By Greg Rodriguez
South Texas’ elusive nilgai bulls are fun to hunt and yield some of the tastiest meat on the planet. They are also tough to hunt and even tougher to bring down - two qualities that keep the crew from Winchester Ammunition and Browning Firearms coming back to South Texas each year to test their latest wares on these odd-looking Indian imports. I had recently run out of nilgai steaks and was contemplating another trip down south when my friend, Kevin Howard, who always seems to have perfect timing, called to invite me on their annual hunt.
In the course of our conversation, Kevin told me not to bring a rifle. “I have something really cool for you to try out,” he said. I didn’t give his cryptic comment a second thought as the hunt was near and I had several deadlines looming, but the first word out of my mouth when I first laid my hands on the new A-Bolt Mountain Ti was “cool.”
The Mountain TI is most at home in rugged, steep country like the mountains of British Columbia.
The Mountain Ti Kevin handed me was an attractive rifle that weighed next to nothing yet handled like a dream. On the rickety bench at the ranch rifle range, it shot great. In the field, it was a joy to carry as I walked miles and miles of sandy South Texas ranch roads each day in pursuit of a big blue bull. When I came around a bend in the road to find one feeding by a stock tank, I sent a 180-grain XP3 right into its neck - the only shot the grizzled warrior offered. Although my hunt was a short one, I enjoyed carrying the Mountain Ti and asked Kevin to send me one for testing as soon as possible.
I am not a fan of light rifles. On the surface, they are a great idea. However, the majority of light rifles save weight by using short, pencil-thin barrels. The result is a gun that rarely points or balances like a rifle should and cartridges that do not reach claimed velocity. Such rifles are difficult to shoot from field positions, especially offhand, because there is no weight out front to stabilize the gun, a problem that is exacerbated by a heaving chest. The Mountain Ti was designed from the ground up to avoid this problem.
The Mountain Ti retains classic A-Bolt features like a 60-degree bolt lift, tang safety, adjustable trigger and hinged floorplate with detachable magazine. However, the Mountain Ti benefits from several weight-saving changes. First, its Titanium receiver is considerably lighter than the steel A-Bolt action. A further weight savings is realized by the use of a composite bolt sleeve. The lugs and bolt face are, of course, made of stainless steel, but the rest of the bolt body is not subjected to a great deal of stress, so Browning’s engineers were able to make use of composites to save weight. Because Browning was able to shave so much weight from the action instead of the barrel, the Mountain Ti balances like a rifle should despite an empty weight of only 5 pounds, 8 ounces.
Flyweight rifles are not supposed to shoot as well as the Mountain Ti. The hole below the round target was a sighter fired by another shooter with a .223.
The Mountain Ti I tested wears a 23-inch barrel - long enough to get the most of the WSM cartridge family. The barreled action is bedded into a new stock that was designed especially for the Mountain Ti. The camouflage stock has a Dura-Touch armor coating that has a bit of give to it and affords a comfortable, secure grip, even in inclement weather. The Mountain Ti’s stock is well-designed and properly proportioned. I hoped that the excellent stock design, cushy coating and Pachmayr Decelerator pad would combine to tame the lightweight .300 WSM’s recoil.
I was anxious to shoot the Mountain Ti. Unfortunately, I had to wait a few extra days because the Mountain Ti uses different scope mounts than the rest of the A-Bolt line. The mounts were worth the wait, however, as they were an attractive, lightweight affair made by Talley Manufacturing. I have the utmost confidence in Talley’s offerings, and had no doubt they would keep my Kahles 3-9x42 Multizero riflescope in place once I sighted it in.
On the range, the Mountain Ti made a great first impression. The stock was extremely comfortable and recoil wasn’t too bad. I would not go so far as to say the recoil was light. In fact, it really got my attention, but it was well below what I expected when I gritted my teeth and touched off the first shot from the bantam-weight beauty. My first few shots with Winchester’s excellent 180-grain XP3 load were way high but tightly clustered. After making a few adjustments, I got it dialed dead-on at 100 yards and started shooting for groups.
Over the course of two extended firing sessions, I found that the Mountain Ti was far more accurate than I would have expected from such a light rifle as long as I allowed plenty of time for the barrel to cool between groups. It would string shots vertically if I let the barrel get too hot, but that is to be expected with just about any rifle. As long as I held on to the fore-end a bit, the test rifle produced impressive little groups with all three of the test loads.
In preparation for an upcoming bighorn sheep hunt, I made use of the Multi-zero’s different ranging rings to get dialed in for long range. I zeroed the main crosshair at 200 yards then dialed the remaining rings to 300, 400, 500 and 600 yards using Winchester’s ballistics tables for the 180-grain XP3. I then tested my preliminary settings by firing at 300 and 400 yards. I had to adjust the scope a bit, but I wasn’t off by much. I will verify the 500- and 600-yard settings before my sheep hunt, but the Mountain Ti was accurate enough at 300 and 400 yards that I have no qualms about carrying it on what could be a once in a lifetime hunt.
I really like the latest addition to the A-Bolt family. Its excellent handling qualities alone are enough to earn it “keeper” status, but its light weight and tack-driving accuracy make the Mountain Ti one of the best new factory rifles I have tested in a long time. If you are in the market for a good flyweight rifle that’s equally at home in the deer woods or the mountains, take a good, hard look at Browning’s new A-Bolt Mountain Ti.
Reprinted from the November 2006 issue of Buckmasters GunHunter Magazine