Modern hunters these days are seeking faster, flatter cartridges as well as rifles built to perform with them. Browning has melded both into their new Hells Canyon Long Range (HCLR) rifle. With custom shop features, attractive looks, and a price that won’t break the bank, the HCLR sounds too good to be true. Guns.com finds out on the range.
Looks and Specs
Outward appearance defines the Browning X-Bolt Hells Canyon Long Range rifle. Built on the proven X-Bolt family of rifles, the lineage of performance is already there. But it’s the Burnt Bronze Cerakote finish on all the exterior metalwork, including the bolt, that catches the eyes of hunters while remaining matte enough to stay hidden in the field. Partner that with the A-TAC’s AU (Arid/Urban) camouflage and Dura Touch Armor coating finish and we have a gun that turns heads on the range and disappears in the field — exactly what a hunter desires.
Though the gun is often defined by its looks, it is also built to shoot. The HCLR wears a 26 inch free-floated, hand-chambered, heavy-sporter fluted barrel with a target crown. A short-throw 60-degree bolt is quick working and clears scopes with ease. There’s a matching muzzle brake that ships with the rifle, as well as a thread protector should it be removed. The tang-mounted safety moves quietly, a boon for hunters in the field. Browning’s adjustable Feather trigger is gold plated. A bolt unlock button is a nice feature aiding in overall safety. The whole thing comes packed in a black Browning cardboard box along with one detachable four-round rotary magazine. The stock is topped off with the company’s Inflex soft rubber recoil pad. With an MSRP of $1,229, the HCLR is neither the cheapest nor most expensive in its Hells Canyon family, but it incorporates a number of higher end, custom shop-type features at a factory price.
2018 Rifling Change
Our test rifle came in the hottest caliber of the last year, 6.5 Creedmoor. Yet the HCLR is available in a number of the most popular longer-range hunting rounds: 6mm Creedmoor, .270 WSM, .300 WSM, 26 Nosler, 7mm Rem Mag, 28 Nosler, and .300 Win Mag.
Though the Hells Canyon Long Range rifles have been around for more than a year already, new changes hit the shelves on 2018 models, meaning faster twist rates on the barrels. One of those affects the 6.5 Creedmoor chambering we have in hand. In place of the original 1:8 inch twist barrel, Browning has upgraded to a 1:7 inch twist rate. While that may sound trivial in the grand scheme of things, remember the HCLR is built to be a long-range rifle and the 1:7 inch twist has a track record of better stabilizing the heavier and longer 6.5 bullets. Though both twists will stabilize the gamut of 6.5 bullets, astute shooters will likely notice a difference at extended ranges, especially when firing some of the match or precision ammunition. In addition to our Creedmoor, the 26 Nosler also gets a 1:7 inch twist this year. Likewise, the .300 Win Mag, 7mm Rem Mag, and 28 Nosler all became 1:8 inch twist.
Every one of the calibers in the HCLR, including our test 6.5 Creedmoor, come with the longer 26 inch barrel topped with a muzzle brake. Not only does that longer barrel aid in accuracy and balance, but also wrings the greatest downrange potential from the rounds. With a bare weight of 7 pounds, 3 ounces, the rifle is not a lightweight mountain gun, but it’s also not a hefty bench gun. It is a happy medium, able to be carried afield and also weighty enough to negate recoil and send rounds with accuracy.
The right-handed palm swell fills the hand nicely, but is not too meaty to for smaller hands. Sling swivels come standard for heading out afield. The bolt-unlock button is a splendid addition that we wish made its way to more rifles. This allows the bolt to be opened while the safety remains engaged in the “safe” position, allowing for the most secure operation. That button and all the controls are user-friendly and quiet in the field.
We hit the range with a wide mix of factory ammunition from heavier match grade bullets to lighter weight deer pills: Winchester Expedition Big Game Long Range 142-grn Accubond LR, Hornady American Gunner 140-grn, Hornady Precision Hunter 143-grn ELDx, Winchester Deer Season 125-grn XP, Hornady American Whitetail 129-grn Interlock, and Nosler Match Grade 140-grn Custom Competition.
As this is a long-range rifle, we skipped past the 100-yard mark and zeroed the rifle at 200 using a Vortex Viper 4-16×44 scope in Talley mounts. The best groups were touching at 200 yards, with the best groups of 0.98 inches with Hornady American Gunner and 1.15 inches with Winchester Expedition Big Game Long Range. Overall 200-yard, three-shot group average with six different factory loads equaled 1.30 inches. While the lighter weights from Winchester’s Deer Season and Hornady’s American Whitetail were not quite as tight, with average groups closer to 1.85 at 200 yards, they are nonetheless perfectly serviceable sub-350-yard hunting options. From there, we fired three-shot groups at 300-yards, still with excellent results from the bench before stretching to our maximum allowable distance.
Even at 500 yards in a relatively gusty 15-20 mph crossing wind, the 6 inch steel gong was an easy target for the Hells Canyon Long Range. In fact, the majority of the hits fell inside the 3.5 inch center. At that extended distance, we found the greatest accuracy with the heavier and longer bullets. The trio of Winchester Expedition Big Game Long Range, Hornady Precision Hunter, and Nosler Match Grade performed very similarly at distance, with multiple three-shot groups measuring sub-four-inches.
Hits and Misses
The rifle is just as much at home on shooting sticks as it is on the bench, being light enough to carry and do work without sacrificing strength and barrel length. With a durable Cerakote finish and synthetic stock, there’s no need to baby the HCLR or leave it in the safe on inclement weather days. This one should stand up to being drug up and down rocky terrain or through the brush. The rotary magazine locks up simply and snug and feeds smoothly. It is difficult to find a knock against this rifle. Hunters often find it difficult to justify handing over hard-earned cash for a high-end custom rifle, but the Hells Canyon Long Range offers that kind of quality and feature-set for significantly less, all in a factory production gun.
The Browning Hells Canyon Long Range is like that smooth-talking friend who has it all together. With killer looks, a solid trigger, smooth action, and accuracy to match, there’s not much not to like. Though the HCLR is not the rifle that a casual one-week-a-year hunter needs — though they may still want one — it is one that is built to perform as well as it looks. So if you find yourself in need of both a target rifle capable of extended ranges and a hunting gun able to reach out and touch some far-away game, make your selection from the list of calibers and get to work with the Hells Canyon Long Range. With any number of great new guns at my disposal, the Hells Canyon Long Range is not only on my short list, but is one I’d gladly rely upon for multiple hunts this fall.