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Browning Challenger Pistol (.22 RF LR)
May 2010 -- Banacek
While undergoing target pistol training with my first shooting club (over 40 years ago now), new members had to shoot pistols owned by other members and under their direct supervision. (Not much has changed there, and that's a good safety thing.) The advantage was the opportunity to really test all sorts of pistols for free, before having to lay out hard earned cash. That way you really knew what you liked and wanted to buy.
Most members were shooting one of the various models by Hi Standard, including the space-pistol looking Supermatic Citation (which really shot well). The next most popular semi was the Browning Medalist. That one was very accurate but those of us with small hands found its fitted thumbrest stocks to be overly thick and uncomfortable to hold and shoot well.
I was still a poor student at the time and settled on an inexpensive Browning Challenger configured as above in this article's heading. The stock fit well, and the angle of the grip frame was comfortable and pointed naturally. (Later Brownings were to adopt the fashionable straighter grip angle popularized by the .45 Colt, and were never to my liking.)
The Challenger had essentially the Medalist steel frame, only lacking the dry-fire function which did not interest me anyway. The Challenger was also made in a heavy barrel version similar to the Medalist, but the skinny standard weight barel was far more available and cheaper. While there were special attachable weights for the heavy barrel models, I made do with a weight I rigged to my standard barrel. And yes it shot far better than I could for a long time.
And that obervation is well worth repeating. When learning something new, having quality equipment is very useful. When the gun with good ammunition can shoot inherently much more accurately than you can (at least at first), any improvement is clearly to your credit and learning benefit.
In my first military posting, the Base's indoor gun range had a lot of Challengers on hand for anyone's use. Free gun use and free ammunition made for lots of happy practice sessions during lunch breaks.
The one thing about the Challenger that always impressed me was the reliability of feed. No matter which gun I used, the Base's well worn pistols or a new one, feeding was nearly 100% reliable. Perhaps that is due to the very thick metal of the quality magazine, or perhaps the open design of the breech area that does not crash new ammo into the empty case during the feeding shuffle like Rugers can do all too often. And it has a smoother and crisper trigger than Ruger.
Bad thing: I sold my Challenger several years ago and miss it. Good thing: Trapper-John asked me to function test a couple of used Challengers for someone out of town who was looking to buy one. Both were in need of TLC cleaning and lubrication. One had a sticky hold open latch that just needed a good clean. Both shot consistent 97 scores or better when I did my part. No feed malfunctions. Great fun and fine performance just like I remembered.
The score of 4+ I give the Browning Challenger is based on experience with this model over 30 years of use. It is a superb informal target gun and is an incredible value in a used gun compared to the flashier but often cheaply made models out there today. (The Mark II and III and Buckmark were engineered to be made cheaper, not designed to shoot better.) That the orginal Challenger is sorely underappreciated and misunderstood is evident by the large number of used ones available that move very slowly. Ignorance of hidden gun gems like this one may be bliss, but sure will put an unnecessarily large dent in your wallet when you buy any other overpriced model.
If I were to rate a Challenger today in the more demanding club competition target pistol category, I'd give it a 4- out of 5 now. It could do better with the Medalist or original Challenger heavy barrels (either will fit); a Medalist barrel with its slightly wider sights makes for quicker alignment during timed matches. The inherent accuracy of the Challenger to compete well is there now; add-ons will just let a human shoot a little bit better with more mass to dampen shake and perhaps better sights.
Definitely a best buy on the used gun market. (Better buy one before someone else reads this and then puts up the price ;-)
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