Gun makers are constantly tinkering, trying to come up with the next big innovation that rocks the big game hunting world. Today's rifle rounds fly faster, flatter, and hit harder than our fathers and forefathers could have ever dreamed about in a hunting round. These new cartridges help hunters reach out to long range distances on deer and other big game that would have walked away untouched in the past. One of those recent innovations is the 6.8 Western cartridge, a short action rifle round developed by Winchester and Browning in January of 2021. With this cartridge, the two storied gun companies were looking to have the best of both worlds. It's a cartridge that's speedy and flat for long-range hunting of whitetails and mule deer. At the same time, it uses heavy bullets that are more than capable for elk and even black bears. To top it all off, the 6.8 Western offers less recoil than many other similar hunting cartridges. There's a lot to love about this round, and today we're going to look at some of the rifles Winchester and Browning have released for it so far. One thing we really appreciate about this one, it's that the companies have built something for every hunter's needs or budget.
The 6.8 Western's Ballistics
Before we get into 6.8 Western rifles, we should provide a quick overview of the cartridge itself. We went into more detail on the announcement of this round back in January 2021 if you want more specifics. The main thing to know is Browning and Winchester took a .270 Winchester short magnum and shortened the case and altered the shoulder slightly. It still uses a .277 caliber bullet, but the shorter case allowed the engineers to put longer, heavier bullets with higher ballistic coefficients in the brass. That means shooters can utilize bullets up to 175 grains without a significant loss in velocity of the projectiles. That gives it a distinct edge over something like the .270 WSM using 150-grain bullets. It also means it's harder hitting than other popular rounds like 6.5 Creedmoor and 6.5 PRC without succumbing to the brutal recoil of something like the .300 Win Mag.
The 6.8 Western cartridge does have an odd appearance due to the fat casing and long bullets, but there's no denying the numbers. For factory ammo, Winchester's Ballistic Silvertip line of 170-grain bullets are doing 2,754 fps at 100 yards and they deliver about 2,862-foot pounds of energy. Winchester's polymer tip, Expedition Long Range factory ammo is doing about 2,800 fps at the muzzle and hitting with about 2,900 pounds of energy. That's with a 165-grain bullet. At the same time, Winchester says it has zero drop at 200 yards. They put the drop at 36 inches at 500 yards, where it's still doing 2,251 fps and hitting with 1,856 food pounds of energy.
Browning also developed a 175-grain bullet for their Long Range Pro Hunter, Sierra Tipped Game King Line of factory ammo. You can expect a 2,835 fps of muzzle velocity and 3,123-foot pounds of energy delivered to the target. You get the idea, it's a speedy round that hits with ton of power. Now, let's look at what rifles are currently on the market chambered for this new round.
We'll start things off with the highly affordable XPR. We like this one as a solid option for regular hunters who want a great rifle without breaking the bank. The basic matte blued and synthetic stock combo starts at right around $500, which is a great deal for a rifle that only weighs seven pounds and has such a buttery smooth action like the XPR does. Speaking of the action, these rifles have a short bolt lift, which helps them to cycle very quickly. This rifle features a 24-inch barrel with a 1:8 twist rate, which is just right for stabilizing those long bullets. Winchester sells these already drilled and tapped for a scope mount, but they also sell combo packages topped with a Vortex Crossfire II scope for hunters who want to save money, or those who simply want to head to the range and get sighted in immediately.
Winchester Model 70 Extreme Weather MB
This one is for the hunter who wants a rugged bolt-action rifle that's going to be able to stand up to rain, snow, and cold often encountered deep in the backcountry of the American West. The Model 70's reputation as being one of the finest hunting rifles ever made almost speaks for itself. However, Winchester made it even better with this offering, cutting the weight down to just seven pounds, which makes it a true joy to tote on a long spot and stalk. The receiver and fluted barrel are stainless steel. The barrel length is 24 inches and has a 1:8 rate of twist and a muzzle brake to help keep what little recoil there is in check. This rifle has that signature "Pre-64" claw extractor hunters love that cycles rifle cartridges so nicely. We also like this one for safety purposes. It has a middle position on the safety that locks the firing pin while allowing operation of the bolt for greater peace of mind when loading or unloading. It's pricy at about $1,500, but you likely won't need another hunting rifle for a long time after getting one these.
Browning X-Bolt Western Hunter
Because the 6.8 Western is geared for long-range shooting, that makes it a natural fit in the vast open expanses of places like Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, Idaho, or Nevada where you cannot always get close to your quarry. That's where the X-Bolt Western Hunter comes into play. It weighs just seven pounds, making it easy to hike up the hills and mountains of the backcountry. At the same time, it's got great ergonomics in the textured grip panels, bolt handle, and adjustable comb height to make reaching out at a distance easier. This rifle has a 24-inch barrel with a removable muzzle brake. It has a slightly more optimal 1:7.5 twist rate that's perfect for the flight of those high ballistics coefficient bullets. The A-TACS AU camo finish should do an excellent job helping blend into the high desert sage brush that's so common in western states. This rifle can usually be found for right around $1,000 from most retailers.
Winchester Renegade Long Range SR
Officially part of the XPR line, this is a quality firearm for anyone who expects to be reaching out to ranges beyond 300 yards and wants to keep the amount they spend reasonable. The Renegade usually goes for about $1,000 new. One big selling point here is that the rifle's 24-inch barrel is already suppressor ready, thus the "SR" designation. The threads are 5/8" x 24 and the twist rate of the barrel is 1:8. This is also a good option for anyone who wants a slightly heavier rifle for accuracy and recoil. Even then, at eight pounds, eight ounces, the Renegade is still an easy carry. This rifle features a stock with an upright pistol-grip style that's more comfortable with most shooters and helps significantly with stability. This one also gets high points for the signature "M.O.A. Trigger" system. It's light, crisp, and it will make you more accurate in the field and at the range. There are also some nice little features like spacers to adjust the length of pull, an Inflex recoil pad, and a Perma-Cote finish that make this rifle well worth the price tag.
Browning X-Bolt Pro McMillan
For the hunter looking for the best money can buy, the X-Bolt Pro McMillan is a long-range beast. Browning gave this rifle a McMillan carbon fiber stock, which is the kind of thing professionals use in the military and law enforcement for long range shooting. The sporter-style stock is highly ergonomic and includes a Picatinny rail on the top and bottom, where you can attach a bipod for spot and stalk hunts. This X-Bolt is also built for the elements thanks to a Cerakote finish. The 24-inch barrel has a 1:7.5 rate of twist. The whole rifle weighs just six pounds, nine ounces, which makes it ideal for the most grueling hikes in the toughest terrain. The bolt lift on this rifle is 60 degrees, which means it's going to cycle much faster without interfering with your expensive optics and it's fed through detachable rotary style magazines. One last great feature: this rifle is fitted with Browning's Feather Trigger system that allows you to adjust the trigger pull between three and five pounds with the simple tightening of just one screw. The X-Bolt Pro McMillan is an investment at nearly $2,400, but it's a rugged rifle built for extreme long range hunting the toughest terrain you can find in North America.