Gun Review: Winchester XPR sets new standard for budget rifles

From the gun that won the west to the bargain basement, Winchester Repeating Arms has now done it all with rifles. With little fanfare, Winchester entered an already-flooded budget rifle market, but did so with superior features and accuracy. The synthetic-stocked, bolt-action Winchester XPR is available in all popular deer calibers, plus some hot, new chamberings as well.

Make no mistake – the XPR is no Winchester Model 70, but then again, it’s not meant to be. Initially introduced in a non-assuming black synthetic, the XPR sets itself apart in fit and function. The trigger is the same fully adjustable unit found in the venerable Model 70, exceptional on a rifle of this class. A single-stack, dropbox magazine and target crown on the 20-26-inch barrels are also sweet.

Made in Winchester’s Portugal factory, the fit and finish may not match that of higher grade, Belgian or American made long guns, but the XPR was never intended to win beauty pageants. Price, regardless of caliber, is $549 black and $599 camo, with store prices even lower, making the rifles affordable, capable, and accurate.

On the range

The test XPR came in 6.5 Creedmoor, the year’s hottest caliber. After mounting a quality, but also affordable Leupold VX-II 4-12×40, the XPR proved quick to sight-in. An assortment of ammo challenged the gun’s range as both a deer slayer and target shooter.

Ammo brands tested include: Hornady American Whitetail 129 grn Interlock; Hornady American Gunner 140 grn BTH; Hornady Precision Hunter 143 grn; Winchester Deer Season 125 grn; Winchester Expedition Big Game 142 grn; Federal Fusion 140 grn; American Eagle 140 grn Match; and Nosler Trophy Grade 129 grn Accubond.

In addition to firing MOA with every brand of factory ammo, the XPR punched sub-MOA three shot groups with Hornady Precision and Winchester Expedition Big Game.

The Winchester XRP bolt-action rifle. (Photo: Kristin Alberts/

The Winchester XRP bolt-action rifle. (Photo: Kristin Alberts/

The Precision Hunter produced a best three-shot 100-yard group of 0.71 inches while the Expedition did 0.82 inches. All of the hunting ammo performed well out to 200 yards with the largest three-shot groups from the lighter bullets, yet still inside two-inches even with a 12-15mph crosswind.

Of the lighter bullets, the Nosler 129 grn held the tightest groups out to 300 yards, and would be my choice in that class.  It was at the extended ranges, where 6.5 Creedmoors usually dig in, that the XPR showed its favor for the heavier bullets in offerings like Precision Hunter, Federal Fusion, and Expedition Big Game.

At 300 yards, we were able to hold three-shot groups inside of two inches against the cross wind with all three of the aforementioned.  Though we didn’t expect the 22-inch pencil barrel to perform quite so well, it remained in the game at the four-inch gong at 400 yards we clanged with regularity.  With the capability of the XPR, the only thing we were wishing for was a BDC reticle in the Leupold scope.  While the 6.5 Creedmoor chambering really excels with a longer, heavier barrel, the Winchester XPR is a great entry point for shooters and hunters wishing to add the caliber to their repertoire.

It goes without saying that the XPR handled all the ammo with 100 percent reliability as we expect any rifle, especially a bolt action.  Though the 6.5 is far from a kicking magnum, Winchester’s Inflex recoil pad did its job of directing recoil away from the shooter’s face and keeping things comfortable on the range.

The easy to grip and easy to shoot Winchester XRP. (Photo: Kristin Alberts/

The easy to grip and easy to shoot Winchester XRP. (Photo: Kristin Alberts/

Features set the XPR apart

The XPR does its job, and does it well, due in large part to a quality barrel and superior trigger.  Winchester’s adjustable MOA trigger has made its way from the Model 70 to the XPR. Our test rifle’s puller broke just over 3.6 pounds on a Lyman digital gauge, with neither creep nor overtravel.  If triggers make rifles – and they can – this one’s a star.

But success takes more than a trigger alone. Prices may be low, but quality does not suffer.  The chrome moly button rifled barrels are all free-floated and have a well-recessed target crown.  A barrel nut joins that to the steel receiver. The blued steel is matte finished, almost to the point of appearing parkerized.  The three-round detachable box magazine is one of the best in its class, with locking points both front and rear.  Textured panels on the fore-end and pistol grip are aggressive enough for hunters in inclement weather, yet add to the sleek looks of the rifle.  Even with the scope and mounts, the gun weighed in at a reasonable eight pounds.

The bonuses don’t stop there.  No sirree.  The XPR may be a budget buy, but the features are worth much more.  The two-position right-sided tang safety is easy to manipulate even with gloves and also silent, but the real winner is the bolt release button. Located in front of the safety, the release button allows the bolt to be cycled while the safety is still engaged, a feature ideal for newer shooters but also safer for even experienced shooters clearing the chamber. A cocking indicator on the bolt shroud is also a quick and easy visual indicator for added safety.

Three other big pluses on the XPR bolt not found on most other budget rifles: durable and often more expensive nickel Teflon coating, short 60-degree bolt throw for ample scope clearance, and a design that allows the bolt itself to be stripped sans tools for complete cleaning.

We were pleased to pick up a Mossy Oak Break Up stock in addition to the standard black synthetic, and coming from someone who generally despises plain black furniture, that was a welcome and practical change, especially on the Wyoming flats.  With sub-MOA accuracy and great range, our 6.5 Creedmoor XPR is ready for both pronghorn and deer this fall.

The misses are small

Our only knocks on the XPR are more superficial than anything.  Whereas both the Savage Axis II and Mossberg Patriot are both available in wood-stocked versions, the XPR is synthetic only – for now, at least.  Luckily, the XPR can be had in multiple iterations of both Mossy Oak and Kuiu patterns. The inclusion of compact models for smaller-framed shooters is a plus, as well as threaded, suppressor-ready versions.

The Winchester XRP is also available in Mossy Oak camo. <em>(Photo: Kristin Alberts/</em>

The Winchester XRP is also available in Mossy Oak camo. (Photo: Kristin Alberts/

The other hiccup in an otherwise flawless bargain system involves optics mounting.  While I do not begrudge the rifle for its lack of iron sights – many higher priced guns forego them as well – the cost of the XPR-specific one-piece bases and rings must be mentioned. The Talley mounts are fantastic quality and available for either one-inch or 30mm optics of any height, but the $69.99 retail price is undeniably high for a budget gun. I’d gladly put those mounts on my $1,000 rifles. However, somebody buying a sub $600 rifle likely wants more affordable mounts. On the plus side, by the time most hunters get around to buying and scoping their XPR, there will likely be other, more cost-effective scope mounting solutions.

With a trigger so sweet it sings to the target, and sub-MOA accuracy from an entry level rifle, there isn’t much not to like at this price point. Throw in all the additional features from a nickel Teflon short throw bolt that takes down without tools, to a best-in-its-class dropbox magazine and quality controls, and the XPR is hard to beat in its class.  Even if the XPR is a poor-man’s Model 70, it is proof you needn’t break the bank for a quality hunting rifle.

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