When I first laid eyes on the new Winchester XPR I did so with some preconceived opinions and bias. Quite frankly, I wasn’t prepared to like this rifle. Winchester gave us the John Browning-designed 1886, 1892 and 1894, the elegant if short-lived 71, and “the rifleman’s rifle,” the Model 70. You could defend any of these as the best of its time. Enthusiasts might label any the best hunting rifle of all time. So how could a synthetic-stocked bolt-action built in Portugal compete? (You can purchase the Winchester XPR at GunBroker.com)
An open mind keeps life interesting; so I shelved my prejudices long enough to give Winchester’s new XPR a fair shake.
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Putting modern bolt rifles up against lever-actions designed generations ago makes as much sense as comparing hybrid automobiles with Depression-era Duesenbergs. But it’s harder to sidestep the Model 70, still Winchester’s flagship big game rifle. If your interest in rifles stops at the price, here’s a shorthand summation: The Winchester XPR is half the cost of an M70.
How much rifle can you get for half the price of the time tested Model 70? To find out, I ordered a Winchester XPR Hunter — camo version of the base rifle. The polymer stock’s Mossy Oak Break-Up Country finish is hardly a cosmetic match for figured French walnut, but it’s pleasing in hue and pattern, and a lot more appealing than flat black. Last spring, when Winchester announced this upgrade (at $100 over the XPR’s sub-$500 starting price), it also grew the roster of both short- and long-action chamberings. The Winchester XPR comes in .243, 7mm-08 and .308, in .270, .300 and .325 WSM, in .270 and .30-06, and in the 7mm Remington and .300 and .338 Winchester Magnums. Short-action standard chamberings wear 22″ barrels, the others 24″. I requested a rifle in .325 WSM, partly because I like the cartridge, partly because it gets little press and partly because I had three factory loads on hand.
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The rifle I pulled from the box hues to contemporary design. A full-diameter bolt recessed behind three locking lugs operates in a receiver machined from bar stock. Both are of chrome-moly steel, the bolt body nickel Teflon-coated for smooth travel. The 60-degree rotation is a selling point, but because primary extraction must occur over a shorter lift, you’ll feel a bit more resistance than in twin-lug actions. The bolt fieldstrips without tools. The bolt release is on the left receiver wall, independent of the trigger.
A plunger ejector and lug-mounted extractor bracket a recessed bolt face. Cartridges are push-fed from a single stack in a detachable polymer box secured to the one-piece bottom metal (alloy) by a front latch. The follower is polymer too. In my view, this material trumps stamped metal, as it’s quieter, lighter in weight, rust proof and at least as strong. The receiver’s ejection port, albeit not as generous as a Model 70’s, is big enough for easy ejection and for the occasional top feed by hand. I was pleased that dropping a .325 cartridge into that maw aligned it so the bolt chambered it without a hitch. No finger fussing.
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The M.O.A trigger on the Winchester XPR and current M70s is screw-adjustable for weight and over-travel. Unlike the original M70 trigger, it is a housed unit, with adjustments up front. When Winchester claimed, “zero take-up” (movement before sear action), “zero creep” (palpable sear motion) and “zero over-travel” (trigger movement after striker drop), free health care, free education and free love came to mind. Truly, however, the trigger impresses me. Perceived movement is minimal, consistent and smooth. Thank tight tolerances and a pre-load on the actuator that releases the sear. Within an ounce of 3 pounds, “out-of-the-box” pull is the best I’ve felt on a hunting rifle this year!
A two-position sliding thumb safety right side of the bridge locks the bolt. A tab in front lets you cycle the bolt without taking the rifle “off safe.” A cocking indicator under the bolt shroud exposes a red dot when the striker is poised.
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Button-rifled and stress-relieved, the Winchester XPR’s free-floating; chrome-moly barrel is secured by a nut that economically ensures accurate headspacing. The muzzle has a stepped crown to protect the rifling.
Instead of an integral recoil lug, per the Model 70, or a “washer lug” sandwiched between barrel shoulder and receiver face, as on Remington’s 700, the Winchester XPR has a slot in the belly of its receiver ring. A steel bar in the polymer stock engages the slot to arrest the barrel/receiver assembly in recoil. The stock is held to the action by hex-head screws fore and aft of the magazine. There’s no rear screw joining bottom metal to the top tang. That’s OK. In fact, anchoring a receiver at its stoutest points, per the XPR design, can contribute to accuracy.
Slim in profile, rounded on the edges and slightly flattened underneath, the fore-stock has internal cross-members to minimize twist and flex. The buttstock’s wrist is comfortable in hand. Textured panels on grip surfaces help when your hands are cold or wet. I find the texturing “just right,” neither too smooth nor too aggressive. A thick black “Inflex Technology” butt-pad has internal ribs to mitigate recoil and to direct thrust at a downward angle, so the comb drops away from your face. That comb is of conservative line — but its dimensions align my eye instantly with a scope in medium rings.
Winchester has blessed the XPR receiver-top with scope-mount holes for stout 8-40 screws. On rifles of frisky recoil, the great weight of some scopes now popular for long-range shooting can strain 6-48 screws (#6 diameter, 48 threads per inch), long standard for mount bases. Forward-thinking engineers are pushing an industry shift to 8-40s. There’s no downside. For this XPR, I chose Talley’s lightweight alloy rings with integral bases. They’re simple, sleek and strong, and beautifully machined.
I also chose a scope appropriate for this trim 7-pound rifle and its powerful cartridge. The .325 WSM excels for elk, moose, goats and big bears in North America, and for Africa’s heavy plains game – Oryx and eland. Such animals can turn up, quartering off, feet away in cover, or pause on the far side of meadow or pan. Leupold’s 2 ½-8×36 has long been one of my favorite variables, comfortable in low rings, with more than enough power to tap the .325’s reach, but a field bright and broad enough for a quick, urgent poke in timber. It has a 6mm exit pupil at 6x – as much light as my eye can use at dusk, at a power setting that seems to me a practical limit for big game. This VX-3i weighs just 11 ½ ounces, so the rifle’s mass lies low between my hands, balance unaffected.
The .325 WSM cartridge isn’t nearly as popular as the .300 WSM. It kicks harder and it has more punch than needed for most game. (Think: the .300 and .338 belted Winchester Magnums. The .300 out-sells the .338 by a wide margin.) But I like the .325’s balance of hull capacity and bullet diameter and its long reach — the 8mm bullets are a ballistic match to the .338 Magnum and early on, the .325 has treated me well.
I took a Model 70 so chambered on a mountain goat hunt. We were properly challenged, jungles of devils-club giving way to iced-over rock and, on ledges, wet snow knee-deep. We ground on, clawing ever upward under skies ominously dark and still. Black, muscular clouds rolled over the Pacific at midday. We marked their progress, felt the chill of Vanguard winds, shotgun blasts of sleet. Sweat-soaked, we set a turn-around time. “Can’t get caught high in that storm,” warned my partner. Then we spied the goat.
The Billy drew us higher as our clock over-ran its alarm and the storm barreled in. We scrambled the last yards. I threw myself prone, fired as the goat turned, a second from putting rock between us. The 220-grain bullet struck audibly. So did three more as the beast, dead on its feet, lunged to the precipice. It collapsed hanging over a 1,000-foot drop, fetlock caught in the fork of an alder jutting from the rock. As night closed, we stumbled and careened downslope, brushing the blizzard’s belly. Yes, the .325 WSM and I have a history.
For this exercise, I made my way to the range with175-grain Ballistic Silvertips, 200-grain AccuBonds and 220-grain Power Max Bonded bullets. Winchester no longer offers the 175 BSTs. The other two loads are joined now by a 220-grain Power Point at the same 2,840 fps starting velocity as the 220 PMB.
|325 WSM Ballistics
|200-grain AccuBond CT (Winchester)
|220-grain Power Max Bonded (Winchester)
Over a Caldwell shooting bag cradling the XPR’s forend, I fired at a measured pace, through gusty wind that shoved 95-degree air across the sagebrush. The slim barrel heated quickly; I kept it just below egg-cooking temps. Fed singly through the port, or from the magazine, the stocky WSMs nosed smoothly forward. No balks. No double clutching. They extracted easily — the bolt’s diameter, and its nickel Teflon coating, contributed to silky travel and function. And — may old Model 70s forgive me — I adored the XPR trigger. This rifle is frisky in recoil, but calling my shots was easy, courtesy that smooth, light, consistent trigger break. I used the safety, just to check it. The switch worked crisply and quietly. Ditto the unlocking tab.
Given the range conditions and the rifle’s trim proportions, I didn’t expect one-hole groups. But while not elated with the results, I was pleased. All three loads shot, inexplicably, to the same place. I’ve occasionally seen this phenomenon with other rounds. It evidently results from a convergence of variables beyond velocity and barrel harmonics. Oddly enough, all three .325 loads printed three-shot groups of 1.2 inches, +/- .1. These days, with reports of half-minute knots so common they beg a truth-meter, I’m still satisfied with a hunting rifle that consistently sends various bullets into 1 ¼ MOA. If you hold that tight, you’ll get 5-inch groups at 400 yards, a very long poke at game.
In sum, I’m mightily impressed by this new Winchester XPR. While it doesn’t rise to the cosmetic plane of a Model 70, the XPR’s feel, fit, function and accuracy are at least a match. And its price makes it a bargain indeed. My preconceptions proved largely without basis. The Winchester XPR Hunter is an entry-level hunting rifle that should appeal to accomplished riflemen!
For more information, visit Winchester Repeating Arms at www.winchesterguns.com
Visit Leupold at www.leupold.com