It seems the rage these days with both rifle makers and the hunting public are basic bolt action rifles offered at under $500 — and sometimes, well under that number. Last year Winchester — makers of the original lever-action rifles that “Won the West” to classic Model 70 bolt-actions known for decades as “The Rifleman’s Rifle” — entered the fray with the XPR bolt action.

The XPR is not the category’s most inexpensive — I saw them online recently in the $450 to $500 range — a reflection of the fact that Winchester needed to come up with a new design and a new manufacturing plan that resulted in both reduced costs per unit, but that did not skimp on quality.

The first thing that struck my eye with my test XPR chambered for the .300 Win. Mag. is the round-bodied receiver joined to the barrel by a lock nut. Though not a new design — it was first used by Savage in the 1950s — its popularity comes from the fact that it requires fewer machining and/or hand-fitting steps to regulate headspace dimensions. And then there’s the bolt itself. Calling it “substantial” would be a bit of an understatement. It has a 0.877-inch diameter body, which is larger than the 0.853-inch lug diameter, which bolt action fans will note is the opposite of common designs that feature a slender bolt stem capped with prominent protruding lugs. This new design, when mated with the XPR’s short-lift, three-lug lockup, enables a quick, smooth movement to cycle the action.

Two other features are key. The first is the barrel, which Winchester says is virtually the same as those found on Model 70 rifles, which means they’re forged from chrome-moly steel and button-rifled, and also feature a recessed target-style crown. The other is the company’s MOA Trigger, introduced a several years back to make the Model 70 more competitive in the marketplace. It works on the simple principle of the pivoting lever, which offers a 2:1 mechanical advantage “resulting in a superior trigger pull,” the company says. “Because of its geometry and 2:1 mechanical advantage, the trigger piece travels only half the distance of the actuator (2X). Since this distance is cut in half, the perception of creep and over-travel are virtually eliminated. This means that your ‘feel’ for the trigger is greatly enhanced, and thus your effective accuracy, both in the field and off the bench are improved.”

Also featured are a solid two-position safety and an adjacent bolt-release tab that allows the shooter to work the action with the gun on safe.

One note on the trigger: I took my test rifle to a good friend, custom riflemaker Patrick Holehan, for a once-over. There we found the trigger broke at a crisp 3.9 lbs., a little heavy for my taste, but once I had spent some range time with the rifle I found it easy to get used to and quite consistent.

The XPR features a molded polymer stock that comes in a choice of subdued finishes or camo patterns with textured panels on the fore-end and pistol grip; the forend also has rounded edges plus a slightly flattened bottom profile for comfortable shooting from any position. Also, the XPR rifle’s receiver nestles onto flat profile interface pads and into a cross-mounted recoil lug to resist flex and twist when firing. It also comes with a cushy InFlex butt pad.

The trigger guard/bottom unit and detachable box magazine are also polymer, except for the follower spring. The magazine securely latches at both the front and rear. The single stack design feeds cartridges in a straight line to the chamber; magazine capacity is three rounds in both magnum and standard calibers.

On the range I mostly shot Winchester Deer Season XP ammo preparing for an Alberta whitetail hunt. This combination consistently produced 3-shot 100-yard groups of 1.2 to 1½ inches. I also tried some Winchester Expedition ammo with the 180-grain AccuBond bullet, which shrank groups to right at 1 inch.

Alberta weather was unseasonably warm for mid-November, ranging from the low 20s to low 30s F. When the time came right at dark, I had to make a quick move from hay bale cover, running 200 yards along the field edge, then plopping down hard and roughly throwing the rifle over a set of Bog Pod tripod sticks. I had to shoot quickly in the fading light, but the XPR sent the 150-grain Deer Season XP bullet right where I wanted it to. The 150-class 10-point deer collapsed in its tracks.

All in all, I am impressed with this rifle. There’s no doubt the value is there, and from other reports I’ve received from trusted colleagues, accuracy is as well. This link will take you to the official Winchester XPR page, where you can see a cool video that explains things in more detail: www.winchesterguns.com/products/rifles/xpr.html.