Winchester XPR: New Gun Test
Let’s begin with the really important stuff: “XPR” doesn’t officially stand for anything. I checked. The people at Winchester needed...
Let’s begin with the really important stuff: “XPR” doesn’t officially stand for anything. I checked. The people at Winchester needed a name for their new rifle and rather than “Ralph” or “Cynthia” or “uMgugundhlovu,” they picked “XPR.” Having recently shot it, I can tell you what the X should stand for, but we’ll get to that.
Whatever its name, the XPR is a 21st century rifle, as different from its 20th century ancestor, the Model 70, as your iPad is from the 1947-vintage family entertainment console of my youth, which covered an entire wall and featured a 7-inch black-and-white television, a phonograph, and a radio.
The XPR is an angular, streamlined bolt-action that incorporates a heavy, tubular receiver with a smallish ejection port, a massive, three-lug bolt, an extremely stiff synthetic stock, and a superb trigger. Winchester was very clever here. While the receiver is a circle in cross-section, which makes it rigid, the surfaces that are bedded are flat, which keeps it from twisting and squirming. This goes to the very heart of modern rifle accuracy: If you design in rigidity, concentricity, and lack of stress on any single component; if you make the rifle so it cannot twist, torque, bend, or flex, it’s going to shoot. Winchester did, and the XPR does.
Inexpensive, But Not Cheap
The XPR has an MSRP of $550, which puts it in the low-medium price range. There’s no shortage of rifles in the $300 to $600 bracket these days. While none are masterpieces of the gunsmith’s art, some look as though their makers couldn’t wait to get them out the door. They’re rough, crudely assembled, have gaping spaces everywhere, mediocre to poor trigger pulls (despite loud bellows to the contrary), and a general air of shoddiness. A few, however, like the Weatherby Vanguard, are immaculate. And so it is with the XPR. There are no toolmarks, no egregious gaps; everything is clean and works smoothly.
There are also little touches where Winchester could have saved a few bucks, but chose not to in the interest of making a better rifle. They incorporated the current Model 70’s M.O.A. trigger, which is not a cheap piece of machinery, and on my test-model XPR gives a pull that is virtually perfect—no takeup, no discernable movement, and a 3 ½-pound weight that feels lighter than it really is.
The push-feed bolt is coated with an electroless-nickel and Teflon compound that makes it glide back and forth in the receiver and also renders the part pretty well rustproof. The bolt itself has three lugs rather than two, and a short 60-degree lift as a result.
The receiver is drilled and tapped for 8/40 screws, which are much stronger than the standard 6/48 screws that usually serve.
There’s a two-position safety that lets you unload the rifle with the trigger locked away from the sear, if unloading the rifle bothers you terribly.
At the Range
The XPR feeds from a three-round, single-stack detachable magazine that works just fine even when it’s 0 degrees outside. I can say this because the first time I went to the range with the rifle it was 0 degrees outside, and the magazine worked fine, although my fingers didn’t after a few minutes.
The XPR that I tested was a .30/06, and I installed on it one of the new Zeiss Conquest 2X-8X scopes, which costs more than twice what the rifle does. (If you don’t break your budget buying a rifle, you may be able to afford a costly scope, which makes sense when you think about it.)
Despite fearful cold and high winds, the XPR shot extremely well. My average three-shot group at 100 yards, based on three groups from five different loads (see below), was just under an inch. The best average group from a single load was .693. And this is a lightweight, undiddled-with hunting rifle, for heaven’s sake.
Right now, the XPR comes in .270, .30/06, .300 Win. Mag., and .338. Weight is 7 pounds in the first two calibers and 7 ¼ in the magnums. Barrel lengths are 24 inches for the standard rounds and 26 for the magnums, and if it were me, I would take my brand new XPR to the gunsmith and have 2 inches lopped off the magnum barrel, because it makes for an unhandy rifle, and you sure don’t need all that steel out front.
But that’s just my opinion. What is not a matter of opinion is that this is a very good hunting rifle and, considering what you get for its modest price, a terrific value as well.
In 0-degree temperatures, with a 10-mph wind occasionally gusting to 30, I shot three three-shot groups at 100 yards from each of the five rounds below. Here are the average group sizes:
Federal Match Factory, 168-grain Sierra: .952 of an inch
Winchester Deer Season, 150-grain SP: 1.181 inches
Hornady 180-grain SST handload: 1.177 inches
Lapua Scenar L 155-grain handload: .693 of an inch
Hornady 165-grain SST handload: .873 of an inch