August 12, 2019
By Layne Simpson
Shooting the Browning X-Bolt Max Long Range reminded me of a hunt in Wyoming in 2008. The X-Bolt rifle had just been introduced, and mine was in .308 Win. In addition to being quite accurate, it handled smoothly and proved capable of reaching far across a windy sagebrush flat to down a very nice pronghorn antelope with a single bullet. It was not the first time I had hunted with a Browning rifle.
My very first experience with the brand was during an era when all Browning rifles chambered for the longer cartridges were built on FN Mauser actions and those in short cartridges, such as the .222 Rem. and .243 Win., were on Sako actions. Mine was in .375 H&H Mag., and I used it to take my first Cape buffalo in Rhodesia. My professional hunter was in desperate need of a rifle to replace his rusted-out 9.3x62mm, so I left the Browning with him. He has now retired, but the last I heard it is still being used by his son.
My next Browning was an A-Bolt Mountain Ti in .300 WSM. It came many years later, and I still have it. The A-Bolt rifle vanished from the Browning catalog several years ago, but that one will always be a favorite mountain rifle.
The new Browning X Bolt Max Long Range arrived in January of this year. My digital postal scale indicated a weight of eight pounds, 5.7 ounces, and a Nightforce 3.5-15x50mm NXS scope in Nightforce 30mm X-Treme Duty low rings attached to a Talley Picatinny base increased that to 10 pounds, seven ounces.
There was a time when the quickest way to receive an early production rifle was to request .30-06 or .270 Win. It made good business sense for companies to introduce a rifle in the two most popular big game cartridges, so they were often first off the production line. In many rifles those two are still sure winners, but they have been joined by others, including the 6.5 Creedmoor. If you have not guessed already, this is why so many rifles written up are chambered for that cartridge.
As on all X-Bolt rifles, the three-lug bolt of the latest edition rotates 60 degrees from lock to unlock. Lifting a short-rotation bolt can take more effort than for a two-lug bolt because its firing pin cocking ramp is shorter and steeper. I have no idea how Joseph Rousseau and his design team pulled it off over 10 years ago, but rotating the bolt of their rifle requires less effort than for some two-lug bolts.
Engaging the safety slide at the tang locks the bolt from rotation. Pressing down on a square-shaped override button at the root of the bolt handle with the thumb while lifting the extended handle with the fingers rotates the bolt for loading or unloading the chamber with the safety remaining in its engaged position.
The bolt has a Sako-style extractor and plunger-style ejector. As the firing pin is cocked, a red-colored indicator tab emerges from beneath the rear of the bolt shroud.
The barrel contour is described by Browning as heavy sporter, and it measures 0.735 inch at the muzzle. It is stainless steel and is hammer-forged with six-groove rifling. A bit of weight was left on the shop floor by machining eight shallow flutes along most of its length.
The satin gray finish contrasts nicely with the black matte of the steel receiver. A long barrel increases velocity and puts muzzle blast farther away, so I am happy to report that regardless of which caliber is ordered, the barrel will be 26 inches long.
Rifling twist rates are 1:7.5 for the 6mm Creedmoor and 1:7 for the 6.5mm Creedmoor, 6.5 PRC and .26 Nosler. Barrels in .308 Win. and .300 WSM are 1:10.
Those are pretty much standard twists for those cartridges, but to ensure in-flight stability of extremely long bullets now sometimes used in the 7mm Rem. Mag., .28 Nosler, .300 Win. Mag., .30 Nosler and .300 Rem. Ultra Mag, the rifling twist rate for them is 1:8. It is quick enough to stabilize projectiles such as Berger’s 7mm 195-grain Elite Hunter and .30 caliber 230-grain Hybrid Target with respective lengths of 1.625 and 1.655 inches.
The rifle comes with a single-chamber, 40-port muzzle brake with 5/8x24 threads, and it extends overall barrel length to 27.75 inches. For those who choose to remove it, a thread protector is included.
The Inflex II pad on Browning rifles and shotguns ranks among the very best at soaking up recoil, and that along the weight of the rifle and its extremely effective brake virtually eliminates what little recoil the 6.5 Creedmoor generates. The rifle should be quite tolerable to shoot in any of its available chamberings.
In the face of stiff competition, some manufacturers have reduced production costs by switching to unusual ways of handling recoil exerted by the barreled action on the stock during firing. That’s fine on economy-grade rifles, but builders of super-accurate custom rifles long ago discovered that a precision-machined, washer-type recoil lug sandwiched between the face of the receiver and the barrel is the way to go.
The lug on the Browning X Bolt is 0.250 inch thick and is long enough to reach 0.425 inch into a pad of synthetic bedding in the stock. The receiver ring and a half-inch of the barrel rests on that pad, and from there the barrel free-floats in a fore-end with girder-style interior reinforcing that makes it extremely rigid. At the rear, a section of the receiver just forward of the trigger housing rests on a second pad of bedding.
The stock and barreled action are held together by large hex-head bolts. One threads into the receiver close behind the rear of the magazine cutout, and the other attaches just behind the recoil lug.
The Max fiberglass-reinforced composite stock is made by Browning, and it comes with 1/4- and 1/2-inch spacers for adjusting pull length. The stock is black with gray splatter, and the person at the factory who is responsible for its finish should get a gold star for flawless application.
The height-adjustable comb is ambidextrous, and although the rifle departs the factory with the big locking knob positioned for a right-handed shooter, a left-hander will find it easy to switch to the other side.
The good ideas don’t stop there. Some time back I shot a rifle from another company and its adjustable comb had to be fully lowered each time the bolt was removed for bore cleaning. Using a Magic Marker to mark its support posts made returning the comb to the desired elevation quick and easy. The comb of the Browning stock also has to be lowered, but deep index marks with numbers applied at the factory save Magic Marker ink.
Like all tactical-style synthetic stocks, the one on the Browning would finish dead last in a beauty contest, but we must keep in mind it was shaped for comfort and efficiency rather than looks. In the eyes of people like me who spend a great deal of time living in the past, its grip shape would stop Big Ben.
But beauty is only skin deep, and as I discovered, regardless of whether the rifle is shot from prone, offhand, over bags or atop a bipod, it fits the hand like a favorite glove with zero wrist fatigue. The grip has a textured finish, and while the flat-bottom fore-end snuggles nicely into a sandbag, when ventilating paper and ringing steel, I stuck with a Harris folding bipod attached to one of its two quick-attach sling swivel posts at the front and a bunny-ear bag at the rear.
I must confess to a preference for the magazine system of the old A-Bolt, but I have to admit the virtually indestructible polymer detachable magazine of the X-Bolt may just the best of its type to come down the pike. Its rotary design meets reasonable cartridge capacity requirement without protruding below the belly of the slim action. Equally important, cartridges are supported in a way that prevents them from moving forward during recoil, thus preventing soft bullet tips from being battered against the front of the magazine.
Feeding is totally reliable mainly because when a cartridge rotates to the top, it is aimed straight at the chamber rather than from the side. Due to the low coefficient of friction of the polymer blend the feed lips of the magazine are made of, cartridges glide toward the chamber with a greased smoothness.
An interior length of 2.870 inches is plenty roomy for short cartridges. Capacity is four rounds for the .308 and the two Creedmoors and three rounds for the big guys. The latch is attached to the magazine, and when it is depressed the magazine cannot go in any direction except straight into the palm of the hand. Insertion is smooth and snag-free.
With its three-lever design, the Feather trigger of the X-Bolt has been excellent from Day One, and if anything, it has gotten better through the years. It has an adjustment range of three to five pounds. The test rifle pulled an average of 3.8 pounds, but from its smoothness I would have guessed half that. There were six ounces of variation with no detectable creep or overtravel.
Prior to shooting the rifle, I examined its bore with a Lyman Digital Bore Cam and spotted tool marks across the rifling. Surface flaws will collect bullet jacket fouling, but if bore and groove diameter are uniform from chamber to muzzle, such a barrel can still deliver excellent accuracy as long as the fouling is kept under control.
That proved to be the case with the Browning rifle. After every 30 rounds, I chased away all fouling with Shooter's Choice powder solvent and Barnes CR-10 copper solvent. Two fouling shots were fired after each cleaning. Overall accuracy for 35 three-shot groups was 0.69 inch with the smallest average just inside a half-inch. The rifle showed a preference for Federal, Choice and SIG Sauer ammunition, but it was no slouch with any of the seven loads.
I liked the X-Bolt rifle back in 2008, and shooting the Max Long Range made me like it even more in 2019.