September 12, 2018
Imagine you're strolling along a wilderness canyon bottom, sleepy enough in the late afternoon sunshine that you're willing to let your guide do most of the glassing. He whisper-shouts, "Holy smokes! That's the biggest buck I've seen in years!" You jolt suddenly, now wide-awake, dropping your half-chewed jerky stick. Glassing wildly, you spot the buck. He's wide and massive — so massive that the bucks in your fantasies seem minuscule — but he's a legitimate 1,400 yards above you at a shockingly steep angle. What to do?
Climb, pilgrim. Climb like hell and pray that you can get yourself and your shootin' iron close enough for a shot before darkness closes in.
Long-barreled, configurable-stocked precision hunting rifles are all the rage, but you'll have a much easier time getting there if your deer gun doesn't weigh 10 or 12 pounds with scope, sling, bipod, and ammo. Jack O'Connor maintained that 7.5 pounds (with scope) was just right for a mountain rifle, and he's still not wrong.
Achieving such a rifle — short of spending upward of four grand on a proper custom rig — isn't simple. It takes careful engineering and premium, well-considered lightweight components. Typically, only custom and semi-custom rifles fit the bill.
Browning's new X-Bolt Pro is one of the latter. Engineered to fill the needs of today's aggressive wilderness hunter who travels fast and light and puts in whatever effort is necessary to get the shot, it's superbly crafted and built using upper-crust materials and cutting-edge techniques.
A three-lug, short-lift bolt action designed to replace the A-Bolt as Browning's flagship model, the X-Bolt was engineered to meet several critical goals: light weight, inherent accuracy, and unprecedented ergonomics. It was a success, and the X-Bolt enjoys a reputation as one of the most accurate production-grade hunting rifles on the market.
Featuring refined configuration, a space-age carbon-fiber stock, and a Cerakote finish, the Pro version represents the pinnacle of X-Bolt performance. The action is fit with a weight-reducing spiral-fluted bolt and a fluted, stainless barrel internally lapped to enhance accuracy and ease of cleaning. A slender brake is threaded to the muzzle, and the barreled action is finished in Burnt Bronze Cerakote, an extremely hard ceramic-based coating with shockingly effective corrosion resistance.
The barreled action is glass bedded into Browning's new Pro series carbon-fiber stock. Unlike traditional hand-laid carbon-fiber stocks that are built in two halves and then laminated together, Pro stocks are built all in one piece, the carbon-fiber weave extending fully around the stock in one continuous layer. The result is a stock that is ultralight, rigid, and strong and shrugs off extremes in temperature and humidity.
Browning's Inflex recoil pad reduces aggressive recoil, and nonslip textures grace the slender palmswell grip and the forend which is profiled to provide a comfortable, secure grasp. The comb is high to enable a consistent cheekweld.
Triggers are crisp, clean, and user-adjustable down to about 2.5 pounds. I'm a deplorable trigger snob, and I consider the X-Bolt trigger to be the best on the production-rifle market.
Detachable magazines are rotary, made of high-impact polymer, and feature several advantages. Integral ledges contact cartridge shoulders and prevent tips from impacting the front of the mag box during recoil. The center-feed design presents each cartridge squarely to the feedramp, providing smooth chambering.
Unlike the slightly awkward placement of more common rocker-type safeties and wing-style safeties, the X-Bolt features a two-position tang safety positioned comfortably under the thumb. It locks the bolt when in the "safe" position; to unload without disengaging the safety, simply press the bolt unlock button atop the bolt handle.
The X-Bolt Pro debuted in the phenomenally popular 6.5 Creedmoor cartridge and is now available in a double handful of cartridges, including 6mm Creedmoor; .26 Nosler; .270 Win.; 7mm Rem. Mag.; .28 Nosler; .308 Win.; .30-06; .300 WSM; and .300 Win. Mag.
Amazingly — and critical to the point of this discussion — bare rifle weight runs between 6 and 6.6 pounds depending on caliber, enabling hunters to mount a lightweight hunting scope in ultralight mounts, such as Talley's one-piece base/ring combos (available in Burnt Bronze Cerakote to match your rifle), and have a backcountry rig that meets O'Connor's 7.5-pound mountain rifle weight stipulation.
Range and Field
After accuracy testing a 6.5 Creedmoor test sample of the X-Bolt Pro with several types of ammunition, I ran a calculation on my ballistic app and dialed the Leupold VX5 HD up to 600 yards. To my delight, my three-shot group clustered into four inches, centered on the target.
Of the loads I tested, Federal's new 6.5 Creedmoor Gold Medal Match load featuring Berger's 130-grain Hybrid and Hornady's Precision Hunter ammo loaded with the 143-grain ELD-X bullet both averaged well under one MOA. I chose the latter for an October Utah mule deer hunt and took a nice 3x4 buck at just over 100 yards. That weekend my X-Bolt Pro became well worn: two ladies hunting from the same camp borrowed the rifle, and both made one-shot kills on mule deer. They were reluctant to part with my X-Bolt Pro, and I almost had to pry the rifle from their hands.
In November I had the opportunity to hunt Montana whitetails and pronghorns using a prototype of the new X-Bolt Pro Long Range, which would be introduced at the 2018 Shot Show. It features the same action, finish, and Pro stock, but wears a heavier barrel profile. Available in the same selection of cartridges, it weighs between 7 and 7.6 pounds.
If the clarion call of the wilderness beckons, the X-Bolt Pro mountain-weight rifle will enable you to climb that steep canyon in your quest for a massive muley buck. If wide-open plains and far-reaching beanfields are your thing, the Long Range version offers a tad less recoil and an edge in accuracy. On a hunt with the X-Bolt Pro Long Range, I made my longest shot ever on a whitetail, reaching 520 yards across frost-tipped Powder River grass to drop him in a coulee.