Riflemen always want accurate rifles, but the definition of “accurate” has evolved over the years so that almost every bolt-action, regardless of its price, is expected to shoot 1-inch groups. Custom target-style rifles—or any hunting rifles that are expensive—are expected to exceed that standard. But one fact we occasionally forget is that riflemen are not machines; shooting conditions afield can play as much of a role in accuracy as the rifle itself.
For example, from a benchrest, where variables and heart rates can be better controlled, plenty of hunting-style rifles perform great. But there’s a reason target rifles wear beefier stocks, heavier barrels and robust actions: In general, they are easier to shoot well with a wider variety of ammo because they remain steady and consistent.
Knowing this, Winchester created a new rifle platform based on everything it has learned and developed over the past century. The result is its XPR (eXtreme Performance Rifle) bolt-action line. One model, the XPR Renegade Long Range SR, is a target/hunting hybrid rifle that combines a premium barrel, receiver, trigger and third-party target stock to deliver a rifle capable of half-inch or better groups from the bench, while remaining handy enough to carry in the field and heavy enough to shoot accurately from field positions, even at long range were every flaw in shooting form is exacerbated.
“The primary contributor to accuracy is the barrel,” said Winchester engineer Nick Schafer. “We started with a chrome-moly blank, button rifled it, stress relieved it, added a target crown then attached it to the receiver with a barrel nut.”
The Renegade sports a medium contour tube that maintains its .75-inch diameter throughout. (The .243 Win., 6.5 Creedmoor, 7mm-08 Rem. and .308 Win. chamberings are 22 inches, while the .270 Win., .300 WSM and .300 PRC are 24.) The “SR” denotes Suppressor Ready so the muzzle is therefore threaded (⅝x24).
The barrel itself is only part of the accuracy equation. It must be bedded solidly and mated perfectly to the receiver to reach its potential; this is the precise reason why Winchester chose a barrel nut system of attachment and why it chose a custom-like Grayboe stock. A barrel nut system that allows increasing or decreasing head space until it is precise is a superior way of mass-manufacturing accurate rifles, but it also does more.
“A barrel nut allows us to eliminate a sandwiched recoil lug, it ensures the faces of the barrel and receiver are square, and it allows us to control headspace very tightly and consistently,” said Schafer.
What does a barrel nut have to do with a recoil lug? Normally a recoil lug—or the tab of metal on the underside of the receiver that embeds into the stock to prevent the action from moving back and forth under recoil—is mated to the receiver between the barrel and the action. But the barrel nut design, because it allows the relationship between the receiver and the stock to remain consistent, let engineers design a type of reverse-lug, wherein a steel lug is permanently embedded in the stock so its top mates to a machined recess in the bottom of the receiver. It prevents the action from moving in the stock, yet always ensures the lug is perfectly bedded.
The Grayboe stock is inletted for a full-length free-float. It features a target-style beavertail fore-end that’s flared just after the receiver. Its buttstock features an underhook design to allow the rifleman’s support hand to pull the stock into the shoulder pocket. It’s nifty.
This XPR’s action is machined from a solid billet of bar stock for max rigidity. The bolt features vertical fluting to decrease friction while its same-diameter bolt head features three big locking lugs and a hybrid controlled-feed extractor and plunger ejector. The Renegade features a short 60-degree bolt throw and an oversized bolt handle. I used to discount the advantages of a short bolt throw, until I found that several long-throw rifles I own couldn’t accommodate various scopes I wanted to mount to them due to the bolt being blocked by the scope. Problem averted with the XPR. The rear of the bolt features a cocking indicator. The rifle’s bottom “metal” is made of polymer, as is the single-stack, detachable, three-round magazine.
The next feature that is required if a rifle’s accuracy potential is to be reached is its trigger. Winchester spent years developing its MOA trigger, and it is almost wonderful. It uses a simple lever system that slots it a 2:1 mechanical advantage over the sear. I’m here to verify company claims that it has no creep and no over-travel. It came out of the box set at 4 pounds, though it felt like less because of its crispness. Despite having an adjustment screw, the screw hole was filled with epoxy so that it is not easily adjusted. After unclogging it, I found that it was set to the lightest it would go. While a crisp, 4-pound trigger is OK for a pure hunting gun, I was disappointed that it couldn't be dialed down to 2½ or even 3 pounds.
The trigger’s safety is a simplistic thing of beauty. It’s a two-position, side-mounted switch that is fast and satisfying. Just ahead of it is a bolt-release button that allows the chamber to be unloaded while the gun remains on safety.
Even if all its components are of premium quality, it doesn’t necessarily mean a rifle will shoot. But my XPR Long Range test model shot lights out. I averaged .75-inch groups with it over four types of ammo, and I found one factory load that shot a .30-inch group. At 300 yards, I shot a few sub-inch groups, as well. Of equal importance, the rifle was easy to shoot accurately off sticks, offhand or prone from a bipod or backpack. It threw no flyers as the barrel heated up, as many lightweight hunting guns do. Accuracy aside, I love the rifle’s matte Teflon finish and the stock’s black and green color. With my AB suppressor attached, this XPR quickly became my long-range deer rifle of choice for stand locations where a 300-yard shot was possible.
In using the rifle during deer season, I found a few things I’d change, however. First, I wish the trigger was capable of going lighter. Second, the Grayboe stock on a hybrid hunting/target rifle like this would be better suited with an adjustable cheek piece so scope-to-eye fit can be perfected for each shooter. And third, while the magazine is simple and reliable, if Winchester would have made it just a few millimeters larger, perhaps it could have accommodated a fourth round.
Overall, however, the XPR Long Range SR is notable due to its features, its accuracy and the fact that firing sub-inch groups is easy, even from field positions with multiple hunting and target loads. This is indicative of a quality, well-made rifle that can be used with great precision on the range or in the field where long shots are warranted. What’s more, it represents a great value when you consider its real-world price of less than $1,000.