Long-range precision shooters are seldom satisfied with the cartridges of the day.The development of the 6.5 PRC cartridge is testament to this. After Hornady graced the world with the 6.5 Creedmoor, this batch of ultra-discriminating shooters reacted as expected and demanded a cartridge with a still-flatter trajectory. The 6.5 PRC delivered just that and did it with some of the same bullets that we have grown accustomed to shooting out to extended distances.
When compared to the 6.5 Creedmoor, shooters equipped with a 6.5 PRC-chambered rifle gain an estimated 215 fps, increasing your hit probability on unknown-distance targets. Of course, with the new round, we need new rifles, and Browning seized the opportunity to chamber its hit X-Bolt rifle in the new cartridge. The new Browning X-Bolt long-range rifle offers an excellent package for extended-range target shooting and hunting and was thusly dubbed the X-Bolt Max.
On my first handling of the X-Bolt Max, the aesthetics grabbed my attention right away. The sleek, heavy-sporter barrel was finished in a matte stainless-steel and incorporated fluting in order to help keep it cool and reduce weight. Non-reflective finishes do a better job keeping cool than blued ones, and with the 90-degree range day we were looking at, this certainly was welcomed. The 26-inch barrel is threaded and comes with a muzzle brake already affixed.
I consider this to be the new standard for any “magnum” cartridge, as no matter how ballistically sound they are, a shooter must be able to put rounds on target without flinching. The barrel also sports a 1:7-inch twist which is pumped up from the standard 1:8-inch twist that most 6.5 mm barrels feature. The faster twist rate is, no doubt, in preparation for the longer/heavier bullets that the case is clearly capable of launching.
From the shooters perspective, most folks will appreciate the adjustable comb, as this gun was built for telescopic sights. Being able to raise your comb means being able to set a custom height that your eye needs to be perfectly aligned with the optic. Moving towards the grip, I really dug the deep drop to accommodate the web of my hand and position my trigger finger directly in line with it, ensuring a squeeze that travels straight to the rear. Stippling was exactly where I needed it for purchase, and I found no stippling in any places where it would only rub against and irritate my hand. The included spacers also allowed me to add a quarter or a half inch to my length of pull, making this one cozy rifle indeed.
While opening the action, I observed the use of a three-lug bolt, which has a self-centering effect on a chambered cartridge, which it strips off of a three-round detachable magazine in a push-feed style system. Short bolt lift is also a product of the three-lug design, which allows for extra-fast follow-up shots and the ability to mount nearly any scope on the market without interference. We chose an Athlon Argos 6-24X FFP optic for our testing, as we wanted to stretch it out to 500 yards after our initial zero and accuracy analysis. In keeping with the long-range motif, we used a Warne Skyline 20-MOA mount and attached the company's anti-cant level and its dope-card holder, making this a perfect long-range setup for nearly any use.
On range day, we measured the range of the adjustable trigger and found that our particular trigger could be adjusted all the way down to 3 pounds2 ounces or as stiff as 5 pounds 4 ounces. All weights were acquired through the use of a Lyman Digital Trigger Gauge. We opted to use a simple Caldwell Rock Rest to support the front of the rifle and a Champion Wedge Bag for the rear. We brought Hornady Match 147-grain ELD ammo alongside the 143-grain ELD-X loading to see how the rifle shot with each load.
The Argos had very clear glass for an optic in its price range, which allowed us to easily spot hits in the dirt and get on paper in just a few rounds. Slinging the heavy-for-caliber bullets at speeds in excess of 2,900 fps got the barrel blazing hot in a hurry, leading to a long cooling-off period in the passenger seat of my car with the air conditioning blasting on it.
After the break, we fired our typical five 5-round groups with each ammunition type and noticed a nearly identical point of impact between the two loadings. Both rounds gave similar accuracy with the best group of 1.25 inches going to the 147-grain ELD Match, yielding an average of 1.87 inches. The 143-grain ELD-X ammunition wasn’t too far behind, with a best group of 1.38 inches and an average of 1.91 inches.
Our worst groups were both fired when the barrel was blazing hot (as expected), which only took about 20 shots, as the magnum cartridges quickly heated up the medium-contour barrel. After a final cooling period, we stretched it out to 500 yards with the 147-grain ELD Match ammo and tabulated an average accuracy of 1.31 MOA (6.45 inches) with our smallest group measuring just 5.41 inches
Back at the shop, we pulled the bolt by engaging the simple bolt release. After some Hoppe’s Number 9, we treated the bore with some Sweets 7.62 and removed a fair amount of copper fouling, as is typical with rifles chambered in high-velocity cartridges. Reassembly is as simple as disassembly, and with a little grease on the bolt, we were on our way. The Browning X-Bolt Max was a terrific rifle for longer-range work and, in the 6.5-PRC chambering, is more than capable of one-mile engagements. Shooters looking to stretch out will be well-served, just as long as they have enough time to allow for barrel cooling.