Browning X Bolt SF MDT HS3 Chassis
- By Pete Moore
- 278 Comments
- Last updated: 21/12/2018
Been waiting for this one for a long time, as I shot it over a year ago briefly and was a bit impressed, why? Well, Browning’s X-Bolt has always been a hunting and varmint-type rifle and over the years, since its introduction, has proved to be popular and with various tweaks on stock configurations, barrels-types and accessories offers what we need. I’ve owned their Hunter model for some time now chambered in 270 WSM and really like it. Standout features are its tang-mounted safety catch and proper, detachable magazine; a vast improvement over their earlier A-Bolt, with its weird hinged floor plate with clip-on box mag system. Add in improvements on trigger mechanisms and scope bases, plus the advent of the Nomad QD scope mounting system and hook up with Kite Optics and there’s definitely an X-Bolt or package to suit anyone.
There’s little doubt that tactical/precision, or dare I say it, sniper-type rifles, have been in vogue for many years now. The majority have been based on popular sporter actions suitably re-barrelled, stocked and finessed by custom gunsmiths. Later, the larger manufactures got in on the act, offering their top bolt-guns as a complete product with all the whistles and bells we have come to love and demand. Dragging its feet for many years, Browning was late to the party, but finally decided to offer something based on their X-Bolt.
So, how do you make the transition from an X-Bolt sporter to a full-blown tactical gun? Three main areas need to be sorted; the barrel, stock and feed system, some from in-house, others bought-in. Most noticeable is the heavy, fluted 24” barrel with a 23mm O/D and threaded 18x1mm for a muzzle brake (T2 model included) or a moddy. Currently, the only chambering is 308 Win in a 1-10” twist, but it would seem logical that others will be added and if Browning don’t offer a 6.5 Creedmoor they need their heads testing! They have retained their Super Feather Trigger too, which is a good design.
For the furniture, Browning turned to MDT (Machine Driven Technologies) for their HS3 (hunter/sniper) chassis system. MDT came to our attention a few years ago and have really progressed in this technology, offering various solutions for many makes of rifle. Finally, feed is from a 5-round, steel AI-compatible magazine. So, let’s see how it all comes together!
Weighing a hefty 12 lbs un-scoped, then add in a full magazine, bipod, scope and mount and probably a moddy as I did, jacks it up a fair bit, and it’s really a mandatory lay down or sit and shoot option. On that point, Browning supplied a Kite KSP HD2, 2.5- 15X56 scope and their Nomad Multiple Mount. I added an Accurate Enforcer, reflex moderator from Will Westlake at Barton GunWorks.
The control layout is near identical, though the 60º low lift angle, 3-lug bolt gets an extended handle with tear drop knob. The mag release is a long/wide lever at the rear of the well, the tang-mounted safety remains the same and is one of my favourite designs for the ‘on/off switch’. It pushes forward to FIRE (red dot exposes) and reverse for SAFE where it locks the action, Browning have incorporated an unlocking button at the base of the bolt handle, so allowing a safe unload.
The bolt shroud shows a cocked action indicator lug at the base of its run, which can be seen and felt. On the rear/left of the receiver is the bolt removal catch. Although my example had the Nomad base, Browning also fit their 4-screw X-Lock bases that accept a Weaver claw mount.
Now, the most obvious part of the rifle, the MDT chassis system. The HS3 weighs 2.2 lbs, which is not that heavy, considering what a comprehensive piece of furniture it is. Made from 6061 aluminium and consisting of a rectangular forend bar that combines the action void area, magazine well/catch and pistol grip mount and integral trigger guard. Being more a support strut, it totally free-floats the barrel and features polymer side panels in various colours that screw on and provide both grip and look. The pistol grip is configured for some AR15-types, but not those with a raised rear web filler. Out of the box, it comes with the Hogue, rubber over-moulded with finger grooves, not a bad choice!
The AR-build continues as, at the rear, you can attach a buffer tube to accept telescopic butts. However, the Chassis uses their skeleton butt, which is machined from a single billet of aluminium and offer heightadjustable comb/cheek piece and length of pull (LOP). The rubber recoil pad can also move vertically; once adjusted, the settings can be clamped by integral screws. The club foot design offers a grasping hook and underneath is drilled and tapped for a short Picatinny rail to fit a monopod. On that point, the side of the forend also show Picatinny rails that can be removed/re-positioned; but, a standard, QD sling stud is set in the flat base for a bipod like the Harris BRS. The Chassis comes in two Cerakote colour options, black and flat dark earth (FDE) with side panels to suit; although not on my example, I’ve seen these rifles with a Picatinny-railed handguard over the barrel.
The T2 muzzle brake shows four large blast ports (two per side) with two, short rectangular vents on top. Included, is a slim 18x1mm nut, so that the brake can be timed (set in the optimum/required position) then locked off. Typically, recoil reduction is excellent and most noticeable on a 308, but like all of its kind; muzzle blast and noise is exacerbated. I’d guess most buyers will opt for a moderator! First impressions were mixed, with the familiar, X-Bolt layout seemingly buried under a lot of heavy metal. But setting up the butt and getting behind it showed a comfortable and shootable build.
Browning supplied two ammo types, their new 168-grain BXC controlled expansion and Winchester’s good old 168-grain Ballistic Silver Tip (BST), neither of which is really a target-type. From my stash, I contributed Hornady’s 155-grain Steel Match and their truly great 168-grain A-MAX, TAP Precision. Although pure target shooters would say it’s too light, I have always found this loading or a similar reload bridges the gap nicely between medium and heavy bullets.
The magazine loads from the front and, although a double column box, feeds from a central position. I used the Steel Match to get on target and rough zero, as it was not shooting that well, giving about 2” @ 100m. Some of this was down to the scope, as I could not seem to get a crisp focus, plus with a simple #4-type reticle and non-tactical turrets, it’s not what I would have put on! Once zeroed, I shot and chronographed the other three; see 308 DATA.
As can be seen, some very mixed results, two things surprised me. First, the ridiculously low ES on the Winchester BST load, but with a 1”+ group, I have always found this brand in any calibre to be A - a good performer and B - show acceptable figures too. Second, the highest ES from the Hornady TAP, yet with the tightest group. I certainly expected around the 0.5” but not that massive spread. To be fair, I picked four loads at random and if this were my rifle I would reload for it, so I could really find what it liked!
Feed and function was fine, even with those lacquered steel cased Hornadys, which I have experienced hard extraction with in some bolt-actions before; not so in the X-Bolt! I shot most with the Accurate Enforce moddy on and that too helped with recoil, moderated well and pleasingly shed heat quickly between strings. The only small negative is the fact that the pistol grip, which offers superior control must be released to operate the safety catch. The trigger broke nicely at around 3lbs with a tad of creep and it looks like it could be adjusted, but is factory-set with dollops of resin on the screw heads. Overall, I like the Chassis, as I feel it has good, long-range potential and works straight from the box.