Browning X-Bolt Hunter
- 29 Comments
- Last updated: 03/08/2017
Hands up all of you who like the Browning A-Bolt? Hmm I don’t see many, which is a pity as this unashamedly modern bolt-action rifle is a neat if quirky design. I like it but would be the first to admit it has never really made that big an impression in the UK. However, the examples I have tested proved efficient and cost effective.
I think what really puts people off is the odd feed system that sees a detachable box mag that can only be accessed by unlocking the floor plate and swinging it open, why? Also the rather odd shape of the bolt handle with its flattened/twisted look. However, on the plus side the lift angle is a mere 60° and the safety is located on the tang so making it very easy and practical.
I had been hearing rumours that Browning were going to build a new rifle well before IWA 2008 and given that the A-Bolt was their only turn-bolt action, I was intrigued as to what it might offer. Some investigation showed a design that was obviously of that lineage but addressed just about all the problems/unusual areas of the original.
My first impressions were of a far better looking rifle than before with slick and smooth lines; on reflection the furniture reminded me of their Cynergy Game gun. Visually the X-Bolt had the look of something that would come to the shoulder quick and fast and point very naturally too. By early September of this year I had a 270 WSM, X-Bolt Hunter in my hands and an invite from Philippe Chamoret, Browning International’s Marketing Manager to bring it to Poland and put it through its paces on some driven and high seat work.
Three days of fairly intensive hunting was a good way of getting to know the rifle, as apart from a bit of zeroing in the UK using Winchester’s 150-grain, Supreme XP3 ammunition, supplied by Browning, I would be going in at the deep end!
The action remains very A-Bolt with a 3-lug lock up, a fully supported head and plunger-type ejector. The handle is again familiar, showing that flat and angled back design though in this case it feels better as it has more of a curve to the shape. Sensibly the short lift angle has been retained. However, different is the bolt shroud, which looks odd in a sort of hump backed way and is not as ascetically pleasing as the A-Bolt’s longer and more shapely style.
The tang-mounted safety catch is as before (forward - FIRE, reverse - SAFE) which is a design that's hard to beat. Adding to this is a separate unlocking button where the bolt handle meets the body, which allows you to open the action with the rifle on safe. A useful feature for unloads etc…
The receiver is glass bedded into the stock. Unlike the A-Bolt, which uses blobs of a semi-mastic type compound, Browning have done a proper job. Up front is a good chunk of rigid material that offers a proper pocket for the large recoil lug and a good section of bearing for the fully floated barrel’s re-enforce. This is taken up again at the rear of the action void to give two supporting surfaces.
Browning have taken this opportunity to re-think the scope mounts too. Here they use four screws per base to fix it to the receiver. Called the X-Lock scope mount; the idea is that it makes the interface more solid. The rifle comes with a set of 1” dovetails, so you just need some rings and you are good to go. Optional and extra are a set of bases with integral rings. I would imagine that people like Warne, Leupold, Burris etc., will eventually make mounts for the X-Bolt, as they do for the A-Bolt.
Barrels show a light/medium profile and are hand-chambered with a deep (concave) target crown. New too is the Feather Trigger unit, which features a 3-lever system that provides a clean, crisp pull with no take-up or creep and minimal over travel. The weight is screw-adjustable from 3 to 5 lbs and factory set at approximately 3 1/2 lbs. To be honest there’s not a huge amount of difference in the feel of the pull up or down, and the factory setting is more than good enough…
The bottom metal is aluminium and shows a well sized trigger guard that’s very finger friendly and a huge mag well. Another big improvement is the conventional detachable magazine. Made of heavy polymer, it’s a simple, rotary design that feeds from a central position and has an integral release catch at the front. A flat spring secures it at the rear and in or out the action is easy and secure.
In terms of other controls there’s the bolt release catch rear left of the receiver and a cocked action indicator pin that protrudes from under the bolt shroud. The stock is very nice showing a reasonable piece of walnut, decent panels of chequering and a right hand palm swell. The butt has a high/straight comb and the grip is set well back to give a near optimum, first pad finger position on the trigger blade. At the rear is a big/thick Inflex, rubber recoil pad and QD sling studs fitted fore and aft. The forend is tapered with a rounded, hand-filling profile at the rear and angled finger slots run along the sides. Weighing in at 6 lbs 11oz in 270 WSM the rifle is 42 ¾” long and generally feels very handy.
Browning offer four versions of the X-Bolt, the Hunter – semi matte (satin) wood stock and low lustre blued metal work, the Composite Stalker - black synthetic stock, the Medallion - shiny wood and blue and the Stainless Stalker - black synthetic /stainless steel. Calibre choice is good with 243W, 7mm-08, 308W, 25-06, 270W, 280 Rem, 30-06, 7mm Rem Mag, 300 & 338 Win Mag, 270, 7mm, 300 and 325 WSM and 375 H&H. This last chambering is only offered with the Medallion and Stainless Stalker.
Barrel length will vary as to calibre with 22, 23, 24 and 26”, for example 243 W is 22” whereas 300 Win Mag is 26” with the WSMs all at 23”.
Feels Good - Yeah!
I have to say I was quite taken by the look and feel of the hunter, as even though it’s a wood stocker, the subdued finish looked and felt good, and the layout and light weight do make it very natural in the hands. I was however a little concerned about recoil, as I used to have a Win Model 70 in 270 WSM and that was a bit lively until I fitted a muzzle brake! Browning also say the X-Bolt offers the potential of 1 MOA accuracy at 100-yards, which is quite some claim for a factory gun.
Initially scoped up with a Swarovski 2-12x50 Z6i for the trip range tests showed that even with the 150-grain XP3 ammo the X-Bolt was ridiculously well behaved. I put this down to the high/straight comb and Inflex recoil pad, out in the field this translated into being able to see the animal fall when hit, something that is not always possible with heavy recoiling rifles; especially light ones.
Equally impressive was the gun’s ability to shoot the promised 1 MOA, though with the factory load the third shot stepped out a bit due no doubt to excessive barrel heating, but the first two were bang on the money - which is more than enough. Experimentation with reloads using bullets from Barnes (130-grain TTSX), Nosler (140-grain Ballistic Tip) and Hornady (150-grain SST) showed the rifle to be equally happy with these three and was capable of an inch with them. Doubtless the improved trigger helped!
Nice and Easy
In the field the light weight of the rifle made it an easy carry up and down high seats or just foot stalking. Speed of reaction was excellent with the gun snapping effortlessly into the shoulder and staying there. With both factory and reloads the action was smooth and cycled with no hesitation to chamber or eject.
The bolt unlocking button was also useful as it allows you to leave the action on SAFE, then press the button to open the bolt for an unload. However, it was the magazine that really made it for me, as I do like DMs. Easy to remove or fit, even with gloves on, the central feed position really smoothes things up over the old staggered column-types.
I have to say that I really like the X-Bolt and honestly feel it’s a serious improvement over the A-Bolt, as it’s pretty damn slick for a factory rifle. In terms of fit and finish there’s little to choose between these two models, though I feel that the X is a design that will happily take on the likes of the Tikka T3, Sako 85, Thompson Center Icon and other slightly more up market models. In 270 WSM the Hunter offers me a light, easy shooting package in a hard hitting calibre, so worth a position on my gun rack and I even like the wooden stock!
So where does it leave the A-Bolt? Well Browning are not going to discontinue it at the moment, though will probably be reducing the number of options. Currently the X-Bolt is not yet available in a left hand version or with the BOSS muzzle stabilising system, but it seems likely.
Well that’s the world picture of the X-Bolt, however the UK market has been more selective and I was told by importers BWM Arms Ltd that initially they will only be bringing in one version - the Stainless Stalker in a limited number of calibres – 223 Rem, 243, 308 and 270 Winchester. For our market these will doubtless to fill the bill, though the old 270 is not as popular as it once was and the slightly more powerful WSM version might have been a better choice.
Guns will come threaded with two options 1/2x28” UNEF for the lighter calibres and 14mm for the heavier ones. Seems odd to me and even though I prefer 1/2x28 I reckon the smart money would have been to do them all 1/2x20” UNF. To give BWM their due they have already got me a Stainless Stalker in 243 Win for a follow up article next month and with its synthetic Dura-Touch stock it does feel good. So stay tuned.
At the end of the day I feel that with the X-Bolt, Browning now have a bolt-action rifle to be reckoned with.
• Vast improvement
• Properly bedded
• Very shootable
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