Biathlon Basic -- Russian Rimfire
Quick Review of an Inexpensive "Fun Gun"
Economical Rimfire With Distinctive Features
Every varmint shooter needs a good, light-weight "walk-around" 22LR. It's a nice bonus if the rifle is accurate enough to be competitive in a club-level rimfire silhouette match or "fun shoot." The Izhmash Biathlon Basic, a Russian-made toggle-bolt rimfire repeater, fills the bill. Our friend Mac Tilton of MTGuns recently obtained a few dozen of these interesting little rifles--brand new. He invited us to test one out at the scenic Winchester Canyon Gun Range in the coastal mountains overlooking Santa Barbara, CA. With the help of Mac's assistant Bruce, we took a new Biathlon Basic right out of the box, fitted a Sightron 6-24X scope, and put it through its paces at 25 and 50 yards.
Overall, the accuracy was impressive considering the $300.00 price of the rifle. However the distinctive toggle-link action was stiff to use.
Smooth 2-lb Trigger, Easy Handling
Previous testers have noted the quality of the Biathlon Basic's trigger. While it won't rival an Anschutz, the trigger is very smooth, breaking at just over 2 pounds (just right for hunter-class silhouette). It has a rather long, but smooth and fluid take-up, followed by a crisp, predictable let-off. In the length of the take-up it reminded me of a pistol trigger. You can easily modulate the trigger to complete the take-up and then hold it right at the break point, like a two-stage trigger.
The rifle is comfortable to hold off-hand, though a long-armed shooter could benefit from a little more length of pull. The gun balances very well just forward of the action and swings naturally. The rounded fore-arm is easy to hold with either a split-finger or conventional grip.
Bruce shot some 5-round groups at 25 yards, using a Caldwell front rest and rear bag. With the very narrow fore-arm, the Izhmash was a bit wobbly. Still, the gun produced a number of 5-shot groups right at 1/4" with three different kinds of ammo (Federal Gold Match, Remington/Ely, and Winchester target). Our test rifle seemed to prefer Remington/Ely, which has a fairly fat, heavily-lubed bullet with wide driving band.
The Fortner-style toggle action is touted as being extremely fast and efficient. We found that the action, right out of the box, was pretty stiff. It eased up once we applied some light lube (Eezox), but it still required a good, hard push on the toggle to close the bolt, particularly on the fat Remington/Eley rounds. No doubt, with more break-in and a bit of bolt grease in the right places, the action would smooth up. This writer tried a couple other Biathlon Basics in Tilton's shop. On these the toggle bolts could indeed be snapped open and closed with just a quick thumb motion.
Scope Mounting Challenge
The Biathlon Basic comes with a short Weaver-style rail on the rear of the receiver. While this is functional, its short length requires the scope rings to be placed fairly close together and the turrets sit fairly far aft. With some longer scopes you might not be able to get the scope far enough forward to provide adequate scope relief. However, eye relief wasn't a problem with the Sightron 6-24x we mounted.
We did manage to shoot some groups at 50 yards, but in the late afternoon we had a swirling 10 mph wind gusting to 15, and the groups opened up considerably, averaging about 3/4". Bruce hopes to take the gun back to the range when conditions are better and do some further testing for accuracy. Based on what we saw at 25 yards in calmer conditions, I wouldn't doubt the gun can shoot 1/2" or better groups at 50 yards with the right ammo. We just couldn't hold that well in the conditions. We noted that the gun likes to be shot fairly fast--our best groups at 50 were shot rapid-fire.
SUMMARY -- A Fun Gun for Club Use or a Novice Silhouette Shooter
Is the gun worth $300? It will outshoot most rimfires in the price range, it has a very smooth trigger, it comes with a built-in Weaver-style scope rail, and the toggle action is fun to use, if a little stiff at first. This writer concluded that the gun would be a nice short-range varminter, and would be accurate enough as an "entry level" gun to use in club-level silhouette matches. It is, without question, a great gun for a junior at the price. The Biathlon Basic is offered by MTGuns, (805) 720-7720, for $300.00. The current U.S. distributor is Russian-American Armory, RAACFirearms.com, (877) 752-2894. Note: Price is subject to change. As the U.S. Dollar declines, even Russian guns cost more.
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