Browning X-Bolt Stainless Stalker review

Review: Browning X-Bolt Stainless Stalker hunting rifle


The Browning X-Bolt Stainless Stalker is an outstanding all-weather rifle, one capable of withstanding the most rugged outdoor conditions, and it also has essential features like its trigger, stock and accuracy that make it an exceptional hunting rifle.

During a hunting career spanning almost 70 years I’ve encountered some really difficult conditions — deep snow and ice, wet underbrush and forest canopies that drop a deluge of water. 

Browning X-Bolt Stainless Stalker review
The Stainless Stalker is not only weather-beating and very rugged, it is a finely designed and well built firearm

Extreme climatic and challenging weather conditions have to be contended with all over the world. You can go from extreme heat in the Northern Territory and Equatorial Africa to extreme cold in the Victoria alps and the Arctic.

Years ago I took wood-stocked rifles all over the world to places where they never should have gone. The French walnut and fancy-figured maple handles got dented, scratched and scarred. Metal surfaces showed a lot of wear. 

Today there’s no need to expose nice rifles to places where climatic conditions are extreme. There are guns with synthetic stocks and stainless steel actions and barrels that are rustproof. Some, like my Browning X-Bolt Hell’s Canyon, boast an impervious Cerakote finish or similar. 

The X-Bolt is basically an upgraded A-Bolt with more modern styling to transform it into a slimmer, trimmer, easy-carrying rifle.

Browning X-Bolt Stainless Stalker review
The major parts of the X-Bolt action. Everything is very well designed and executed

The Stainless Stalker deserves high marks. It is a lightweight, sturdy hunting rifle that is attractive, well-made and chambered for a range of excellent cartridges. The long action is available in .270, .30-06, .300 Win Mag, .338 Win Mag and .375 H&H; and the short action in .223 Rem, .243 Win, and .308 Win.

I’d be game to take the Stainless Stalker hunting anywhere, in any weather for almost any game. While my test rifle is in .223 Remington, I’ll stand by that statement.

My test gun in .223 appears to be a stainless steel version of the Micro Composite model sans muzzle brake and with a longer barrel. The lines of the X-Bolt’s receiver are slimmed down to be more refined. Above the stock, the sides are flat and then taper with two 30-degree angles. The top is slightly rounded to conform to the barrel’s outside diameter.

A 6.4mm (0.252”) deep, 23.2mm (0.915”) wide steel recoil lug is sandwiched between the barrel and receiver, and has an angular shape to match the contours of the receiver ring. The recoil lug extends into a mortise in the stock and is held tightly with bedding material. The receiver ring and area behind the magazine well are also supported by epoxy.

Browning X-Bolt Stainless Stalker review
The X-Bolt has a round-bottomed receiver and sandwiched locking lug

The round-bottom receiver is held to the stock by two screws that pass through both the aluminium bottom metal and the composite stock. One threads into the receiver ring and the other into the receiver behind the magazine opening.

The X-Bolt’s hammer-forged, sporter-contour barrel is 56cm (22”) long and has a recessed target crown. About 19mm (.75”) of the barrel in front of the receiver rests on a layer of bedding epoxy, and the remainder of the barrel is free-floated.

The strong chamber locking mechanism utilises a bolt with three solid locking lugs spaced equidistantly around the bolt head. It has a low 60-degree bolt lift and bolt travel on the short action is a brief 93mm (3.65”), against 140mm (5.5”) for the long action.

The X-Bolt action cycles smoothly. A rectangular guide tab on the bolt body runs in a slot in the right side of the receiver, the upper lug runs in a corresponding channel inside the top of the receiver bridge, and the other two locking lugs travel along raceways to further enhance bolt travel. 

Browning X-Bolt Stainless Stalker review
The X-Bolt’s action is modern and smart-looking as well being extremely smooth

The rotary magazine perfectly aligns each cartridge with the chamber, so feeding is very smooth.

The bolt release is on the receiver’s left flat.

The bolt face has a deep counterbore with a thick rim housing a stout M16-type pivoting extractor between the right two lugs. The Remington-style plunger ejector never fails to eject fired cases from the chamber and pelt them well clear. 

The upper surface of the bolt body has a longitudinal flat machined to emulate the lines of the A-Bolt, but its bottom is round.

Browning X-Bolt Stainless Stalker review
Safety is sliding two-position tang that blocks sear and trigger movement; an unlock button on the bolt handle’s root allows the bolt to open on safe

The bolt handle is a one-piece steel casting with a teardrop-shape knob that is swept back a few degrees. It incorporates the bolt unlock button at the root of the handle. The button is large but unobtrusive and easy to work.

If depressed while the rifle is on safe, it unlocks the bolt to allow unloading safely with the sear and trigger still blocked.

The angular bolt shroud is made of cast aluminium given a matte silver finish to match the stainless finish on barrel and action. The tail of the firing pin is painted red and acts as a cocking indicator when it protrudes under the bolt shroud.

The top of the receiver gives the X-Bolt its name. Instead of the conventional two-hole arrangement for attaching scope bases, the X-Bolt has four screw holes for each base. There is one screw positioned at each corner, giving rise to the designated “X”. Instead of dinky 6-48 screws, the Browning uses eight of the larger, stronger 8-40 screws to add rigidity as well as making a solid platform for the riflescope. The extra steadiness of this design has to contribute to more consistent accuracy.

Browning X-Bolt Stainless Stalker review
The detachable polymer rotary magazine feeds five .223 cartridges as smooth as silk

The flush-fitting, detachable, polymer rotary magazine holds five .223 cartridges. The magazine release catch fits in a recess in the frame, so there’s little chance it could be accidentally pushed and drop out the magazine.

If the magazine runs dry, you can single-load a cartridge into the chamber by dropping it on top of the empty magazine and closing the bolt.

The X-Bolt has Browning’s innovative Feather Trigger system, an impressive unit that’s markedly superior in feel to the previous trigger on A-Bolt rifles. An alloy trigger housing contains hard-chromed steel components that are highly polished on all contacting surfaces.

This three-lever trigger offers a clean, crisp let-off with no take-up or creep or over-travel — it’s totally inert. It has no adjustments for creep or over-travel; they are simply not needed.

Browning X-Bolt Stainless Stalker review
The Feather trigger is a three-lever design adjustable for weight of pull only, but it’s so good it doesn’t need any more

The trigger weight, though, is screw-adjustable from 1.4-2.3kg (3-5lb), and is factory pre-set at 2kg (4½lb). To lighten the pull I removed the stock to gain access to the adjustment screw located in the front of the trigger housing. The hex-head screw was locked with epoxy so I removed that and turned the screw counterclockwise to set the pull at 1.4kg (3lb).

Trigger pull does make a difference in the success of your shots. When you’re sighting in at a benchrest, you’ve got plenty of time to settle down, focus on trigger pull and pay attention to any trigger discrepancies that might be present. In the field, everything can happen unexpectedly all at once and instantly. The last thing you need to affect your aim is a too-heavy, creepy trigger pull.

The quicker you can get your shot off, the more likely you are to make a clean kill. You won’t have a bad experience with the Feather Trigger’s crisp, light pull; it’s a winner.

The Stainless Stalker’s composite classic-style stock is gracefully proportioned, weighs less than 900g (2lb) and features Dura-Touch Armour Coating. The comb is high and slopes upward toward the rear. The pistol grip is gently curved and the grip and fore-end have finger-tip grooves for a secure hold, as well as panels of stippled gripping surfaces in place of chequering.

Browning X-Bolt Stainless Stalker review
We used a Meopta Meosport R 3-15×50 scope for tested and tried a range of Winchester .223 ammo with good results

The butt is capped with a soft recoil pad that eliminates felt recoil in any calibre, let alone the mild-kicking .223.

Winchester sent three factory loads for testing, but they proved to be all that was needed to see just how accurate this outfit was. 

Browning X-Bolt Stainless Stalker review
Even with five-shot groups the sporter-weight Stainless Stalker shot very well. Ken Harding gives it a run

With the 55gn Polymer Tip Rapid Expansion VarmintX load it shot just under .75” at 100yd (21mm at 100m) for three shots, and five-shot groups averaged right on .990”. The average velocity was 3235fps.

Winchester’s 64gn Extreme Point Deer Season load shot almost as well with an average of 1.10” for five lots of five-shot groups, and an average velocity of 3020fps. This recipe is intended for hunters of whitetail and mule deer in the US and I know from experience that it kills like lightning on fallow bucks and boars. On one occasion it achieved compete penetration on a medium-size boar at almost 150m.

The third load, a 55gn FMJ target load, clocked 3226fps, but several cartridges failed to ignite despite the primers being deeply indented by the firing pin. The cartridges that fired punched five-shot groups averaging 1.10”.

Browning X-Bolt Stainless Stalker review
Accuracy taken as the average of four 5-shot groups at 100 yards fired from a sandbag benchrest. Velocity is the average of 20 rounds measured with a MagnetoSpeed chronograph.

I was very pleased with the rifle overall, but several features stood out.

The Feather Trigger made the biggest impression. It was light and crisp for sure, but it is also one of the cleanest rifle triggers I’ve ever tried. The mechanical advantage imparted by the third lever makes it feel as if there is absolutely no creep.

I was also taken by the Stalker’s stock design, which feels perfectly balanced and lively in the hands.

Operating the bolt was as easy as with my X-Bolt Hell’s Canyon Speed. The 60-degree lift made it easy to chamber a round without removing the rifle from my shoulder.

Browning X-Bolt Stainless Stalker review
The bolt has three locking lugs, a pivoting extractor and a plunger ejector

The rotary magazine fed cartridges smoothly and easily and the bolt extracted and ejected the empties as easily as shelling peas.

In the past, I have enjoyed a successful hunting history with Browning rifles, starting with the FN Mauser and progressing through the BBR and A-Bolt to the ultimate X-Bolt, which is a bit more of a good thing.

SPECIFICATIONS

  • Manufacturer: Miroku, Japan
  • Type: Three-lug bolt-action centrefire with 60-degree uplift
  • Calibres: .223 Rem (tested), .243 Win, .308 Win, .270 Win, .30-06, .300 Win Mag, .338 Win Mag, .375 H&H
  • Magazine: Detachable polymer rotary
  • Capacity: 5
  • Barrel: 56cm (22”) sporting contour, 1:12 R/H twist
  • Overall length: 104cm (40.75”)
  • Weight: 2.9kg (6lb 5oz)
  • Stock: Classic black composite; glass bedded
  • Trigger: Feather Trigger, adjustable for weight of pull
  • Sights: None; drilled and tapped
  • Safety: Two-position on tang
  • RRP: $1650 (2023)
  • Distributor: Winchester Australia

 

 

 


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Nick Harvey

The late Nick Harvey (1931-2024) was one of the world's most experienced and knowledgeable gun writers, a true legend of the business. He wrote about firearms and hunting for about 70 years, published many books and uncounted articles, and travelled the world to hunt and shoot. His reloading manuals are highly sought after, and his knowledge of the subject was unmatched. He was Sporting Shooter's Technical Editor for almost 50 years. His work lives on here as part of his legacy to us all.

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