The world seems awash in bolt-action rifles, and for good reason. A solidly 19th century gadget, the bolt-action repeater combines speed and a decent onboard magazine supply with a chassis that’s adequately sturdy to manage even the heaviest full-power rifle rounds. Originally developed for war, the bolt-action rifle, in its many guises, has likely put more deer meat on the table than any other manmade contrivance.
John Moses Browning was born five years before the American Civil War, yet his gun designs inspire the armaments of the world today. He designed the .50-caliber M2 machine gun as an anti-balloon weapon during World War I, but this timeless gun still perches essentially unchanged atop U.S. MRAP vehicles and Abrams tanks, even this deep into the 21st century. Pump-action shotguns, lever-action Winchester rifles and the tilting-lock, recoil-driven operating system that runs 95 percent of the world’s current combat handguns originated in his fertile mind. Let’s not forget that he also birthed a certain 1911 handgun and the powerful .45 ACP cartridge it fires. He certainly had a gift.
The company that bears Browning’s name carries on his legacy of innovation and quality. I did my part to keep the turkey population in check in the Mississippi Delta during my formative years, wielding a classic Browning Auto-5 shotgun. And I recently evaluated a modern Browning bolt action with all the bells and whistles—the X-Bolt Hell’s Canyon Speed rifle.
Almost unnaturally lightweight yet sporting features adequate to tame the heaviest magnum calibers, the newest X-Bolt is a stunning combination of classic style and 21st century technology. For starters, the steel receiver has a gorgeous Burnt Bronze Cerakote finish that blends into the countryside while looking awesome. The action comes professionally glass bedded, and the receiver is drilled and tapped for scope mounts. The barrel is floats freely for enhanced accuracy, and it’s also fluted to reduce weight without sacrificing any strength or rigidity. The barrel has a target crown while the muzzle is threaded and comes equipped with a well-ventilated muzzle brake for less felt recoil.
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The bolt has a 60-degree throw, and an adjustable Feather trigger comes standard. The action is built around a detachable, four-round rotary magazine, and the safety is easily accessible along the top tang.
The composite stock, covered in A-TACS Arid/Urban camouflage, includes textured gripping surfaces and a palm swell along with a Dura-Touch armor coating and an Inflex recoil pad. Additionally, the geometry of the stock tends to distribute the line of recoil away from the shooter’s cheek. Sling swivel studs are built in. The final product weighs approximately 6.56 pounds and makes for a portable and delightfully accurate precision rifle. And while this rifle is available in a number of chamberings, my test sample came in .30-06 Springfield.
Around the turn of the 20th century, the world’s militaries were shifting to large cartridges that used smokeless powders and pushed “spitzer” (pointed) bullets. The Russians adopted the rimmed 7.62x54mm round, the British the rimmed .303 cartridge and the Germans the 7.92x57mm Mauser S Patrone ball round. In response, United States forces adopted the “Cartridge, Ball, Caliber .30, Model of 1906,” or .30-06 Springfield. This revolutionary round typically pushed a 150-grain spitzer bullet to about 2,700 fps. Subsequent rounds used IMR propellant and a heavier 174-grain bullet to produce better performance out of machine guns.
The .30-06 Springfield actually mikes out to 7.62x63mm. It was introduced, as the name implies, in 1906. This proven rimless cartridge soldiered on in military service until the early 1980s. The .30-06 served as America’s primary rifle and machine gun round before being supplanted by the .308 Winchester/7.62mm NATO and 5.56mm NATO. Although the venerable caliber might be a bit long in the tooth nowadays, it was adequate to help our grandparents free the planet during World War II.
American civilian shooters inevitably follow the path of their military, and the .30-06 developed a rabid following that persists today. The .30-06 sports a healthy recoil impulse but performs well on any North American game animal with proper shot placement and expanding bullets. Americans will still be launching .30-06 rounds out of their M1 Garand rifles when my great-grandchildren have passed on.
Speaking of ammunition, Browning recently teamed with Winchester to produce a line of state-of-the-art premium performance ammunition adequate to bear the Browning name. The components are top shelf, and the quality control is unrivaled. Browning hunting rounds push BXR Rapid Expansion Matrix Tip bullets designed for antelope and deer of all flavors. This proprietary matrix-tip bullet maintains energy and velocity downrange while expanding violently and reliably upon impact. In short, this meticulously designed projectile renders excellent accuracy and knockdown power, and I obtained a 155-grain BXR load for testing.
Hunting Shack Munitions (HSM), a Montana-based company, has been producing quality ammunition for civilian, military and law enforcement users since 1968. Offering 700 products in 125 calibers, HSM is a veteran-owned company that prides itself on high quality and superb performance. Using only the highest-quality bullets, brass, powders and primers, HSM crafts its loads to optimize reliability and downrange horsepower. Look at the company’s wares and you can tell these guys are serious gun nerds, just like us. So, to test the X-Bolt, I picked up two HSM loads.
I’ve squeezed triggers for fun and money since I was a child, but I didn’t have much experience with the .30-06 Springfield before this article. I’m a child of the modern age, and most of my serious guns are built for the .308 Winchester. I own an M1 Garand but haven’t fired it much. I didn’t know what I was missing.
Pushing the heavy .30-06 Springfield round through a 6.56-pound rifle should be a vigorous exercise, at least according to physics. However, the Browning X-Bolt Hell’s Canyon Speed rifle has a thoroughly modern chassis that results in a surprisingly pleasant shooting experience despite the gun’s modest weight.
The muzzle brake profoundly improves perceived recoil, though the muzzle blast out of the sides will loosen your fillings if you’re running a nearby spotting scope. Ask me how I know that. The ergonomics of the gun interface perfectly with my form and distribute recoil so it’s surprisingly comfortable. The long barrel delivers the sort of accuracy you might expect from such a top-end rifle, along with consistently blistering velocities. Any rugged individualist so equipped would be adequately armed to address threats from up close to a kilometer away if he or she did their part.
This rifle is intentionally designed for lightweight portability, and its capacity for phenomenal accuracy is evident from the attached ballistic chart. However, this lithe chassis comes at a cost. The free-floating, thin-profile barrel was fairly susceptible to lateral manipulation during my time at the range. I found that a little stock pressure to one side or the other substantially changed the point of impact. However, the key here is training. After you learn the gun, it performs beautifully.
I’m more intimate with heavy-barrel, military-style bolt actions and found this sleek Browning to be a delightful change of pace. It’s difficult to believe you could run a .30-06 that weighs less than your favorite AR and not suffer in the process, but the Hell’s Canyon Speed pulls it off. The thin barrel requires a bit more finesse than its portly brethren, but its light weight will make a world of difference when you have to hump the rifle halfway around the planet in pursuit of your favorite hoofed mammals.
X Marks The Spot
Gun companies strive daily to separate us from our hard-earned cash. Autoloaders of variegated stripes, handguns with sundry bling and even weird folding guns that defy ready characterization are available to American shooters with healthy credit cards. However, even in this age, you could argue that a bolt-action repeater remains a uniquely capable firearm.
The Browning X-Bolt Hell’s Canyon Speed rifle weighs no more than a stripped-down AR yet brings reliable fire out as far as you might reasonably see. Capable of dropping any North American game animal with its .30-06 chambering, the Hell’s Canyon Speed provides reliable protection against predators, whether they stroll on two legs or four. In the hands of a committed survivor or hunter, this rifle will reliably fill your larder.
The Hell’s Canyon Speed rifle reflects the state of the art in modern bolt-action designs. Fun, cool, accurate and easy to run, this modern rifle embodies all that’s good and wholesome about John Moses Browning and his many-splendored guns. This gun is everything you might want in a precision bolt-action rifle.
For more information, visit http://www.browning.com or call 800-333-3288.