The new Browning Varmint/Target rifle with a Leupold Vari-X III 6.5-20 x 40mm scope complete with an adjustable objective. All mounted with Browning rings, it makes a handsome addition to this rifle.
With the thought of the lazy days of summer coming, I started to look for something fresh to take out for some small-game hunting. I did not have to look far as a press release from Browning showed me the way. I’m always on the lookout for a new or different varmint rifle and this X-Bolt Varmint/Target rifle sure piqued my interest. One of many special rifles in the Browning lineup, this X-Bolt series replaced the famed original A-Bolt and the BBR before that.
In this profile photo of the gun, it shows the clean lines with this new stock design. Perfect for bench or field, the design of the pistol grip places the shooter’s finger right in line with the trigger.
Just about a dozen years after its introduction to American shooters, the X-Bolt line has progressed to where one would be hard-pressed to see what was missing. Looking through the catalog, I count 20 different models in a wide array of cartridges that seems never-ending. From field grade to long range to specialized varmint guns, they seem to have it all. To add to the list this year, the Browning X-Bolt Varmint/Target helped to fill yet another gap that Browning obviously thought needed a little tweaking.
They were right!
Out of the box, the first thing that is noticed is the unfamiliar look of a new stock design. In Browning terms, they call it a composite Max stock. For the shooter on the move from one position to another, in one field or another, the adjustable comb is handy to have as the shooter can now dial in the best height for your particular eye-to-scope alignment. Just loosening the large thumbnut allows the shooter to move the comb up another 1¼ inches, which can help, especially when dealing with shooting from the bench, offhand or the prone position. Additionally, a shooter can adjust the length of pull courtesy of spacers suppled with the gun and easily installed. While we are on this part of the stock, a Browning Inflex Technology recoil pad is also standard and along with a small addition of a butt hook on the bottom of the stock (with a sling swivel), it allows the gun to come straight back to the shooter, especially when shooting from the bench.
From the side details start to emerge. The bolt knob has been enlarged, the trigger is typical gold-plated and the magazine fits flush with stock for easy access.
To me, however, an appealing aspect is the clever use of a design feature dealing with the vertical pistol grip of the gun. Novel in appearance, the deep drop of the stock at this point makes shooting this gun a pleasure as the web of my hand now allows my trigger finger to align perfectly with the trigger. Molded in this is a fair amount of stippling to aid in the purchase of the gun, is a modest palm swell on both sides accommodating both right-and left-hand shooters. To make shooting even more convenient, there is a two-position tang safety with an additional feature incorporated into the bolt handle. Simply called the “bolt unlock button,” when the safety is on and by pressing down on this button, the bolt can be opened and moved back to eject a spent round, or replace one without the fear of the gun firing.
The muzzle brake is standard on all calibers and even on the petite .223 Remington, it is useful to keep the muzzle down and on target while reducing apparent recoil.
The action of the bolt is very smooth and effortless to the point of which, that it feels like it is in an oil bath. The bolt body is one diameter from the locking lugs back to the bolt handle and shroud. There is a flat spot on the bolt for your name if you want, at the time of the order. There are three locking lugs giving the gun a 60-degree lift and a generous bolt knob to help it along on each cycle. On the bolt face, a blade extractor helps to remove the spent round from the chamber while the plunger-type ejector sends the expended round on its way and out of the gun. For contrast, the bolt handle, knob and shroud are blued to match the receiver. Upon cocking the rifle, a serrated and colored cocking indictor shows from under the shroud and can be felt even in the dark and for maintenance or travel. The bolt is removed by pressing in on the lever on the left side of the receiver. Complete with a gold trigger shoe, this proprietary “Feather Trigger” measured 4 pounds and is adjustable by the end user down to 3 pounds. Out of the box, I left it at this setting, as there was never a hint of take-up creep, but with a slight touch of overtravel.
The receiver has that modern look to it with sculptured sides, a matte finish tailored to today’s shooter, complete with polished chamber. Top side, Browning went in another direction and tapped the receiver with four screw holes instead of the customary two. A good idea for sure and with some going into long-range shooting with heavier, longer scopes, any improvement in the mounting system gives more credit to the rifle.
The rifle is fed from a rotary magazine holding five rounds.
What looks like it is made from polymer and clicks in place within the guns metal magazine well. It feeds cartridges from the center so flawless that feeding is now a way of life with today’s modern rifles. Removing the magazine requires only the effort of pulling back on the forward release, thus allowing the magazine to fall into your hand. Insertion is just as easy and either way, it can be done in any condition – day or night. The trigger guard and surrounding “bottom metal” is made from an alloy material to save weight, while gaining strength in this area.
Moving forward on this black matte, composite stock from the magazine well towards the muzzle, the stock is round, then flattens out as a good varmint rifle should, to a full two inches. Within that area, Browning has installed a Picatinny rail for a bipod, with an integrated sling swivel cast in for field carry. There are finger grooves on each side of the stock, which makes the gun easy to grab from any position. Being a composite stock there is no forend tip; instead, this part of the stock is gracefully rounded for esthetic purposes.
With Remington factory ammunition, the gun, with just a minor break in the session, printed this impressive group. Handloads should do even better.
To be a special gun, the barrel is integral part of the picture. Barrel length on all models is 26 inches, fluted and equipped with a removable muzzle brake. The diameter of the barrel is .925 inch, making it a true heavy barrel varmint rig for long-range accuracy. Profiled from stainless steel, every rifle is individually bedded, free-floated and secured on both the front and rear of the receiver for shot-to-shot consistency. There is a recessed muzzle crown on the brake, barrels are triple checked for straightness, interior finish and air-gauged for uniformity barrel-to-barrel. Adding to the full potential of this gun, the chambers are hand-reamed for accuracy over a wide range of ammunition and bullet weights.
The magazine holds five rounds and is all polymer in design. Cartridges rotate inside when loading, and with straight alignment right into the chamber assure flawless operation.
For testing purposes, I installed a Leupold Vari-X III, 6.5-20x 40mm scope in Browning X-Lock mounts. Chambered for the .223 Remington, this is a great all-around cartridge for late fall full-figured chucks to larger “small’ game. Presently, the gun in similar configurations range from the .204 Ruger to .300 Winchester Magnum in the Varmint/Target model from 9 to 9.6 pounds. Digging a little deeper, there is the Long Range gun with cartridge availability from the 6mm Creedmoor to the .300 RUM with a thinner barrel and a drop in weight to 8 pounds with all models sporting a full 26-inch barrel.
Shooting a high-quality gun like this is a real pleasure. Even though the trigger was factory set at 4 pounds, it is the perfect addition to this gun and worked out great. Loading ammunition into the magazine presented no problems and the fact is that it is one of the best I’ve used in a long time. Not that many others are inferior; but the Browning magazine is smooth in loading followed by nothing in the way of balking or failure to feed throughout this shooting session.
In this double exposure, the author shows how the comb can be adjusted to fit the needs of many shooters whether in the field or testing from a bench. When down, it is flush with the stock, while up provides additional latitude in any shooting position.
Because of the heavy barrel and the .223 Remington, the gun did not move when shooting. With the butt hook resting just past the rear sandbag, the gun settled in for some fine shooting. Concerning the muzzle brake on the .223 Remington – is it really necessary on a smaller caliber? Depends on the shooter of course, but I like a brake on any caliber and to me shooting this combination (gun and cartridge) made it feel like a lesser – read .22 Hornet, .218 Bee, – cartridge at the bench.
Concerning the stock design, at the bench it worked out well. The comb was right for me as is, but a quick turn of the dial did adjust it with ease. Overall, operation of the gun was first rate in cycling the bolt and feeding as mentioned.
Because of the COVID-19 virus, the range was closed and when it opened, range time was limited, so I chose to shoot factory ammunition. For our tests, I used SIG SAUER 60 grain Premium Grade HT, Remington 55 grain Hollow Point Power-Lokt and Winchester’s 40 grain Ballistic Silvertips. As you can see by our table, the Remington sample was the pick of the litter for the morning with the best group of .726 inch. The Sig brand came in second, Winchester was last but had the highest recorded velocity.
As a dyed-in-the-wool woodchuck hunter in the summer, I like this new Browning Varmint rifle. The lines are clean; the gun operates with precision and even with minimal testing, proved to be a winner downrange.