Browning X-Bolt Pro Carbon Rifle - tried & tested
PUBLISHED: 11:44 16 May 2019
Browning’s beautiful X-Bolt Pro Carbon rifle showcases a stunning carbon fibre stock and a tough, corrosion resistant Cerakote barrel. Chris Parkin is pretty taken with this one!
BROWNING X-BOLT PRO CARBON FLUTED CERAKOTE RIFLE - IN BREIF
LIKES: A really good-looking, lightweight gun; Superb stock, good ergonomics and incredibly stiff yet not prone to vibration transmission; Super slick bolt operation, almost impossible to jam and never any stutter; Cerakote offers great durability and corrosion resistance
DISLIKES: I'm not sure the barrel lapping is worth getting particularly excited over; Sadly, no lefty or 224 calibre centrefires
VERDICT: This needed a few rounds to "mature" the bore, but was such a pleasure to shoot and carry with unique yet modest visual appeal. Light in weight, but not a 'lightweight' in terms of sporting capability. Quite simply, I find myself shooting this gun more than I need to!
TECH SPECS - BROWNING X-BOLT PRO CARBON FLUTED CERAKOTE 6.5 Creedmoor (243,308,270,30-06 also available)
Material: Cerakoted barrel, action, bolt and scope mounts
Overall length: 1080mm/42.5" (incl. 2x 5mm spacers)
Weight: 3.71kg/8.18lbs (incl. scope)
Magazine capacity: 4+1 detachable
Trigger: single stage 1369gr pull weight
Barrel length: 640mm/22" with 6x 430mm flutes (14x1mm incl. invisible thread cap)
Stock Material: Two-layer Carbon Fibre with moulded chequering
Accessories: X-Lock 30mm scope rings, 2 x 5mm length of pull spacers, trigger lock
Browning X-Bolt Pro Carbon Fluted Cerakote in 6.5 Creedmoor, £2,000
(Also used Kite KSP HD2 2-12x50 Riflescope, X-Lock 30mm Cerakoted scope mounts (included with the rifle) and Winchester Extreme Point ammunition)
Browning UK www.browning.eu 01235 514550
Sako TRG Precision ammunition
GMK 01489 579999 www.gmk.co.uk
Barnes Precision Match Ammunition
Raytrade UK Limited 01635 253344 www.raytradeuk.co.uk
Tier-One Sound Moderator
Tier One www.tier-one.eu 01924 404313
IN DEPTH TEST & REVIEW - BROWNING X-BOLT PRO CARBON RIFLE FLUTED CERAKOTE
After having shot most variants of the Browning X-Bolt over the last few years, I have come to realise the capabilities of this action, and to appreciate the multiple stock designs offered, the small details and the finishing touches, especially the synthetic bedding that Browning apply. The Pro Hunter Carbon with a Cerakote fluted barrel and action is an extremely modern approach to a sporting rifle designed to be lightweight and durable with extreme corrosion resistance.
The tungsten colour of the barrelled action is of equal visual appeal to that of the carbon-fibre stock. Starting with the former, this 6.5 Creedmoor rifle shows a 22"/560mm fluted barrel with a lapped finish to the bore, suggesting immediate accuracy from the box and less accumulation of fouling throughout its life, especially during its early life. It's neatly crowned with an invisible threadcap surrounding the 14x1 muzzle thread, before the six flutes begin their 430mm journey back along the barrel.
Tapering from 15.2mm diameter at the muzzle with a gentle swell to the reinforce, it screws into the radiused octagonal shape of the action with a recoil lug sandwiched between the two for direct transfer of firing forces into the stock. A characteristic X-shaped layout of the four scope mounting screws to the front and rear of the ejection port contain tiny screws from the factory, yet here Browning's own X-lock scope mounting rings are supplied with the rifle and fasten in place with ideally sized T15 Torx screws. These are Cerakoted, identical to the rest of the steelwork. I'd advise just checking this coating doesn't have any lumps from not drying evenly; the rings on my rifle needed a gentle fettle with some wet and dry paper to ensure no impression was applied to the tube of the Kite HD2 2-12x50 optic I fitted to the rifle.
Browning's three-lug bolt is a push-feed design with an extractor claw and a sprung plunger ejector on the right. Here it shows helical flutes that reduce a bit of weight from the forward locking action, as well as giving delightful visual appeal.
Actual technical benefits of fluting are more to do with shrugging off any debris within the action, but I will say that X-Bolts are usually slick actions and this one is the best of them. It glides open and closed with smoothly collected and fed rounds from the underlying four-round magazine, and offers plentiful primary and secondary extraction with enthusiastic ejection of spent brass.
The 65mm bolt and handle sits perfectly above the trigger to flick open through a 60° arc with the index finger of the firing hand. It then rests, projecting straight out horizontally, allowing masses of access away from the scope and stock without being unduly long or ungainly.
You should note that because Browning offers a multitude of bolt-knob designs, the helically fluted unit fitted wasn't threadlocked in place, and could easily spin free and get lost as you grip on the knob, naturally applying twisting forces to it. I added a good blob of semi-permanent threadlock to lock the stable door before the horse bolted, so to speak. After that there were no issues or concerns, and if it ever needs to come off, warming it up with boiling water will soon slacken its grip.
There is an adjustable bearing toward the lower left entrance of the action's raceways, normally hidden by the bolt but visible after you remove it. This removes unwanted play from the bolt's shaft, making it run smoother but at no cost of jamming the bolt shaft's stroke, even when deliberately attempted on test.
The safety is mounted behind the action's tang with forward for fire and rear for safe with bolt locking. This initiates the small button at the root of the bolt-handle to pop up and, if pressed down manually, allows the bolt-handle to open and unload the action - just don't crimp your thumb under the scope when you lift it.
Browning's Super Feather three-lever trigger offers a single-stage crisp break. There's about 1mm of over-travel at the tip of the 9.6mm wide, matt-finished trigger blade. This equates to approximately 0.5mm of over-travel in the centre of the blade where your finger pad sits for a precise feel, yet perhaps this is too little over-travel for some shooters to consider perfect? It's a very subjective choice. I measured 10 trigger pulls with my Lyman electronic gauge and found an average breaking weight of 1,369g with less than 60g variation over the course of fire. If you consider this a real hunting rifle with handling and corrosion resistance to cope with the worst climates, having a 2.5lb crisp trigger with plentiful space in the trigger guard for gloved fingers should work a treat - especially with the ease of access to the tang safety, with a similarly gloved thumb, that can be engaged or disengaged in near silence with minimal movement of the firing hand when shooting, either right- or left-handed.
On that note, the stock is a beauty. It is a true carbon-fibre lay up with two complete wraps of woven matt providing a solid reinforced foundation for that barrelled action. Both front and rear action screw locations/bearing surfaces between the inlet and action footprint, as well as the recoil lug, show synthetic bedding. It's not quite at the custom level but done neatly and solidly, without crumbly debris - it's one of the subtle but critical factors that sits the X-Bolt towards the front of the class, in my opinion.
Removing the 4mm Allen action screws releases the action, but it's a perfect 'negative' fit so needs a gentle squeeze out of the stock - it doesn't just fall out like most guns. This vacuum type fit is what ensures the stock and action fit closely together without undue stress applied to either exerting bending forces. Moderators being fitted and removed won't tweak the pairing (a common cause of inaccuracy when action fit is poor) and all areas are neatly machined with no loose fibres at the edges that could cause nasty splinters in your fingers.
The bottom metal is similarly Cerakoted to match elsewhere, and I can't get away from the fact that this gun looks fantastic - engineered symmetry of materials and design for an utterly homogenous delight. And that is before I shot it!
Inspection of the fore-end shows its 2mm free float to remain clear of the barrel all the way to the action. More interesting is that, being incredibly stiff, even a deliberate grip and squeeze directly from your hands hardly alters this gap, so there are no concerns of consequent inaccurate shooting from any supported or freehand positions. Bipods or sticks won't alter point of impact through intermittent barrel harmonics. I ran the gun with a Tier-One Spartan moderator off a Harris bipod with just a simple sling fitted to it. Sling studs are offered front and rear on the stock, both bonded in position for lifelong stability. Stippling is moulded into the fore-end and pistol grip, with the former showing finger grooves on its upper sidewalls for comfort and, although slim, being just big enough to fill your hand.
After testing two carbon-fibre stocked rifles this month, each of very different designs, there is no doubt it is a superb material, probably the ultimate when used appropriately. A matt sheen gleams from this stock, with barely detectable signs that it has been moulded in one piece rather than joined from two halves like the Sako's.
Areas such as the grip show the slightly inconsistent fluidity of the woven lines in the soft carbon-fibre pre-preg cloth (pre-impregnated with thermosetting polymers prior to baking and curing) used in the mould, and all I can say is that this exudes perfection like no other, especially when you scan the small but critical details. Removing the action allows you to see the hard foam fillers that keep vibration and hollow ringing almost to zero level, and it's the kind of item you keep looking at and seeing more details.
Two 5mm length of pull spacers are included and, with these added, the LOP comes in at exactly 14"/356mm. The Inflex recoil pad shows variation to the firmness across its height, yet the twin mounting screws are buried deeply within and all hard spots remain undetectable unless you need to remove it and alter spacing with a Pozi drive. It has a stippled surface and grips your shoulder well, distributing the minimal recoil force of a Creedmoor round with ease, yet shows the capability (and has done so in the past on other stocks) in significantly larger calibres with greater recoil and no discomfort.
Muzzle flip from the rifle unmoderated is minimal, and in this condition the centre of balance is under the front action screw. The stock only weighs 850g so, when ready to shoot with mounts and 2-12x50 Kite scope, the rifle carries at 3.7kg/8.1lb. I could not get the bolt to jam at any stage of its 98mm stroke, which leaves the angular but compact bolt-shroud well clear of my face.
Browning's longer action for .270/.30-06 etc, even with an extra 18mm of bolt extension, still allows you to keep your head down on the slender comb for great shot visibility and retention of the aim point, if and when rapid reloads are required.
Drop at the nose of the straight comb is slightly more than at the heel, so the pressure is effectively alleviated from your cheek on the firing cycle with the heel to toe angle, perpendicular to the bore line, transferring recoil directly. There is a slight concave dip in the centre of the butt pad keeping it locked in position during fast reloads and when aiming.
The underside of the butt shows crease detailing in the carbon-fibre to increase longitudinal stiffness and add a little visual definition to the otherwise bland shapes, before the base of the pistol grip curves back upward toward the trigger guard.
It's an open radius grip, totally ambidextrous, and although it looks quite small, my hands remain in full contact with no hint of my little finger floating away into free space as can happen when a vertical pistol grip is too small. Reach to the trigger suits my hands well. Plus, the lightweight and easily shortened length of pull means smaller shooters can happily adapt to this rifle, the grip of which gives more linear flexibility for firing hand position. Of course, the tang safety remains equally accessible.
A single catch to the front of the underside magazine well allows the four-round polymer unit to drop clear. It has a rotary spring follower within to present cartridges to the single central-feed location between the feed lips. Magazine removal for loading is mandatory as rounds need to be slid in singly from the front, but single rounds dropped into the spacious ejection port will feed into the chamber when the bolt closes in an emergency back-up shot situation.
I gave the rifle a thorough clean from new, ran 20 rounds through it to set it up, ran it in a little and zeroed the gun before progressing onto more serious range testing with a chronograph recording each round fired. The first 20 rounds hadn't been particularly inspiring at any stage, but a good scrub improved matters. First over, the chronograph was the Barnes Precision Match 140gr, developing 2,559 fps average velocity for 2,034ft/lb, with three-round groups averaging 37mm at 100m. Sako's TRG 136gr Scenar L Match bullets exited at 2,665 fps for 2,145ft/lb, 27mm centre to centre at 100m to just beat 1 MOA (28.9mm c-c would be MOA at 100m).
Hunting ammunition went to Winchester's polymer tipped Extreme Point, slotting three rounds comfortably in at 32mm average. It was interesting to compare these figures with the Sako's longer test barrel that produced more velocity at its peak yet disappointed with the Winchester ammo (which here in the X-Bolt remained far more consistent). Since that day, I have shot the gun a few more times with thorough cleaning regimes and it has improved a little more, shooting anything it is fed below 30mm for three rounds and occasionally doing it with five. This suggests that, regardless of lapping, the barrel has matured (like most will) after the first 100 rounds or so that test guns don't always enjoy. I intend to handload ammunition for this gun now I have a significant quantity of brass, because I want to push its capability with light 6.5mm varmint bullets and heavier 143gr ELD-X hunting ammunition as well. I may even see if the barrel will accept the 147gr ELD-M's; the 8" twist rate should handle them.
I return to my gut feeling that shorter barrels benefit well from hand-tailored ammunition. I suppose the fact I want to hang on to this rifle for a while and handload for it to push its limits is testament to the fact that I really liked it! Of the two Creedmoors reviewed this month, this is more clearly a lightweight hunting-only rifle, but I thought it had significant charm as well as great looks. The more I nit-picked utter perfection to my mind (I would prefer the magazine from a Mauser/Sauer M12/M18/S100/S101, narrower trigger blade, Picatinny rail etc), the more I realised I just liked the Pro Carbon X-Bolt because it had a distinct charm all of its own.