February 12, 2020
By Joseph von Benedikt
On today’s rifle scene, where long-range precision is all the rage, there’s been a vacancy in rifles that were both affordable and capable. Browning has just rectified that with the Browning X-Bolt Max Long Range.
That vacancy has existed for good reason. To achieve the stability, consistent accuracy, and ergonomics necessary to regularly make good hits at extended distances, a rifle must be excellent in all regards.
Barrels must be straight, with smooth, well-rifled bores. Actions must be square, with concentric barrel threads and equally bearing locking lugs. Stocks must be rigid and contain the barreled action securely and consistently whether in heat or cold, wet or dry, and no matter how much torque is applied in various improvised shooting positions.
Browning’s X-Bolt Max Long Range is a superbly accurate rifle with long-range bells and whistles. Suggested retail starts at $1,299.99 and ranges up to $1,359.99 depending on caliber, but it can usually be found on dealers’ shelves at around $1,000 to $1,100, again depending on caliber.
The Nuts & Bolts
Let’s dive into the nuts and bolts of the rifle and examine how the Browning X-Bolt Max Long Range achieves a level of performance that competes with rifles four times its cost.
For starters, the X-Bolt action was designed with must-have criteria. It had to be lightweight, extremely ergonomic and intuitive, and inherently accurate. It accomplishes all those things. The profile is artfully laid out and machined to avoid surplus metal. The three-lug bolt naturally finds equal-bearing equilibrium on its triad of contact points. Ammo is protected in a high-impact polymer magazine so as to avoid accuracy-stilting damage to projectile tips during recoil. The action’s footprint is round and settles comfortably and securely into stock mortises. Importantly, every X-Bolt action is glass bedded into its stock, and the barrel is free-floating.
Several small details of the X-Bolt turn shooters into disciples. Polished raceways and body allow the bolt to reciprocate like grease on glass. The 60-degree bolt throw is short and smooth. And the readily accessible tang safety locks the bolt closed when engaged, yet there’s an override so shooters can unload the chamber with the safety engaged.
Unlike the stainless-steel barrel, the Max’s action is made of chromoly steel and has a blued finish. That puts the different types of steel where they really shine. Stainless in the bore combats corrosion, and chromoly in the action eliminates the locking-lug galling common to stainless and reduces machining costs.
Like the actions, barrels are manufactured in Japan, at the Miroku Firearms Manufacturing Co. Say what you will, the Japanese know how to make an accurate barrel. Bores are smooth, walls are equal and concentric, and crowns are even and clean. The heavy sporter profile on the Max Long Range is fluted to enable fast cooling and reduce weight while maintaining accuracy-benefitting stiffness. The muzzle is threaded 5/8-24 (making it compatible with standard suppressors) and is factory-fitted with a sleek, recoil-reducing brake.
Paired with the action is a gold-plated, user-adjustable trigger. It’s one of the best factory triggers on the market today and is housed in an alloy trigger guard engraved with the Browning Buck Mark logo. Forward, the detachable magazine seats comfortably in a composite floorplate framework.
The Max Magic
Now, none of this is really new. X-Bolt rifles have been serving hunters and precision shooters admirably for almost 15 years. Where the precision-rifle cost-saving magic happens is in the stock.
To understand how unique it is, some groundwork is necessary. For a stock to be impervious to moisture, heat, cold, torque, vibration, and so on (all attributes necessary for long-range precision), it has to be both rigid and entirely stable. More stable than any pure wood stock, although quality wood laminates are excellent, and more rigid than any traditional injection-molded stock.
Shooters desiring rigidity usually opt for premium stocks hand-laid of fiberglass, graphite, carbon fiber, aramid fibers, or the like. Alternatively, many competitive shooters today are opting for machined-aluminum chassis-type stocks, which are also extremely rigid and stable and are configurable.
Both types are time-consuming to manufacture and feature costly ingredients. All things considered, they are the best, and uncompromising shooters willing to pay a whole bunch more pesos for a few percent more rigidity will continue to cheerfully buy them. But what’s important is that the stock comes really close in strength and rigidity and offers all the desirable attributes of ergonomics and configurability, but it costs a whole bunch less.
Made of “glass-filled composite,” the stock is clearly more than plastic blasted into a mold. It’s rigid—really rigid. It has stiffening fiber in the liquid matrix that gets injected into the stock mold. I’ve attempted to flex the stock—and short of clamping it in a massive vise and going after it with an industrial-size pipe wrench, you’ll find no bendability in that stock.
Its dimensions are designed to aid humans in shooting it consistently, meaning it’s comfortable, ergonomic, and engineered to be easy to hold and fire the same every time. It has a somewhat wide, flat-bottomed fore-end and parallel, square-topped walls in the barrel channel.
As I said earlier, the action is glass bedded. Rearward, the grip is quite vertical and fills the shooting hand well without feeling like a banana squash in your fist. Unabashedly, I’ll state that it’s one of the best-feeling grips of all the precision-rifle stocks I’ve tested.
Behind the pistol grip, the toe-line of the stock is parallel to the bore and features two stepped levels. The parallel lines enable the rifle to ride a rear bag straight rearward in recoil, dramatically reducing muzzle jump and assisting shooters to spot their own impacts downrange.
A comfy Inflex 2 recoil pad distributes recoil and features rounded toe and heel profiles to minimize the likelihood of snagging in bulky clothing. I find that to be very helpful when diving into a prone position for a cross-canyon crack at a mule deer. To enable the shooter to adjust length of pull to perfection, two spacers come with each rifle and can be installed between the recoil pad and the stock. Length of pull ranges from 13.75 to 14.25 inches.
The final piece of the configurable-stock puzzle is the adjustable-height comb (cheekpiece). It offers about an inch of adjustment, making it possible to quickly tune your cheek-weld precisely. That’s a big deal in the world of precision shooting. I once helped a buddy frustrated with the 1.5-MOA groups he was getting from his custom rifle by installing an adjustable-height comb, and that simple addition immediately reduced his groups to 0.75 MOA.
There are witness numbers and a scale at the rear of the X-Bolt Max Long Range’s adjustable comb. Once you have the height finessed to perfection, take note of the number. That way, when you need to drop the comb to clean the barrel or remove the bolt, just replace it at your reference number and—voilà!—it’s back to the correct position.
Also, the knurled knob that releases and secures the comb in position is reversible. That, in combination with the tang safety, makes the rifle quite comfortable for left-handed shooters.
I’ve range-tested two X-Bolt Max Long Range rifles, one in .300 Winchester Magnum and one in 28 Nosler. The .300 Win. Mag. rifle loved the first load I tried in it, packing three shots into ragged one-hole clusters. As you can see from the accompanying chart, the 28 Nosler wasn’t as forgiving—like most high-horsepower rounds—but positively loved Nosler’s 160-grain AccuBond load.
From the bench, the Max Long Range rifles were pure pleasure to fire. Recoil was modest with both rounds, courtesy of the excellent stock dimensions and muzzle brakes.
Friend Nathan Roberts and I set out steel targets and backed away from them, firing from shooting sticks and other various improvised positions and stretching the distance to 731 yards. Roberts was toting his traditional elk rifle and battled to hit the targets. I put the .300 Win. Mag. X-Bolt Max Long Range in his hands, and he rang each and every target with ease. His affinity for the rifle quickly grew—so much so that he borrowed it for a trip we made to hunt Africa a month later. Loaded with Federal’s 180-grain Barnes TSX factory load, Roberts hunted impala, zebra, oryx, and kudu and dropped most with a single shot—a testament to both the quality of the bullet and the easy accuracy inherent to the rifle even when fired from field positions.
Roberts is a fairly new hunter, but he adopted the X-Bolt Max Long Range and became proficient with it faster than usual. That provided a resounding testament to the user-friendly nature of the rifle’s design, and it proved to be very easy to shoot well from all field positions.
For backcountry hunting here in the West, at 8.5 pounds, bare, the X-Bolt Max Long Range is on the cusp of too heavy. However, it’s so accurate and shootable that the extra ounces are worth packing, particularly if you’re young or not hunting particularly aggressive terrain. For cross-canyon shots at mule deer or elk and for pronghorns in wide-open country, it’s absolutely ideal.
At the time of this writing, the rifle is available chambered in several popular cartridges, including 6mm Creedmoor, 6.5mm Creedmoor, 6.5 PRC, 7mm Remington Magnum, 28 Nosler, .308 Winchester, .300 WSM, .300 Win. Mag., .300 Remington Ultra Mag, and 30 Nosler. High-capacity magazines are not yet available for the design, but if they eventually become options, an X-Bolt Max Long Range chambered in one of the lighter, efficient cartridges would be an excellent choice for shooters getting into PRS shooting.
I was skeptical when I began working with the rifle because, in my mind, it’s just not feasible for a $1,000 rifle to perform similarly to a $4,000 rifle. And while that’s still true—super-premium match-grade rifles are and will always be a breed apart—the X-Bolt Max Long Range comes so darned close that it will serve 90 out of 100 shooters just as ably as a rifle costing four times as much.
Browning X-Bolt Max Long Range SpecsManufacturer:
Browning Arms; browning.comType:
28 Nosler, .300 Win. Mag.Magazine Capacity:
26 in.Overall Length:
46.9 in.Weight, Empty:
CompositeLength of Pull:
13.75 to 14.25 in.Finish:
Blued action, satin stainless barrel, black and gray stockSights:
None; drilled and tapped for scope mountsTrigger:
Adjustable, 2.9-lb. pull (as tested)Safety:
$1,339.99 (.300 Win. Mag.); $1,359.99 (28 Nosler)