The Buck Mark™ Story
Guns Magazine, August, 1999 by Clair Rees
Originated in 1914, these stylish little rimfire pistols are still going strong.

Browning Buck Marks are high-quality, affordable .22 handguns. Introduced in 1985, they're accurate and fun to shoot. Buck Mark pistols have become so popular Browning has added three new versions this year, which brings the total number of variations now available to 17.

While the Buck Mark is a wholly modern handgun, its design originated with the Colt Woodsman invented by John M. Browning in 1914. Unlike most pistols then, the Woodsman (originally known as the Colt .22 Target Pistol) featured a half-length slide that separated from the barrel to extract and eject expended cartridges.

This was a real innovation at the time, and has since been copied by many other handgun designers. No longer in production, vintage Colt Woodsman pistols are still prized by knowledgeable sportsmen.

Bruce Browning resurrected his grandfather's original blowback pistol design 30 years ago. He made changes to reduce manufacturing costs, and had the redesigned gun produced in Belgium by Fabrique Nationale. The new .22 was marketed as the Browning Nomad.

The Nomad itself became increasingly expensive to manufacture, eventually impacting sales. John Val Browning -- another grandson of the inventor and president of Browning -- decided to discontinue the Nomad in favor of a pistol that could be produced more economically.

Lee Farber, a Salt Lake City firearm engineer, was given three months to redesign the Nomad to take better advantage of modern manufacturing methods. The goal was a 20 percent reduction in costs.

Meeting The Challenge

To meet this goal, Farber used investment castings for the frame, slide and a few other small components. Investment castings were less costly than laboriously machined parts, and could be used to create intricate components. John Browning's basic design was left largely intact, although the new grip was less steeply angled for better "pointability." Introduced in 1976, this version became the Challenger.

Additional changes were made over the years, resulting in the Challenger II, then the Challenger III. The Challenger III featured an aluminum frame, an improved magazine and a few other minor changes. The alloy frame reduced both weight and manufacturing costs.

In 1985 the pistol was again revamped, this time by Joe Badali, Browning's former chief designer, and given the name Buck Mark.

"The Buck Mark wasn't an all-new design," Badali said. "Closely related to John Browning's original .22 pistol, today's Buck Mark is a product of many years of evolution. It incorporates many new developments in metallurgy and manufacturing technology.

"While I was working on this project, some of our people at Browning attended a silhouette shoot in Idaho," he continued. "Many experienced competitors were using Challenger pistols because of their fine accuracy. The only complaint they had was with the sights.

"Silhouette shooters liked the positive click adjustments our sights offered, but wanted greater durability. Because shooters were constantly clicking in different elevations for each distance, wear made it necessary to replace the sights each year."

A Sight Far Sore Eyes

In answer to silhouette shooter requests, Badali designed a tough, new sight made of sintered metal. The new Browning Pro-Target sight offered 16 clicks per revolution instead of the usual 12, allowing finer, more precise adjustment. The sight also provided greater contact area between detents and the V-shaped grooves in the adjustment screws. The larger contact area resulted in more positive adjustments, a more audible click and considerably longer wear.

The Pro-Target sight proved both accurate and durable, and was a success on the Browning silhouette pistol. It wasn't reserved for the target models, but was used on all Buck Mark variations.

The Buck Mark also features improved trigger action. All sears are stoned for smoothness, and triggers are designed for a crisp let-off with no play or creep. Some target models sport adjustable triggers with mechanical stops to eliminate overtravel.

"All Buck Mark pistols share the same basic design, accurate barrels and excellent triggers," Badali said. 'They also have the same Pro-Target sights. As a result, all Buck Mark handguns -- even the low-priced versions -- shoot like target pistols. The true target models feature adjustable triggers and other refinements, but you can expect fine accuracy from any Browning Buck Mark.

"When we developed the Buck Mark Silhouette model, the International Handgun Metallic Silhouette Association bought the first 300 we produced," Badali said. "Then they bought the next 300, and wanted more. We postponed additional IHMSA orders to supply our dealers, who were demanding the long-barreled target pistol. Jimmy Holder used the Buck Mark Silhouette to set a new silhouette world record that year."

Pistol Homecoming

While the earlier Challenger and Nomad models were made in Belgium, the Buck Mark is manufactured to Browning specifications by Arms Technology, Inc., in Salt Lake City. Each Buck Mark frame is precision CNC-machined from a solid block of aircraft-grade 7075-T6 aluminum.

Chambers are hand-reamed for uniformity, while the barrels feature recessed crowns to protect against muzzle damage. If the crown isn't perfectly square and free of dings or dents, gases won't escape evenly. When this happens, the base of the bullet could be tipped as it exits the bore, degrading accuracy.

The Browning Buck Mark is available in 17 different configurations. These range from the new Camper version economy-priced at $234 to the Buck Mark Bullseye at $500 even. The Camper has a matte blue finish and a round 5 1/2" bull barrel. It weighs 34 ozs. This gun is also available in a satin-nickel finish. Other versions new this year are the Challenger and the Challenger Micro.

The Challenger features a lighter 5 1/2" barrel, reducing the gun's total weight to 24 ozs. Its slimmed-down grip gives this Buck Mark an entirely different feel and accommodates shooters with smaller hands. The Challenger Micro is basically the same gun, but with a more compact 4" barrel. No fixed-sight versions are available -- all Buck Mark pistols feature micro-adjustable Pro-Target sights.

Same But Different

I've been using a trio of Buck Marks during the past few years, including Standard, Silhouette and Bullseye models. While they share the same design, all three guns have a distinctly different appearance. This is due to varying barrel configurations -- round bull, stepped, slab-sided and fluted bull. Some bull-barreled target models also feature full-length, multi-slotted ribs. Grip styles also play a big part in each Buck Mark's individuality.

Until the recent introduction of the Camper model, the Standard model was the least costly Buck Mark available, listing at $265. Trigger action was crisp, breaking at an even 4 lbs. The gun delivered excellent 25 yard accuracy - 1 1/8" five-shot groups with Remington's standard-velocity target loads.

Reliability was another plus. I experienced a few malfunctions early on, but these pretty much disappeared after a short break-in period. Unless lax maintenance allows residue to build up in the action, the gun feeds and fires most ammo without a bobble.

The Standard model wears ambidextrous, contoured rubber grips and a 5 1/2" slab-sided bull barrel. The manual thumb safety, slide release and magazine release button are conventionally located on the left side of the frame. When you press the magazine release, be ready to catch the clip. It pops free with gusto.

The Buck Mark magazine holds 10 rounds. A coiled spring activates the follower, which can be depressed for easy loading with the aid of a projecting button. There's no magazine safety; the gun will fire with the mag removed. When seated, the base of the magazine is flush with the butt.

Scalloped, ribbed finger grooves on each side of the slide provide solid purchase for cocking the gun. The rear sight rides atop a rib solidly attached to both the barrel assembly and the recoil post. The sight doesn't travel with the slide, but remains stationary when the gun is fired.

Buck Mark disassembly is fairly simple, but requires an allen wrench (provided) and a screwdriver. The Standard Model tips the scales at 34 ozs.

Right On Target

The Buck Mark Bullseye features a round, multi-fluted bull barrel 7 1/4" in length. It also has an adjustable trigger, complete with a mechanical stop to prevent overtravel. The trigger breaks crisply at just 2 1/4 Ibs. That's how the trigger came from the factory, and I've seen no reason to change the setting.

My Bullseye Model sports elegantly grained rosewood grips with a pronounced shelf extending from the base of the right side. A higher, shallower shelf steadies the trigger finger, while a similar shelf on the opposite side cradles the thumb. The result is an extremely steady grip -- at least for a right-handed shooter. Southpaws would find it uncomfortable. The Browning Bullseye is also offered with laminated wood or black rubber stocks.

Prairie Dogs Fear It

The Silhouette Model Buck Mark has a highly distinctive appearance. It sports a 9 7/8" barrel with a full-length rib running along the top. The rib is grooved to accept optical sights. Immediately under the barrel is an 8" long, grooved walnut forend. Weight is a solid 53 ozs.

The gun's left grip panel wears a pronounced thumb shelf, while a smaller protrusion on the starboard side steadies the trigger finger. Both front and rear sights are hooded, and a removable shell deflector is mounted over the ejector port. The front sight is a flat-topped, square-sided post screwed directly into the rib.

Two years ago I mounted a Bushnell Holosight on a Silhouette Model and proceeded to tear up Nevada's ground squirrel and prairie dog population. This Buck Mark sported a 2 lb. trigger and delivered excellent accuracy. At 50 yards, it proved capable of 1/2" to 1" groups with a variety of long rifle ammo.

I don't know how many ground squirrels the Browning counted coup on, but I made a number of clean hits at extended range. A Bushnell Yardage Pro laser rangefinder measured the distance to a couple of these unlucky rodents at 140 yards and more.

That's a "fur piece" for any rimfire handgun, but the Holosighted Silhouette Model did the job. After all, it was designed for knocking over small animal silhouettes at ranges extending to 200 meters. My first shot didn't always find a ground squirrel, but two or three rounds usually did the trick.

Evolved from John M. Browning's original Woodsman design, the Buck Mark gets high marks for both styling and accuracy. Available in a variety of prices and configurations, the Browning .22 is a very impressive pistol.

COPYRIGHT 1999 Publishers' Development Corporation
COPYRIGHT 2000 Gale Group