Photos by Mark Fingar
Finding a good long-range hunting rifle is much harder than it sounds. Sure, building a custom rifle for the task is easy, but it’s also expensive. So, that leaves production guns, but how do you know which is right for you?
In my book, the biggest win for long-range hunters in 2019 comes from Browning with its new X-Bolt Max Long Range. Why? The company has been perfecting the X-Bolt line since its 2008 inception by incorporating new features that keep adding to the rifle’s accuracy potential. This year is no different, as Browning has added a new stock. This is the first time I’ve seen an easily adjustable stock on a production rifle that has the features and provides the accuracy necessary for hunting at extended distances.
Why Adjustability Matters
The stock on the X-Bolt Max Long Range has many features that every long-range hunter needs. Key among them are adjustability and light weight.
It’s made from rigid and thick composite material. It is not made from thin injection-molded plastic that lacks the rigidity needed to keep the barreled action from moving under recoil. The composite material that Browning selected is very rigid and light. Total weight for the rifle sits at just over 8 pounds, which for a long-range hunting rifle is just about ideal.
What impresses me the most about this stock is its adjustable comb and adjustable length of pull. Those two adjustments are absolutely critical for effective long-range shooting. Of the two, the adjustable comb is the most critical.
Having an adjustable comb on a rifle allows a shooter to get a repeatable, solid and stable head position behind the scope. No matter what height the scope is mounted at, the shooter can raise the comb until there is plenty of contact between the rifle and their cheek. If the shooter relaxes their neck muscles and lets the rifle carry the weight of their head, they have the best chance of catching the round’s impact through the scope.
Being able to maintain a full field of view through the scope as the rifle recoils determines whether or not the shooter can watch their round impact. If it’s a miss or impacts somewhere other than desired, the shooter can correct and send another shot quickly without having to ask for a correction or look around to reacquire the animal.
Browning has a section of Picatinny rail that sits atop the receiver, and that’s desirable because it allows plenty of ring-mounting options. Some scopes don’t have a lot of maintube, so being able to mount rings in confined locations and then mount the scope for optimal eye relief without having to hit two little pieces of scope base is refreshing. Any scope can fit on the X-Bolt Max Long Range.
Still in Stock
One of the biggest surprises that came from handling the Max Long Range occurred when I separated the barreled action from the stock. Imagine my surprise when I saw bedding compound, much like you’d find on a custom-built rifle. The action had been bedded around the tenon, recoil lug and front action screw as well as around the rear action screw.
Just because someone dropped some bedding compound under the action doesn’t mean it was done correctly, so I checked to see how well this particular barreled action was bedded to the stock. As it turns out, it was an excellent bedding job.
The way to check any bedding job is to stand the rifle on its butt and place your left hand around the forend with your fingertips touching the seam between the barrel and the stock’s barrel channel, then remove the rear action screw.
The magic happens when you loosen the front action screw, so make sure you’re ready for it. Loosen the front screw and try to feel for movement with the fingertips of your left hand. If the barrel moves at all while loosening and removing the front action screw, the bedding doesn’t do a good job of stabilizing the barreled action.
In the case of this X-Bolt Max Long Range, there was absolutely no movement. In fact, I had a hard time getting the barreled action out of the stock and had to triple check to make sure there wasn’t a third action screw somewhere. It was and is an excellent bedding job.
As mentioned above, the Max Long Range has an adjustable comb as well as an adjustable length of pull. The length of pull adjusts via two spacers that ship with the rifle (one skinny, one fat). The owner also has the option to have the stock shortened by any competent gunsmith.
The rear-most portion of the comb and the rear of the toe are both parallel, so any stock-shortening won’t require reshaping the recoil pad to match the new contour. This is convenient when setting the rifle up for a young or small-framed shooter.
The stock’s forend is also oriented for both long-range shooters and hunters. It is long enough to provide adequate real estate for field shooting positions, has two sling-swivel studs and has a flat on the bottom. The flat is essential and helps the rifle sit still when laid across a backpack or another field support.
Two sling-swivel studs should be mandatory for any hunting rifle that might get shot in the prone. The Max has three: two up front and one on the buttstock. The closest stud up front gives the sling a place to attach, and the second sling-swivel stud serves as home to the bipod. This allows a rifle with a bipod to still be comfortably carried afield.
Browning offers an accessory section of Picatinny rail that attaches to the forend using the two holes for the front sling-swivel studs. The end of the rail closest to the receiver has a location to mount a sling, leaving a couple inches of Picatinny rail for use with a quick-detach bipod. This is such a sensible option I often wonder why more manufacturers don’t follow suit.
Shooting the X-Bolt reminded me why these rifles are so popular. The three-lug action gives it such a short bolt throw that there’s no way the shooter’s hand will ever collide with the scope’s ocular housing when cycling the action. This is a consideration for any long-range rifle because the scopes that shooters and hunters put on them tend to be large with high magnification and have ocular housings to match.
The rifle is enjoyable to shoot, thanks to the smart stock design. The flat toe rides rear supports well, and the vertical pistol grip places the shooting hand in a comfortable position. The comb is also wide enough that the shooter can rest their head on the stock for extended periods of time without discomfort.
If a hunter thinks he might have to lay on his rifle for a while before his prey presents the desired shot, this is the rifle to have. This may be the most comfortable factory rifle I’ve ever evaluated.
As far as accuracy is concerned, the rifle did better than I expected, and I had pretty high expectations. Browning spent a lot of time getting the barrels on the Max Long Range correct, and a quick spin through the twist rates offered for each cartridge shows that they did what was right instead of what was convenient.
They put a 1:10-inch twist on the .308 Win., but they used a 1:8-inch twist on the .300 Win. Mag. That additional twist rate is necessary to be able to shoot the new 230-grain (and heavier) bullets in the .300 Win. Mag. Good luck finding a 1:8-inch-twist .300 Win. Mag anywhere else.
Accuracy of my test rifle chambered in 6.5 Creedmoor with a 1:7-inch twist, 26-inch barrel was superb. At 100 yards, the rifle loved SIG Sauer’s 140-gr. Match ammo, clustering one five-shot string into a tight .48-inch group. I can’t wait to stretch its legs on longer ranges.
New rifles come out all the time, and it seems like most of them do a pretty good job of getting most things right. The X-Bolt Max Long Range is one of those rare gems that got everything right, and it’ll sell in the gun shop for right around $1,000. That’s not cheap by any means, but it is a tremendous value.