Rifle Review: Browning’s Newest X-Bolt Is a Killer Value

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Browning currently offers an astonishing 36 different X-Bolt models, with prices ranging from $860 to $2,930, and if you were standing in a gun shop gazing down the line of X-Bolts, the new X-Bolt Speed SPR might get lost in the mix. But that would be a shame, because while it may not appear special at first glance, it is. Over the course of our recent 2023 F&S Rifle Test, every member of the test panel remarked how impressed they were with this rifle. It’s why Browning’s latest X-Bolt scored so well, and why we selected it as the Best Value Hunting Rifle of 2023.

When something is described as a “best value,” it can mean different things to different people. For us, “best value” does not mean “cheapest.” It means that you’re getting your money’s worth—and more. At a around $1,400, the X-Bolt Speed SPR is not what most folks would call cheap. But it is one hell of a rifle for what you’ll spend.

This rifle should also suit a wide range of hunters, because it’s not too heavy, the barrel is not too long, and it has not been adorned with unnecessary accessories like rail sections, a cumbersome stock, a high-capacity magazine, or an obtrusively large muzzle brake. What it is, is just right. And it worked flawlessly.

Browning X-Bolt Speed SPR Specifications

browning rifle rests on table with ammunition in front

  • Length: 38.5 inches
  • Weight: 6.16 pounds
  • Barrel: 18 inches, 1-in-7 twist, threaded at 5/8×24, comes with brake and thread protector
  • Action: Bolt, three-lug, 60°
  • Trigger: Browning Feather Trigger, 3.2 pounds (as tested)
  • Capacity: 4+1, detachable magazine
  • Finish: Cerakote, smoked bronze
  • Stock: Synthetic composite, with Browning Ovix Camo
  • Chambering: 204 Ruger, 223 Remington, 22-250 Remington, 6.5 Creedmoor (tested), 308 Winchester, 6.5 PRC, 6.8 Western, 7mm PRC, 7mm Remington Magnum, 28 Nosler, 300 Winchester Magnum, 300 PRC
  • Price: $1,429

Our test rifle was chambered in 6.5 Creedmoor, but one of the most appealing facets of this rifle is that it’s available in a dozen chamberings, from 204 Ruger to 300 PRC. This makes the X-Bolt Speed SPR appealing as a varmint rifle, a combination varmint/big game rifle, or a dedicated big-game rifle. The barrel length and weight vary from 18 to 22 inches and from 6.12 to 6.62 pounds, depending on the cartridge. The 6.5 Creedmoor we tested has an advertised weight of 6.25 pounds, but on our scale, it weighed slightly less and was just shy of a meter long.

The foundation of all Browning X-Bolt rifles is the smooth-operating bolt that has a 60° lift. There are two advantages to a short bolt throw like this. The first should be obvious: You do not have to lift the bolt as far when cycling it. Theoretically, this speeds bolt operation, but practically, the advantage is too small to measure. The action on this rifle was very fast to operate, but it had as much to do with its smoothness as it did with the shorter bolt lift.

close-up of rifle's bolt action
When on “safe” the bolt handle is locked closed, but by pushing this button on the bolt handle you can unload the rifle while it’s on “safe.” Sabastian “Bat” Mann

The other advantage of the 60°-bolt throw has only lately been realized. The riflescope magnification throw lever has become almost standard on modern optics, and the magnification dial on most scopes rotates to the right for more magnification. In many cases, when set to maximum magnification this places the throw lever in a position that interferes with bolt operation. With the shorter bolt lift of the X-Bolt, this is a non-issue.

The nicely shaped synthetic stock was trim and comfortable in the hand and on the shoulder, and the comb, though just a tad low, has some negative drop to negate recoil on your cheekbone. There are stippled panels at the wrist and over most of the fore-end to enhance your grip on the rifle, and the butt is capped off with a very soft 1-inch Inflex recoil pad. The very well-designed four-round detachable magazine fits into the stock flush and secure, and it was easy to load, easy to lock in place, and easy to remove. Two Cerakoted sling swivel studs were located in their usual positions.

close-up of rifle safety mechanism
Browning X-Bolt rifles are fitted with a two-position tang safety, and there’s a red “cocked” indicator at the base of the bolt. Sabastian “Bat” Mann

A two-position safety is located on the tang, and it locks the bolt in the “safe” position. However, to allow the rifle to be unloaded while on “safe,” there’s a bolt un-lock button located at the juncture of the bolt handle and bolt body. It’s very well-engineered, and if you didn’t know it was there, you’d likely overlook it. The action is drilled and tapped for scope mounting but uses the unusual four-screw Browning X-Bolt pattern. (We tested the rifle with Browning’s proprietary lightweight alloy rings.) Finally, SAAMI (Shooting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers’ Institute) specifies a 1-in-8 rifling twist rate for the 6.5 Creedmoor, but this rifle has a 1-in-7 twist. It’s very unlikely you’ll ever encounter factory or handloaded ammunition that needs a faster twist rate than that.

Browning X-Bolt Speed SPR Test Results

Pros

  • Safety locks bolt
  • Comfortable to shoot
  • Very attractive
  • Dead Reliable
  • Lots of chamberings to choose from

Cons

We tested five loads from the bench in this rifle and the average for our total of 10 five-shot groups was 1.33 inches. That’s not quite brag-worthy, but the Federal 135-grain Berger Hybrid Hunter load averaged less than an inch, and the best five-shot group we fired measured 0.89 inches. In other words, if you take the time to find out what load it like, this gun will really shoot. Just as important, the worst group fired measured only 1.51 inches. This may seem like an odd way to look at precision but consider this: The average worst group size for all 10 of the rifles we tested was 2.1 inches, only three of the 10 rifles fired a smaller worst group than the Browning, and their average price was $3,700—2.5 times more than the Browning.

Rifle Review: Browning’s Newest X-Bolt Is a Killer Value
Richard Mann

The trigger on this rifle is very nice with no take-up and almost no overtravel, and it registered at 3.2 pounds on our Timney trigger pull gauge. Some may find the trigger the tiniest bit heavy, but it is very manageable, which was evidenced partly by how well the rifle excelled during off-hand shooting. Not only did it balance nicely between our hands, but the rifle also felt agile and found our shoulder and the target quickly. On the running deer target, two of our three shooters managed four hits, and we rarely missed during off-hand shooting.

The bolt was lightning fast and cycling it felt as effortless as pulling your finger through warm squirrel gravy. The rifle came with an obnoxiously loud multi-port muzzle brake. It might be appreciated on the 6.6-pound, 300 PRC version, but it wasn’t on a 6.5 Creedmoor. We did very little shooting with the brake on, and much preferring the supplied thread protector or a suppressor.

Read Next: The Best Rifles of 2023

Final Thoughts on the Browning X-Bolt Speed SPR

shooter aims rifle with large suppressor
Brag about little groups all you like, but where this rifle really excelled was during off-hand shooting. It balanced well, was not overly heavy with a suppressor, and we rarely missed a target. Sabastian “Bat” Mann

This rifle was not too heavy, not too expensive, perfectly reliable, and more than accurate enough for sensible shots at big game. You can find a reasonably decent bolt-action hunting rifles for around $600 these days. What you will not find for that price is a refined bolt-action rifle like the Browning X-Bolt Speed SPR. This rifle looks like it’s priced but performs like it costs much more. I’d readily recommend it to someone new to—but serious about—hunting, or to a seasoned veteran who wants a solid rifle they can trust.


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