Browning X-Bolt Stainless Stalker Review
Browning has been producing bolt action center fire rifles since the introduction of the BBR in 1978. The BBR carried through until 1984 when it was replaced with the A-Bolt. Today the A-Bolt is still in production, but in 2008 Browning introduced its new X-Bolt line of hunting rifles.
The X-Bolt lineup has steadily been growing since its introduction and we decided to take a look at the Stainless Stalker variation in 270WSM. The Stainless Stalker is offered in three different action lengths and a variety of cartridges. The shortest action is only available in 223 Rem and 22-250 Rem, while the standard short action is available in 243 Win, 7mm-08 Rem, 308 Win, 300 WSM, 270 WSM, 7mm WSM, and 325 WSM. Long actions are available in 25-06 Rem, 270 Win, 280 Rem, 30-06 Springfield, 7mm Rem Mag, 300 Win Mag, and 338 Win Mags. Long actions magnums come with 26" barrels, while the short actions generally come with 22" barrels, except for the short magnums which have 23" barrels. At the time of publication, expect to pay between $900 to $950 at retail depending on the cartridge purchased.
Browning X-Bolt Stainless Stalker
Perhaps the feature that stands out the most on the Stainless Stalker is the Dura-Touch stock. Like the A-Bolt before and some other Browning and Winchester long guns, the Dura-Touch rubberized coating is a nice feature that improves the grip of the gun in most any condition. The underlying stock is an ordinary synthetic stock like most others on the market; however Browning uses a special process to layer the rubberized treatment onto the stock. Dura-Touch tends to hold up very well over the years and is a worthwhile improvement over traditional synthetic stocks. As a footnote, if you like the grip of the Dura-Touch stock but want it on a different rifle, you might want to consider the Hogue line of OverMolded stocks. The grip is similar and is available on some factory offerings as well as an aftermarket stock replacement.
The Stalker series of stocks is also a good platform for building an accurate firearm. Our test model has a completely free floated barrel and as can be seen in the accompanying pictures, the action is bedded in two spots on the stock. The action is held in place by two screws, one that goes near the front recoil lug and the other near the rear mounting bolt, making for a solid matchup between the stock and action. Finally the stock is capped with a Browning Inflex recoil pad that is particularly soft and is reminiscent of other aftermarket pads like Limbsaver produced by SVL.
The X-Bolt has a free floated barrel.
Front recoil mounting slot in the X-Bolt. Notice the bedding compound used to get a tight seal between the action and the stock.
While this year marks the first year that the X-Bolt is available in left handed action, this does not include the Stainless Stalker which is available in right hand versions only. Furthermore, the Stainless Stalker has a right hand palm swell on the pistol grip that fits nicely for the right handed shooter, but will likely be annoying for a south paw. Left handed shooters set on an X-bolt may want to consider one of the other models available, but will have to wait for a left handed Stainless Stalker.
The bolt has been upgraded over the A-Bolt. The first noticeable difference is a button at the top of the bolt handle that allows the shooter to extract a live round while the safety is engaged. The three locking lugs of the bolt are in the same shape as the A-Bolt, but the X-Bolt now sports a larger Sako style extractor. The bolt throw when extracting and chambering rounds is nearly the same as the A-Bolt with a short throw. For those that like a tang safety, the X-Bolt safety remains in the same location as the original A-Bolt.
Another significant change in the X-Bolt is the new magazine. The magazine appears to be made of a fiber reinforced plastic and is rotary in nature, much like other rotary magazine such as the Ruger 10/22. The rotary magazine allows Browning to get one extra round of the short magnums in the clip over the standard A-Bolt. The magazine also lines up the cartridge in direct line with the chamber so there is no longer the staggering that occurs in a traditional double stack magazine. The inline placement of the cartridge makes feeding a little smoother, although if properly designed a traditional double stack mag and well-polished feed ramp should not be an issue. The rotary magazine is also designed to hold the cartridges by the shoulder so the tip of the bullet cannot impact the front of the magazine when jarred or under recoil. This is a thoughtful feature on Browning's part because the high ballistic coefficient bullets used widely today demand the tip not be deformed in order to maintain correct flight and expected trajectory.
The X-Bolt features a redesigned trigger that Browning has dubbed the "Feather Trigger." Like Winchester's M.O.A trigger, the X-Bolt trigger is impressive with no creep and no overtravel. Our test model broke cleanly at 3.5-4 lbs. every time and can be user adjusted from 3lbs. to 5 lbs. Adjusting the trigger does require removing the trigger guard, which is held in place by the two screws that bed the action to the stock; however removing the stock is not required, unlike some other guns. Once the trigger guard is removed the adjustment screw is buried under some red glue that must be removed in order to tweak the trigger. As always be careful when adjusting the trigger and be sure to verify proper function after making adjustment to a rifle trigger before heading afield.
With the X-Bolt, Browning is introducing a new base and ring system they are calling X-Lock. X-Lock features four screws per base, rather than the usual two screws per base, in a two base system. At the time of writing Browning is producing a variety of integrated base/rings to work with X-Lock. Leupold also is manufacturing their standard windage adjustable two piece base system that can then be used with standard Leupold rings. The advantage of the X-Lock rings is that it's a precise fit for the action with no variation; however keep in mind that if you use the X-Lock and later on decide to go with a much larger (or smaller) objective scope you'll most likely need to purchase a new set of X-Lock base/ring system since it's integrated. With the Leupold system it would just be an additional set of rings. Also be careful when torqueing down the base screws, the front set of base screws (nearest the barrel nut) have rather shallow tap depth and if one isn't careful, over torqueing the screws is possible.
In conclusion the X-Bolt has some great new features over the previous A-Bolt line up, plus if you're searching for an all-weather rifle the Stainless Stalker is a solid offering. The Stainless Stalker is priced above some other notable offerings such as the Savage Weather Warrior that we reviewed previously; however the improved trigger, Dura-Touch stock, and improved magazine system make the higher price for the X-Bolt a competitive offering.
For more information visit www.browning.com.