The Franchi Horizon Varmint impressed Con Kapralos
Back in 2017 Franchi, a division of Benelli Armi of Urbino, Italy ventured into unchartered waters by releasing their first bolt-action hunting rifle in the Horizon, marketed in the US as the Momentum. Such a brave move would normally be faced with some trepidation but with the global backing of Beretta Holdings the success of the Sporter was guaranteed. Since then the Horizon has seen various models released, all centered around a general-purpose hunting rifle with a Sporter barrel and largely synthetic stocks.
The 150th Anniversary model had fancy timber and there are walnut-stocked versions available overseas but the Horizon’s forte was being a rifle you’d sling across your back and walk hill and dale without worrying about the elements. It was only a matter of time before the team at Franchi would start to explore other options in the Horizon line, namely a dedicated varmint rifle specifically for shooting long-range prone or from a rest.
Late last year Beretta Australia received the first shipment of Franchi Horizon Varmint rifles which consisted of the Black Synthetic in .308 Winchester and Camo Cerakote Synthetic in .223 and .22-250 Remington, the former forwarded to Australian Shooter for evaluation paired with a superb Steiner Ranger riflescope and test ammunition from Sako and Sellier & Bellot.
At a glance
The rifle is a full-size turn-bolt repeater with 24” (610mm) fluted varmint barrel and purpose designed polymer stock with detachable comb. It comes supplied with two detachable box magazines (3 and 8-shot), a fitted Picatinny rail and muzzle brake, comprehensive user manuals, warranty card and test target. It weighs 3.83kg and measures 1130mm (without the brake fitted).
The receiver and bolt are identical to the standard Horizon Sporter, the receiver made of circular steel bar-stock and well finished to exacting tolerances, circular in design and measuring 215mm which includes a small rear tang. The receiver tube is 172mm x 34mm with a well-defined ejection port on the right with top milled flat, drilled and tapped in the Remington 700 pattern for scope mounting provision.
Thankfully Franchi have fitted a Picatinny rail as standard while the left side of the receiver body houses the bolt release lever on the rearward section along with the inscribed serial number, model name and country of manufacture. The right side is devoid of markings with the exception of proof marks on the rear ring and the receiver is finished in matte blue to complement the barrel.
The bolt is called Relia by Franchi and is touted to be ultra-smooth, efficient and solid in operation, ‘solid’ being an understatement as it measures 78mm x 25mm and weighs 395 grams, being made of steel with the body and bolt head finished in hard-wearing nickel plating. The bolt head is of a three-lug design which allows 60-degree lift and accommodates a spring-loaded plunger ejector through the bolt-face and claw extractor on the rim of one of the lugs which allows unhindered ejection and extraction of fired and unfired cases from the action.
The bolt body has a long slot milled in which mates with a corresponding lug in the receiver wall for smooth and efficient bolt travel, the only blued components being the rear bolt shroud with characteristic triangular design and the bolt handle and knob. The bolt knob’s conical design is of a tactical nature but comes to the hand beautifully, being slightly swept back and perfectly placed for instinctive shooting and cycling of the action.
This gives the Horizon Varmint its purpose being 610mm (24”) and tapering from 27mm in diameter at the knox form down to 22mm at the muzzle which is threaded to accept the supplied muzzle brake and protective cap. The barrel is of chrome molybdenum steel and cold-hammer forged to achieve its profile, the barrel surface having a series of five spiral flutes over 350mm which reduces weight but adds to the surface area for increased cooling.
In the .308 Winchester chambering (the only calibre offered in Black Synthetic) the one-in-11” rate of twist is touted to handle projectiles in the 150-180-grain bracket though it would be interesting to see how a lighter 130gr pill would fare.
Trigger, safety and magazine
The Relia trigger by Franchi is fully adjustable from 0.8 to 1.9kg and from the factory was set at 1.4kg but broke cleanly and crisply with no excessive creep or drag. Varmint hunters and long-range shooters may look to adjust the pull weight to around the 1kg mark and while this can be carried out using the instructions in the user manual, a competent gunsmith is the way to go.
The safety is a two-position affair just behind the bolt handle notch and working in a linear manner, the most rearward position blocks the sear/firing pin but permits the bolt to be cycled and the chamber loaded or unloaded. Moving the selector to the fully forward position the rifle can fire as per normal and the bolt cycles, with a small red dot on the stock indicating this position.
The triggerguard and magazine shroud are a single polymer unit, the front of the guard also housing the magazine release lever which easily disengages the secured magazine for removal. The arrangement on the Horizon Varmint continues with a detachable box magazine version which was introduced on the Horizon in 2019, earlier models having the standard floor plate system.
The design required a stock completely different from the Sporter configuration and Franchi opted for a unit with terrific innovations. The layout follows the Exclusive Style (XS) design from the 2017 model made of techno-polymer with some major changes coming with the Varmint model. First is the comb worked into the buttstock which is imperative in a rifle that’ll be shot prone or from a rest, the comb supplied being medium height and removable.
A steel stud holds the rear of the comb securely in place by mating with a steel clip in the rear while the front of the comb mates passively with a small extension in the buttstock ‘cut-out’. When shooting, the comb sits securely without the slightest movement and Franchi also have high and low options so users can find the best cheek weld simply by changing the comb. One drawback was the need to remove the comb at the range though it was straightforward.
Bipod attachment is via sling-swivel cups rather than studs and there’s one on the fore-end underside and another on the buttstock toe (thankfully Franchi have removed the integral sling swivel studs previously part of the stock-moulding process). There’s provision to install a separate swivel stud just forward of the fore-end cup and Franchi’s Twin Shock Absorber recoil pad is fitted.
Another feature is the removable pistol grip insert which sits in place once the triggerguard is fitted and rifle assembled but can easily be removed when taking out the stock (it lends itself to an interchangeable pistol grip). An aluminium ‘V-block’ is inletted into the polymer body of the stock and mates with two slots milled into the sides of the receiver tube which does away with the need for a recoil lug arrangement and actually gives a superior bedding system with the barrel free-floating in the process. The rear of the receiver bears directly on to the polymer and the barrelled action is secured with two action screws.
At the range
A Steiner Ranger 6 in 3-18×56 optic was supplied with Burris Zee rings and fitment of a Picatinny rail as standard made scope-mounting a breeze. The rifle was thoroughly cleaned to remove any factory preservatives and five 3-shot groups at 100m (off a benchrest) were carried out over several sessions, the barrel cleaned between ammo changes.
Accuracy testing at 100m
|Ammunition||Best group (mm)||Worst group (mm)||Average group (mm)*|
|Sellier & Bellot 150gr SPCE||11||31||21|
|Sellier & Bellot 180gr SP||8||28||22|
|Sako Gamehead 130gr SP||13||33||24|
|Sako Gamehead 150gr SP||7||25||19|
|Sako Blade 162gr||20||26||22|
* Average group calculated from five 3-shot groups.
Even though the rifle was supplied with a muzzle brake it wasn’t used as recoil in the Horizon Varmint in .308 Winchester was never an issue. The rifle shot brilliantly and while I confess to not being a benchrest or target shooter, some extraordinary single-figure groups from the Sellier & Bellot 180gr Soft-Points and Sako Gamehead 150-grain Soft-Points showed what the rifle’s capable of, all average groups well under 1MOA (28mm at 100m). The stock with its XS-ergonomics, TSP recoil pad, raised cheekpiece, palmswell pistol grip and varmint fore-end made for a complete shooting comfort experience.
The release of the Franchi Horizon Sporter in 2017 came as an affordable sporting rifle while subsequent versions have only improved and the Horizon Varmint in either Black Synthetic or Camo Cerakote will do well in a competitive market. The Horizon Varmint Synthetic Black in .308 Winchester retails for $1149 and is available via the Beretta Australia dealer network. More at www.berettaaustralia.com.au
Manufacturer: Benelli Armi, Urbino, Italy
Model: Horizon Varmint Black Synthetic
Distributor: Beretta Australia
Action: Turn-bolt repeater
Barrel: Chrome molybdenum cold-hammer forged 610mm (24”), one-in-11” rate of twist
Muzzle: Threaded for muzzle brake (supplied)
Calibre: .308 Winchester
Magazine: Detachable box, two supplied (3 and 8-shot single stack)
Overall length: 1130 mm (without muzzle brake)
Weight: 3.83kg (bare as tested)
Stock: Composite polymer with detachable comb (optional comb height available)
Trigger: Single-stage adjustable 0.8-1.9kg
Warranty: Seven years (mechanical parts only)