March 20, 2023
Precision rifle competitions abound, as does the prevalence of components geared toward the pursuit of winning. While only a handful of shooters participate in formal competition, interest has swelled the ranks of both the informal crowd and the shooters ringing steel at distance for fun. Most rifle manufacturers have noticed and are building better rifles to accommodate this type of sport. Expanding the X-Bolt universe, Browning developed the sport-shooting X-Bolt Target Max.
The Buck Mark brand’s efforts with the Target Max go beyond simply installing a heavy contour barrel on an X-Bolt. The barrel did get heavier, but there were new and significant enhancements made to the X-Bolt receiver and (gold) trigger that make it ideal for precision rifle competition use.
The trigger Browning featured in this rifle is the new DLX model. The X-Bolt Target Max is the only rifle currently utilizing it. Browning manufactures a lot of rifles and adheres to SAAMI recommendations on trigger weight. While most are familiar with SAAMI ammunition standards, the organization also has safety tests designed to ensure that firearms remain safe when used in field conditions. As such, SAAMI has a number of tests that simulate the impacts or drops a rifle might receive in the field. SAAMI recommends no less than 3 pounds of pull weight for hunting rifles. This is why just about every Browning rifle has a trigger with a minimum trigger weight of 3 pounds. The X-Bolt Target Max is different.
Since Browning intended the X-Bolt Target Max for competition use, it needed a trigger capable of a lighter pull weight. The DLX was the engineers’ solution to fill the need. The DLX uses an internal lever to manipulate the sear. The trigger still has full sear engagement, but it offers a lighter pull weight. Many triggers set at and below 2 pounds have minimal sear engagement. This situation poses a safety risk because dropping or jarring the rifle can cause the sear to release, sending the firing pin forward. The new component in the DLX trigger applies leverage against the full sear engagement, reducing the trigger pull weight to as little as 2 pounds. Getting that light of a trigger that retains full sear engagement is no small engineering feat. G&A doesn’t expect Browning to keep the DLX trigger exclusive to the X-Bolt Target Max, but we’ll have to wait and see.
The receiver on the X-Bolt Target Max is also unlike other X-Bolt models. Instead of opening up the ejection port and shaving down the receiver bridges to reduce weight, Browning left all that material on the action and shaped it with flats. The additional steel for the receiver makes it more rigid, which has some benefits in certain scenarios.
If the action is properly bedded, increasing its rigidity yields no tangible benefit. However, few rifle actions live in a perfectly bedded world. One indicator that a rifle action isn’t perfectly mated to the stock is the presence of flyers when shooting groups. For example, if a rifle puts four rounds in a cluster but occasionally throws a round a half-inch or so away from the others, there is a good chance that the action isn’t mated well to the stock. One fix is for a gunsmith to apply bedding compound between the action and stock. Another way to address this is for the manufacturer to beef up the action, minimizing the effect of the stresses a stock can place on it. The thicker and heavier action of the X-Bolt Target Max means it is less likely to throw flyers, even without bedding the action to the stock.
Unwilling to risk accuracy, Browning still chose to bed this action to the stock! The composite stock Browning selected for this model has been in the inventory for a couple years, but the X-Bolt Target Max is the first to get bedding compound applied around the recoil lug, under the receiver around the rear action screw. Combining the heavy receiver with the bedding job means this rifle is going to be consistent without a lot of variation (barring shooter error).
The bottom metal used on the X-Bolt Target Max is new. Historically, Browning uses a proprietary detachable box magazine for its X-Bolt rifles with magazine capacity at either three and four rounds depending on the cartridge. The X-Bolt Target Max uses AICS-pattern magazines, and it ships with one 10-round polymer magazine made by MDT (mdttac.com). While the Target Max uses the AICS-pattern, not all AICS magazines are guaranteed to work. Browning product managers considered and tested just about every type of magazine available and quickly realized that there is a lot of variation from one to the next. Differences occurred between manufactures and the materials used. Browning picked magazines that offered the highest consistency and built the bottom metal accordingly to guarantee reliable feeding. The two magazines that G&A’s staff found to work best with the X-Bolt Target Max were the included MDT, as well as Magpul’s AICS polymer sample. These can be had in five- and 10-round capacities.
At the Range
The X-Bolt Target Max proved to be an accurate rifle. It had no problems creating tight five-shot groups. Field testing of this rifle included Rifle & Optics Editor Tom Beckstrand shooting it in the two-day Hornady Precision Rifle Series match. (He used it to finish 4th out of some 180.) Its consistent accuracy was impossible to understate. While the stock, receiver, bedding job and excellent trigger certainly contribute, the barrel was a standout.
All X-Bolt barrels are made by Miroku in Japan. Barrels are made from start to finish, from the deep-hole drill that creates the bore to include the reaming, honing, rifling and chambering. Miroku is serious about making accurate barrels, so barrels are honed three times to create the perfect surface for rifling.
Some might not know that Miroku not only makes barrels, it makes the drilling and rifling machines that other barrel-makers use. The accuracy displayed on Browning’s X-Bolt Target Max didn’t come as a surprise.
The X-Bolt Target Max might appear as a line extension to the X-Bolt lineup, but it is more precisely described as an exercise in accuracy optimization. Every single component of the model was selected, manufactured and massaged to create as good of a rifle as Browning can produce. The results were impressive.
Browning X-Bolt Target Max
- Type: Bolt action
- Cartridge: 6mm CM (tested), 6.5 CM, .308 Win.
- Capacity: 10+1 rds.
- Barrel: 26 in.; 1:7.5-in. twist
- Overall Length: 46.1 in.
- Weight: 9 lbs., 12 oz.
- Stock: Composite, target, adj.
- Finish: Matte blue (receiver); satin stainless stell (barrel)
- Trigger: adj; 2 lbs., 8 oz. (tested)
- Sights: None
- MSRP: $1,730
- Manufacturer: Browning, 800-333-3288, browning.com
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