Review: Browning X-Bolt Micro Composite 7mm-08 Rem
September 04, 2018
Since Browning introduced the X-Bolt in 2008, it has become the company’s flagship centerfire bolt-action rifle with 21 current versions listed in the Browning catalog. The Micro Composite is one of the newest X-Bolt rifles and is chambered in five short-action cartridges from .243 to .308 Win.
The Micro Composite I tested in 7mm-08 Rem. weighed six pounds, five ounces. It wears a 20-inch threaded barrel with a “sporter” contour. Thread pattern is M13x1.25 for .243 through 7mm-08 and M13x.75 for the .308. The short barrel and 13-inch length of pull gives the rifle a length of 39.25 inches. Add its muzzle brake and the rifle measures 40.75 inches.
If I was going to sit in a stand while hunting, I might leave the brake on the barrel and keep ear protection close at hand. But before hiking and hunting, I’d take it off and screw on the threaded protector cap to cut down on muzzle blast. A suppressor could also be threaded onto the muzzle.
The X-Bolt action cycles slick. A rectangular button on the right side of the bolt body runs in a slot in the right inside of the receiver to steady bolt travel. The left side of the top bolt lug slides in a corresponding channel inside the top of the receiver bridge, and the other two locking lugs travel on the raceways to further enhance bolt glide. The rotary magazine positions a cartridge in line with the chamber, so feeding was very smooth.
A red tab protrudes behind the bolt shroud when the firing pin is cocked. Engaging the two-position safety, on top of the tang, blocks the sear and trigger lever and locks the bolt shut.
A three-position safety was initially attempted for the X-Bolt’s sliding safety, with a middle position that allowed opening the bolt with the safety still engaged. But it was difficult to quickly distinguish the exact position of the safety tab in the rush of firing at game, and the safety was often pushed forward only into the middle position and the rifle would not fire. On the final version, pushing a bolt lock on the root of the bolt handle allows opening the bolt with the safety employed.
The three-lug bolt opens and closes with 60 degrees of rotation. Bolt throw of the short action is a brief 3.65 inches.
The detachable polymer magazine holds four 7mm-08 cartridges. It fits flush with the aluminum trigger guard/magazine frame on the bottom of the rifle. The magazine release lever sits at the front of the magazine and is slightly recessed below the frame, so there is little concern it will be inadvertently pushed and drop the magazine.
The rifle single-loads a cartridge into the chamber fairly well by dropping a shell on top of the empty magazine and pushing the bolt closed. The Browning Buckmark insignia, which seemingly appears on the back window of nearly every pickup truck going down the road, is stamped on the bottom of the trigger bow.
The round-bottom receiver is mated to the stock with a screw through the stock and into the receiver ring and a second screw into the receiver behind the magazine opening. A steel-plate recoil lug, inserted between the barrel shank and front of the receiver, extends into a mortise in the stock.
About three-quarters of an inch of the barrel in front of the receiver rests on a layer of bedding epoxy. The remainder of the barrel is free-floated. The recoil lug is held tightly in its stock cutout with bedding material, and the receiver ring and behind the magazine opening are also cradled by bedding material.
The three-lever Feather trigger is adjustable from three to five pounds of pull. It was set at just over four pounds as it came from the factory, but I like a three-pound pull. To lighten the trigger, I removed the action from the stock to access the trigger pull adjustment screw located on the front of the trigger housing. The hex head screw was plugged with securing paint. I removed that and turned the screw one turn counterclockwise to set the pull at three pounds. The trigger has no adjustments for creep or overtravel. That’s fine, as there was none.
The composite stock weighs a couple candy bars less than two pounds and features Dura-Touch Armor Coating. Other Browning guns I’ve handled with Dura-Touch stocks have a slightly gummy texture, but the Micro’s stock was plain injection-molded plastic hard. The grip and fore-end have panels of stippled gripping surfaces and the fore-end has fingertip grooves for a sure hold.
For testing, I mounted a Leupold V-X Freedom 3-9x40mm in Leupold steel two-piece bases and rings, bringing total weight sans ammo to seven pounds, two ounces. I shot four factory loads and two handloads through the Micro at targets at 100 yards.
The best group I got with full-power loads was 0.91 inch using Hornady Precision Hunter cartridges loaded with 150-grain ELD-X bullets. But the overall best group was 0.74 inch, shooting Speer 145-grain boattail spitzer bullets paired with 27.0 grains of H4895.
This mild-recoiling load, which I developed back when my sons first started hunting with a 7mm-08, generates about a third of the recoil of the full-power loads. Did the gentle recoil allow me to remain calm and collected while shooting to keep my concentration on steadying the sights and pulling the trigger? It’s certainly possible.
Velocities out of the Micro do suffer a bit compared to a 7mm-08 with a 24-inch barrel shooting the same loads. For instance, my Berger 140-grain VLD Hunting handload (41.0 grains of Accurate 4064) clocked 2,581 fps from the Browning. But the same load turned in a speed of 2,684 fps from the 24-inch barrel, a difference of 103 fps.
That’s not all that much slower, but other loads showed more of a difference. With Browning’s 140-grain BXR factory load, the Micro was 175 fps slower compared to a 24-inch barrel. It was 194 fps slower firing Winchester Super X 140-grain Power-Point bullets and 202 fps slower with Hornady Precision Hunter 150-grain ELD-X loads. The difference may or may not matter to you, but I thought it worth noting.
The Micro is intended for small-stature hunters. That usually means beginning hunters who need lots of practice (actually, we all need lots of practice) to learn how to handle their rifle, steadily bring it bear and fire a well-aimed shot.
Muzzle blast was quite sharp shooting with the brake in place, even when wearing earplugs and muffs. The brake reduced recoil, though, to about the level of a .243. Without the brake, the rifle’s 3/4-inch Pachmayr Decelerator recoil pad helped soften the felt kick. But a young hunter would find it unpleasant after firing five or so shots. (It’s worth noting that bullet impact location when shooting Berger 140-grain bullets remained the same whether the muzzle brake was on or off the barrel.)
As part of the test, I enlisted the help of Tess Nelson, a young lady who is a veteran deer and elk hunter and who shoots a regular-size Remington Model 700 chambered in .270 Win. Tess stands five feet eight inches tall, and the Micro’s 13-inch length of pull was a bit short for her. She shifted the rifle back and forth into her shoulder and head along the comb until the rifle felt comfortable.
With the muzzle brake removed and the rifle supported on a rest on a bench, she shot four Browning 7mm-08 cartridges loaded with 144-grain bullets. She said recoil wasn’t bad, but she would not like to shoot more than a few of the loads during a session. Her group measured 1.6 inches at 100 yards. With the brake screwed on, she shot four more Browning rounds that formed a 1.67-inch group. She said recoil was fairly mild.
Next she shot my reduced-recoil loads. Her first four bullets landed in 1.57 inches. “It kicks about like a .22,” she said.
The real worth of a rifle is how well someone shoots it from hunting positions. Tess sat with the Micro supported on a tripod and instructions to fire four shots as fast as she could work the bolt, aim and pull the trigger. Her first three bullets were nearly touching, and the fourth one landed somewhat high, for a 2.7-inch group. Four more groups all measured about three inches. She eventually fired 50 of the reloads and looked around for more.
After all that shooting, she commented on the rifle. While the stock comb was fairly high with a slight forward pitch, Tess could not place her cheek tight against the comb and still see through the scope, which was mounted about as low as possible.
The grip and fore-end fit her hands well and made it easy to handle the rifle. The bolt’s flat knob provided a solid grip to break open the bolt after firing, eject a case and push a cartridge into the chamber.
“The bolt was real smooth,” she said. Her only fumble was loading the magazine. After loading it several times, though, she found pushing down on a cartridge slightly expanded the magazine’s polymer lips and cartridges snapped into place.
“I really like the rifle’s light weight, and I could certainly see myself hunting elk with it in the mountains,” she said.