As so often happens when stalking pronghorn antelope, failure comes before success. I was hunting on the vast Crow Reservation in southeast Montana – an area that defines big, open country with little stalking cover – and had already blown one attempt when a previously unseen band of pronghorn materialized and spooked the herd I was stalking. On my second attempt, I trotted with guide Troy Cunningham (of Legend Waterfowl, Whitetails & Rios) through a small ravine and crawled on hands and knees to the top of a rounded, sloping ridge. Belly crawling another 20 yards to close the distance as much as I dared, I couldn’t help but wonder how many other humans had done what I was doing, while armed with different weapons, in this area over the course of centuries.
The sense of history in the area was almost palpable, as the sloping ridge I crawled over didn’t look terribly different from the one overlooking the Little Bighorn River, just a short drive away, that was immortalized as the scene of Custer’s final indiscretion in the Battle of the Greasy Grass. Now I was fighting my own battle to get my breathing under control after the stalk as I steadied up for a shot at a buck 260 yards away. My trigger finger did its little act on cue and the buck staggered. He didn’t immediately go down, but he clearly wasn’t going anywhere. I don’t take chances in such situations, so I quickly worked the bolt and put another bullet into him, and he dropped where he stood. Subsequent examination revealed the second shot hadn’t been necessary.
The rifle I was holding isn’t one that most people would immediately think of as a tool for hunting pronghorn. I was using Franchi’s new Momentum Elite Varmint rifle, which tipped the scales at a full-up weight of 10 lbs., 8 oz., with a scope and rings installed. The rifle alone weighs 9.4 lbs. That’s a bit heavier than I would prefer for a rifle to be toted on long stalks, but it also proved to be quite a stable platform when I used it later in the role it was designed for to dispatch scores of prairie dogs. Then, too, the rifle was chambered in 224 Valkyrie, which some might consider to be a bit light for deer-sized game, which includes pronghorn. Trust me, it’s not. Shooting mostly Federal’s Premium 78-grain TSX load, our entire party of seven hunters tagged out on pronghorn using Elite Varmint rifles over three days of hunting, and a couple of bucks were shot at greater distances than mine.
The Elite Varmint rifle is also available in traditional varmint chamberings of 22-250 Rem. and 223 Rem., but the 224 Valkyrie is a good choice for those who want a rifle to do double duty as a varmint gun and a gun capable of taking deer-sized game. That’s because the 224 Valkyrie is designed to use long, heavy-for-caliber, high-ballistic-coefficient bullets that excel at long range so long as you push them down a barrel with a rate of twist that’s fast enough to stabilize them. In the case of this rifle, that translates into a zippy 1:7 rate of twist, and that translates into the ability to use heavier bullets with more energy, less drop, and greater effectiveness at long range.
One of the first things you’ll notice about this rifle is its non-traditional styling, as evidenced in the rifle’s stock. The rugged Franchi “Evolved Ergonom-X” stock is specially designed for varmint shooting with a high, removable cheek rest and a removable, checkered polymer grip. The black cheek rest and black grip contrast nicely with the rest of the stock, which has a Gore Optifade Subalpine camo finish. The hand-filling forend has a wide, flat bottom for resting the gun on bags or shooting sticks. On the underside of the stock, you’ll find a traditional sling swivel stud toward the front of the forend, for attaching a bipod, as well as two integrated QD mount points behind that to attach a sling behind a bipod if you wish to do so. There’s ample stippling on both the grip and forend to provide solid purchase in inclement weather. The overall appearance of the stock, which has some stylish curves and swells to it, is a cut above the average synthetic stock.
Much of the rifle’s weight comes from the use of a heavy, cold-hammer-forged, spiral-fluted barrel that measures 24 inches in length. It has a 5/8-threaded muzzle and sports a muzzle brake. The brake combines with the rifle’s considerable weight and an effective recoil pad to reduce recoil to negligible levels. This is one rifle you can shoot all day with no impact on your shoulder.
The barreled action wears a well-executed Midnight Bronze Cerakote finish to protect it from the elements, and I can attest that both the stock finish and Cerakote can stand up to some abuse. I was pleasantly surprised, after several days of rough handling in some rough country, to find no mars, nicks, or scratches on the rifle.
Another happy surprise with this gun was just how smoothly the push-feed action cycled. It uses a spiral-fluted, chrome-plated bolt with three large locking lugs, and has a short, 60-degree throw that allows for ample scope clearance. The short bolt throw also helps in rapidly chambering rounds for follow-up shots. The gun employs a simple, two-position safety, located just behind the top of the bolt handle within easy reach of the thumb, that does not lock the bolt down when engaged. Mounted atop the action is a one-piece Picatinny rail that simplifies the job of attaching a rifle scope. The rail wears a Cerakote finish that matches the finish on the receiver.
One interesting aspect of the gun’s design is that it allows you to make some optional choices to better suit your needs. The gun is equipped, for example, with a medium-size TSA recoil pad that gives the rifle a length of pull of 14 inches and an overall length of 46.75 inches, but you can order both smaller and larger recoil pads to adjust the length of pull to better fit the shooter.
While I normally choose scopes myself for testing rifles, this gun arrived with a Vortex Razor HD LHT 3-15X42 scope already mounted in Vortex rings. While I initially had some difficulty getting the eyepiece focused for my vision – I had to dial it way out – I eventually got things set up to my liking before the hunt, and the scope performed admirably in the field and at the range.
The rifle employs a lightweight, polymer, straight-feed magazine. The magazines of some Momentum models hold four rounds, but I was able to squeeze seven rounds into the magazine supplied with my test rifle. You have to apply a fair amount of downward force on loaded rounds with your finger to load each additional round, but the ammo rides securely and does not rattle around with motion. Feeding from the magazine was flawless, as was extraction and ejection. I also found it easy to load one round at a time through the ejection port while shooting the rifle at the bench. The magazine drops freely into the hand when you operate the magazine release button, which is located on the inside forward edge of the trigger guard. That placement took a little getting used to, but it’s a clever design. The placement of the button, which takes a little force to operate, all but ensures the magazine won’t be dropped out of the rifle inadvertently.
Testing the rifle at my home range revealed that bullet velocities were mildly slower than factory-advertised numbers, but accuracy results validated my expectations from using the rifle in the field, and the gun lived up to Franchi’s MOA-accuracy guarantee. A couple of different 224 Valkyrie loads from Federal using 60-grain and 75-grain bullets produced average groups measuring right around one inch, with slightly smaller best groups, but the 78-grain TSX load I used on the pronghorn hunt shot the tightest groups at 100 yards. That load clustered bullets into an average group size of 0.80 inches, with the best group measuring just a little over half an inch. This particular rifle clearly preferred the copper round, but that wasn’t the case with all of the rifles used on the hunt. Some shot the other loads better, demonstrating the old truism that every rifle has its own ammo preferences.
One factor that undoubtedly contributes to the gun’s accuracy is the fact that it comes with a very good trigger. The one on my test rifle broke cleanly and crisply, with no creep, at an average pull weight of 2 lbs., 3 oz. Franchi’s “Relia Trigger” is adjustable for a pull weight of 2-4 lbs., but I saw no need to adjust it. The gun was, happily, good to go out of the box.
The rifle has an MSRP of $999.00, which is in line with comparable specialty rifles. Based on results in the field and at the range, this one’s worth every penny.
Specifications: Franchi Momentum Elite Varmint Rifle
Caliber: 224 Valkyrie, as tested
Action Type: bolt action
Trigger: single-stage adjustable
Barrel: 24-inch, fluted and threaded
Rate of twist: 1:7
Stock: synthetic Gore Optifade Subalpine camo
Magazine/capacity: detachable, 7+1
Sights: None, pre-installed Picatinny rail
Overall Length: 46.75 inches
Weight: 9.4 lbs.