By Mike Deming
For decades, I’ve had custom rifles built to give me the most accurate firearm possible. When the Browning X-Bolt Long Range Hunter hit the market, I was fortunate enough to field test one for several months. It performed as well if not better than my $5,000 custom rifles, so when the X-Bolt Hells Canyon Long Range rifle was announced, I immediately put in a request to get one in my hands.
Due to the high demand, it took a while for my rifle to show up. I had requested it in my favorite caliber, which is the .26 Nosler. However, there are eight different calibers to choose from when looking at this new rifle, the smallest being the 6mm Creedmoor all the way up to the 300 Win Mag. Each one of these rifles has a 26” barrel which is a heavy sporter contour type, which means it’s designed for long-range and your groups won’t fall apart after a few shots. All barrels are fluted and then threaded on the end to accommodate the included muzzle break or an aftermarket suppressor. Browning then finishes up this great barrel and action with a Burnt Bronze Cerakote.
The Hells Canyon stock is covered with DuraTouch Armor Coating, which provides a rubbery type feel to the synthetic stock. It provides an extremely sure grip when hot or cold, as well as when wet or dry. It is covered with Browning’s exclusive, A-TACS AU camouflage pattern, which mixes micro as well as macro patterns to break up the outline. The barrel is free floated within the stock, to make sure it provides you with the best accuracy possible.
Another great feature is the 60-degree bolt lift, which allows a much shorter action of movement to eject the shell and chamber the next round. These rounds are fed from a rotary style, detachable magazine and you are able to purchase an additional mag for backup should the need arise.
An adjustable trigger, which has no creep, is essential to being extremely accurate at long-range and Browning is spot on with their Feather Trigger system. It is completely adjustable by the owner without the need to send it off to a gunsmith. The design of this trigger makes it one of the safest on the market as well as extremely precise, with absolutely no creep. Our trigger was adjusted to break right at three pounds. We then topped the rifle with a Leupold VX-5HD and headed to the range to check for overall accuracy.
Doubletap Ammo is my preferred ammunition of choice when doing tests like this. My primary reason is that each and every round is hand loaded just as I would do personally if I had the time. The other reason is that I’ve tested them for years and they are premium ammunition with premium components, which is going to give me the best results out of a test rifle. I don’t want to put myself in a position to have a rifle perform poorly because we chose poor ammunition. Based on the past tests with the Browning Long Range Hunter models, I wanted to start with either the 127 grain Barnes or the 140 grain Accubond load. Both have performed extremely well out of every one of the rifles we have ever tested, but each rifle will usually favor one more than the other.
We went through the break-in process according to the owner’s manual by shooting and cleaning and then shooting and cleaning again. Once we got into the full testing process, we settled in at two hundred yards. The 127 grain Barnes load was up first. After three smooth trigger squeezes, I had pulled off a 1.25” group at 200 yards, making this a .625” 100-yard group. Pretty impressive for a factory rifle. The Accubond load performed acceptable and was still less than a 1” group at 100 yards, but it didn’t perform near as well as the Barnes. We moved out to 500 yards for the next 3-shot group. Due to the 5-mph wind, the group was a few inches off to the right, but the group was 3.25” overall.
The 600 and 800-yard ranges were then skipped over, as we moved right to the 1000-yard range, which usually separates the men from the boys or in this case, separates the good rifles from the great ones. The first shot burned the edge of the 5” bullseye. We heard the steel bang at the report of the second shot, but couldn’t see the impact mark. However, a replay on the long-range video camera revealed that I had stacked both bullets on top of each other. This had the makings of a group I would be happy with at 200 yards, let alone 1000. The third shot expanded my overall group to 5”, but shots four and five held the group inside that. A five-shot 5” group at a thousand yards, with a factory rifle, is one I’m happy to take with me on any hunt.
I was so confident about this rifle that I hauled it to Alaska for a Dall Sheep hunt. A week later, I took this same rifle to Nevada for an antelope hunt and connected with a one shot kill at 775 yards with a complete pass through. A double-lunged shot at that distance is what I would consider an extremely accurate rifle.
In conclusion, the X-Bolt Hells Canyon Long Range rifle is every bit as accurate as most custom rifles at a fraction of the cost. I will be keeping this rifle for a very long time and putting it to the test season after season. Anybody want to buy some custom rifles? I’ve got a few for sale.