March 2009

Bolt-Action Shootout: X-Bolt Beats Remington and Savage

The Browning looked great, shot great, and handled—you guessed it—great. The Remington’s trigger was overhyped, we thought, and the Savage was superb with one, but not all, ammo.

As the 270 Winchester nears its 80th birthday, one fact demonstrates its widespread popularity: more than 50 factory loads are available for it—a long-standing record for a non-military cartridge. The Winchester 270 has long been standardized with 1:10 twist-rate barrels, and popular loadings usually utilize 130– to 150-grain projectiles. In this narrow and well-known load range, the 270 Winchester functions with excellence and utility.

Bolt-Action Rilfes

Our test 270s included Browning’s new X-Bolt centerfire, the Browning X-Bolt Medallion No.035200224, $959, top; the Accu-trigger–equipped Savage long-action 114 Classic, $826, center; and Remington’s latest version of its long-running 700 series, the Remington 700 CDL No. 84080, $931, bottom. Our testers said the Remington was not in the same league as Browning’s X-Bolt, except for its price. We continue to marvel at Savage’s Accu-Trigger, and we appreciate the Savage’s price point, but this rifle shot just one round well. The Browning X-Bolt Medallion is an amazingly good 270 Winchester bolt action that would leave the ghost of Jack O’Connor grinning from ear to ear, as it did us.

Of course, how well the cartridge performs depends on the quality of the gun shooting it, so we went in the search for the best 270 bolt actions, turning to three of the most recognized names in bolt-action rifles today: Browning, with its new X-Bolt centerfire, the revitalized Accu-trigger Savage long action, and Remington’s latest version of its long-running 700 series. Our specific test items were:

Browning X-Bolt Medallion No. 035200224, $959; Remington 700 CDL No. 84080, $931; and Savage’s 114 Classic, $826.

How We Tested

The weather in Illinois this winter has been "changeable," to put it mildly. Nevertheless, despite the wild swings, we managed to string together a couple of full days to get our range work in, setting up at 100 yards across a frozen pond after completing our initial sight-in work.

For the Medallion, we acquired a set of the Browning X-Lock integral bases and rings, but opted not to use them. Though 7000 series aluminum rings can be adequate, we felt the Browning’s 16-screw set (eight receiver-tapped holes) was not as versatile in mounting, nor as strong, as the better steel options. Instead, on the Browning we mounted Warne Maxima series steel paired bases (Warne Part# M927/929G).

We finished off our set-up with a new Sightron Big Sky 3-12 x 42mm scope with the new Sightron ballistic reticle, the HHR reticle, secured with Warne Maxima steel medium-height quick-release rings. Though scope comparisons are not the focus of this article, we were so impressed with the tracking and clarity of the Sightron Big Sky that it deserves a mention. Few non-AO scopes remain clear at the upper end, but the Big Sky was just that all the way up at 12X. The Sightron HHR ballistic reticle is a very clean design, and has a dot in the center of the cross-wires—a feature we really appreciate.

On the Remington, after removing the receiver’s tapped- hole filler screws, we mounted a Warne paired base set (Warne Maxima steel # M902/876G) and attached a Burris Fullfield II 2-7 x 35mm scope with the Burris Ballistic-Plex reticle—a reticle that has been around for nine years by now. Again, we used Warne Maxima QR steel medium height steel rings to attach our scope.

The Savage likewise got Warne Maxima steel bases and Warne Maxima medium height quick release rings, this time to attach a Sightron Big Sky 3-12 x 42mm scope with the standard plex reticle. You might wonder why we used quick-release rings on rifles with no iron sights. Mainly because the normal scope switches that occur during rifle reviews are made far easier with QR rings. In a real-world rugged hunt, QR rings make a scope switch possible if needed.

For ammunition, we didn’t skimp. We selected Stars & Stripes Custom Ammunition (www. starsandstripesammo.com) out of Largo, Florida, for a 130-grain Nosler Ballistic Tip load; Hornady’s #8056 140-grain Interlock boattail soft-point loads ($33.07, www.hornady.com); and Cor-Bon’s Hunter 130-grain DPX loads that use Barnes TSX bullets (No. DPX270130/20, $56.31, www.dakotaammo.net). The 130-grain Nosler Ballistic Tip Stars & Stripes loads were the most accurate rounds tested, our results show.

Browning X-Bolt Medallion No. 035200224 270 Win., $959

Unscoped right out of the box, the Browning X-bolt weighed in at 7 pounds on the nose including its detachable box magazine. Browning has called attention to the X-Bolt’s new trigger, so that’s the first thing we looked at. It broke at a very crisp and repeatable 4 pounds; we felt it was a superb hunting trigger.

Cosmetically, the Browning exhibited the best furniture of the bunch, though we felt all of the guns were nicely finished. The Browning finish is gloss clear epoxy, compared to the satin finish of the Remington and the semi-gloss of the Savage. It is all a matter of taste, of course, but we found the Browning with its better-figured wood and its aggressive pistol grip with a palm swell to be the most eye-catching of the bunch.

Bolt-Action Rilfes

We used Warne Maxima steel medium-height quickrelease rings to mount a Sightron Big Sky 3-12 x 42mm scope. We were impressed with the tracking and clarity of the Sightron Big Sky. The Sightron HHR ballistic reticle has a dot in the center of the crosswires that we liked.

The Browning X-Bolt’s performance was astonishingly good. It shot all three of our test ammunitions superbly, displaying tighter-than-MOA performance with everything we fed it, despite less-than-ideal range conditions. The Browning averaged about 0.6-inch groups center-to-center with the Stars & Stripes loads, 0.8-inch clusters with the Hornadys, and 0.9-inch groups with the Cor-Bons—one of the most accurate production 270 Winchester hunting rifles we have tested.

In the felt recoil department, Browning heavily touts its Inflex recoil pad: "The new Inflex Technology recoil pad is the softest pad on any autoloader. More than a mass of recoil-absorbing material, it has been engineered with directional deflection to pull the comb down and away from the face of the shooter with every shot for even greater comfort and faster follow-up shooting."

Well, this is no autoloader, and we didn’t find it to be the softest pad, nor did we notice any "directional deflection." We do think it softened up the recoil pulse a bit, but none of the tested rifles were remotely uncomfortable to shoot. There are plenty of very good reasons to get excited about the X-bolt Medallion—the recoil pad just wasn’t one of them.

We found the X-Bolt’s action to be noticeably smoother than either the Remington or the Savage. We appreciated the short-throw bolt lift of the X-Bolt that made scope clearance a breeze, giving us ample room to operate the bolt with cold, gloved hands. The new X-Bolt detachable rotary magazine is a dream come true, feeding smoothly and effortlessly. It is extremely easy to remove and replace, even with cold gloved hands. Browning did a fine job engineering this detachable magazine that fits flush, looks great, and doesn’t rattle.

The bolt unlock button on the X-Bolt is superfluous and offers no particular benefit, in our view. Particularly with a detachable magazine, and only one round to eject from the chamber—it is a minor eyesore offering no utility. Unloading an X-Bolt by pointing the muzzle in a safe location and ejecting the sole chambered round is quick, efficient, and the button-pushing to open the bolt is a dubious feature, our testers said.

Browning’s new Feather Trigger on the X-Bolt impressed us. While not as light and crisp as Savage’s Accu-Trigger, it is nevertheless a big step up from some previous Browning attempts, and our testers said it is clearly is superior to the Remington attempt (and the new Ruger LC-6 trigger, as we discovered in previous testing). We feel it is an exemplary hunting trigger just as supplied, with an exceptionally clean break.

Remington 700 CDL No. 84080 270 Win., $931

The Remington 700 CDL weighed in at 7.1 pounds unscoped. Unlike the Browning, the Remington has a standard, integral stock-well magazine. Remington also boasts of its new trigger, the X-Mark Pro Trigger System. Despite the hang-tag brag of "up to 45% lower trigger pull out of the box," it seems that this little boast is without merit. "Up to 40% heavier than the competition" is what we found: the Remington’s trigger broke at 5.75 pounds, noticeably heavy compared to the far superior Browning and Savage treatments. Still, it is fairly crisp and repeatable.

Remington also brags that it is "100% gunsmith adjustable." Well, we’ve not seen a trigger that isn’t. It is a pity that a trip to the gunsmith is a selling point for the X-Mark Pro.

Remington has had its fair share of well-publicized problems with its defective "Walker trigger," making the Model 700 the subject of a 60 Minutes expose—one of the few rifles in recent memory to gain such widespread negative publicity. To the extent that the X-Pro’s "more corrosion resistant" trigger may solve the defects of the old 700 series trigger, it is of course a welcomed change. Nevertheless, it does not compare favorably at all to the Browning or Savage offerings and is nothing worth bragging about in our view.

Elsewhere, we found the highly polished blueing of the Remington to be exemplary, and we also like the soft look of the stock’s satin finish. Remington decided to emboss "Remington" around its new recoil pad—a cheesy addition to an otherwise elegant looking rifle, our testers said. Furthermore, this pad is not just a pad, according to Remington: "Ten years of rigorous R&D has produced a recoil pad far superior to anything the world has seen before. So effective in fact, our Model 870 pump shotgun now produces 54% less recoil than competing autoloaders with their factory pads. Welcome the most effective recoil pad on the planet, the 21st Century’s most remarkable development in recoil reduction. SuperCell.™"

Ahem. After several hundred rounds fired through these three test rifles, our shooters unanimously felt that the Browning with its factory Inflex pad was the softest-shooting 270. Also, after we finished the main part of the test with the unmodified Savage, we added a Limbsaver recoil pad, which put it on par recoil-wise with the Browning, our testers said. Still, none of them would be uncomfortable to shoot in short range sessions or in the field. At the range, we were able to verify that the revolutionary Remington recoil pad was nothing special, the Remington exhibiting more, albeit a very small amount more, felt recoil than either the Browning or the Savage with Limbsaver. This was before we realized that it was supposed to be "far superior to anything the world has seen before." (For the record, by far the softest-shooting 270 Winchester our Illinois testers have handled is not tested here—the Browning BAR MkII Safari. The BAR has no recoil pad at all, just a hard-rubber buttplate. Go figure.)

Elsewhere, our team found other items they didn’t like. The 700 CDL’s safety was noisy and snappy going on and off, compared to the silent operation of the Savage and the Browning. Also, where both the Browning and the Savage had floated barrels, there was heavy contact of the barrel and forearm in the 700CDL.

But we admit that didn’t affect the gun’s accuracy. The Remington shot the Stars & Stripes and Cor-Bon ammos into 1.1-inch groups, and did even better with the Hornady, with an 0.9-inch average group size. The 700 CDL did not display the pickiness of the Savage, but as far as Remington’s claim of "Unrivaled Out-of-the-Box Accuracy," the Browning beat the Remington with every load tested.

Savage 114 Classic 270 Win., $826

To get the 114 ready to shoot, we added a pair of Warne steel bases. So configured, but sans scope, the Savage Classic weighed in at 7.8 pounds. It is fair to say that the basic Savage is about a quarter-pound heavier than the Browning and Remington offerings.

We attribute this to the Monte Carlo-style raised stock of the Savage, which invariably adds a few ounces as opposed to the straight-stocked Browning and Remington offerings. The Savage "American Classic" series (as opposed to the tested "Classic" evaluated here) has the non-Monte Carlo straight stock, and weighs commensurately less.

The Savage Accu-Trigger broke at a crisp, repeatable 2.7 pounds right out of the box—easily the lightest and best trigger of the bunch. Ironically, the Savage trigger is the only one designed to be and actually is easily user-adjustable. Yet, it needs no adjustment at all as supplied, much less a trip to the gunsmith. This Savage was a puzzler. The Accu-Trigger was superb, it looks great, and it is priced to offer the most bang for the buck. Savage normally delivers on that promise, in spades, but not this time.

The Savage 114 Classic shot some screamingly good groups with the Stars & Stripes ammo, popping several groups around one half inch at 100 yards. Had we conducted our testing with only the Stars & Stripes ammo, we would have lavished praise on this Savage. But, as good as it was with the Stars & Stripes 130-grain Nosler Ballistic tip loads, it was just as dismal with both the Hornady and Cor-Bon loads. It strung both loads vertically, shooting at about 3 inches at 100 yards. How this rifle can be so good with one load, and so poor with the others? Nevertheless, that’s what it did, and that’s what we must report. The Browning was superb with everything, the Remington was least uniformly competent, and this Savage was either very sweet or very sour, contingent on load.

ACCURACY AND CHRONOGRAPH DATA

Browning X-Bolt Medalion No. 035200224 270 Win.

Remington 700 CDL No. 84080 270 Win.

Savage Model 114 Clasic 270 Win.

GUN TESTS REPORT CARD