Browning X-Bolt Hunter
Pete Moore re-visits Browning’s X-Bolt series of bolt-action rifles
In the last issue Ed Jackson wrote an article on choosing your first bolt-action, centrefire rifle, his short list of guns included Browning’s X-Bolt. I have owned an X-Bolt Hunter for the last eight years and have also tested it in other options. As it’s all too easy to forget things in the face of an ever growing market, I thought it would be interesting to re-visit this rifle as it has a lot to offer.
Up until then Browning’s only centrefire bolter was the A-Bolt. It seems reasonably conventional with a 3-lug bolt, useful 60° lift angle, tang-mounted safety but a rather quirky magazine system. Despite the fact it was a good shooter it never proved popular in the UK and I always felt that the feed system was its weakness. It consisted of a 4-round, detachable box that was clipped to a hinged floor plate. Thankfully it could be top-loaded, but changing the mag meant popping the floor plate and unlatching it. Yes it was reliable, but I could never fathom why they designed such an unusual system!
X MARKS THE SPOT
The announcement of the new X-Bolt was a revelation as it would be the first new bolt-action Browning had offered for many years. It took some of its cues from the A-Bolt but also addressed all of its problems. My first impressions were of a far better looking and handling rifle with slick and smooth lines. By early September of 2008 I had a 270 WSM, X-Bolt Hunter in my hands and an invite from Browning to bring it to Poland and put it through its paces on some driven and high seat work. Three days of fairly intensive hunting proved a good way of getting to know the rifle and it did not disappoint! The calibre, which I used in my first trip to Africa in 2005 to hunt plains game in my Winchester Model 70, offers plenty of power, accuracy and range potential.
The action remains very A-Bolt with a 3-lug lock up, short 60° bolt lift angle, fully supported head and plunger-type ejector. The handle showed a flat, angled back design with more of a curve to the shape with the same short lift angle. The bolt shroud looks odd in a sort of hump backed way and is not as ascetically pleasing as the A-Bolts.
The tang-mounted safety catch is as before (forward - FIRE, reverse - SAFE) which is a design that’s hard to beat, as it barely disturbs the firing hand position. You just lift your thumb while keeping contact with the rest of your hand. 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 includes their X-Lock scope bases as standard. There are four screws per base which gives a more solid interface. These offer 1” dovetails, so you just need some rings and you are good to go. Though I have also seen rifles with one-piece rings that use the same X-Lock base system.
Barrels now offer profiles from light hunter to heavy, fluted varmint-styles and are all still hand-chambered with a deep target crown. The Feather Trigger unit 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 the difference between the low and high settings is minimal. Saying that the factory weight is spot on and it suited me down to the ground, nor have I ever changed it! Latter versions now have what Browning calls their improved, Super Feather unit, which is a bit more subtle.
The bottom metal is aluminium and shows a well sized and shaped trigger guard that’s truly finger- friendly and a huge mag well. Another big improvement is the conventional, detachable, polymer magazine. It’s a simple, rotary design that feeds reliably from a central position and has an integral release catch at the front! It has to be filled base-first from the front, which is no hassle. Capacity-wise it’s four +1 in most standard calibres and three +1 in the wider bodied numbers like the WSM (Winchester Short Magnum).The bolt release catch is positioned rear left of the receiver and a cocked action indicator pin protrudes from under the bolt shroud.
Stocks offer a number of style and material options; semi-matt and hi-gloss walnut with some nice chequering, along with a synthetic (composite) with a rubber over-finish. The Eclipse Hunter has a slim, grey laminate thumbhole something I would like to put onto my original 270 WSM Hunter. For those who want more there’s the GRS Varmint, with a Grodas Rifle Stocks (GRS) Sport/ Varmint in grey laminate, to take full advantage of this excellent furniture this model features a 24”, fluted mid-weight barrel!
SHOT THE LOT
I’ve shot all the X-Bolt series to date and regardless of model the basic layout feels good and practical. My Hunter in 270 WSM tips the scale at just 6lbs 11oz less scope. There’s little doubt the WSM is a powerful cartridge, but the X-Bolt’s Inflex recoil pad and general stock design make it very shootable even with its light, 23” tube. It offers a lot of power yet good recoil characteristics, and this flat-shooting calibre delivers the goods at all distances and is ideal for carrying all day! Browning offer a number of metal finishes - low and high lustre blue and stainless steel. Calibre choice is good with 243 Win, 7mm-08, 308 Win, 25-06, 270 Win, 280 Rem, 30-06, 7mm Rem Mag, 300 & 338 Win Mag, 270, 7mm, 300 and 325 WSM and 375 H&H.
Barrel length will vary as to calibre with 22, 23, 24 and 26”, for example 243 is 22” whereas 300 Win Mag is 26” with all WSMs at 23”.
Browning says the X-Bolt offers 1 MOA accuracy at 100-yards. Initially scoped up with a Swarovski 2-12x50 Z6i the range tests showed with Winchesters 150-grain XP3 ammo that proved to be the case! 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 if not better!
In the field the light weight of the rifle makes 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 almost shotgun-like agility. 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, and then clear the chamber in confidence. However, the magazine really made it for me; 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 as it’s well made and eminently shootable. With a good choice of models and calibres it has a lot to offer. 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!
For me two models stand out; first the Eclipse Hunter as its slim thumbhole stock is really nice and as I said I would really like to get this furniture for my Hunter. Second and equally nice is the GRS Varmint, I have this stock on my 6.5 Creedmoor custom and it’s fully adjustable with an off-set pistol grip making the hand position just about perfect.
But whatever you decide on the X-Bolt is a good example of a well designed and made modern rifle with plenty of model option and prices to suit all tastes and needs!
|Name||Browning X-Bolt Hunter|
|Calibre||270 WSM (on test)|
|Contact||BWM Arms Ltd, 01235 514550
All Prices Are Guides Due to the Changes in US & European Exchange Rates