Then the moment we open the box, we get to the eye-catching parts of the Buck Mark, oh, Gold. Right, Gold. The barrel is enclosed in a sleeve, and that sleeve is machined to have hexagonal holes through it. You can see the barrel proper inside the sleeve, and Browning has given the barrel-proper a gold Cerakote finish. This, in contrast with the matte black anodized finish of the aluminum parts and the black oxided steel slide. The barrel sleeve has the front sight base on top, and in the base, Browning has installed a green fiber optic sight. The front sight base is bolted to the barrel sleeve with an allen-head screw, simple and straightforward. If you (for reasons known only to you and your shooting style) need a front sight of a different height, you can swap blades, or even swap out the base itself for something else. My bet is, this will not have to happen. On the sight base/extension of the barrel assembly, Browning has installed an adjustable rear sight, and the base itself is machined to provide an optics mounting location. Yes, a short section of Picatinny rail, right there on your .22LR pistol. The rear sight is an open blade with a white outline, and it has adjustment screws for windage and elevation.
The Gold has the Browning UDX grips, which are a rubber composition, the set of them having a non-slip texture, and finger grooves on them. Unlike a lot of grips with really marked or aggressive finger grooves, the UDX grooves are more subtle, but I find I like that better. The effect is to entice my fingers to rest in the grooves, rather than require it. And in a nice touch, one a lot of centerfire pistols could benefit from, the frontstrap of the Buck Mark is lifted. That is, the frame comes up behind the trigger guard, letting you get your hand higher on the pistol. Now, the UDX grips do add a bit of bulk to the frame, and make it a bit more difficult to press the magazine button, but them’s the breaks. You want rubber, you have to give up speed reloads. (And who speed reloads a .22LR pistol anyway?) The UDX grips are two pieces, not a wrap-around, so there are two torx-socket grip screws, one on each side. The left side grip has recesses at the top as clearance for the slide stop and the thumb safety. The Buck Mark locks open after the last round has been fired, so the slide stop is not just an accessory to hold it open when you are done.
The safety and slide stop are located only on the left side so you left-handed shooters will have to work out the details of handling for yourselves. (Not that you haven’t had to do that before.) If I have one complaint with Gold, it is the thumb safety. The safety lever pivots at the front, so the first time I went to press it up in the first out-of-the-box handling, it refused to move. I was pushing in a direction that assumed it pivoted at the rear. So, my fault for not paying closer attention. However, it takes quite a bit of effort to move it, and the clicks are not as positive as I’d like. And in a purely personal note, the safety lever, when it is in the Fire position, rests against the base of my right thumb with the rear corner of the safety tab pressed into the joint. I just move my thumb a bit outboard, to rest on the left-hand thumb, and it doesn’t poke me. In all fairness, this is not a pistol one would use as a defensive tool, so the less than positive safety clicks are not really a big deal. You know when it is on or off, and that’s what matters.
All of these details are well done, and the end result is a very enjoyable pistol. But what really makes Gold shine is the barrel. You see, Browning has made it suppressor-ready, and that brings us a big bonus. The barrel on Gold is inside the aluminum sleeve that has been, as mentioned, cut in the hexagonal pattern. Now, the usual method of barreling a firearm is that you take a rifled bar and affix it to the frame somehow. On Buck Marks, this is done by means of the bolt you see on the front of the frame, above and forward of the trigger guard. That bolt goes through a hanger that is usually attached to the barrel. On Gold, the bolt is seen with a band of anti-seize compound around the head. You can, if you wanted to or needed to, remove or swap barrels by loosening and removing that bolt. (No need, it isn’t a thing you do for cleaning, leave it alone. Plus, it is really torqued in there.) Well, with an aluminum sleeve, you have to make the steel barrel fit into and stay in place, inside the aluminum sleeve.
If you want to see how that is done, unscrew the muzzle brake that Browning has installed on Gold. Oh, I haven’t mentioned that, have I? OK, the barrel muzzle is threaded 1/2x28, the standard suppressor mount threading pitch, and Browning has screwed on a muzzle brake. Now, I’ll be the first one to tell you that a muzzle brake on a .22LR is a pretty superfluous item. If you find that the appearance of the one they send is not to your liking, then simply replace it with a plain thread protector. Now, the steel barrel can’t just hang in the middle of the aluminum sleeve, it has to be held in place. What Browning has done is to secure the barrel in place at the breech end. I suspect, but I’m not willing to do exploratory surgery on a loaner gun, that Browning has made the barrel with a nail-head like larger end at the chamber/breech. Then they pressed it into the aluminum sleeve and used a nut on the muzzle end to clamp the barrel into the sleeve. This holds the barrel in place, but it also has a positive effect on accuracy. You see, by using the barrel nut, the mechanical effect is to stretch the barrel. The tension this “stretch” creates acts to stiffen the barrel. In effect, you get a barrel that weighs like a slim barrel in an aluminum sleeve, but one with the stiffness of a bull-barrel made all of steel.
This is not new, we saw it decades ago with the Dan Wesson revolvers, using the same system. While the Wessons did not catch on in any big way, and eventually faded from the marketplace, they had an exemplary record for accuracy. You can see the nut on the muzzle, with three holes for a specialized spanner to tighten it. You need not remove this for cleaning (in fact, it would be a bad idea to do so) so leave it alone.
One more detail on the Buck Mark in general, and the Gold in particular, before we get to the test-shooting: the magazine. For some reason, the traditional way of making a .22LR magazine was to use the flimsiest sheet metal possible to make the magazine, I suspect because “It’s just a twenty-two.” When I popped the magazine out of Gold (A decades-old habit, when picking up any new firearm, or any firearm I’m handling) I set it aside as any other magazine. When I went to look at it, I realized “This thing is substantial.” Usually, when handling a rimfire magazine, you can squeeze the tube and get the metal to flex, some. Not so with Gold. The metal feels as stout as that on a good hi-cap 9mm, or a 1911. The follower has a loading button attached to it, sticking out on the left side. To load, just thumb the follower button down, and slide a cartridge in. No need to press the top round down with the one you are loading. This makes loading .22LR so much more civilized. The baseplate is also steel, and the tube is press-welded to it.
I tested the Buck Mark Gold with a variety of .22LR ammunition, and also as part of the test, I put a Gemtech GM22 suppressor on it. (Hey, the model name says “suppressor ready” right in it, so how could I resist?) The Gold locked open each time it ran empty, and the GM22 did not cause a shift in point of impact. The fiber optic insert glows in the daylight, and if you wanted to shoot the smallest groups possible, the dot is actually too big. As a learning tool, and a means of getting a new shooter hooked, the fiber optic sight is da bomb. However, for groups, not so much. Well, the top rail is milled for an optic, so I hunted around in the shop to find an otherwise unassigned red-dot and came up with a Trijicon RMR. It clamped right onto the rail, and it was easy to crank the adjustments around until the point of impact was on the dot.
OK, I have to amend my earlier assessment. If you want to get a new shooter hooked, pull out all the stops: use Gold, mount a suppressor on it, and put a red-dot optic on it. I’ve been shooting since LBJ was President, and I’ve personally put over a million and a half rounds downrange. There were times, shooting Gold with the GM22 and the RMR, that I giggled. Honest. One of the downsides of shooting rimfires is that they are grubby. The ammo is filthy to shoot, and you can keep pouring in lube to keep them working, but sooner or later you are going to have to get them apart for a scrubbing. Aerosol cleaners work miracles, but sooner or later you have to get things apart and get them clean. The Buck Mark takes some special knowledge. First of all, if I haven’t made it perfectly clear before; do not remove the screw holding the barrel to the frame. Leave it alone.
Unscrew the two top screws holding the top rib on. These will have star washers to keep them tight, and the star washers will have been bent, or cupped, by the screw head when installed. Be sure to put them back the same way when you go to reassemble. Lift the rail, and take a good look. You’ll see the recoil spring and firing pin housing on the front end. At the rear, the recoil spring assembly fits into a small white plastic buffer. It might be useful to clamp the frame in a padded vise at this point. Ease the slide back, compressing the recoil spring. You’ll see the guide rod now poking out the front of it. If your fingers fit (if not, a needlenose pliers works here) grab the guide rod and ease the slide forward util it is pressing on your finger. You can now lift the front of the guide rod just enough to clear the back of the barrel, then move the whole slide assembly forward to clear the plastic buffer.
Set the slide and parts aside. You now can scrub the frame, hose the firing mechanism (take the grips off for that) and lube it up. You can hose the slide assembly, and lube it as well. You could take the recoil spring and firing pin assemblies out of the slide, but with this much clearance for hosing, you might need to do that once or twice in your life.
For reassembly, note that the little white plastic buffer (for goodness sake, don’t lose it, you can’t make-do with some sort of McGyvered replacement) has a hole through it. that hole has to match the recess machined in the standing stud, or else the recoil spring assembly will not permit you to put things back together. Rimfire pistols tend to be really fiddly to disassemble, clean and put back together, simply because the various parts are smaller than in centerfires. The Buck Mark is not as bad as many others in this regard. You just have to know what you’re in for. So, press the recoil spring forward to extend the guide rod, and trap it with your fingers. Nestle the slide down onto the frame with the buffer on the stud, and then ease the spring assembly back onto the buffer. You’ll have to do a little bit of jostling to get the guide rod to snap into the rear recess, and the front to clear the barrel, then press the firing pin parts back flush with the slide top.
Once all this is done, then bolt the top rail back on, and you’re good. The Gold comes in a zippered carrying case, with owner’s manual, lock, and one magazine. If you are just looking for a relaxing day of plinking or hunting then the magazine that comes with it will be sufficient. If you are teaching a new shooter, or several of them, you will sooner or later have to have more magazines. Buck Mark magazines are not difficult to find, and about $30 each, which is a reasonable price for a really tough magazine.
The Buck Mark Plus Vision Black/Gold Suppressor Ready pistol is a great tool for having fun, teaching a new shooter, or getting someone hooked on shooting. If you want a small game hunting pistol, then the top rail will make it easy to mount a red-dot optic, or a magnifying optic for your needs. Even if you don’t have a problem with recoil, and don’t need a muzzle brake, or will own a suppressor, the way the barrel is attached improves accuracy. With all that, will I be getting one? Probably not, as I already have a shelf full of .22 rimfires in the safe, and if I were to buy Gold, it would probably languish there with all the others. If I was in the market for a first, or a good/better second rimfire, this would be tops on the list. After all, you can’t go wrong, buying Gold.
Browning Buckmark Gold Rimfire Pistol Specs
- Type: Recoil-operated pistol
- Caliber: .22LR
- Cpacity: 10+1 rds.
- Barrel: 5.875
- Length: 9.9 in.
- Height: 5.6 in.
- Width: 27 oz.
- Trigger: 4 lbs., 6 oz.
- Finish: Anodized aluminum & black oxide steel, gold plating
- Sights: Fiber optic front, white outline rear
- MSRP: $720
- Contact: Browning
A large part of the appeal of suppressors, besides the “We couldn’t have them before” is quiet. And the quieter, the better. What do you get when you team a quiet suppressor with an already-quiet cartridge? A metric boatload of fun. Which brings me to the Gemtech GM-22. With a weight of a mere two-and-a-half ounces, the GM-22 has to be close to a record-setter for fun-to-weight ratio. At a suggested price of $399, that ratio also has to be near the top. Combine it with the low cost of rimfire ammo (relatively speaking, despite the staggering cost of ammo these days) and you have to have pegged the meter for fun. When I teamed the GM-22 up with the Buck Mark Gold, the fun meter was definitely pegged, as I giggled more than once.
The GM-22 is one of the new designs of suppressors, called a unicore. OK, a bit of historical back-tracking. The usual, traditional way to make a suppressor was to take a seamless tube, weld a rear cap or mount to it, stuff if full of baffles, and then put a front cap on it. In the case of centerfire rifles, all this was welded shut, as they never need cleaning. Rimfire and pistol suppressors, however need cleaning. Let me take a moment and be clear: you must clean your pistol and rimfire suppressors after use. Even a day of shooting can get them caked with powder residue and bullet material. Failing to clean them means they will soon be “welded” shut by the debris, and get heavier and heavier, and louder and louder. Once that happens, it takes exploratory surgery to get them open. Don’t be that guy.
The drawbacks are clear: you have to wrestle individual baffles, which can be relatively fragile, out of the residue-packed tube. Clean them, then re-install them. Also, the serial numbered tube, with its permanently attached mount, is the registered part, and if you break or mangle it, you have a delicate repair process coming up. The unicore design solves a bunch of those problems. The center, the baffle design, is a single machined piece. Gemtech starts with a rod of 7075-T6 aluminum, and after boring a clearance hole down the center, and turning it to diameter, starts machining out the center. The machining creates baffles, but these are not delicate. And they do not have to be removed from the tube one at a time. The rear of the machined core has a thread set inserted in the base. This thread set is CNC lathe-turned out of titanium, so it is as light as the rest of the suppressor, but tougher than aluminum. You are, after all, threading the suppressor onto a steel barrel, and aluminum threads on a steel barrel are not a good mix. Titanium on steel is stronger, much stronger.
On the outside base of the core, Gemtech threads it for the sleeve. Yep, the suppressor, the serial-numbered part, is simply an aluminum sleeve that threads onto the unicore. As a manufacturing process, this has several benefits. The unicore has all the complicated machining. That means it is all done on one machine, and the precision a suppressor needs can easily be maintained. The sleeve is so dead-simple it is almost insulting to a modern CNC machine to be used for the cutting, but it makes the task a cinch. It also means that the serial-numbered part is one that requires little if any handling or cleaning, and thus greatly reduces the risk of damage. You can go your whole life without mangling a suppressor part, but if you do, and it is the complicated, serialed part, then you have to return it, with the requisite paperwork, for repairs. With a unicore system, and the tube simple, if you mangle the unicore, you can send it for repair or replacement, as it is just parts. It isn’t serial numbered.
Now, the design does pose some interesting situations. I won’t call them predicaments, but you do have to know what you’re in for. You install the GM-22 the same way as all others; remove the thread protector (if any) and screw on the GM-22. Removing it is the delicate part. If you simply grab the GM-22 and unscrew it, you are as likely to be unscrewing the tube from the unicore as you are removing the GM-22 from the host firearm. Notice that the base of the unicore is a bit wider than the tube? And that it has some scallops on its border? You need to be grabbing there when you go to remove the GM-22 from the barrel. Do that, and you’re set.
Cleaning the GM-22 is also easier. Since you don’t have a handful of loose baffles to juggle, you can simply fire up your ultrasonic cleaner, filled with an aluminum-appropriate solution, and let it go. Or, use brushes and solvent to scour the nooks and crannies clean. The tube itself needs little, just a scrubbing with a brush inside, a hosing with solvent, and a little lube.
When it comes to suppressors, I have heard from the makers that the rimfires are by far the most popular. No-one will give actual numbers (not even to me) but the ratios I have heard run from two-to-one for rimfires versus all centerfires, to ten to one. Given the cost and fun factor, that should not be surprising. Testing the GM-22 was uneventful, but fun. The main predicament with unicores is that they tend to have a bigger “first round pop” than more traditional designs. This is due to the oxygen in the tube allowing continued combustion. With the first shot using up the oxygen, the subsequent shots are quieter, as the gases can’t combust. I noticed the GM-22 sometimes gave a louder report on the first shot, and sometimes not, which is typical of all the unicore-based suppressors I’ve tested. Whatever is going on, it isn’t as simple as “oxygen in the room” as described.
On the Buck mark (and I suspect, on any other host firearm) the GM-22 did not shift point of impact. Granted, that is with two-inch groups at 25 yards, but really, if I can’t see a shift in a group that sized with a handgun, how much shift could there be? A half-inch? A quarter-inch? If there was any, it didn’t matter, so I’m saying “no shift.” As far as quiet, well, this is the apex of quiet. A handgun is going to be noisier than a rifle, simply because the uncorking is at a higher pressure, and the suppressor has more to handle. If you want truly “hollywood” quiet, you have to go with a rifle, and better yet, a bolt-action rifle. But out of the Buck Mark, it was quiet. The GM-22 comes in a cardboard box, with a FDE carry pouch, an instruction sheet, and the promise of fun to come.
I know some of you are looking at the price and thinking to yourselves “Wait a minute, I’m expected to pay a $200 transfer tax of a four-hundred-dollar suppressor? What’s up with that?” what’s up is that the tax isn’t a percentage of the MSRP, and thank goodness no one thought to index it to inflation back in 1934. (If they had, it would be four grand today.) This is America, we can have fun, and fun costs, and the cost of the tax is the same regardless. The waiting time starts only once you submit an application, and doesn’t get any shorter just because you grumble about it. So, get going, and get ready to have fun.
About the Author
Patrick Sweeney is a life-long shooter, with more than half a century of trigger time, four decades of reloading, 25 years of competition (4 IPSC World Shoots, 50 USPSA Nationals, 500+ club matches, and 18 Pin Shoots, as well as Masters, Steel Challenge and Handgunner Shootoff entries). He spent two decades as a professional gunsmith, and two decades as the President of his gun club. A State-Certified law Enforcement Firearms Instructor, he is also a Court-recognized Expert Witness.
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