Browning X-Bolt SF reviewed by Shooting Times
You can't go wrong with a Browning and this new model with a fluted stainless-steel adjustable stock offers value for money, says Bruce Potts
Browning X-Bolt SF
Price as reviewed: £1,175
Browning has always had that knack of producing understated but practical and well-made rifles that are reliable, accurate and offer good handling straight from the box. The gunmaker’s reasonable prices are also appealing to British shooters.
A great practical stalking firearm
The X-Bolt offers an adjustable cheekpiece arrangement to the stock, allowing shooters to change the height to suit them. This model is all stainless steel with a synthetic stock, so is a great practical stalking firearm for all-weather use. It is lightweight and Brownings always shoot very well, so let’s see how it performs.
Browning X-Bolt SF action
The stainless steel finish is satin and subdued — perfect for a hunting gun. It has a flat faceted surface for interest, with X-Scope mounts. The bolt is well machined and polished and has three locking lugs in the Browning “A” configuration when viewed from the front. This allows a quick bolt rotation to open with a 60° arc and thus low bolt lift.
There is a long extractor for positive case extraction and a plunger-type ejector flings the case well clear of the action. The bolt body has a nylon bolt guide inset to avoid binding and guides the bolt smoothly.
I like the twisted bolt knob of a flat, oval design and there is a cocking indicator on the bolt shroud that shows red when cocked (below left). A novel squared plunger sits on top of the bolt handle which, when the safety is on, can be depressed to open the bolt and remove a round safely.
Trigger, safety and magazine
The Super Feather trigger is well set back in the trigger-guard for easy access and the weight is good at 3lb. There is no creep from the single-stage action and it breaks very cleanly. It is safe, yet light.
I like the magazine too. It is very simply formed from polymer so will stay rust-free, and it has a rotary system that holds four shots in a size that would normally only accommodate three .308 cartridges. It is easily loaded through the polymer lips, and the recessed latch and tensioner allow a quick and rattle-free removal.
The safety catch, like so many Browning designs, is sited exactly where the thumb rests so is easily and quietly operated — forward is fire, back is safe.
Now for the best bit. The modern-styled, attractive stock — which is black moulded in synthetic form (see right) — is designed for maximum stability, good bedding, tactile finish and ergonomic handling.
It achieves this with the fore- end having an angled finger groove complemented by a stippled area underneath. The same stippling is on the pistol grip, with the whole stock having a soft finish called Dura Touch, which really grips the hand — much like rubber or latex.
As mentioned earlier, this X-Bolt has the added feature of an adjustable cheekpiece, which allows a height extension of 1.5in via a single-turn screw, allowing the cheekpiece to rise supported on twin pillars. This is excellent for getting the right cheek weld for correct eye alignment to the scope, and is particularly handy with the Nomad/Kite scope combination as it is quite high. The cheekpiece is a little thin on the edge though, which is my only criticism.
This .308 Winchester barrel is 21in and threaded for a 14mm/1 metric pitch. It has a slender Sporter profile of stainless steel, ending in a muzzle diameter of 0.612in. The muzzle is well crowned with a good recess that protects the all-important rifling lands. The 21in is a good length; when an MAE Compact moderator is fitted the combination is only 45.25in long overall.
There is shallow fluting to the barrel which, in truth, is more cosmetic than of any benefit in terms of weight saving and cooling, but it does look good.
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The X-Bolt is a good-looking rifle and the tactile stock finish has always been a good Browning feature. It also adds extra grip where needed. The enlarged trigger-guard has plenty of space for a gloved hand, and angled bolt handle and low-lift bolt operation allows for a smooth cycling of the action from any shooting position.
Rested on the sandbags to shoot over the chronograph, there is plenty of space between the barrel and stock so it is well free-floated. Even when I put a bipod on the X-Bolt and sound moderator there was still a good gap, so good for consistent accuracy — a small but important point.
I also fitted the Nomad mounting system and Kite Optics’ 2.5-15 x 56mm scope. The Kite has Japanese optics and is very clear and sharp, with a good illuminated reticule as well. The Nomad mounts allow a quick detachable scope removal and then return-to-zero reattachment. It has a one-piece lower section that attaches to the action, and a single-turn locking lever clockwise disengages the top section with scope from the central locking lug. I zeroed the X-Bolt at 100 yards then detached and reattached the Kite scope, and the three shot groups remained centred — very impressive.
Factory loads shot well, with the Norma 150-gr Ballistic Tips shooting just under the inch for 0.95in at 100 yards with a velocity of 2,645fps for 2,331ft/lb energy. The new Winchester Extreme Point 150-gr bullets also shot very well at 2,689fps for 2,409ft/lb and 1in groups.
The heavier Winchester 168-gr Ballistic Silver Tips shot 1.25in for 2,585fps and 2,494ft/lb. The Federal TSX 150-gr solid copper bullets shot 1.25in for 2,671fps and 2,377ft/lb energy.
Foxes and small deer
Reloads shrank the groups to 0.65in to 0.85in with the best loads being 125-gr Nosler Ballistic Tips with a payload of 42.0 grains of Reloder 10X powder for 2,877fps and 2,298ft/lb, a nice all-round small deer and fox load.
A light subsonic load using a Hornady XTP 90-gr bullet would be great for close-range foxes if necessary with a load of 6 grains of Tinstar powder. It gave 1,075fps and 231ft/lb energy and was silent, too.
The typical 150-gr bullet fared well with the 150-gr Hornady SST and a load of 46.0 grains of Vihtavuori N140 powder, producing 0.55in groups for 2,722fps and 2,469ft/lb. A load of 47.0 grains of RL15 powder and Nosler 150-gr Accubonds shot 0.65in groups at 2,759fps, which would be good for stags.
Importer BWM Arms: Tel 01235 514550
A great practical stalking firearm for all-weather use