A budget option with a synthetic Sporter stock, the Winchester XPR .243 rifle's accuracy and handling impresses Bruce Potts - great value for a good all rounder
Winchester has always been the symbol of American rifle-making but, as with Browning, manufacture transferred to Japan under the Browning, Winchester, Miroku banner. This particular gun is actually made in Portugal and is another one of the new line of rifles from American makers that are accessible to the masses at a very keen price.
Often this means cheap, but this new Winchester XPR (extreme performance rifle) at £455 is unbelievable value for money for a newcomer to stalking and on a tight budget, or an estate wanting a rifle for guests. It is a bolt-action Sporter with synthetic stock, detachable magazine, three-lug bolt and new trigger system with a quality button-rifled barrel.
Winchester XPR stock
The XPR has a black synthetic moulded stock with some new features to make it look better and aid grip and function. It is not too hollow and has strengthening sections to stop the dreaded flexing that is the curse of many a cheap synthetic stock. The profile is well thought out with the fore-end having grooves for finger grip, rounded-off edges for comfort and a slightly squarer base to shoot well off a rest. The overall texture of the polymer-based stock is black matt so non-reflective, and for added grip there are rubberised inserts to the fore-end and pistol grip.
The stock has receiver pads that act like the traditional recoil lug to secure the action to the stock, avoid torqueing under ring and maintain accuracy. There is also a cross-mounted recoil lug that stops that area from twisting. It is ambidextrous with no cheekpiece, though there is a faux profile line that tricks the eye. The recoil pad is the new In ex design that deflects recoil away from the face. There is no problem on a .243 but it is handy on the .338 Win Mag version, though length of pull is 13.75in, a bit short for me.
Action and magazine
The magazine is a typical new-age polymer construction. It is not only lightweight but also does not rust and operates smoothly. It is seated in a polymer magazine well and trigger-guard unit, which makes sense because you often rest a rifle in this area when out on the hill and so rust is no problem. The magazine-release catch is in the front section and this pops out the magazine, which in the .243 Winchester holds three rounds.
The action is reminiscent of the Browning AB3. It is a large bolt action, starting life as a chrome-moly steel billet that is then machined and heat-treated to harden. You have an over-sized ejection port for a .243 Win cartridge but that is good because it means there is no fumbling if a case gets stuck.
The action is matt black/blued to match the stock and the action top has larger-than normal screw holes drilled and tapped for 840 screws, which makes a more secure fitment. The bolt is large and has a three-head locking-lug system and a low 60° bolt lift because of this, as well as a strong lock-up. There is a plunger-type ejection system and a small, single-claw extractor to the bolt’s head. The bolt handle is well sized and has a nice swept-back gait, while the rear bolt shroud is polymer and has a cocking indicator to tell you the rifle’s status. The whole cycling is smooth due to the nickel Teflon plating to the bolt body.
This .243 Win version has a 22in barrel, which is fine on a .243 calibre; larger calibres have a normal 24in length. It is screw cut for a sound moderator with thread protector supplied. With the typical Sporter profile for lighter weight, it has a dull matt black/blued finish and well-crowned muzzle and is fully free-floated along its length.
“The barrel is further heat-treated to relieve stress from metal and maintain accuracy”
The chrome-moly steel construction is precision button-rifled and has a very good internal finish on inspection. It is also further heat-treated to relieve the stress from metal and maintain good accuracy.
The trigger is dubbed the MOA or “minute of angle” — that is, 1in accuracy at 100 yards capable. Certainly, the manufacturer has thought about a good trigger. Keeping it simple with a three-piece lever system, these component parts are made from stainless steel for longevity and have the same nickel Te on coating as the bolt to aid in smoothness, longevity and corrosion resistance. It is single stage and has a crisp but heavy 3.95lb pull, and though there are adjusters for weight, these are covered with Loctite.
The safety is side-mounted behind the bolt handle. It has a classic two-position safety but also a small forward button that, when depressed, allows the bolt to be opened to remove a round even when the safety is on.
FIELD TEST RESULTS
Accuracy and targets
There were no problems with the accuracy and slightly shorter barrel on this .243 Win. I fitted a new Hawke Frontier 1-6×24 scope that complemented the Winchester XPR for price and performance. Factory-wise, the XPR liked the Remington 75-gr and Winchester 95-hr loads with 3,274fps and 2,923fps respectively.
Both these loads fired three-shot groups at 100 yards of 1.25in and 1.5in; it was very windy during testing. With Norma 100-gr, the minimum needed for larger-species deer in Scotland, the factory loads spread out to 1.65in, which is still fine. Reloads did shrink the groups. The 100-hr Sierra GameKings were just over the inch mark with a load of 40.5 grains of Alliant RL19 powder for 2,822fps velocity and 1,769ft/lb energy. You can tweak this for more fps if necessary, but it was accurate at this level.
The best reload though was the Nosler Ballistic Tip 80-gr bullet, and a reload of 45.5 grains of RL19 powder achieved 3,203fps and 1,823ft/lb energy, achieving three-shot groups into 0.85in. I have also included a reduced load for foxes only, where a sound moderator and close range make for a discreet load. Here, a 90-gr Speer Spitzer and 18.0 grains of SR4759 powder achieved 1,803fps, 650ft/lb energy and 1in groups.
I had a very nice surprise in the test sessions because this below-£500 rifle really shot well and would be perfectly good enough for normal stalking or foxing duties. Overall, it has a smooth, reliable action and good accuracy. The stock is practical but an odd shape for me in the fore-end. It is great value for money, saving you funds for a scope and a decent sound moderator.
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This below £500 rifle really shot well and would be perfectly good enough for normal stalking or foxing duties.