Browning X-Bolt Stainless Stalker
Owner of a wood-stocked X-Bolt Hunter, Pete Moore gets his hands on the model the importers have picked for the UK market; so was it the right decision?
The problem with British shooting is the fact that 99.9% of our guns are imported. This means that despite the massive amount of options on one particular model available from the manufacturer, UK main dealers might not feel they are all relevant. Fair comment, as something like a Battue rifle, which shows specific iron sights and a short barrel, expressly aimed at the driven game market, is purely a European thing. So bringing it all in could mean a lot of stock tied up in models that will never really move over here.
So with this in mind let’s turn our attention to what in my opinion is the best, bolt-action rifle Browning has ever produced – the X-Bolt. I guess that American Rifleman magazine concurs with me as they voted it “the rifle of the year”, not bad given it’s only half way through 2009…
X marks the spot
I first tested the X-Bolt at the back end of 2008 in the form of the wood-stocked Hunter model chambered in 270WSM and ended up buying it. Though liking the earlier and somewhat quirky Browning A-Bolt, I thought that the X was by far the better rifle. Looks, handling, control and general design were all much improved and it looked like they had made a better mouse trap…
For those of you familiar with the A-Bolt layout, you’d have to be blind not to see that Browning retained some of the original good features and got rid of the bad. Two points of fact – One; the tang-mounted (sliding) safety has been retained as you can’t get more practical that that. A simple push of the firing hand thumb and no loss of grip position allows you to go from OFF to ON. Two; the unusual floor plate/semi detachable box magazine was binned in favour of a simpler, rotary box with a fast and efficient, forward-mounted release catch.
The flattened and swept-back bolt handle is similar and with its low, 60° lift angle making for slick and smooth operation. This time the whole of the action was properly bedded (with a solid compound) and the free-floated barrel is hand-chambered and shows a target crown. Add to this the new, adjustable, Browning Feather trigger, which again makes a difference and not to forget the stock. This to me has the flowing and agronomical lines of their Cynergy shotgun and as such the 6lb 11oz X-Bolt handles like one; being quick into the mount and very easy to drive for a moving shot.
This layout combined with the efficient, Inflex recoil pad made the 270WSM - which is not an inconsiderable calibre in terms of recoil - a very smooth operator indeed. Drilled for Browning’s new, four-screw, X-Lock scopes mounts, which are supposed to give a more solid fixing the X-Bolt shows one further feature. The bolt unlocking button is located at the base of the handle, pressing this with the gun loaded and on safe allows you to open the action to unload. Not essential but a useful feature none the less.
The British choice
Like I said I rate the X-Bolt highly and with eight models to choose from wondered what UK importers BWM Arms Ltd would be bringing in. Though not a fan of wood stocks I was very taken by the matt-finished Hunter and would have made that one of my choices. Along with the stainless and black synthetic models (Stainless and Composite Stalkers) and the medium barrelled synthetic (Varmint Stalker). In calibres like 223 Rem, 243/308 Win, 22-250 and maybe 270 and/or 300 WSM; these in my opinion would have suited the UK market nicely.
BWM Arms kept it much tighter with just one model – the Stainless Stalker, in to date the following calibres; – 223 Rem, 243, 308 and 270 Winchester. Overall good choices for our market, though the 270 Win is perhaps a bit limited these days…
Having extensively used the wood-stocked Hunter version I was keen to see how it compared to the Stainless Stalker. BWM supplied one in 243 Win, which came threaded ½ x 28 UNEF, which is my preferred form, though for the UK I feel ½ x 20 UNF would have been more sensible due to it’s popularity.
All I have said about the Hunter in terms of controls/features remains the same for the Stainless Stalker, with the exception of its shorter, 22” barrel for all calibres mentioned. The biggest difference is the synthetic stock, black in colour it offers Dura- Touch Armor coating, which is a high adhesion, rubber-type surface and textured panels as opposed to chequering on the pistol grip and forend.
Visually I did not like the black/silver look offered by the two-tone finish but that is purely personal. Practically this is going to shrug off the weather and take all sorts of knocks and even abuse far better than the more traditional wood/blue build of the Hunter. So I suppose a sensible choice after all, but I feel BWM should have at least considered the all-black Composite Stalker for those who want the protection but without the glare of stainless steel…
Down test & adjust
Ammo naturally went to Winchester, with a selection of weights in 243 Win. The scope was a Luger 3-12x50 and up front went a BR Tuote T8, reflex moderator, all bottomed off by a Harris BRS bipod.
I was not expecting any problems, which proved to be the case, though the Stainless Stalker seemed to prefer the heavier end of the 243 bullet range slightly. Though far from a kicky round recoil was pleasant and easy to control. Accuracy-wise the rifle was shooting around the inch, which is more than adequate. Feed and function etc were again good as expected.
You don’t have to convince me that the Browning X-Bolt is a good rifle, as it is. Given that 243 Win is probably the most popular hunting calibre in the UK I recon that this new gun is going to go down very well indeed. Which is good, as it now gives Browning a potentially far more attractive proposition than their older A-Bolt for we Brits.
UK needs another model option
|Name||Browning X-Bolt Stainless Stalker|
|Calibre||243 Win (on test)|
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