Browning, Leupold Offer Affordable Hunting Package

Browning and Leupold combine for a comfortable, accurate combo to take afield for big game.

Browning, Leupold Offer Affordable Hunting Package

The Browning-Leupold combo was spot-on at the range before heading afield to hunt black bears. (Photo: Jace Bauserman)

The roots of Browning’s X-Bolt rifle line run deep in gun lore. Favored by throngs of hunters across the globe, the X-Bolt line is renowned for producing custom-class accuracy. When the minds at Browning decided to add a new member to this coveted line, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it and send some lead downrange.

The X-Bolt Max Long Range rifle was designed to fill a gap in Browning’s current lineup of long-range assassins. The goal was to build a rifle that would produce the type of accuracy one would expect to find in popular Browning builds like its X-Bolt Hell’s Canyon Speed Long Range McMillan and X-Bolt Pro Long Range, but hit a more economical price point. The price-point goal was met. One can expect to get into an X-Bolt Max Long Range for a tick under $1,300. As for the accuracy piece of the puzzle … let's dive in.

First Impressions

The rifle was a stunner, and a quick overview showed no nicks, dings or out-of-box damage. The Composite Max stock grabbed my attention from the get-go. The stock sports a fully adjustable comb, and adjustment is a snap. A wheel located about center-stock turns easily and allows for about 1 inch of vertical movement. Other stock hat-tippers included the vertical pistol grip, which is really a must when it comes to precision long-range accuracy. The grip felt comfortable and allowed for excellent trigger-finger placement. I also took notice of the wide forearm and appreciated the fact that the stock boasted three swivel studs for sling and bipod use.

The gun, for a long-range shooter, felt great in the hand. The 26-inch barrel length seemed maneuverable and at 8.3 pounds, the rifle wasn’t overly heavy. The X-Bolt, of course, was smooth and featured the short 60-degree bolt throw this series of rifles is renowned for. Also present was the bolt-lock safety and bolt-unlock button, which allows one to completely empty the rifle while it’s on safe. In-and-out operation of the center-feed polymer magazine both with and without ammo was smooth. Browning fit the X-Bolt Max Long Range with its coveted three-lever Feather Trigger system and the barrel is free-floated.

The gun was topped with Leupold’s new-for-2019 VX-5 HD 4-20x52 scope. Leupold’s goal with the VX-5 was to provide an economical offering that would fall between the VX-6 line and VX-3i, and still provide the type of clarity, durability and function in a VX scope. The tube is 32mm, which was created to get the necessary travel and elevation adjustment needed.

Fitted with Leupold’s two-turn ZeroLock 2 dials, shooters can expect two full revolutions of distance setting, and the scope comes with one CDS (Custom Dial System) cap, which will be built to your rifle’s specifications. Additional CDS dials can be added for $80 per dial. The VX-5 provides a wide magnification range, superior eye relief and rapid focus.

Zeroing In

After a quick in-the-field bore sight, I got in the prone position, propped the X-Bolt Max Long Range up on a feed sack and squeezed the trigger. Since we were hunting with the rifles the next day, I didn’t opt to tinker with the Feather Trigger system. I found the out-of-the-box pull to be crisp and not overly heavy. Recoil, thanks to the muzzle brake, was nil on this .300 WSM model, and I was able to stay in the scope and see my bullet’s placement. Chalk this up to the design of the buttstock. Parallel surfaces line up with the bore and work in concert with the muzzle brake to prevent the gun from tipping up at the shot.

After firing three Browning BXS 180-grain bullets downrange, the rifle/scope combo was zeroed at 100 yards. This is when the beauty of Leupold’s VX-5 HD really took over. I replaced the standard dial via three set screws with Leupold’s CDS. The particular dial had already been calibrated for the .300 WSM 180-grain BXS bullets I was shooting. The great thing about the CDS dial is its twist-and-turn locking system. Simply depress a button and turn the dial. Once the dial is set, the button locks and the dial will not move. After replacing this dial, I simply turned it to the laser-engraved 2 setting (representing 200 yards) and hit center bull’s-eye. Unlike some scopes, the numbers and dashes on the CDS represent yardage and not MOA.

The gun was holding like a rock, the optics were crystal clear, and my rounds were hitting exactly where I was holding. My confidence was building quickly. I applaud the vertical pistol grip. It’s meaty and just feels great in the hand. The wide forearm melted into the feed sack and created a stable platform. Not once when shooting the X-Bolt Max Long Range did I feel shifty or off target.


Bauserman's black bear fell to the Browning-Leupold rifle combo.
Bauserman's black bear fell to the Browning-Leupold rifle combo.

For the next hour, I enjoyed the accuracy of this rifle/scope combo. It was obvious Browning and Leupold hit a grand slam. Both wanted to give long-range shooters an economical option without sacrificing quality. Mission accomplished. It was noticeable as I stretched the distance from the target that the free-floating barrel, which is bedded in the front and rear of the action, was doing its job. All X-Bolt production barrels are air-gauged and promise exceptional head-space control. All X-Bolt barrels are hand-chambered to ensure precision head space.

With light fading and the next day’s bear hunt looming, I opted to send one more bullet downrange in the low light conditions. I wanted to get a good feel for how the VX-5 HD operated in low light and get a good test of its Twilight Max HD Management System. This system is meant to make the most of usable light and was designed to maximize the light your eye needs when light is fading.

Quickly, I moved the 4-inch-diameter steel gong to 300 yards, jogged back, got prone and settled my crosshairs. Not only was light fading, but the sky also was overcast and a light rain had started to fall. Reaching up, I dialed my VX-5 HD to the 3 setting and squeezed. The gong rang. It doesn’t get much simpler. Set the dial, squeeze the trigger and the round will find its mark.

I didn’t test the rifle/scope combo off a bench because I wanted to simulate in-the-field shooting and provide an accurate, true field test. 

Into the Field

The next evening, myself, along with Twisted Timber Outfitters owner Brian Lewis and Browning’s Director of Marketing and Communications Rafe Nielsen were overlooking a distant bait across a massive canyon. My Leupold optics told me the shot to the bait barrel was exactly 275 yards. I dialed-in my CDS dial, propped my gun up on my Badlands pack and scoped the surroundings.

A large sow and two cubs were first on the scene. It was a riot to watch the cubs play while mama stuffed her face. Plus, it gave me the chance to practice settling my crosshairs on black hide. I was impressed with how well the crosshairs stood out. Black bears, because of their thick hides, solid color and general body shape are tough to pick out an “exact” spot on. Often, black crosshairs melt into the dark hide making the process all the more difficult. I didn’t find this to be the case with the TMOA Reticle. The crosshairs were easily distinguishable against the black hide.

The trio stayed on the bait for just over an hour, and multiple times during that hour I got prone, settled my crosshairs and practiced my breathing routine. Of course, I had no intentions of shooting the sow, but I wanted to use the opportunity to prepare should a shot opportunity arise over the course of the evening.

The mama and two cubs had only been off the bait for about 15 minutes when Rafe spotted movement in the bottom of the canyon.

“Got a good-sized bear,” he whispered. “It’s about to pop out of the brush and onto the open hillside.”

A good-sized bear it was, and my heart instantly leapt into my throat. Patiently, we waited as the bear made its way some 500 feet up the steep hillside to the bait barrel. I was in no hurry. Once the bear hit the bait, it settled right in and started feeding. I was prone and my X-Bolt was propped up on my pack. Picking a spot, I settled my crosshairs on the bruin and started to squeeze.

The hit was obvious. I saw it through the scope and both Brian and Rafe confirmed it as well. The bear spun off the barrel, tipped right and then stumbled left. Gaining its legs, it started to run at a good clip downhill. Instinct took over. Jumping to my feet, I quickly chambered a round, threw-down on the bear and fired again. This hit was right between the shoulder blades and sent the big bear tumbling. Some 400-plus feet later, it reached the bottom of the canyon. There was no movement. The job was done. I was elated.

Upon reaching the bear, it was clear the first shot was right through the heart. As we skinned and packed meat late into the night, the talk turned to the second shot. All parties involved were impressed with how well the rifle shouldered and connected on a moving target. For a long-range rifle, the X-Bolt handles wonderfully when shot offhand.

Final Thoughts

This rifle/scope combo gets an A+ rating from me. How could it not? The rifle is comfortable and balanced, yet extremely maneuverable. The scope is clear, durable and the CDS dial makes it a breeze to use. Over the course of the hunt, three other bears were harvested with this same combo. The shot distances were 330 yards, 225 yards and 440 yards. All were one-shot kills.

I’ll be adding Browning’s X-Bolt Max Long Range rifle topped with Leupold’s VX-5 HD 4-20x52 to my arsenal. It provides exceptional accuracy in an effective, affordable long-range combo.

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