It wouldn’t be stretching things to say that the Browning’s X-Bolt—introduced in 2009—represents an improvement over the company’s A-Bolt, which premiered back in 1985. Both are push-feed, bolt-action hunting rifles available in several configurations involving stock material, calibers, barrel, lengths, action lengths and what have you. Since both models are capable of accuracy far beyond what anyone could take advantage of in a field situation, the tweaks in the X-Bolt platform that give it an edge as far as I’m concerned center on ignition, scope mounting and feeding.
The X-Bolt’s “Feather Trigger” requires very little movement and is adjustable (between three and five pounds). The integral mount system (not included with the rifle) is unobtrusive, strong, simple and features four screws per mount. And, as Craig Boddington said a while back in reference to the rifle’s X-Lock mounting system, “Four screws per base beat the traditional two by 100 percent.” It’s almost as quick and simple to install as Ruger’s integral mount system—which, to me, has always represented the gold standard in idiot-proof mount setups.
The X-Bolt also features a smooth-feeding, flush-fitting, detachable synthetic magazine. I like it a lot better than the hybridized hinged floorplate/detachable-mag setup on the A-Bolt, which always struck me as a rather complex attempt to appeal to shooters who like the looks of a traditional floorplate, but want the convenience of a detachable mag. I’ve got no gripe against detachable magazines (I was—and still am—a big fan of Remington’s M788), and the X-Bolt’s simple, inline setup works very well.
Another notable feature on the X-Bolt is the fact that the bolt release is on right at the root of the bolt. Easy to find, access and depress when it comes time for cleaning and maintenance—or removing the bolt for a plane ride.
I recently shot—and hunted with—an X-Bolt Composite Stalker in .30-06. It’s also available with a conventional walnut or racy-looking carbon-fiber stock and can be had in calibers ranging from .223 on up to .338 Winchester Magnum. Mine was no-nonsense black with a 22-inch free-floated barrel. The first thing I did was mount a Bushnell Legend 3-9×40 variable (with a Multi-X duplex-style reticle) on it, which was—as I mentioned—a remarkably painless procedure. Full scoped and with a sling installed, the curb weight on the unloaded rifle was a hair under 8.2 pounds, but as nicely balanced as the rig was, it somehow felt lighter. The trigger felt crisper to me—though not necessarily “out of the box” lighter—than the triggers on the A-Bolts I’ve shot over the years. The pull on my test rifle broke at just under three pounds and was as crisp as I could ask for.
My next step—after bore-sighting the rifle—was to round up a relatively small but diverse assortment of ammo to take to the range. Handling a wide range of bullet weights is one of the things that keeps the .30-06 front-and-center saleswise (that and a 107-year running start on most everything else). My range bag included Winchester Supreme 150-grain Ballistic Silvertip, 168-grain Barnes Vor-TX TSX BT and Federal 180-grain Trophy Bonded. And just to really check out the recoil-absorbing properties of the X-Bolt’s Inflex Technology recoil pad, some elderly Winchester Super-X 220-grain Silvertips.
I don’t know whether I was just plain lucky as to the loads I was able to lay hands on, but they all shot great—average three-shot 100-yard groups ran from a low of three-quarters of an inch (the Winchester Supreme 150-grainers) to just under an inch and a half (Winchester Super-X 220-grainers). What impressed me even more than the size of the groups was the fact that the rifle threw them all—all of the weights—to within three inches of each other vertically and no more than an inch and a half or so left to right.
And, yes, the Inflex Technology recoil pad did make those 220s tolerable, even though they were considerably more noticeable than the lighter weights. They’re actually pretty cool, but it’s unlikely that there’s going to be a frantic resurgence in that weight for the old ’06 anytime soon.
Realistically, I’d have been perfectly happy to go hunting with any one of the loads I took to the range, but what I settled on was the 150-grain Ballistic Silvertips, figuring them to be the best match for an open-country whitetail hunt in northeastern Wyoming.
I ended up taking a buck at 140 yards across a chunk of prairie real estate, the kind of shot you think about when you think about Wyoming whitetail. The rifle/load combo obviously had the capability to reach out quite a bit farther than that, but it was perfectly OK with me not to have to put things to the test.
The X-Bolt Composite Stalker? At first glance, it simply appears to be your basic North American big-game setup—a synthetic stocked, basic-black .30-06 turnbolt with a 3-9X scope. But if I were going to buy a serious hunting rifle, it’d be on the short list. A very short list.