With a longstanding tradition of excellence and high-quality, Browning has become a manufacturer that American hunters know and trust. So, for a wolf hunt come up last month, they were the first place I turned. The best thing about going to Browning is that you don’t walk away with just a rifle. Your walk away with a magnificent rifle. And everything else you need for your hunt too. Hells Canyon, Idaho, was near our hunting grounds, so it was appropriate that we looked to Browning’s Hells Canyon line for our needs.
- Type: Bolt Action Rifle; Short action
- Cartridge: 6.5 Creedmoor
- Capacity: 4+1 rds.
- Barrel Length: 22 in.; 1:8 in. twist
- Features: 60-degree bolt lift; detachable rotary mag; sling swivel studs; drilled and tapped for scope bases
- Trigger: 3 lbs., 8 oz. (tested)
- Finish: Burnt Bronze Cerakote
- Length of Pull: 13.625 in.
- Weight: 6 lbs., 5 oz.
- Overall Length: 42 in.
- MSRP: $1,200
- Manufacturer: Browning
Across the board, the camouflage pattern we picked was A-TACS. A-TACS is a hybrid pattern, employing organic pixilation from a palate of naturally occurring terrain colors. It uses small patterns woven into larger patterns to break up outlines at both close and far distances. Having used it before, I knew it would be an excellent choice for the terrain.
Freezing is a quick way to end your hunt, but nobody wants bulk either. So step one was a jacket. I opted to test the Hell’s Canyon Hellfire Speed Jacket, which proved to be an excellent choice. Temperatures ranged from 25 degrees Fahrenheit to 70 over the course of a day, and this jacket was plenty from the 50 to 25 range. It functioned well both during movement, and sitting while glassing for long periods. The biggest thing that impressed me was its wind-sheering ability. While remaining breathable, this jacket blocked the wind and kept me warm during long glassing sessions. One of our insert vehicles to get us to our area was a Yamaha Wolverine X4SE side by side, so new at the time it didn’t even have a windshield imported yet. Needless to say, I tested the wind blocking ability at 50 mph in the early morning chill, and it performed admirably. This is my new favorite hunting outer layer.
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For pants, I went with the Hell’s Canyon Speed Backcountry. I tend to run a little on the hot side, so I avoid insulated pants. The Backcountry pants are built from a 2-layer stretch fabric shell bonded to a woven stretch fleece. This material is quiet like the grave, and also does an excellent job of stopping wind. The pockets are well thought-out, with zipper enclosures on each of them. There is nothing worse than moving across difficult terrain quietly, and then wondering where your rangefinder fell out. These pants are a win, too.
Rounding out the package were the Hellfire Glove and Trailhead Beanie. No soldier worth his salt leaves home without a beanie, and this one was great. Built of the same wind sheer material as the pants, it did a fantastic job. The gloves proved to be incredibly waterproof, and the leather palms held up great. A long section of our movement was through a burned out area, littered with downed logs. The gloves got more abuse thrown at them in one day than most would in a season and walked away without a scratch on them.
I have long been a fan of Browning rifles, so this one was easy to love. In fact, my first rifle was a Browning 22, almost 3 decades ago. I still shoot it at least a few times a year, and it still cleans up gophers. It’s hard not to love a rifle from the company that still bears the name of Saint John Moses Browning (peace be upon him). Aside from mopping up terrorists with a John Moses Browning M2 .50 cal, mopping up deer with one of his bolt guns is about the most American thing you can do. The X-bolt is amazingly lightweight, and arguably the best handling bolt gun I have ever picked up. The action is glass bedded and free-floated to enhance accuracy, and the 22-inch barrel is fully fluted. From the factory the muzzle is threaded, making suppressor hunting an option if it is legal in your area. If not, the pre-installed muzzlebrake is an awesome way to tame the light weight. The muzzlebrake isn’t so large as to be obnoxious, but does a fantastic job of keeping the gun on target and your shoulder from hating you.
The bolt is incredibly smooth for a factory rifle, and the 60-degree throw makes for rapid follow-up shots. But with the trigger that comes standard, that probably won’t be a problem. Browning calls this trigger the feather trigger, and that is an appropriate moniker. It is screw adjustable from 5 pounds to 3 pounds, and mine out of the box was right at 3.5 pounds. There is no takeup, just a clean break. Among hunting rifles, this is the one to beat.
Visually, the rifle is stunning. The A-TACS theme continues with the rifle stock, which also features soft touch grip surfaces in the areas you hold the rifle. The buttpad is an excellent fit, and dampens the little recoil the muzzlebrake lets past. The real killer though is the metal surfaces. The action, barrel, bolt, and all the accent pieces are Cerakote Burnt Bronze. The rifle is a work of art, and this one is going to be hard to resist on store shelves.
What exactly makes this an X-bolt? Word to the wise, don’t leave the store thinking about rings. The X-Bolt has no iron sights, and is drilled for X-Bolt specific bases. They feature 4 bolts on each base, set in a square. Or maybe an X. Either way, it is like nothing else. The mounting system seems very secure, but make sure you pick up rings before your hunt. A Picatinny rail section is also available from Browning.
For glass, Leupold seemed like the appropriate choice. The VX-3i 4.5-14 gave me plenty of top end power for the mountains, but was extremely light in weight. I chose a front focal plane with a mil dot scope, just in case I really needed to reach. The glass gave excellent visibility even in fading light, thanks to its 50mm objective lens. Uncommon for a hunting scope, it also featured 1/10th mil adjustments on both windage and elevation. I like this feature for zeroing, and I use holds in the field anyway.
For a range finder, light was again the key. I selected the Vortex Impact 850, a tiny powerhouse. The 7 x magnification was great for glassing far ridge lines on the move. I thought it might be underpowered for some of the areas I was in, but that proved incorrect. At both ranging and observation, the Impact punch well above its weight. At a street price of $199, this little guy is a must have for your hunting kit.
For ammunition, I opted to run Federal Premium Trophy Copper. Providing excellent terminal ballistics, the 120-grain in 6.5 Creedmore is also incredibly flat shooting. Wolves move fast, and you might need some reach as well. Federal has built some exceptional hunting rounds this year, and this one also proved a winner.
How did it shoot? For a lightweight hunting rifle, absolutely outstanding. My second 5 round group was ¾ inches, and then it proceeded to crush the top half of a 66% IPSC at 500 meters. I have guns that will out shoot it, but not in its weight class. Not even close. The muzzle brake works great, and over all the gun handles fantastic. For hunting guns, this is the one to beat.
Our hunt proved unsuccessful. We had plenty of tracks, and the wolves were answering our calls. But in the end, they proved to elusive. I still count the week as a success though, if for no other reason an opportunity to test new hunting gear. And if I draw tags again next season, the Hell’s Canyon X-Bolt is coming with me.
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