Review of Franchi Horizon Varmint

Review: Franchi Horizon Varmint centrefire hunting rifle


The Franchi Horizon Varmint is a semi-custom long-range rifle which offers a number of unique innovations, including a high Monte-Carlo stock which has a removable comb and pistol grip

Franchi is world renowned as the maker of sporty, performance-oriented shotguns, but in 2018 the Italian company introduced is first centrefire rifle. Called the Horizon, it was intended to compete with entry-level home-grown models in the economy rifle segment in the US but it has garnered a lot of attention here in Australia.

Review of Franchi Horizon Varmint
For accuracy testing, the outfit was cradled in an FCX Lead Sled on a benchrest

I reviewed the Horizon sporter in 2019 and was impressed by its fine accuracy as well as its practicality.

Since then, Franchi has added the Horizon Varmint chambered in .308 Win; and Varmint Elite, chambered in .223 Rem and .22-250 Rem.

My sample Horizon Varmint, the standard version, has a matte black barrel and receiver with matching black stock. The Elite rifles come with a Cerakoted barrelled action in midnight bronze fitted to a camouflaged stock.

Normally I don’t start a review by concentrating on the stock, but I’m going to make an exception. Designed specifically for varmint sniping, the rifle’s Evolved Egonom-X synthetic stock has a most unusual feature, a removable cheekpiece. The comb is made higher than normal to align the eye with a high-mounted scope, which makes it impossible to insert or withdraw the bolt without first removing the cheekpiece. It is removed by pushing forward on the cheekpiece and lifting up the rear end first. It is replaced by inserting the front end and then pressing down on the rear end.

While the stock is synthetic, it has a number of praiseworthy features, including a broad beavertail forend with a flat bottom that allows the rifle to sit steady and be easy to shoot from a rest. The upper section of the forend has a roomy channel for your fingers. The lower section is flared, artistically blending ergonomic contact points with the linear lines and curving contours on the stock’s forend.

Review of Franchi Horizon Varmint
Franchi Varmint taken down into its major components

The pistol grip, like the cheekpiece, is removable. The reason for his eludes me, but it is slid over a frame and secured in place by the rear action screw. The wrist flares toward the base, and for me it naturally allows a consistent hand position regardless of whether I’m shooting prone, off a rest, or from the sit. Its angle places my trigger finger within easy reach of the trigger, affording a comfortable grasp. The moulded chequering pattern is basically cubic texturing — a kind of grid pattern, but it is rough enough to prevent the shooter’s hands from slipping.

Franchi paid particular attention to the buttstock, providing it with a TSA (Twin Shock Absorber) recoil pad. However, unlike the original TSA pad that featured a gel material, the TSA pad on the Horizon is effective for its shape and carefully balanced amount of rubber throughout. The pad is noticeably thicker where the recoil energy sharply impinges on the shoulder. Franchi claims these recoil pads, which the company uses on its light 12-gauge shotguns with 3.5-inch chambers, reduces recoil by as much as 50 percent. I can’t vouch for this, however, since a combined weight of 4.8kg for rifle and scope softens recoil enough to make the rifle mild to shoot.

The standard length of pull — out of the box — is 355mm, which suited me just fine.

There’s a whole lot more to the Horizon’s stock than its unique ergonomics. The stock’s rigid mid-section has solid bedding points under the receiver, and the forend has moulded-in reinforcing cross-members beefed up by a longitudinal stabilising rib along the bottom. The stock has two sling swivel attachment points in forend and butt, and both are recessed.

Review of Franchi Horizon Varmint
The high comb is removable to facilitate bolt removal

Like most other economy-class rifles, the Franchi is based on the familiar round, double-bridge cylindrical receiver, which starts out as a simple length of chrome-moly barstock and is machined with speed and precision on automatic CNC machinery. It is turned and faced, then drilled and has a notch cut for the base of the bolt handle, a generous ejection port, magazine opening, trigger sear, bolt release catch and a streamlined tang.

Boring and threading the receiver ring and cutting the cam inclines comes next, followed finally by heat treatment, polishing and Cerakoting to complete the process. Well, almost.

There are two sets of drilled and tapped holes spaced to accept commercial Remington 700 bases, which are always easy to find. The Horizon Varmint supplied for review came with a Picatinny-style rail attached and a pair of Burris 30mm rings. Beretta Australia also included a Steiner Ranger 4-16x56mm scope with a Germanic No.4 illuminated reticle.

Review of Franchi Horizon Varmint
Cylindrical receiver has short, stiff tang, and bolt release on left side. Notches in the front are for the recoil lug

The cold hammer-forged steel barrel has a length of 600mm and the diameter at the receiver ring is 27.15mm. This diameter is carried forward for a distance of 43mm before it begins to taper off, reaching 22.35mm at the 5/8×24 threaded muzzle. The Franchi is fitted with a screw-on muzzle brake. I promptly removed the brake, replacing it with the threaded cap.

The free-floating barrel has four deep grooves commencing 195mm in front of the receiver ring and extending to within 130mm of the muzzle.

The Franchi’s round action doesn’t have a conventional recoil lug. Instead, the bottom of the receiver ring has a slot milled into it on either side to fit into a V-block embedded into the stock — one slot on either side of the threaded hole that accepts the front action screw. This cradle-like insert in the stock therefore acts as a recoil lug. Combined with the heavy three-lugged bolt and the free-floating hammer-forged barrel, this results in fine accuracy from the rifle.

Review of Franchi Horizon Varmint
The Franchi has a fluted bolt with three locking lugs

The one-piece, deeply fluted one-diameter bolt is nickel plated and features three locking lugs that minimise bolt lift to 60 degrees. The bell-shaped bolt knob is easy to grasp and manipulate and the bolt glides in the receiver as slick as can be. The recessed bolt face holds a plunger-style ejector and an extractor claw that takes up much of the surface area on one locking lug.

The Franchi Varmint features a detachable box magazine and two are furnished with the rifle — a four-shot and an eight-shot, both made of high-impact polymer. The four-shot is almost flush-fitting, projecting out of the bottom of the stock barely 7mm, so it’s not cumbersome or in any way obtrusive. The magazine release is located inside the trigger guard, so there’s no way you can accidentally bump it and drop the box out on the ground.

Cartridges seat nicely in a single column and are fed into the chamber smoothly and positively. The rifle can be top-loaded by simply dropping a round through the large ejection port to sit on the magazine follower and be fed into the chamber. The Franchi didn’t suffer a single feeding malfunction throughout testing.

Review of Franchi Horizon Varmint
Pistol grip is removable. It slips over a frame and is secured by the rear action screw

Finishing off the package is the single-stage Relia trigger, adjustable from 907 grams to 1.81kg (2-4lb) with a side safety. To adjust the trigger, first remove the trigger guard and loosen a 10mm nut on the front of the housing to reveal a slotted screw. It is turned anti-clockwise to lighten the weight of pull, while clockwise increases the weight of pull.

My test gun’s trigger averaged 1.134kg, according to my RCBS trigger pull scale. It was totally inert — crisp and clean with nary a trace of any takeup or overtravel.

The Franchi’s two-position safety is located on the side of the tang behind the bolt handle. It’s easy to place on fire or safe and allows the bolt to be manipulated for loading and unloading in the safe position without any bolt release switch to mess with. There are clear red and white position indicator dots on the right side of the stock that are easy to read.

Review of Franchi Horizon Varmint
A V-block embedded in the stock has two shoulders that slide into shallow slots milled in the underside of the action to fit the block

For testing, I mounted the Steiner Ranger 4-16×56 on the Picatinny rail. This is a big scope, very rugged and bright optically, with precise, repeatable adjustments. The scope has a 30mm tube and features a No 4 reticle in the second focal plane with an illuminated red dot in the centre. Each click on the 4-16×56 Ranger is listed as being 1cm at 100 metres.

Although no literature accompanied the scope, I assume it utilises Steiner’s exclusive CAT (Colour Adjusted Transmission) lens coatings, which amplify contrast in the peak human-vision sensitivity range. The optimised contrast effectively separates varmints from weeds or shadow-dappled backgrounds, exposing your target to a clean, accurate shot. The second focal plane reticle makes precise aiming at small targets easy.

The rifle comes with an accuracy guarantee that the Varmint will shoot under one MOA for three shots at 100 metres, but unsurprisingly the Varmint performed even better than that with both factory ammunition and handloads.

Franchi Horizon Varmint accuracy results

Of the five factory loads tested, the Varmint proved to be most accurate with Sellier & Bellot’s 168gn HPBT, which produced the best group of 0.42” and another of 0.56” for an overall average of 0.68”.

We tested the Franchi’s accuracy using bullets weighing 150 and 168gn, but were more interested in what the faster 130gn varmint loads would do, both factory and handloads. The results are shown in the table.

At the range Ken Harding set the Franchi Varmint up in his FCX Lead Sled and shot it at 100 yards. The whole operation took five hours, but since it was a cool day barrel heating wasn’t a problem. Because it was a heavy-barrelled varminter and thus unlikely to have long strings of shots fired through it, shooting a series of three-shot groups with each ammo type and briefly allowing it to cool between types resulted in group sizes that averaged well under MOA.

Later, shooting the rifle off sandbags, I left the muzzle brake off since the rifle’s heft and stock design combined made the outfit user-friendly for field use. In fact, the rifle proved to be incredibly accurate. All eight loads tested averaged under MOA, and group sizes didn’t get any bigger as the barrel warmed up. The point of impact did vary with different bullet types and weights, which is quite normal.

Review of Franchi Horizon Varmint
For a varmint rifle, the Franchi is practical to carry in the field and shoot from bush supports

Factory ammo is available everywhere for the ubiquitous .308 Winchester calibre and is inherently very accurate, but fast 130gn loads may be less common than deer loads. It would be an advantage, therefore, to handload your ammunition to suit the rifle’s primary purpose of reaching way out yonder to decimate varmints and predators.

The Franchi Varmint is a stand-out rifle with its sculptured stock, but I’d prefer it in .22-250 rather than .223 or .308. Admittedly, the .223 may be more popular, but it can’t match the flatter trajectory of the larger round. The .22-250 drives a 55gn bullet 400fps faster than the .223 — 3680 against 3240fps — making it a lot easier to hit things with.

And this is precisely what the Franchi Horizon Varmint was designed for; reaching out to spatter unwary pest birds and rodents at serious stretch-out distances.

The Franchi’s styling and quality of manufacture are superior to many other rifles in its price range, and its weight cancels out felt recoil, making it pleasant to shoot. The design elements in the stock are purely functional, it has an excellent trigger and is eminently affordable. This entry-level rifle more than lives up to its accuracy guarantee and is one that will satisfy the most demanding varmint hunter. 

Review of Franchi Horizon Varmint
Franchi Varmint mounted with Steiner 4-16×56 scope attached to the Picatinny-style rail using Burris steel rings

SPECIFICATIONS

  • Manufacturer: Franchi, Italy
  • Type: Bolt-action repeater
  • Calibre: .223 Rem, .22-250 Rem, and .308 Win (tested)
  • Magazine capacity: 4 and 8 rounds
  • Barrel: Fluted; length 600mm; 1:11” R/H twist
  • Overall length: 1188mm
  • Weight: 3.95kg
  • Stock: Synthetic with removable cheekpiece and pistol grip
  • Length of pull: 356mm
  • Finish: Black Cerakoted barrel and receiver with black stock
  • Sights: None; Picatinny rail attached
  • Trigger: Franchi Relia, adjustable from 0.9-1.8kg
  • Safety: 2-position
  • RRP (2023): $1279 (black); $1489 (Elite)
  • Distributor: Beretta 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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