‘Lights Out’ For Prairie Dogs And Predators!
By Mark Hampton
Fusion and American Eagle .22-250 ammo were tested and the Eclipse Varmint
exhibited superb accuracy with both. The scope is a Bushnell 2.5-10×44 Engage.
The Full Monty: The Eclipse Varmint features a fluted 26″ barrel, a 45-5/8″
overall length and an unscoped weight of 9 lbs., 4 oz. Photo courtesy Browning
Many varmints I’ve taken have been “pop-up” targets of opportunity. The gun I used just happened to be the one closest to hand — not necessarily a dedicated varmint rig by any means.
However, when calling coyotes or bobcats — or if you find yourself smack-dab in the middle of an overpopulated prairie dog town — a purpose-built varmint gun is a joy.
Over the years I have shot several versions of Browning’s X-Bolt series and they’ve all shared one common denominator — superb accuracy. So when I went searching for a serious varmint rig, their X-Bolt Eclipse Varmint .22-250 hit the radar screen.
From left: Browning’s X-Lock mounts anchored the Bushnell scope. Below sits the bolt release.
Moving forward: An easily accessible tang safety, a cocking indicator and the excellent “short-throw” 60-degree bolt. The unlock button is clearly visible atop the bolt handle.
The Right Tool
Its overall performance is on par with a high-dollar custom rifle. The free-floated, 26″ fluted bull barrel has a 1:14″ twist and features a target crown and disperses heat better than small diameter, pencil-type barrels. The matte gray finish looks sharp.
The gun tips the scales at 9 lbs., 4 oz. without optic, and will surpass 10 lbs. when scoped. It has an overall length of 45 5/8″. Even though the gun is heavy as you would expect from a dedicated varmint rifle, the muzzlebrake eliminates any noticeable recoil.
One of the most important features on a varmint rifle is a good trigger. The X-Bolt’s new adjustable Feather Trigger is adjustable from 3 to 5 lbs. On my test gun it broke clean and crisp at 3 with minimal creep. I didn’t adjust it as I was shooting in cold weather, but should the opportunity arise for prairie dog shooting in warmer areas, I’d want something lighter. The trigger itself is gold plated. The triggerguard is made of alloy and features the most recognizable symbol in the industry — Browning’s Buck Mark handsomely etched in gold.
The glass-bedded receiver is steel and finished in matte blue. Utilizing the one-piece base and X-Lock Browning rings, I mounted a Bushnell Engage 2.5-10×44 scope. These X-Lock scope mounts use four screws per base — replacing the two-screw set-up. With light recoiling rounds like the 22-250, those extra screws may not be necessary, but they definitely provide peace of mind!
The Engage features Bushnell’s Deploy MOA reticle with one-MOA elevation and windage hashmarks. This reticle takes a lot of guesswork out of the equation when long-range pokes arise — once you’ve familiarized yourself at various yardages. The scope is crystal clear with sharp contrast and comes at a price that won’t deplete your kid’s college fund.
The stock is handsome and perfectly designed for varmint hunting. It comes in a laminated gray satin varnish finish that blends nicely with the action and barrel. My wife — for whatever reason — likes thumbhole stocks and she took an immediate interest in the Eclipse Varmint.
One swivel stud is installed and ready to accept a bipod. Two flush QD cups go unnoticed but are ready for a sling if desired. The raised cheekpiece makes finding targets in the scope easy — no trying to adjust your face correctly to see through the optic. For me, the Monte Carlo cheekpiece is ideal. Browning’s Inflex Technology recoil pad is most comfortable when mounting the gun to your shoulder.
My wife, Karen, wanted dearly to shoot the Eclipse Varmint. After a rew rounds she commented approvingly on the short 60-degree bolt lift. Compared to many rifles with a 90-degree lift, Eclipse bolt is faster to run and won’t get in the way of a large, varmint-type scope. This bolt features three locking lugs and once you get accustomed to it, it’ll spoil you.
Another feature I find particularly beneficial is the bolt unlock button. It’s located on the top of the bolt. Pushing down on it allows the bolt to open while the safety remains on — a great safety measure for a two-position tang safety. I’ve never been keen on taking the safety off to load and unload a firearm.
The detachable rotary magazine holds four rounds of .22-250 ammo. The website listed the magazine capacity of five but I could only manage four. Made from tough polymer, the magazine is lightweight and designed to feed cartridges directly in-line with the bolt. There’s no left to right stacking of rounds. Thanks to the magazine-mounted release, the polymer box drops easily right in your palm and sits flush with the bottom of the rifle.
Browning’s X-Bolt Eclipse Varmint rifle is attractive — and easy on the eyes. The overall scheme of blued action contrasting well with a stainless barrel and matching gray satin stock provides a classy appearance. Granted, it’s a good-looking rifle. But I was hoping and expecting it to shoot as well as other X-Bolts I’ve tested.
Hot, straight and varmint-ready: Mark found the accuracy of his out-of-the-box Browning Eclipse to be fully in keeping with the X-Bolt’s reputation.
In my ammo inventory I just happened to have some Federal Fusion 55-gr. SP and American Eagle 50-gr. JHP. This ammo has performed well in other .22-250’s and I was anxious to see what type of accuracy would be possible in the Eclipse Varmint. Either of these rounds would be dynamite on varmints.
Once the gun was sighted-in from 100 yards, I started shooting three-shot groups. The weight of the gun with its wide forend certainly makes a solid platform while resting on sandbags.
The bolt cycled smoothly and it’s hard not to admire the short lift. I loaded three rounds in the detachable magazine for every group and never experienced a hiccup. All cartridges ejected cleanly. Of course, you wouldn’t expect much recoil with a heavy gun chambered in .22-250 — and there wasn’t any. I’m not sure how much to credit the muzzlebrake, but the gun was easy and painless to shoot. Karen really liked it.
As much as I appreciated all the features on this factory rifle — the accuracy impressed me the most. Sub-MOA groups were common with both rounds of factory ammo. On this particular day the Fusion ammo performed exceptionally well.
My best three-shot group measured .432. That’s pretty sweet coming from a factory rifle out of the box — with factory ammunition. I couldn’t have been more pleased — but I wasn’t terribly surprised either. All the other versions of X-Bolts I’ve shot performed well in the accuracy arena. I busted a few rocks off the farm’s pond bank at around 300 yards, which convinced me this Eclipse Varmint is the real deal. A factory gun shooting factory ammo with impressive accuracy is adorable.
The muzzlebrake eliminates recoil or muzzle rise to keep you “in the picture.”
If you’re searching for a serious varmint rifle, Browning’s Eclipse Varmint could very well be the ticket. This model is also available in 204 Ruger and .223 Remington. The rifle is loaded with features you would find on a tricked-out custom gun and retails for $1,399.99. I love it! Coyotes and prairie dogs, not so much.
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