Browning X-Bolt rifle review
Charles Smith Jones says the Browning X-Bolt is a top-class rifle with wide appeal and comes with a number of options
Browning X-Bolt rifle
Price as reviewed: £777
When Browning launched its new Browning X-Bolt rifle in 2008, I was teaching wildlife management at a well-known land-based college. We were fortunate enough to add a couple to our armoury for practical purposes and it was soon apparent during range sessions that they were highly popular rifles among the students, both for handling and accuracy. They quickly became a first choice for completing DSC1 shooting assessments and other tests, even when the alternatives included marques renowned for their ‘tack-driving’ (accurate) performance.
Browning X-Bolt rifle offers choices
Whatever you are looking for in a rifle, you will probably find it among the multitude of Browning X-Bolt models offered.
Blued, stainless, fluted and heavy barrels are all available in a variety of lengths and weights, with stocks in wood, composite, carbon fibre and laminate with a wide variety of plain and camouflaged finishes. Some stocks, like that of the SF model pictured, incorporate an adjustable cheekpiece that allows the user to select a height to suit – a great aid to good shooting.
Then there are the calibres – the X-Bolt has been chambered in at least 28 of them. Some, like the .26 Nosler and the new 6.8 Western from Winchester are rather less mainstream, but there are all the popular full-bore pest control, deer stalking and target cartridges catered for. If your quarry is larger yet, there is even an X-Bolt chambered for .375 H&H Magnum. Browning has certainly gone out of its way to extend the appeal of this rifle across the shooting spectrum and you would have to search hard to find a manufacturer offering quite as many options.
The X-Bolt entered the market soon after Tikka’s T3 and was clearly intended to attract buyers looking at the same affordable bracket. The stainless/synthetic combination was probably the most popular, its practical yet modern design offering an immediate attraction, coupled with general agreement that the synthetic stock was one of the best then available in factory production. It is one of those rifles that sits naturally in the shoulder and has a really tactile feel to it.
The original single-stage trigger assembly on earlier models is excellent, breaking cleanly at around 4lb. Although the pressure can be adjusted easily, this can only be done by removing the stock. Newer X-Bolts feature Browning’s three lever Feather Trigger system, also fully adjustable, and like its predecessor shows no sign of creep. The safety catch is situated ergonomically behind the bolt in a perfect position under the thumb, sliding silently shotgun-style between on and off. A red dot on the bolt shroud gives an at-a-glance indication that it is cocked. A button at the shoulder of the bolt handle permits the bolt to be removed without having to disengage the safety catch. The bolt lift itself is short, so there is no danger of obstruction by the scope, and the overall action is smooth and quick.
Barrels are free-floated from the fore-end to the receiver bedding and have sufficient clearance to ensure that even adding a heavier moderator will not cause any contact that might affect accuracy – an issue that some of the X-Bolts competitors experienced problems with. Secure scope mounting is enabled by Browning’s X-Lock system, which uses four Allen screws to ensure a solid and reliable base for each mount. The Weaver profile of the bases allows a large variety of scope rings to be attached.
The synthetic, detachable magazine fits flush to the rifle body and, thanks to a rotary design, allows for a higher capacity – four rounds is standard where a straight-stacking system might only permit three. A catch at the front of the housing locks it securely into place while allowing easy removal. A nice refinement is a tensioner at the back of the magazine housing that prevents any unnecessary rattling.
The Browning X-Bolt has already become a bit of a classic of its kind, offering good looks, comfortable use and great accuracy while coming at what is, for such an innovative and well-made rifle, a remarkably low price. It sits well towards the top of its class, and you will be hard put to find better value for money. With so many different models available, there is bound to be one to suit you.
- Country of origin USA
- In production 2008 – present
- Action Bolt
- Stock options Wood, laminate, composite and carbon
- Barrel length 20–28in
- Magazine Yes
- Left-hand version Yes
- Weight (bare) 6lb 8oz (short action Hunter)
- Available in calibres Multiple from .204 Ruger to .375 H&H Magnum, including all popular calibres (and a few more obscure ones)
- Cost new From £777 (Composite) to £2,150 (Pro Carbon Hunter)
- Cost used From around £400, depending on model, age and condition