A winner from Winchester

Assessing the sub-£500 Winchester XPR in .30-06, Stuart Wilson finds a camouflage rifle that certainly stands out.

I unboxed the Winchester XPR to find a camouflage-stocked variant in .30-06 Spr, topped off with a Kite Optics scope, already mounted. The only possible omission was a moderator to screw on to the pre-threaded barrel.

I decided to keep the rifle au naturel in this regard – safety first, though, and I dug out my ear plugs! Unboxing is always good fun and the Winchester XPR was no exception, and after a little familiarisation, shouldering the rifle and a few dry fires, it became apparent that some serious work had been completed to produce the XPR.

The Winchester 70, one of the most well-known and loved bolt-action rifles, is a rifle I must admit have never cared for. Rifle choice is very much down to personal preference, encompassing a multitude of factors – budget, availability, aesthetics – in a varying mix depending on the individual.

The Model 70 is still produced, and will continue to find both favour and success in many shooters’ hands, but I was looking for something else from the American manufacturer, and perhaps this was it. Certainly, the XPR has been extensively researched, developed and finally delivered to a very high standard at an unbelievable price.

Zeroing

After the second cut of silage, the grass has pushed on and made prone shooting from a mat all but impossible – so sticks, truck bonnet or a handy shooting table are the options to avoid trying to shoot through grass stems.

My long-standing but slightly rickety fold-up table made for a perfect shooting rest, and doubled up nicely for detailed photographs of the rifle’s features. I got a Harris BR swivel propping the front end up, after snicking it onto the sling swivel stud, and the camo butt stock neatly nestled into a rear bag. That was all my possible excuses removed.

Lined up on the target board 100 yards away, after loading the straight stack magazine with Winchester 150gn Extreme Points, I remembered to slip the bolt out for a quick bore sight to the target board.

With no adjustments needed, I lined the reticle of the Kite Optics scope on to my target spot, taking my first shot, which punched the paper slightly high and right of the target. The second and third completed a tidy 20mm group. I had no doubt that this would shrink somewhat as the rifle bedded in and I became more familiar with the firearm.

Opting to leave the scope where it was, I slipped the cap from the elevation turret for a couple of exploratory clicks, which were reassuringly positive in operation. This variant offered an illuminated reticle, which is always welcome – suffice to say the optics proved clear and crisp, with a simple, uncluttered design of reticle, turret and ocular bell adjustment rings.

Pushing the board out to 200 yards, reloading the magazine, I settled in for the money shots, and I chose to rattle three rounds out hastily. The XPR is noisy without a moderator but still surprisingly smooth to shoot for a fairly light rifle… maybe I am just numb!

The clean lines of the stock, complete with camo finish

The result was a deadly 35mm group – very pleasing and just cutting the right side of the bull. The 100-yard group was 1.5in high and this was dead-on, proving this was a very usable rifle in the field – anywhere from 0-200 yards a point-and-shoot, ‘bang-flop’ job hopefully.

I do think the .30-06 calibre is underrated by many British shooters. It’s flatter than .308 Win, offers more oomph when needed, and is surprisingly light on carcase damage with the right bullet. But shooting will always continue re-inventing the wheel with new fangled calibres, and I am still guilty of following the trends. I suppose that is part of the fun for many shooters. 

Stock

I was more than happy with the synthetic, camouflage-finished stock. The layout is good, from butt to forend. My initial feelings were further confirmed in the field on the shooting bench; solid dimensions and geometry just go unnoticed when they work.

Credit where credit is due here – Winchester have created a solid foundation for the XPR. The pistol grip and forend have textured panels, which offer even more grip to an already tactile stock.

I would describe the pistol grip as semi-vertical – it offers good trigger hand positioning when shooting from my most-used hunting stances (sticks, high seat and vehicle), while also proving comfortable from the bench.

The cheek weld was good, offering a straight eye-line through the Kite scope – simple and repeatable, removing any thought from the process of lining your eye through the scope to the target – this will surely result in consistent shooting. If you’re shooting a Winchester XPR and think it needs adjustment, consider that it might be you that needs to adjust, not the rifle!

Everything at your fingertips: Safety catch, trigger, and release button, allowing the bolt to be opened with the safety still engaged

A side note here: if you are having any issues with a rifle, and/or your own shooting, get a pal to record your next shots in slow motion. You will be amazed by what you pick out of your shooting process – where you have tensed a muscle pre-shot, when you snatch the trigger and anticipate the recoil, and how effective your follow-through is. Slow-mo of 120fps or even better 240fps highlights every detail from your shooting style.

Back to the stock. It has sling studs fore and aft, and the forend has clearance to fully float the barrel. The action sits on the stock interface, a flat profile pad complete with a cross-mounted recoil lug – the rifle is held securely and precisely by this set-up, offering stability and repeatability that results in the rifle holding zero even under extreme conditions.

Barrel and action

Construction is chrome moly steel all round, which is harder and more durable than stainless steel. If you want rugged reliability, chrome moly steel is tough stuff, even if it doesn’t offer the weather resistance of its stainless counterpart.

The barrel of the XPR camo is sporting weight, and pre-threaded to receive a moderator, complete with a protective thread cap, with the crown slightly recessed to avoid any potential dings affecting accuracy, and a matt blued finish protecting the surface without glinting or reflecting sunlight – a must for hunters.

The button rifled barrel is thermally stress-relieved for straightness and accuracy from the first to last shot of a string. Cold barrel accuracy has to match the second, third and fourth shots – which is where the thermal stress-relieving comes into play.

The barrel is threaded at the chamber end so it can screw into the action, and headspace is maintained to a tight tolerance during manufacturing by using a barrel nut – a tried-and-tested system, but not one I have seen on a Winchester myself.

The matt blued finish is matched by the barrel nut and the action finish, and the smooth lines are not spoiled by the barrel nut, with the one-piece bases fastening to the 8-40 screw holes in the top of the tubular action. The oversized thread of 8-40 caters for heavier scopes and recoils, giving better service.

A neat three-lug bolt head, with recessed face, and an extractor and ejector that throw the spent round with authority

The top of the action is stepped, and has a generous port for faultless ejection of spent cartridges, with the low bolt throw further aiding the cycling process.

There is nothing worse than your hand colliding with the scope because of an overly high bolt lift. The bolt head is swept back at a slight angle, and feels solid in the hand, with a flat underside. There’s a further weight-saving hole in the end.

The shroud to the rear finishes the matt blued finish, complete with a visual cocking indicator with red dot. The same red dot is found under the safety catch, which is easily activated by the trigger hand, slipping forward for fire revealing the red dot, and rearwards for safe.

A second button to the front of the bolt, when pressed, allows the bolt to cycle in the safe position to unload a live round from the chamber.

The bolt body is sturdy, with the tried-and-tested round profile, aligning and running on the same catch that allows the bolt to be fully drawn from the action, with three lugs to the front giving solid lock-up in the action. The recessed bolt face fully encases a chambered round, with the ejector plunger sitting 180 degrees opposite the ejection port for faultless operation.

Low bolt lift is always something good to see

The extractor claw is held inside the bolt head, its slot machined into one of the lugs. This sits on a small sprung plunger that allows the extractor to slide outwards as it clips over the rim of the chambered case, a layout I much prefer over the Mauser-style extractor claw on controlled feed actions.

The magazine, being a single-stack design, offer the best consistency on feeding. They are easy to load and present the next cartridge in the same place every time. You lose a little by way of capacity over a stacked design – but I would always opt for feed over capacity.

Final thoughts

The Winchester XPR camo is a very well designed rifle, and has certainly piqued my interest. In essence, it’s a solid, rugged action, with modern features, good accuracy and simplicity of use.

The only thing I was a little worried about was the feel of the butt stock – I gave it a quick tap before shooting and was greeted with a rather hollow reply. But after shooting the rifle, an unmoderated .30-06 Spr, the stock did not present any problems and recoil was manageable.

The crowning glory of the XPR, which I have left until last, is the MOA trigger, which is a completely new design. Winchester state a factory setting of 3.5lb, but with the blade and the 2:1 mechanical advantage, the trigger is a joy to use.

It’s a very well-made trigger with little, if any, take-up, creep, or overtravel – all the things I would aim to minimise when tuning a trigger. Hats off to Winchester on that one. 

The acid test: Would I buy one? Damn right I would. Have you seen what you are getting for the price? I would go for the Laminate Varmint thumbhole in .243 Win as my ultimate desire. 

The Winchester XPR retails from £482. Contact Browning UK for more information: 01235 514550, https://browning.eu/

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