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Browning’s X-Bolt

by Greg Rodriguez   |  September 23rd, 2010 4

According to Greg, the new Browning X-Bolt is the right mix of old and new.


Though it wasn’t the first rifle I ever hunted with, a Browning Stalker A-Bolt in .270 Winchester was the first deer rifle I ever owned. I think I’d only taken a grand total of five whitetail deer before I bought that rifle, but I found myself hunting a great deal with the A-Bolt. In those first few seasons, I dropped more than two-dozen animals with my Browning Stalker, and that fueled the passion that eventually became my career.

Not surprisingly, I have a warm place in my heart for Browning’s A-Bolt rifles. So I was shocked and a bit upset when I heard that the folks in Morgan, Utah, were unveiling a new bolt-action rifle for 2008.

I felt a little better when I learned that the new rifle was not meant to replace the A-Bolt, though I must admit I was a bit perplexed as to why Browning would bring out another centerfire, bolt-action rifle if the A-Bolt wasn’t going away. But after spending the last few months with the new X-Bolt, I’ve come to appreciate the new design features that prompted Browning to introduce its latest turn-bolt.

The X-Bolt In A Nutshell
The X-Bolt is basically an updated A-Bolt with more modern styling, a few neat design features, and a lower price point. It seems to me that Browning hit on the perfect mix of old and new with the X-Bolt line.

The X-Bolt retains the A-Bolt’s three locking lugs and short, 60-degree bolt lift. The shroud-mounted loaded-chamber indicator remains, as does the tang-style safety. A stout, M16-style extractor and plunger-style ejector serve to pull empty casings from the chamber and eject them well clear of the X-Bolt’s steel receiver.

A detachable, rotary magazine of rugged polymer feeds the rifle. In a clever design twist, the release lever is part of the magazine, so you can’t help but end up with the magazine in your hand when you release it. The magazine lines up the top cartridge with the center of the bore so that cartridges feed directly into the chamber. This straight-line feeding makes for sure, smooth loading. Molded-in shoulders inside the magazine keep cartridges from battering their tips on the front of the magazine during recoil.

Another useful change is the bolt-release button. The button is mounted on the base of the bolt shank. By depressing it, you can cycle the bolt without deactivating the safety–a big safety improvement in my book.

The top of the receiver is where the X-Bolt gets its name. Rather than the conventional two-hole set-up for attaching scope bases, the X-Bolt has four screws per base. There is one screw at each corner, hence the “X.” This would give lesser makers fits, as any degree of error would make mounting a scope darn near impossible. But with the level of tolerance Browning’s factory is able to hold, it’s no problem for the X-Bolt.

The X-Bolt’s new Feather Trigger is the feature Browning’s engineers are most proud of. The trigger is set from the factory at approximately 3.5 pounds, and it is user-adjustable from 3 to 5 pounds. The steel trigger components are hard-chromed, and all engagement surfaces are polished to a high sheen for the cleanest trigger pull. The unit is contained in a rugged, alloy housing. The simple, robust system uses three levers to reduce creep and minimize overtravel. The mechanical advantage gained by the addition of the third lever makes the trigger feel completely devoid of creep.


The X-Bolt retains the A-Bolt’s tang safety and cocking indicator.

The X-Bolt’s barrel is a standard Browning tube. That is to say it is hammer-forged and has a recessed target crown. Barrels chambered for WSM cartridges are 23 inches, standard cartridges have 22-inch barrels, and magnums sport 26-inch tubes. The sporter-weight barrel on my test .270 WSM X-Bolt measured 0.6 inch at the muzzle.

The X-Bolt Hunter’s oil-finished stock is the most obvious departure from the A-Bolt line. The sleek, modern design reminds me of Browning’s Cynergy line, in that you either love it or you hate it. The relatively straight design has a trim fore-end with an interesting shadow-line accent, a checkered pistol grip and fore-end, and a shadow line on either side of the butt. That shadow line and a long, sweeping grip combine to give the stock a lithe, lean look. Browning’s new super-squishy Inflex recoil pad uses a combination of recoil-dampening rubber and a new design that causes the rifle to recoil away from your face, rather than into it, to reduce felt recoil.

The action is bedded into the new stock with bedding compound at the front and rear for increased accuracy and stability. The barrel is free-floated. Two screws at the bottom of the stock–one fore and one aft of the magazine–secure the bottom metal, stock, and barreled action. The action sits very low in the stock, which looks good and feels great in the hands.

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Browning X-Bolt:

Model: X-Bolt Hunter
Purpose: Big game
Manufacturer: Browning
1 Browning Place
Morgan, UT 84050
801-876-2711
Action type: Bolt-action
Operation: Turn-bolt
Magazine type/ capacity: Detachable, rotary magazine. Three rounds:WSM calibers; four rounds: standard calibers
Reciever material: Steel
Caliber: .270 WSM (tested), .243, 7mm-08, .308, .25-06, .270 Win., .280 Rem., .30-06, 7mm Rem. Mag., .300 Win. Mag., .338 Win. Mag., .300 WSM, 7mm WSM, .325 WSM
Barrel length: 22 in. (standard), 23 in. (WSM), 26 in. (magnum)
Rifling: Four grooves; 1:10 RH twist
Sights: None; drilled and tapped for scope bases
Metal finish: Matte blue (as tested); polished blue; matte stainless
Safety: Mechanical trigger disconnect
Trigger type: User adjustable, Browning Feather
Pull weight: 3 lbs. 8 oz. (tested)
Stock material: Turkish walnut (tested); synthetic
Stock finish: Satin
Drop at heel: 1/2 in.
Drop at comb: 5/8 in.
Length of pull: 13.625 in.
Checkering: Cut checkering
Recoil pad: Black, 1 inch, Inflex pad
Sling studs/swivel: Fixed sling studs
Weight, empty: 6 lbs, 11 oz.
Overall length: 42 3/4 in. (23-inch barrel)
Accessories: Owner’s manual, security lock
MSRP: $799- $1,049 ($849 as tested)

X-Bolt Hits The X-Ring
I didn’t have much of a choice when it came to scoping my X-Bolt, but that’s okay. The 4-12X 40mm Cabela’s Alaskan Guide Premium scope that came on my test rifle worked just fine. I had never used a Cabela’s scope before, so I was anxious to see how the new optic measured up.

At home, the scope was bright and clear. It was also a nice match, size-wise, for the new Browning. Since the gun was shipped to me for a hunt, the scope was already mounted in a set of Talley’s excellent lightweight mounts, and it had been bore-sighted.

At the range, the scope tracked well, with adjustments moving the scope a quarter-inch per click at 100 yards. After only four shots, I had the gun dialed in and ready for some serious accuracy testing.

I only had three loads on hand, but they proved to be all I needed to see just how accurate the new Browning X-Bolt was. With Federal’s 130-grain TSX load, it shot well under an inch at 100 yards for three shots, and five-shot groups averaged right at 1.24 inches. Average velocity was 3,193 fps. Federal’s new 130-grain Tipped Trophy Bonded load shot almost as well, with an average of 1.38 inches for five, five-shot groups and an average velocity of 3,187 fps. Winchester’s 150-grain Supreme Elite XP3 load clocked 3,039 fps and averaged 1.86 inches.

It took the better part of a day and 79 rounds to wring out the lightweight .270 WSM. I was quite impressed with the rifle overall, but several features stood out. The new Feather Trigger made the biggest impression. It was light and crisp for sure, but it was also the cleanest rifle trigger I’ve ever tried. The mechanical advantage imparted by that third lever makes it feel as if there is absolutely no creep. In fact, the trigger is so crisp and clean, I didn’t feel like I was shooting my best until after I’d fired about 30 rounds through the rifle.


The X-Bolt’s polymer rotary magazine is easy to load and feeds reliably.

I was also quite taken with the new stock design, which feels light and lively in the hands. On the bench, the straight-line design recoiled straight back rather than flipping up and into my face. The soft rubber recoil pad did an excellent job of reducing felt recoil.

Operating the bolt was as smooth and easy as with my A-Bolt. The 60-degree bolt lift made it easy to chamber a round with minimal movement and without pinching my hand between the bolt and the scope. The rotary magazine fed cartridges smoothly and easily, and the rifle shucked empties like a champ.

My friend, James Jeffrey, owns several A-Bolts, so I asked him to fire a few groups at the conclusion of my shooting session to see how he felt about the rifle. He shot it well, and he fell in love with the new rifle in the process. He raved about the new trigger and said recoil wasn’t bad at all considering the rifle’s light weight and .270 WSM chambering. He opined that he liked the mix of old and new–he loves the A-Bolt’s tang safety and 60-degree bolt lift but thought the X-Bolt’s new magazine, stock, and trigger design were huge improvements.

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Browning X-Bolt Accuracy

Factory Load Velocity (fps) 100-Yard Accuracy (in.)
.270 WSM
Federal 130-gr. Tipped Trophy Bonded 3187 1.38
Federal 130-gr.TSX 3193 1.24
Winchester 150-gr. XP3 3039 1.86
Notes: Accuracy is the average of five, five-shot groups fired at 100 yards from a Caldwell rifle rest an rear bag. Velocity is the average of 20 rounds measured 15 feet from the gun’s muzzle with a Shooting Chrony chronograph.

I was scheduled to hunt free-range aoudad in West Texas with my good friend, Hunter Ross of Desert Safaris, but I couldn’t remember if I’d moved the scope at the end of my firing session, so I sent the gun to the range with another friend, Denys Beauchemin, to verify my zero. Beauchemin is a gun writer and an experienced F-Class and benchrest shooter, so I was anxious to get his take on the new X-Bolt, too.

He brought the rifle back with some good targets and a perfect zero–1.5 inches high at 100 yards. Of course, being a benchrest shooter, he is a sissy when it comes to recoil, so he thought the X-Bolt kicked a bit much for him. Compared to the heavy .223 and .308 he shoots in F-Class competition, I am sure it does, but I would definitely take his opinion on recoil with a grain of salt. But he does know triggers and accuracy, and he thought the X-Bolt’s new trigger was great. He also thought it was pretty darn accurate for a sporter-weight rifle, an opinion supported by several three-shot groups in the 0.6- to 0.7-inch range.

Afield With The X-Bolt
Hunting free-range aoudad in the mountains of far-west Texas is difficult any time. In March, when the barometer reaches the 100-degree mark by late morning, it’s a grueling experience. I was grateful for the X-Bolt’s light weight and svelte stock as I toted it up and down those steep, rugged mountains in pursuit of one of the blocky, North African imports that call those mountains home.

We spotted a huge herd of sheep late in the afternoon, but they were in the middle of a wide, open valley. With hundreds of eyes watching and no cover, we were stuck until the rams fed off. So I did the smartest thing I could think of–I chugged some water, crawled into a shady spot, and went to sleep.


By pushing the raised button at the top of the bolt handle, you can cycle the bolt without deactivating the safety. The author really likes this feature.
The trigger housing on production X-Bolt rifles will look nicer than on the author’s preproduction rifle, but they are identical internally. The new Feather trigger adds a third lever to make the trigger feel creep-free. The bolt release is clearly visible here. The X-Bolt’s recoil lug is bedded. Additional bedding compound behind the magazine makes for a solid, accurate platform.

I woke up a half-hour later to Ross tossing rocks at me and giggling like a school girl. I sat up just in time to see the last of the herd feeding its way around the bend. We gathered our things and took off, side-hilling quickly to catch the herd. We worked to within 300 yards of the group, but the big ram Ross pointed out was beyond that.

With light fading fast, I nestled the X-Bolt’s fore-end onto my pack and settled into a solid prone position. Ross ranged the ram and cautioned me to take note of the wind. I watched the blowing grass for a minute to get a good read on the wind, held accordingly, and touched the trigger. An instant later, I saw the ram collapse in my scope, and then I heard the meaty smack of the Tipped Trophy Bonded bullet striking home.

Ross was thrilled with the fine, 30-inch ram. He even grudgingly gave me a little credit for pulling off the difficult shot. I was pleased, too, but I wasn’t the least bit surprised. After all, I have a long and successful hunting history with Browning rifles. The X-Bolt is just more of a good thing.


The author shot the 1.17-inch, five-shot group at the bottom with Federal’s 130-grain TSX load. The 0.673-inch, three-shot group at top was right at the three-shot average for the X-Bolt. James Jeffrey puts the X-Bolt through its paces. He loved the rifle’s new magazine, stock, and trigger designs.

  • Chris

    I bought an X-bolt 300 WSM. It was a costly mistake. I cant stand the action on this rifle. I had an A-bolt, which I loved, and traded it in for this garbage. The gun to date has jammed our not fed a bullet into the chamber in excess of ten times. Its so bad, I went out and bought a new rilfe after it jammed on a bear hunt. Sadly, I have talked to several people and all have had trouble with their X-bolts too.

    • john

      youre stupid

  • Nick

    You state that the barrel is hammer-forged.

    Quote: "The X-Bolt’s barrel is a standard Browning tube. That is to say it is hammer-forged and has a recessed target crown."

    Browning's web site says they are button barrels.

    Who is correct, or has there been a change in production???

  • Jason

    So please show us where the “loaded chamber indicator” is. I have 3 Xbolts and none of them have one. A little research on the Browning website would have shown that the barrels are button rifled, not hammer forged. And John you are correct, Chris is either stupid or just plain lying.

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