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Rifles

X-Bolt: The Tradition Continues

by Layne Simpson   |  September 23rd, 2010 2

Browning’s new X-Bolt upholds the companies reputation for ground-breaking design.


I’ve got a history with Browning. I hunted Africa for the first time in 1977, in a then-wonderful country called Rhodesia. A Safari Grade Browning rifle in .375 H&H Magnum served as my buffalo rifle.

At the time, Browning no longer offered centerfire rifles, and those that had been produced up until about the mid-1970s were built around actions from two different manufacturers. Smaller calibers such as the .222 Remington and .243 Winchester were built on actions manufactured by Sako, while longer cartridges ranging from the .264 Winchester Magnum to the .375 H&H and .458 Winchester Magnum were on Mauser actions built by the Belgium firm of Fabrique Nationale.

Those old Brownings are quite handsome, and they remain some of the nicest rifles ever offered to American hunters, but they were expensive to produce and it showed in the price. When I bought my .375 it cost $65 more than a Winchester Model 70 in the same caliber, and believe me when I say that was a lot more money almost 40 years ago than it is now.

After being out of the centerfire rifle business for a few years, Browning replaced its series of High Power rifles with a design by Joe Badali. Introduced in 1977, the new BBR (short for Browning Bolt Rifle) was manufactured in Japan, where production labor rates were lower, which allowed Browning to introduce it at a price more in line with its competitors. The new rifle had 60 degrees of bolt rotation, a unique swing-down magazine, a decent trigger, and a bolt shroud that did a great job of protecting the shooter in the event of a blown primer or ruptured case.

The BBR was not a bad rifle, but it was a bit overweight and its action lacked the trimness of Browning’s early rifles. Realizing this, Browning management made the decision to lighten up and scale down the BBR action, and reintroduce it in 1984 as the A-Bolt. The new rifle weighed about a pound less and, among other changes, its bolt had three large locking lugs rather than nine small ones, and it was also offered with a left-hand action.

Recently I had the opportunity to hunt with the company’s brand-new X-Bolt. The rifle got its name from the pattern formed by the eight screws that fasten scope mounts to the receiver. Browning calls it the X-Lock Mounting System because, when viewed with from above, the screws positioned at the four corners of each base form an “X” pattern.

Browning describes this method of attachment as superior in strength to the two screws commonly seen in two-piece bases, and while this might be true, I suspect the real reason for the arrangement has to do with the thinness at the roof of the receiver.

One of the goals of its designers was to make the rifle as light as practical, and in order to trim ounces from the receiver they made it flat-sided in shape and for good measure added a couple of angled, weight-reducing flats just above those two.

In addition, the roofs of the receiver ring and bridge are quite thin in the middle but grow thicker toward the outside. So by locating four screws at the corner of each scope mount base rather than two in the middle, the screws are positioned where the receiver is thickest. The end of each screw extends into the receiver by only about 0.075 inch, but since there are eight of them, scope attachment strength should never be an issue.


The name X-Bolt derives from the shape formed by the eight scope-mount screws.
The trigger guard/magazine well trim requires complicated inletting to the stock, and the fit is quite good.

Like the A-Bolt, the X-Bolt has a three-lug bolt that results in 60 degrees of rotation from lock to unlock. Bolt throw of the short action I tested is 311⁄16 inches.

Bolt body diameter is .700 inch and it has three flats machined at top and sides. The bolt face is counter-bored, but a slot interrupts the wall for the Sako-style extractor. The ejector is the familiar spring-loaded plunger protruding from the face of the bolt.

When the firing pin is cocked, a red-colored tab is visible just behind the bolt shroud. The shroud is aluminum, and I find it rather odd that it does not block off the rear of the receiver as does the A-Bolt’s. On the other hand, the flattened, slightly twisted bolt knob is reminiscent of the A-Bolt. The bolt release tab at the left side of the receiver is small, out of the way and works perfectly.

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Specifications:

Browning X-Bolt

Action Type: bolt-action centerfire
Caliber .308 Win.
Barrel length: 22 in.
Weight: 6 lbs., 8 oz.
Overall length: 41 3/4 in.
Stock: Walnut
Finish: Satin Blue
Sights: Drilled and tapped for scope
Trigger: adjustable
Price: $999
Manufacturer: Browning
800.333.3288

The trigger is of the three-lever design and is said to be adjustable from three to five pounds, and as factory triggers go it rates a solid 10 in my book. The one on the rifle you see in this report was silky smooth, without creep or overtravel and broke crisply at 23⁄4 pounds with only three ounces of variation.

The two-position tang safety blocks both sear and finger lever and, when engaged, also locks the bolt from rotation. Hunters are divided on whether or not the safety should lock the bolt, but the X-Bolt should keep both groups happy.

The bolt lock consists of a vertical, spring-loaded rod that rises up to engage a slot in the body of the bolt when the safety is engaged. Using the thumb to push down on a tab located at the top of the bolt handle disengages the lock and allows the bolt to be rotated with the safety engaged. This allows removal of a cartridge from the chamber without having to disengage the safety.

The detachable magazine holds four .308 Winchester cartridges, fits flush with the belly of the rifle, and since it is made almost entirely of polymer it weighs only 21⁄2 ounces. The light weight makes the thought of carrying extra ammo in a couple of spare magazines (available for $40 each) rather appealing. Maximum overall cartridge length it will accept is 2.85 inches.

The rotary magazine presents a cartridge at the proper position and angle for extremely smooth feeding. Cartridges feed from the magazine like grease on glass, but the X-Bolt does not take kindly to single-loading. It can be done, but only if you take the time to carefully position a cartridge well into the chamber with finger and thumb before attempting to close the bolt.

The mag release lever is convenient to operate, but as it is not recessed below the belly of the stock it could conceivably be accidentally bumped–and dropped–in the field. If I were to use this rifle on a wilderness hunt I would avoid that possibility by fastening the magazine in place with a piece of electrical tape. Even better would be a latch override designed into the rifle at the factory.

The one-piece trigger guard/ magazine well trim assembly is aluminum, and its shape requires stock inletting so intricate and complex it has to be quite a production challenge, but those guys and gals over in the Land of the Rising Sun are obviously up to the task. The fit was flawless on the two rifles I examined. As might be expected of a Browning firearm, the bottom surface of the trigger bow wears a gold-colored Buckmark.


Clean, crisp and fully adjustable, the X-Bolt’s trigger is excellent. A two-position safety is located on the X-Bolt’s tang. It locks the bolt, but a button on top of the bolt handle allows the bolt to be opened without taking the safety off.

The recoil lug is the washer-type sandwiched between the barrel shank and the face of the receiver. Twenty-two inches in length, (24 inches for magnum cartridges), the relatively light four-groove barrel measures 1.175 inches in diameter at the chamber and tapers to .595-inch at the muzzle. Rifling twist rate for the .308 is 1:10 inches, and my bore scope indicates a bore smoothness unmatched by a number of other mass-produced barrels I have examined lately.

At the receiver, about half an inch of the barrel rests in a pad of synthetic bedding material, but from there on out it is completely free-floating. Receiver ring and bridge also rest on beds of synthetic material. The action is attached to the stock with two hex-head bolts–one located just aft of the recoil lug at the receiver ring, the other into the receiver bridge behind the magazine box cutout.

Total weight of the walnut-stocked Hunter sent to me for testing was seven pounds, 10 ounces with a Sightron 3-9X SII Big Sky scope and Talley two-piece aluminum mounts.

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Accuracy Results:

Browning X-Bolt

.308 Winchester Bullet Weight (gr.) Muzzle Velocity (fps) Group Size (in.)
Federal Gold Medal Match: 175 2,534 0.76
Winchester Supreme BST: 150 2,755 2.41
Winchester Supreme BST: 168 2,729 0.97
Winchester Super-X Powerpoint: 150 2,733 1.27
Winchester Super-X Silvertip: 180 2,562 1.84
Aggregate average accuracy, 25 groups 1.45
Notes: Accuracy shown for each load represents an average of five three-shot groups fired at 100 yards. Velocity is an average of 15 rounds clocked 12 feet from the muzzle. Abbreviation: BST, Ballistic SilverTip.

As I discovered during a Colorado pronghorn hunt, the thin midsection of the X-Bolt makes it extremely comfortable to carry with one hand. With a girth of only seven inches, it is over half an inch thinner than my A-Bolt Ti, and with my hand wrapped around its midsection my thumb comes close to making contact with my finger. This trimness is carried over the entire stock.

During my hunt, the X-Bolt suffered from wandering zero syndrome, but I was and still am convinced the problem was with the scope and not the rifle. I say this because when I later zeroed the rifle at home with a different scope, it stayed sighted in.

While accuracy-testing I fired five three-shot groups with four different loads, allowing the barrel to shed heat for two minutes between groups and for as long as it took to completely cool down between each 15-shot string. As you can see in the accompanying chart the rifle did not do at all badly considering its light barrel.

What really impressed me was the fact that there was very little difference in group size when the barrel was cold and when it had been heated up by 15 rounds. What impressed me even more was the fact that points of impact of all five loads were almost exactly the same at 100 yards. This indicates not only a good action and barrel but proper bedding of the barreled action into the stock as well.

The X-Bolt is available in four versions: Hunter, Medallion, Composite Stalker and Stainless Stalker. All wear Browning’s new Inflex Technology recoil pad, which, in addition to soaking up recoil, is designed to deflect the direction of recoil forces away from the face of the shooter.


The polymer 21⁄2-ounce detachable rotary magazine holds four rounds of .308 ammo.

Several actions are in the works: short/standard in .243 Winchester, 7mm-08 and .308; long/standard in .25-06, .270 Winchester, .280 Remington and .30-06; long/magnum in .338 Winchester, .300 Winchester and 7mm Remington and .375 H&H; and short/magnum in .270, 7mm, .300 and .325 WSM chamberings. Depending on model, suggested retail prices will range from $799 to $1,049.

In case you are wondering, I am told there is no immediate plan to replace the A-Bolt with the X-Bolt. I think this is wise, because the two rifles differ enough to justify keeping both in production. Which do I prefer? Both have their good features, but if someone twisted my arm until I picked just one, I’d have to stick with the A-Bolt–mainly because I am really fond of its magazine system (and also because I took my best elk with one).

On the other hand, when I handed the X-Bolt to a friend who also owns several A-Bolts, it took him less than five minutes to decide the new rifle is for him. So there you have it: different hunters with difference preferences, no better reason for Browning to keep both rifles alive and well.


This Colorado pronghorn was taken by the author with an X-Bolt in .308 Winchester.

  • Jim

    When shooting bench rest on the range I like to feed cartiges one at a time. With my either of of my X-Bolts this is not easy. In fact sometimes closing the bolt is not possible. I have never experienced this with any of my winchesters, Reimingtons or Kimbers. Hummm? Is this a common problem?

    Jim

    • Jason

      I have four XBolts. They are designed (like an original Mauser) to feed from the magazine. When single loading the round needs to be pushed well into the chamber area. If you are just dropping them in there and trying to close the bold it will hang up. That said the XBolt is the finest bolt action rifle I’ve ever owned and I’ve owned a lot.

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