Browning X-Bolt Hunter Rifle
By the Guns and Shooting Online Staff
The introduction of the Browning (www.browning.com) X-Bolt rifle created a lot of interest at the 2008 SHOT Show. Interest in the new Browning X-Bolt has also been high among Guns and Shooting Online readers, so we were happy to receive our sample X-Bolt Hunter .308 rifle for review. The Hunter model is the "practical" walnut stocked version of the X-Bolt (as compared to the high grade Medallion version). The Hunter's standard grade walnut stock wears a synthetic satin finish and its barreled action a low-luster blue finish. This new rifle is based on a push feed bolt action that cocks on opening. X-Bolt rifles use a new, detachable magazine system.
At the Browning display during the 2008 SHOT Show we had a long conversation with Joseph Rousseau, the Vice President of Browning R&D. He showed us the new rifle with considerable pride, pointed out the new action's advantages, and explained its features. In the course of that conversation, not being shy about such things, we pointed out the drawbacks of a detachable magazine in a hunting rifle and were surprised when Joseph agreed with us. He readily admitted that, like us, he preferred an internal box magazine with a hinged floorplate, but told us that the sales department had demanded a detachable magazine because that is the current fad.
As detachable magazine systems go the X-Bolt is superior, the best that we have ever used. The magazine body is made of a high-impact polymer, which we have found is less likely to be damaged in use than steel magazines. Polymer magazines also seem to feed more smoothly than steel magazines. This magazine holds four rounds in a sort of rotary system that feeds cartridges into the chamber in a straight line and is exceptionally easy to load. The magazine is easy to insert into the rifle and it doesn't matter if you stick the front or the back of the magazine in first, or insert it level. It clicks securely into place when flush with the bottom of the stock and that is that. The front of the magazine incorporates the magazine catch, a nice touch.
Feeding from the magazine is reliable and the rifle can be single loaded by inserting a cartridge directly into the chamber or by simply dropping a cartridge into the loading port on top of the empty magazine and closing the bolt. This is a very reliable push feed action.
The one-piece bottom iron and trigger guard is made from an aluminum alloy and its finish is a perfect match for the matte blue barreled action. The trigger guard bow itself has a "squared" shape at the front, where it should be gracefully curved. At least it allows adequate space for gloved fingers.
The steel X-Bolt receiver has three wide facets on top that more or less reflect the shape of the bolt body it encompasses. It appears to be machined from bar stock and uses a separate recoil lug trapped between the barrel and receiver. The convenient bolt release is located at the left rear of the receiver. Press in to remove the bolt. The top of the receiver is drilled and tapped to accept X-Bolt (called "X-Lock") scope bases.
The X-Bolt's bolt is assembled using a steel bolt body, a separate bolt head double pinned into place at the front, a bolt handle assembly on a collar that is pinned in place at the rear and a shroud that is pinned in place at the very back. The bolt head uses three locking lugs at the front of the bolt, has a bolt guide bump (the front locking lugs ride in cuts in the receiver as the bolt is withdrawn to minimize slop) and requires only a 60 degree bolt rotation to open or close. There is a notch at the right rear of the receiver that mates with what appears to be an auxiliary locking lug at the root of the bolt handle when the bolt is closed and locked. When the bolt is pulled all the way back, wobble is noticeably less than with a conventional Mauser 98 type action, but it is not quite as tight as a Weatherby Mark V or T/C Icon bolt action.
The A-Bolt's familiar bolt shroud and rotating bolt head are gone. The whole X-Bolt rotates when the handle is lifted, as per conventional bolt actions. The bolt body is round on the bottom, but faceted as if hexagonal on top (half-hexagonal?). It is polished and left in the white. The blued bolt handle terminates in the very ergonomic, angled and flattened ball popularized by the A-Bolt. This is the best shaped and most comfortable bolt knob on the market. The X-Bolt extractor is a small Sako type at the front of the recessed bolt face and the ejector is of the plunger type. The shroud, which appears to be made of aluminum and is pinned in place at the rear of the bolt, is streamlined in a couple of steps and designed to keep powder gasses from a blown primer or a ruptured case out of the shooter's face. There is a red cocking indicator tab at the rear of the bolt shroud. We could not measure the lock time, but it is fast.
The new trigger mechanism is very clean, without creep, and the trigger of our test rifle released at about four pounds as set at the factory. We removed the stock, a simple task requiring the removal of only two bolts, and backed the trigger adjustment screw all the way out to its lightest position. The result was an ultra-clean three pound trigger. As conventional (non-AccuTrigger) hunting rifle triggers go today, this is about as good as it gets.
The two-position, tang mounted safety is smooth, positive and quiet in operation. It locks the bolt closed when applied. The slider's rear position is "safe" and forward is "fire." An unusual feature is a small, square button at the root of the bolt handle that pops up when the safety is switched on. Depressing this allows the bolt to be opened with the safety on to remove an unfired cartridge from the chamber.
The barreled action is glass bedded in the stock. The X-bolt barrel is free floating and the muzzle is finished with a target crown. (Why are target crowns appearing on more and more hunting rifles? We don't know, since they are more liable to damage in the field than rounded hunting crowns.) The chamber is hand cut.
The X-Bolt Hunter stock differs considerably from the previous, relatively restrained, A-Bolt Hunter stock. The X-Bolt version sports an unsightly "Euro-trash" accent line running diagonally upward and rearward from the bottom of the pistol grip across the butt stock. No one on our staff liked this non-functional accent line. There is no pistol grip cap, but the grip incorporates a mild palm swell and is comfortably curved. The comb is deeply fluted and high enough to position the eye correctly behind a telescopic sight. (No iron sights are supplied on the X-Bolt Hunter.) The forend incorporates a wide, downward slanting finger groove that serves no practical purpose except to reduce the forend's checkering coverage, thus saving a few corporate pennies.
The hand cut, bordered checkering is generally well executed and provides a secure grip. Browning should be commended for using genuine hand checkering on this medium priced rifle. The checkering patterns on each side of the pistol grip are skimpy, but the forend checkering wraps around the bottom of the forend. Both patterns are amorphous looking combinations of straight and curved lines that do not blend very well with the outline of the stock.
The bottom iron for the new detachable box magazine system extends laterally all the way across the bottom of the stock and well up both sides, an unusual arrangement. The barrel is free floated in the forend channel and overall the inletting of the barreled action into the stock was about average for today's factory built rifles, with the wood left proud and noticeable, but not excessive, gaps between wood and metal.
The butt terminates in a very soft, rounded and contoured, one-inch thick Inflex Technology recoil pad. Detachable sling swivels are provided. Like the previous A-Bolt stock, the X-Bolt version is too deep beneath the action and needs to be slenderized. Aesthetically, this new stock leaves something to be desired. Mostly, it needs to be cleaned-up and slenderized.
Taken as a whole, however, the X-Bolt Hunter is a good looking rifle. Aesthetically, it is not in the same class as the new Winchester Model 70 Featherweight and Super Grade (which we expect to be reviewing shortly), but few rifles are. The X-Bolt Hunter's checkered stock is walnut, the matte bluing on the barreled action is well executed and the rifle has a pleasing silhouette.
The weight, balance and overall handling of the bare X-Bolt Hunter are good and if you want a fancier X-Bolt, there is always the upscale Medallion grade. The Medallion grade is functionally identical to the Hunter grade, but features upgraded wood with a rosewood forend tip and pistol grip cap, glossy stock finish and a high-polished, luster blued barreled action. It is a very pretty rifle.
Here are some basic catalog specifications for the .308 X-Bolt Hunter:
We requested a new Mueller Tac II scope for this review. As soon as it arrived we were eager to get it mounted on the X-Bolt Hunter and get the combination to the range, so this is a convenient place to discuss mounting a scope on the X-Bolt rifle. There are four holes per base, arranged in a wide, square pattern in the front and rear receiver rings, so the X-Bolt does not accept A-Bolt scope bases (also common to the Winchester Model 70). The new screw pattern is unique to the X-Bolt, which will make finding scope bases difficult. (At the time of this review there were none available in our local area and we had to call Browning to request bases/rings for our test rifle.) The holes are spaced about 9/16" apart across the top of the receiver, which may make it difficult or impossible to adapt the very popular Weaver style base to X-Bolt rifles. Browning's Paul Thompson kindly rushed us a set of one-inch, two-piece, X-Lock Integrated Mounts so that we could mount a test scope on our X-Bolt rifle for this review.
The X-Lock mounts are an integrated, one-piece, base/ring combo. The ring is not separate from the base, as with most scope mounting systems. This eliminates the possibility of loose screws between the base and ring. Four torx head screws are used to mount each integral X-Lock base/ring atop the receiver of an X-Bolt rifle. The top half of each ring is secured to the bottom half by four more torx screws. Thus, although each base/ring mount is a one-piece unit, a total of 16 screws are required to secure the X-Lock mounting system to the rifle and a scope in the rings. Most familiar scope mounting systems (Ruger, Weaver, Leupold STD) require substantially fewer screws than this to mount a scope on a rifle, so if the issue is loose screws, the X-Lock mounting system, while tidy looking, is no advantage.
Please do not misunderstand, the X-Lock mounts work fine and the scope is securely mounted to the rifle. We would have no qualms about taking a scoped X-Bolt rifle anywhere in the world to hunt and we would not be concerned about the X-Lock scope mounting system loosening. However, simpler than conventional mounts it is not.
As soon as our X-Lock Integrated one-inch scope mounts arrived, we installed a Mueller 3-10x44mm Tac II scope on the X-Bolt for testing. Mueller designed this one-inch main tube diameter scope to bridge the gap between specialty tactical riflescopes and every-day hunting scopes. It is a deluxe, four-star scope made in Japan supplied with a mil dot reticle and target knobs. The windage and elevation adjustments offer a whopping 95 MOA range. Among its other excellent features, the fully multi-coated Tac II provides exceptionally clear views of the target and accurate ¼ MOA click adjustments. At a 2008 retail price of only $299.95, this scope is a real bargain. See the Mueller web site (www.muelleroptics.com) for details and the Product Review Page for a full length review of this scope.
Naturally, we were anxious to get the new X-Bolt (and the new Mueller scope) to the range for some trigger time. Guns and Shooting Online staff members Bob Fleck, Rocky Hays, and Chuck Hawks participated in the shooting chores, which were conducted at the Isaac Walton outdoor rifle range south of Eugene, Oregon. The Western Oregon spring weather was not cooperative, but after a two week rain delay, we were finally able to get the X-bolt to the range for a long shooting session on a chilly, overcast, misty and blustery day, but at least it wasn't raining. The high temperature was around 50 degrees at the range.
After preliminary bore sighting and zeroing at 25 yards were accomplished, we moved back to 100 yards to refine the zero and then fired some three-shot groups for record. We let the barrel cool down between shooters, but not between strings and it was quite hot by the time each shooter finished. We could detect no change of point of impact or accuracy due to barrel heating, an excellent performance.
We had four types of factory loaded ammunition on hand for use in the X-Bolt. These included 147 grain FMJ military loads at a nominal MV of about 2800 fps, Winchester Supreme Elite with the 150 grain XP3 bullet at a MV of 2825 fps, Federal Low Recoil with a 170 grain Flat Point bullet at a MV of 2000 fps and Remington Express 180 grain Core-Lokt PSP at a MV of 2620 fps. Following are the results.
This time out Chuck shot the single smallest group. As you can see, accuracy was within our two MOA standard for big game hunting rifles with all of the loads tested except the Winchester Supreme Elite. This uses the internally complex 150 grain XP3 bullet. We have yet to find a rifle that shoots this bullet well and we are beginning to think that Winchester needs to take a serious look at the design of their top of the line bullet. Even so, the X-Bolt shot this load as well or better than any rifle we can remember and overall the X-Bolt shows good accuracy potential. We are confident that with sufficient time to work up a handload tailored for the X-Bolt we could achieve a truly outstanding one MOA average group size.
Worth noting is the fine accuracy of the Federal Low Recoil load. This essentially provides .30-30 ballistics from a .308 rifle and is very pleasant to shoot in the X-Bolt rifle. It is a good choice for the woods and brush country deer, feral hog and black bear hunter.
The X-Bolt rifle functioned correctly and there were no malfunctions. Cartridges fed smoothly from the detachable magazine as well as when single loaded into the receiver by hand.
Our impressions from shooting the X-Bolt Hunter are that the new stock fit all three shooters very well and correctly positioned the eye for use with telescopic sights. The stock handled recoil well and the Inflex Technology recoil pad was sensational at diminishing the recoil blow to the shoulder. This is a great recoil pad!
The clean trigger pull received praise from everyone, although Bob felt that it should be a little lighter (perhaps 2.5 pounds). Chuck and Rocky thought that, set at its minimum weight of three pounds, it was ideal for a hunting rifle.
To summarize, compared to the previous A-Bolt II Hunter rifle that we know and love, the new X-Bolt rates mostly plusses and a couple of minuses. None of the latter, however, are irredeemable and the most obvious could be fixed merely by re-stocking the X-Bolt barreled action in a classic style stock. See your local custom stock maker for details and pricing. In particular, we feel that the new action is a definite improvement. The new trigger mechanism is a plus and we like the safety and bolt release systems. The new recoil pad is excellent.
On the minus side is the new stock design, which is functionally equal to the A-Bolt stock, but aesthetically a step backwards. The trapezoidal trigger guard drew negative comments. In addition, since the magazine is detachable and therefore subject to loss or damage, Browning should supply two magazines with every rifle.
Unchanged Browning benefits include the rifle's inherent accuracy, build quality, smoothness, overall finish and the ergonomic Browning bolt handle. A Browning is still a Browning and it is a cut above most production rifles. This applies to the X-Bolt Hunter and even more so to the upscale X-Bolt Medallion grade, which we hope to review in the near future.
In conclusion, Browning did a good job with the X-Bolt action and especially the new trigger mechanism. Our suggestion to Browning is to introduce an X-Bolt "Classic Medallion" grade with a slenderized, modern classic style stock for the discerning hunter and rifleman. Maybe, at the same time, they could even fix the shape of the trigger guard. That is about all that would be required to turn the X-Bolt into a connoisseur's rifle.
RIFLE REVIEW SUMMARY
Copyright 2008 by chuckhawks.com. All rights reserved.
SPECIALIST IN ENGRAVING AND RESTORATION