Browning’s flagship X-Bolt hunting rifle, introduced in 2008 as a completely new design, was intended to be more accurate and deliver better long-range performance than its predecessor, the A-Bolt. Browning succeeded admirably with the new design and the X-Bolt line chugged along until 2016 when the firm introduced the Hell’s Canyon Speed X-Bolt. That model quickly became the most popular rifle in the lineup, and sales took off.
In keeping with Browning’s penchant for continuously improving the X-Bolt line, that model has now evolved into the new X-Bolt Speed rifle, which delivers all the features of the Hell’s Canyon Speed rifle in what is, to my eye, a more attractive package at a relatively affordable price compared to top-of-the-line X-Bolt models.
The first thing you’ll notice about the X-Bolt Speed rifle is its new look. The rifle has entirely new finishes on both the stock and metal. The composite stock is dipped in Browning’s proprietary new signature Ovix camo. Ovix is an abstract, directional pattern that makes use of a wide range of colors, including tan, light tan, gray, light gray, and dark green. The pattern blends well in almost any environment and nicely complements a new, smoked bronze Cerakote finish on the rifle’s barrel and action. The only thing shiny on this rifle is Browning’s ubiquitous gold-plated trigger. Otherwise, the rifle conveys an all-business appearance with an overall look of subdued elegance.
The stock has clean, straight lines executed in the classic style, but in a nod to contemporary tastes, the forend has mildly sculpted recesses where the thumb and fingers of the supporting hand rest. Stippling in the pistol grip and forend help ensure a solid grip in wet conditions. The stock has blued-steel sling swivel studs fore and aft.
The rifle, available in both long- and short-action versions, is offered in no less than 16 different chamberings ranging from 243 Win to 300 Rem. Ultra Mag. Depending on chambering, barrel length may be 22, 23, 24, or 26 inches. Rifles chambered for rounds such as 6.5 Creedmoor or 308 Win. have 22-inch barrels, while guns chambered for 7 mm Rem. Mag., 28 Nosler, 300 Win. Mag., 300 PRC, and 300 Rem. Ultra Mag. have 26-inch barrels to maximize bullet velocity. Similarly, weight varies from 6 lbs., 5 oz. to 6 lbs., 13 oz. It’s not an ultra-light rifle, but with a scope and rings attached, the total weight is about where I like it for all-purpose hunting.
Apart from varying weight and barrel lengths, all of the X-Bolt Speed rifles share the same features that make X-Bolt rifles one of the best factory production rifles on the market. The rifles are equipped with fluted, sporter-contour barrels to help keep the rifle light and handy. Actions are bedded front and rear to free float barrels and maintain consistent accuracy. Barrels have recessed muzzle crowns and are threaded (M13X0.75) to accept muzzle brakes or suppressors. The gun comes with a radial muzzle brake installed. I found that it did a pretty good job, working with the rifle’s well-fitted Inflex recoil pad, of reducing perceived recoil. The recoil pad doesn’t just absorb recoil energy to the rear. It has internal ribs that create directional deflection, pushing the comb down and away from your face upon recoil.
When Browning engineers first designed the X-Bolt action, they repositioned the bolt lugs, which allowed Browning to add strength and rigidity to the bottom of the receiver, improving accuracy while shaving weight from the top. This created a need for a new scope base mounting system, and the engineers came up with the ingenious X-Lock mounting system, which doubles the traditional number of base screws from four to eight. The result is a low-profile receiver with a rock-solid scope mounting system.
The redesigned action also allowed the rifle to use a new detachable rotary magazine, made of a tough but lightweight polymer, that feeds cartridges directly in line with the bolt. The bottom of the magazine sits flush with the bottom of the action, and the magazine drops freely into the hand when you operate the magazine release lever, which is protected within a recess at the bottom of the stock. The capacity of the magazine is three or four rounds, depending on chambering.
Another notable feature of this rifle’s action is its short, 60-degree bolt throw. This provides ample room for scope mounting and allows you to run the rifle fast. I have found bolt cycling of some rifles with Cerakoted bolts to be a little sticky, but cycling with the appropriately named X-Bolt Speed rifle is quite smooth. In testing, rounds fed, fired, extracted, and ejected with zero issues.
The action employs a two-position, top-tang safety that locks the bolt down when the safety is in the rear, on-safe position. At the top of the bolt handle, you’ll find a unique bolt unlock button that allows you to cycle rounds through the action with the safety engaged. The safety blocks the sear and has a firing pin block for added safety. A red cocking indicator protrudes from the rear of the action to provide a visual cue when the gun is cocked and ready to fire.
The rifle’s single-stage trigger is adjustable within a range of 3-5 lbs., and breaks quite cleanly and crisply. The trigger on my test rifle broke consistently at a pull weight of 3 lbs., 8 oz., which is a little heavier than I prefer on hunting rifles. I left it at the factory setting for testing, but if the rifle were mine, I would adjust the trigger to its minimum setting. The rifle shot fine with the trigger’s factory pull-weight setting, as you will see shortly, but I suspect groups would shrink even more with a little reduction in pull weight. That’s especially helpful in shooting relatively lightweight rifles.
For range testing, I topped the rifle with a scope I’ve become quite fond of, the Swarovski Z8i 1.7-13.3×42 P model. In addition to its excellent glass, this scope has an illuminated reticle that you activate with a simple flip of a small lever atop the rear of the scope. It’s a great choice for hunting in low-light conditions and for getting on target quickly.
The first order of business at the range was to check bullet velocity out of the 22-inch barrel of the test rifle, which was chambered in 6.5 Creedmoor. I chose loads with four bullet weights, ranging from 129 to 147 grains, and ran them over my Competitive Edge Dynamics M2 chronograph. The heaviest bullet tested, in the Black Hills Gold 147-grain ELD-M load, stepped out 308 fps slower than advertised, but it also produced the smallest 100-yard group of just 0.32 inches. The other three loads showed only a little drop in velocity, ranging from 53 fps to 126 fps slower from factory-stated numbers. That minor amount of velocity loss from those three loads isn’t enough to make much difference at the distances at which most deer-sized game is shot. The hottest load of the bunch was Hornady’s Superformance 129-grain SST load, which I clocked at 2,897 fps.
I’ve tested several X-Bolt rifles in recent years, and all of them were unfailingly accurate. The X-Bolt Speed rifle was no exception. Despite shooting in a full-value wind blowing up to 12 mph, two of the loads turned in ¾-MOA average groups and best groups measuring a half-inch or better at 100 yards. The other two produced average groups of just over one inch and best groups slightly under one MOA. Of the loads tested, the one I would likely choose for hunting would be Hornady’s 143-gr. ELD-X Precision Hunter load, which had a 0.56-inch best group and an average group size of 0.78 inches. I’ve killed a lot of game with the ELD-X bullet, and that sort of accuracy will most definitely get the job done in most hunting situations. If you’re looking for something built to reach out a little farther, there’s also a new X-Bolt Speed Long Range model, which adds a heavier sporter contour 26-inch barrel and an adjustable comb system. It’s available in 11 popular long-range chamberings.
Browning currently offers about two dozen X-Bolt models ranging from basic rifles to semi-custom guns with prices ranging from $859.99 to $2,879.99. For my money, the X-Bolt Speed rifle, with an MSRP of $1,379.99, offers the most bang for the buck. It’s pretty much a go-anywhere, do-anything hunting rifle. It’s chambered for a wide range of popular hunting cartridges. It’s light in weight, fast handling, accurate, and nearly impervious to the elements. It checks all the boxes for an all-purpose hunting rifle – and looks good while doing so.
Browning X-Bolt Speed Rifle
Caliber: 6.5 Creedmoor, as tested
Action Type: Bolt action
Rate of twist: 1-8
Barrel: 22-inch fluted sporter, threaded
Muzzle brake: Radial
Finish: Smoked bronze Cerakote
Stock: Composite, Ovix camo
Magazine/capacity: Detachable rotary, 4+1
Sights: None, X-Lock scope mounting system
Overall Length: 42 inches
Weight: 6 pounds, 5 ounces