by Con Kapralos
Hell’s Canyon Speed? Sounds more like a computer game than a variant of Browning’s famed X-Bolt rifle range. But in reality, the Hell’s Canyon Speed brand was originally designed and released by Browning in 2016 as a range of outdoor apparel. So successful was it that the makers decided to produce various hunting rifles in the X-Bolt stream which would complement the features of the Hell’s Canyon Speed clothing.
The Hell’s Canyon Speed variant of the X-Bolt has been in production for several years. But with the burgeoning popularity of long-range shooting, Browning opted to release the X-Bolt Hell’s Canyon in a long-range specification, in a series of flat-shooting calibres including the 6.5 Creedmoor and.26 and .28 Nosler.
Australian Shooter was given the chance to review the Creedmoor by Winchester Australia, the Browning importer and distributor. The rifle arrived in the customary black Browning carton together with a fine Meopta Meopro 6-18×50 riflescope with Recknagel bases and rings.
The barrelled action
One thing that immediately sets the Hell’s Canyon Long-Range apart is the burnt bronze Cerakote finish applied to the barrelled action and any exterior metallic parts. From the outset, Cerakote-type finishes have revolutionised the firearms manufacturing process to the point where traditionally blueing and stainless finishes are becoming, to put it bluntly, boring. The superb protection that Cerakote offers in guarding metal against wear and tear as well as the environmental elements now sees it as the first choice for many manufacturers.
The Hell’s Canyon Long-Range receiver is the standard X-Bolt steel unit, with its five-faceted upper profile and round underside making the rifle instantly recognisable. The top of the receiver contains a flat surface to which the scope mounting holes are drilled and tapped for any accoutrements desired. The designation of the ‘X’ in X-Bolt comes from the four holes-per-base that Browning designed for this model (rather than the standard two found in the A-Bolt models) and hence the ‘X’ nomenclature was derived.
The ejection port allows unfettered discharge of fired or unfired cases from the action without any impediment. A small bolt release button is located on the rear left of the receiver and is easy to use when removal of the bolt is needed. The bolt is fabricated from steel and only the bolt locking lugs are polished steel, with the bolt shroud and body being Cerakoted as per the rifle’s overall metal finish.
The bolt is slim and sleek with three locking lugs providing a rock-solid engagement with the chamber and a cylindrical plunger through the bolt-face, and claw extractor in the bolt-face rim ensure all cases – fired or not ‑ are positively extracted and ejected. A 60-degree bolt lift is standard on the X-Bolt range, and allows for rapid cycling of the action as well as being able to mount any optic as low to the action as possible without the scope ocular touching the bolt handle.
The bolt-handle is quite slim and bolt knob is the standard X-Bolt specification. I’d have preferred an over-sized bolt knob on this particular rifle, as it would flow with the intended use and application much better than the standard X-Bolt bolt knob.
One more addition to the bolt handle shank is the safety override button, which works in conjunction with the two-position safety on the rear tang on the action. When the sliding safety latch is in the rearward ‘SAFE’ position, the bolt and trigger are both blocked – the bolt cannot be cycled or the rifle fired. Depressing the button on the bolt shank (which pops up when in ‘SAFE’) allows the bolt to be cycled and the action cleared. The trigger is still blocked. I like the tang-mounted safety and bolt-override system on the X-Bolt.
The trigger is Browning’s Feather unit which is fully adjustable but came from the B.C. Miroku factory, perfectly set at 3lb with a crisp let-off and no discernible creep or over-travel. The triggerguard is alloy with the Cerakote finish applied and Browning Buckmark emblem engraved, in bark brown, into the guard.
The triggerguard also extends forward to form the magazine well which securely accepts the detachable black polymer rotary magazine, which holds four rounds in 6.5 Creedmoor. The detachable magazine clips securely into place but when positioning it, you must press it in firmly with an audible ‘click’. I suggest prospective purchasers buy at least one additional rotary magazine as well as the one supplied.
The barrel is what makes this X-Bolt Hell’s Canyon Long-Range tick. It’s long, at just on 660mm, and is of a heavy sporter configuration. It’s made from chrome-moly steel and externally burnt bronze Cerakoted. The barrel also contains a series of eight longitudinal flutes which help increase the barrel’s exterior surface area, enhancing cooling as well as slightly reducing weight and increasing rigidity. The barrel measures 29.6mm at the knox form and tapers down to 18.8mm at the muzzle. The Hell’s Canyon Long-Range also comes supplied with a matching muzzle brake which can be installed simply by removing the protective metal cap and screwing on the muzzle brake.
Internally, the 6.5 Creedmoor chambering has a one in 7” twist and is well finished with no indication of tooling marks or rough spots. You gain a barrelled action that’s finely tuned. In return, a superbly accurate barrelled action is the result.
Another distinct feature is the composite stock. It is tailored specifically for the long-range applications intended while being aesthetically appealing. The exclusive use of the A-TACS AU (Arid/Urban) camouflage pattern matches the burnt bronze Cerakote beautifully. It’s an advanced pattern comprised of micro and macro configuration which results in a concealment in depth from varying distances of perception.
Camouflage pattern aside, the surfaces features Dura-Touch Armor Coating, synonymous with Browning X-Bolt rifles. Whether it’s inclement conditions or sweaty hands, this coating ensures a no-slip grip. Textured grip panels around the pistol grip and fore-end further assist.
The stock has a pleasing American-style profile without any unsightly cheekpieces, and Drop at Comb of 43mm and Drop at Heel of 51mm means most users would find fitting perfectly acceptable. The Length of Pull of 350mm, terminating in a 25mm Inflex recoil pad, helps absorb any excess recoil and is markedly softer than normal sorbothane-type pads. Sling swivel studs are provided, one on the buttstock and one on the underside of the fore-end. This fore-end sling swivel stud would accept most Harris-style bipods and I don’t see a sling being fitted to a rifle made for long-range shooting.
Looking at the bedding set-up, Browning does put a lot of work into ensuring free-floating barrels for optimal accuracy as well as a rock-solid platform.
A recoil lug on the underside of the receiver, sandwiched between the receiver and barrel, mates up with a recess in the floor of the stock. Together with the use of glass bedding compound around the recoil lug and rear action-screw area, this gives an excellent bedding surface for the action. Twin action screws pass through the triggerguard and stock either side of the magazine well, and when torqued up correctly offer a superbly stable barrelled action in an excellent stock platform.
The rifle was cleaned to remove any factory preservatives and the Meopta Meopro 6-18×50 riflescope fitted. Once the optics were boresighted to the rifle, testing commenced, initially to adjust the point-of-impact at 25m then firing a three-shot group at 100m to obtain a starting point. The majority of loads were target loads – one from Winchester and two from Federal. Only two hunting loads were tested, the Federal Premium Fusion and the Hornady Precision Hunter ELD-X. Five three-shot groups were shot at 100m, with the barrel cleaned between changes in ammunition brand.
Shooting slowly and allowing the barrel to cool between groups, the accuracy results returned were perfectly acceptable as Table 1 indicates.
All the respective loads shot averages under the 1.5 Minute-of-Angle mark, but the standout ammunition by far was the Hornady Precision Hunter with the 143-grain ELD-X projectile. I managed to hit the steel gong set up at our club’s range at 300m, even in strong southerly winds. It was easy to hold-over using the Meopta Meopro BDC reticle and consistently achieve hits on the gong.
The Browning X-Bolt Hell’s Canyon Long-Range in 6.5 Creedmoor is up there with the best. Its availability in the 6.5 Creedmoor chambering (as well as other calibres) make it one to shortlist. The retail price is $1736 through the Winchester Australia dealer network. For more, visit winchesteraustralia.com.au