Pretty much every gun guy would love to own a Barrett .50 BMG rifle, but not everyone can afford one and some live in states, like California, that have banned the big boomer. Of course, Ronnie Barrett's gutsy decision to stand on principle and tell California bureaucrats to stick orders and service requests for his products up a certain nether orifice makes most of us want one of his rifles even more.
Granted, a .50 BMG rifle's practicality is limited. You're unlikely to hump a 40-pound rifle along on a moose hunt, and most, if not all, African nations ban the use of the .50 on safari, which is why Africa is such a peaceful continent, having not experienced a genocide in the last several hours. But I digress. Those of us who want a Barrett, but are not ready to step up to the .50 BMG, will fall in love with the company's latest rifle, the 98Bravo.
The 98Bravo ain't a peashooter. Though not chambered for the big .50, you needn't worry about downrange performance from its .338 Lapua Mag. chambering. It's not the company's first foray with this cartridge. The Model 98, introduced in 1998, was a semi-automatic rifle that never caught on, despite its clever exercise in engineering. The most obvious change from the Model 98 to the 98Bravo is the switch to a bolt-action for supreme accuracy. It also makes it more appealing to hunters and long-range competitors.
The advantages of the .338 Lapua Mag. over the .50 BMG are plentiful, but the most instantly noticeable is the 98Bravo's weight. Apart from the tingle up my leg I got when asked to test the gun, I also thought about hitting the gym to bulk up so I could carry a Barrett rifle. Thankfully, as I chose to pop open a refreshing beverage and re-fight the Battle of Stalingrad on my Xbox 360 instead, I was pleasantly surprised the first time I held the 98Bravo. At only 131⁄2 pounds, lugging this thumper on a hunt suddenly seemed like a fun idea. Sure, it's heavy compared to most bolt-action models, but it says "BARRETT" on the action and can drop nearly any quarry from a long, long way.
Why is it so much lighter than Barrett's .50 BMG offerings? Well, for one thing, the action doesn't need to be strong enough to withstand a direct hit from a Russian 40-megaton warhead. In other words, you don't need an anvil for a chamber or a Chobham armor bolt. The upper-receiver frame is made from 7000-series aluminum alloy; think aircraft rather than main battle tank. The 27-inch barrel is fluted, further dropping weight. It's also user-changeable with a wrench available from Barrett. Moreover, it doesn't have a muzzle brake borrowed from a piece of field artillery. For the recoil-shy, there's no need to worry; shooting the rifle is comparable to a .30-06, hardly beyond the tolerance of most shooters, thanks to the 98Bravo's effective muzzle brake. And best of all, you don't need a separate safe to store it.
Those parts not crafted from aluminum or steel are made from polymer, including the bolt knob. Combined with the AR-like upper/lower receiver construction, use of polymers leads one to believe Barrett will offer some modular options for the 98Bravo down the line, perhaps an interchangeable upper in a different caliber.
In fact, modularity was a major design consideration according to the rifle's designer and Ronnie's son, Chris Barrett. "Most tactical rifles are hunting rifles with a few modifications," he said. "The 98Bravo was designed from the ground up to be easily adaptable to different needs."
None of this is to suggest the 98Bravo is somehow a wimpy piece of plastic. If it came from another company, it would likely be the most badass offering in the catalog, but given Barrett's reputation as a .50 BMG shop, this step down might actually be a step up in terms of the company's ability to reach a greater number of shooters. The rifle is designed to be ready to rock right out of the box. A built-in buttstock monopod and a Harris bipod are included, so shooting from a bench or prone requires nothing more than an adequate range, preferably with some targets beyond 500 yards. The top of the upper receiver has a full-length rail for mounting optics, as the 98Bravo has no iron sights. For precision accuracy at the ranges for which this puppy was designed, you'll want a good scope, so the lack of iron sights is hardly a detriment. A full-length rail also permits near limitless mounting positions and ring spacing, since a scope won't have to span the action. The fore-end also has two lengths of rail on the right and left sides that can be anchored at multiple points along the frame.
Additional modularity can be found in the skeletonized stock. An adjustable cheekpiece allows for proper eye-alignment with a scope. This is a major advantage, since optics requiring a high mount, like those with 50 mm or larger objective lenses, can be used without worrying your cheek will have to leave the stock for a proper sight picture. The rear monopod is likewise adjustable, permitting changes to point-of-aim without moving the entire rifle or fiddling with sandbags. An effective recoil pad on the buttstock can be fine-tuned by using selectable spacers to ensure proper length of pull. All of these features enhance the 98Bravo's ability to serve as a platform for precision shooters of any type.
The ergonomic, contoured pistol grip has a checkered backstrap for added purchase and a molded, pad-like surface for the fingers on the front. The safety is similar to that found on an AR and is easy to actuate without changing grip. Barrett included a neat, ambidextrous magazine release just forward of the trigger guard. Using your index finger, a simple, but sturdy downward push drops the polymer magazine from the rifle where it can be caught with the non-shooting hand. Meanwhile, your index finger can be back on the trigger in less than a second, allowing for rapid tactical reloads without drastically altering your shooting grip or sight picture.
These are all lovely features sure to make your range buddies blush, but the most exciting part of the 98Bravo is found in its guts. One look at the gun and you are sure to ask: "Where does the bolt go?" The entire bolt-travel path is enclosed, which prevents dirt, grime and dust from entering the chamber until you cycle the action. This clean operation is possible thanks to a polymer bolt guide. Though not exclusive to the 98Bravo, this feature is unique in that it works incredibly well, whereas most other rifles utilizing such a guide have proved less successful. It also adds lubricity because of its polymer construction, eliminating the need for lubricant to reduce friction. As anyone who has cleaned a bolt-action rifle knows, lube tends to attract debris if too much is applied. Eliminating this step for the 98Bravo's bolt is sure to increase reliability.
The bolt itself is strong, as one would expect from a Barrett. It's made from casehardened, 8620 steel and has nine large locking lugs, virtually guaranteeing dependability. Yet, thanks to the bolt carrier, moving this big hunk of metal is effortless, even after an intense range session. A heavy-duty extractor and robust ejector look more like what you'd find on a Ma Deuce than on a plain old bolt-action. Despite its strength and size, this system is one of the smoothest I've had the pleasure to use.
Another obvious characteristic related to the gun's firing mechanism is the fact that you could draw a straight line from the top of the buttstock to the muzzle. Aside from aesthetic appeal to the black-rifle enthusiast, this type of alignment helps reduce felt recoil.
As I did not have access to a 1,000-yard range, American Rifleman Field Editor Stanton Wormley took the 98Bravo for testing at long distances along with a Marine Scout Sniper veteran. The rifle put multiple 5-shot groups into an 18-inch target at 1,000 yards despite 16 to 21 mph crosswinds. They achieved an average group size of 1.5 MOA—not too shabby from a kilometer away.
Disassembly of the rifle is very simple. Depressing a small button behind the trigger guard releases the rear of the upper receiver, allowing the user to tilt the gun open. A pin in front of the magazine well, similar to those found on an AR, allows for complete removal of the upper. The bolt and bolt guide are then easily removed. This is as far as you'll need to go for simple cleaning.
Barrett has always made rifles with the commercial market in mind. Yes, the military likes the company's products a whole lot, but it was civilian long-range shooters who forced the military to recognize the value of Barrett's .50 BMG rifles.
The 98Bravo and its semi-auto predecessor were both designed for civilian use. The various configurations in which the rifle is offered stand as a testament to the company's commitment to the gun-owner community. The base model ships with the bipod and monopod, but a package with a Leupold LRT 4.5-14x50 mm tactical scope and the Barrett Optical Ranging System (BORS) is available for those who want to go from the gun shop to the range without coming up for air. Barrett also plans to sell the rifle without the pods for those who want complete customization capability.
The military will almost certainly want this gun, but we get it first—yet another reason why anyone who likes to shoot at targets way down range should get out there and pick up a 98Bravo. Barrett sacrificed profit for principle in its stand against a misguided gun ban. Now that the company offers a rifle capable of achieving legendary .50 BMG accuracy at 1,000 yards in a size palatable to most anyone, if you can afford it, you're rapidly running out of excuses not to own a Barrett.