September 15, 2022
By Joseph von Benedikt
Browning recently announced a new variation of its excellent X-Bolt Max line. Dubbed the Target Max, it’s a well-thought-out, heavyweight, precision long-range tool—without the cost usually associated with such rifles. The standard X-Bolt Max is arguably the best long-range hunting rifle available for the price. So, what does the Target Max offer beyond the standard version? Aside from the heavy target-profile barrel and the 20-m.o.a. optic rail attached to the action, the most obvious feature is a high magazine capacity. Skeletonized aluminum bottom metal accepts AICS-type magazines, enabling the Target Max to qualify for serious PRS-type competitions.
There are some other nuanced differences, such as a beefed-up receiver for greater stiffness and Browning’s new, light Target DLX Trigger. Calibers currently coming off the assembly line are 6mm Creedmoor, which I tested, 6.5 Creedmoor and .308 Win. Browning recommends 10-round MDT polymer magazines (one is included) and five-round Magpul AICS-type magazines for optimal feeding. Mags insert smoothly, fit snugly without binding, and drop freely when the release button between the trigger guard and the mag well is pressed.
MDT 10-round magazines are made of high-impact, glass-filled polymer, and at $40 they’re affordable. At that price, you can add a couple to your range bag or competitive belt and be set for anything from long-range plinking to serious matches. Up front, the magazine well can be used as a barrier stop, which is handy for shooters working to achieve maximum stability in improvised shooting positions. The fore-end is fully free-floated around the large-diameter, fluted barrel.
Barrels are stainless steel and are 26 inches long. Rifling pitch depends on caliber. The 6mm Creedmoor I tested features a quite fast 1:7.5 rate of twist. Rifles in 6.5 Creedmoor are pitched at an even faster 1:7. Only .308s have a relatively traditional twist rate of 1:10. Faster-than-traditional twist rates are necessary to stabilize long, heavy-for-caliber match bullets designed for extreme-range shooting. In addition to stabilization, there’s a hidden factor at play.
According to Hornady’s ballisticians, ballistic coefficient degrades at a slower rate way out there if projectiles are spun on the faster side of what’s appropriate for a given caliber. The takeaway is this: Extreme-range shooters will benefit from the fast rifling in the new Target Max rifles. Barrel muzzles are finished with a recessed target crown and threaded 5/8x24, making them compatible with common centerfire rifle suppressors and muzzle devices. Each Target Max comes with Browning’s new super-effective, indexable Recoil Hawg brake mounted to the muzzle.
Target Max rifles utilize a new, beefier version of the X-Bolt. It’s engineered for accuracy-enhancing stiffness and is up to 200 percent thicker than the original X-Bolt action. Also, the receiver is milled for a robust Picatinny rail with 20 m.o.a. built in. The rail is both pinned to the receiver and secured with four oversize 8x40 screws. A small but very cool feature is incorporated into the rear of the action. It has a flat milled atop the rear receiver bridge that’s designed for a spirit level. It enables shooters to easily mount their scopes with the crosshairs perfectly plumb to the receiver, which is a big deal for long-range competitors.
Like the standard X-Bolt action, the Target Max features a fast-cycling 60-degree bolt lift, a safety that locks the bolt closed when engaged, and a bolt unlock button that allows the chamber to be cleared with the safety engaged. Inside, the new Target DLX Trigger has a three-lever design that makes for a crisp break and a light pull that’s adjustable from two to 3.3 pounds. According to Browning’s specs, rifles come from the factory with triggers set at 2.5 pounds. Five trigger cycles measured with my Lyman digital gauge averaged two pounds, 11 ounces.
Browning’s literature boasts that the DLX trigger is free from overtravel. That’s a strong claim to apply to any factory-production trigger. However, try as I would, I could not detect any excess overtravel. It’s an impressive trigger. Every Target Max action is glass-bedded into the stock, maximizing rigidity and consistency. Importantly, for competitive shooters who can burn through a barrel every two to four months, Target Max actions have their recoil lugs pinned to the receiver. This enables shooters to replace barrels without running the risk of shifting the lug and making it incompatible with the action bedding.
The stock itself is injection-molded polymer, but it’s hands down the best of its type I’ve ever used. It’s actually the same as the stock on the standard X-Bolt Max—which is a good thing. Browning engineered the Max stock to feel darned near as rigid as a top-quality carbon-fiber stock. I’m a huge skeptic of injection-molded stocks because I’ve tested many with way too much flexibility. Somehow, through the use of angles and shaping, Browning achieved an admirably stiff yet inexpensive stock. Under the fore-end tip is a generous section of Picatinny rail for mounting a bipod. According to Browning, it can be easily replaced with an ARCA rail, which most discerning PRS-type competitive shooters will do.
The fore-end is relatively wide at 1.9 inches and nearly flat on the bottom. Finger grooves on the upper portion of the sides make it comfortable and secure in the hand. A vertical grip positions the shooting hand torque-free for comfort and consistency. It’s robust but not thick, and it feels great in the palm. It also positions the thumb perfectly atop the wrist, right on the tang safety, so it’s easy to flick the safety on or off without shifting your shooting hand.
The toe of the stock has a four-inch flat section parallel to the barrel, so it will ride straight rearward on a shooting bag. It steps off an inch to another flat section that runs up to the rear of the pistol grip. Up top, the cheek rest is adjustable for height. Loosen the knurled thumb screw on the right side of the stock and you can run the comb up or down until it provides exactly the amount of cheek weld you want. There’s a full inch of adjustment.
On the butt, Browning’s Inflex Technology recoil pad not only soaks up recoil but also applies directional deflection of recoil down and away from your face as it compresses. It’s adjustable for length, too. Each rifle ships with a pair of stock-length spacers. Pull the recoil pad, add or remove spacers as desired, and screw the pad back on. I have a wingspan like a gorilla, so being able to make the test rifle’s stock 14.5 inches long was really nice.
Retailing for $1,670, the Target Max easily makes PRS Production class, which limits a rifle’s suggested retail to $2,000. For this class, the rifle and scope combined can’t cost more than $3,000, so the Target Max gives shooters more than $1,300 to use toward a scope. Because I wanted to and because I needed to test it anyway, I mounted one of Leica’s exceptional 5-30x56i PRS scopes atop the Target Max, using Nightforce Xtreme Duty rings. It’s a superb scope, but it retails for $2,850 and would bump me way out of Production class. However, for testing purposes it was ideal and enabled me to wring best-possible performance out of a match rifle. I managed to dig up several different 6mm Creedmoor factory loads, and I had one proven handload that I use in my go-to PRS rifle. This handload uses 110-grain Hornady A-Tip bullets over Reloder 16 powder. Cases are Hornady, primed with Federal 210 Gold Medal primers. Overall length is 2.810 inches.
Browning X-Bolt Target MAX Performance
I fired a series of groups with each load. My test protocol used to be somewhat unique and exciting, but it has proven so useful that I use it all the time now. In heavy-barreled rifles expected to shoot long shot strings with hot barrels and put all the bullets in the same place, I fire three consecutive three-shot groups without allowing the barrel to cool. This enables me to document whether accuracy degrades or point of impact shifts as the barrel heats. Prone with a Tier One bipod up front and a bunny-ear bag under the toe of the stock, I went to work. To my surprise, my first 100-yard, three-shot group out of the Target Max measured just 0.29 inch. Following groups measured 0.47 inch and 0.46 inch, with no discernible change in point of impact. The average was 0.41 inch, which is stellar.
That was with Hornady’s relatively inexpensive Black ammo loaded with 105-grain HPBT bullets. I love it when a rifle provides top-tier accuracy with standard-grade ammo. Next, I tested Hornady’s 108-grain ELD Match load. It turned in the tightest group during my testing: a three-shot ragged hole that measured 0.26 inch. Due to one bullet slightly out of the next group—which could have been my fault—accuracy was a tad less tight than with the 105-grain hollowpoint boattail, averaging 0.50 inch at 100 yards.
However, velocity standard deviation was considerably more consistent, at just nine fps over the test string of shots. And interestingly, the 108-grain ELD Match load produces over 100 fps more velocity. Worth noting, too, is the fact that its G1 ballistic coefficient of .536 gives it a slight edge over the 105-grain hollowpoint boattail’s .530. All six of the loads I tested averaged 0.64 inch or less at 100 yards. That’s unreal accuracy for a production-grade rifle. Complete results are in the accompanying chart.
Recoil of the Target Max is barely noticeable. That’s to be expected, considering the weight of the rifle and the effectiveness of the Recoil Hawg muzzle brake. Spotting one’s own impacts during PRS-type matches, which is key to doing well, should be easy. One note on the cheek rest. Because the 56mm size of the Leica’s objective housing makes it necessary to mount the scope well above that large-diameter barrel, I had to raise the cheek rest to the very top of its adjustment range to achieve a good, consistent cheek weld.
Whether in a prone position behind a bipod or in an improvised competitive field position across a simulated rooftop, tank trap or windowsill, the X-Bolt Target Max is comfortable and easy to get steady with. Certainly, that’s thanks to the adjustable, configurable nature of the stock and the excellent vertical pistol grip. And as I mentioned earlier, the trigger is exceptional. I thought continued real-world use might reveal some imperfections, but that wasn’t the case. It’s crisp and breaks cleanly, and consistency-robbing overtravel just doesn’t exist.
I ran the 10-round MDT magazine first with flawless results. Then I tested 10-round Accurate-Mag and 10-round Magpul AICS-type magazines. They also functioned flawlessly. Street price of the X-Bolt Target Max will likely be around $1,500. Considering the fantastic level of accuracy, that’s a steal. This rifle will give $4,000 custom match rifles a run for the money.
Browning X-Bolt Target MAX Specs
- Type: Bolt-action, repeater
- Caliber: 6mm Creedmoor (tested), 6.5 Creedmoor, .308 Win.
- Capacity: 10-round MDT magazine included
- Barrel: Stainless steel, 26 in., 1:7.5 twist
- Overall Length: 46.13 in.; length of pull adjustable 13.75–15 in.
- Weight: 9 lb., 14 oz.
- Stock: composite, configurable
- Finish: matte blue action, natural stainless barrel
- Trigger: Target DLX adjustable; 2 lb., 11 oz. (measured, as received)
- Safety: two-position tang
- Sights: none; integral 20-m.o.a. Picatinny rail
- MSRP: $1,670
- Manufacturer: Browning