Williams W. (Bill) Gabbard
“Wow! Sharp rifle!” This was my thought as I opened the box on the new Winchester XPR chambered in 6.8 Western. The darker tones of the new Mossy Oak Country DNA camo really pop against the matte black finish on the XPR.
I cut my teeth on the Winchester Model 70, but this was my first experience with the Winchester XPR line. Assembly was as simple as applying a few drops of oil to the action and the bolt assembly and sliding the bolt in place. Looking over the owner’s manual as well as the rifle to familiarize myself with the XPR was done quickly. The textured surface on the Mossy Oak Country DNA stock provides a nice grip without feeling sticky or cheap. The rifle feels good in your hands and should blend in with Mother Nature quite well. I think that the Mossy Oak DNA will work exceptionally well in a stand or blind situation.
The bolt release is located on the left side of the receiver and works smoothly. Instead of the three- position safety of the Model 70, the XPR has a two-position safety. It also has a bolt release directly in front of the safety which allows for working the bolt to remove a round from the chamber without having to take the rifle off safety. Although I always loved the Model 70 style safety, this feature does eliminate the possibility of inadvertently moving the safety to the wrong position while unloading.
There is a bright red dot to indicate that the action is cocked, as well as another to indicate that the safety is disengaged. The button rifled barrel is free floated from the factory. The detachable magazine holds three rounds of 6.8 Western and worked flawlessly. The magazine release is located in front of the magazine. And, while it is easy to reach and operate, it is recessed to prevent accidentally dropping the magazine. The magazine in my test rifle was stamped WSM, which indicates that this magazine is not caliber specific and should be easy to replace if the need ever arises.
The trigger is adjustable for pull weight as well as overtravel. My test rifle broke at just over 3 pounds with no discernable overtravel. The procedure appeared to be straightforward, but I did not adjust the trigger.
I mounted Leopold’s new VX-6HD 3-18x44mm CDS-ZL2 scope and after a quick boresight session, headed to the range.
As we all know, ammo is extremely hard to find these days and this being a new round made it even harder. Of course, I didn’t have any 6.8 Western on my shelf. I contacted the folks at Olin Corporation, and they were gracious enough to supply me with a couple of boxes each of Winchester Copper Impact 162 gr ammo and Browning Long Range Pro 175 gr.
Zeroing the Leupold VX-6HD was an easy process since the windage and elevation adjustments were very precise and tracked exactly as it should. All of the functions were simple and the sight picture was extremely clear. This is a very impressive piece of glass.
Once sighted-in and the rifle allowed to properly cool, I fired a couple of three-shot groups at 100 yards. The Winchester Copper Impact’s 1st group had me thinking that I might have left something loose while mounting the scope by shooting a 2.68-inch group. The Browning Long-Range Pro disproved this theory by promptly shooting a 0.523-inch group. After a thorough cleaning, it was time to head back to the range. Follow-up testing showed that the Browning ammo was much more consistent than the Winchester. While 0.523 was the best group I could get, nearly all the groups stayed under an inch. Some measuring with a Hornady Bullet Comparator showed that the length of the Winchester ammo varied greatly. By picking out three rounds that measured the same, this ammo pulled the best group of the day at 0.433. This could be contributed to the fact that this is a brand-new load for Winchester, which at the time of this writing isn’t even listed on their website. This does show that if you are going to shoot factory ammo, that you should try all available ammo to see what your rifle prefers.
Load data and components for the 6.8 Western are about as hard to find as loaded ammo. Hodgdon Powder was able to provide me with load data from their testing. Capstone Precision, exclusive importer of VihtaVuori powder and manufacturer of Berger Bullets, also provided some almost impossible to find components as well as load data. The good folks at Hornady provided some bullets for testing and Redding even came up with a set of dies. By the time I got everything together to load for the 6.8 Western, Hodgdon had the load data on their website.
The load data provided by Capstone Precision listed a total of 27 different powders using their Berger 170 gr EOL Elite Hunter bullet. A charge of 60.6 gr VihtaVuori N 565 shot a great group 0.373. Four (4) other loads using N565 were all in the 1-inch range. N 560 and N 150 both showed lots of promise. Hodgdon lists 14 of their powders that are compatible with the Berger 170. I tried three different loads of H4831SC with all three groups shooting from 0.678-0.824. IMR 4350 and 4451 both turned in 1-inch groups.
The 6.8 Western factory loads are all built with heavy bullets which, of course, is in line with the general purpose of the 6.8 Western. However, I wanted to try some lighter weight bullets that would be more suitable for whitetail deer. Hornady supplied some of their popular ELD-X bullets in 145 gr. Using these bullets and Hodgdon’s data, I tried only three test loads and was quite surprised by the results. A mid-range load of 54.4 grains of IMR 4350 turned in the best group of the test with a 0.366 group. IMR 4451 and IMR 4831 both had groups with 2 shots touching and a flier.
I barely scratched the surface on the possible powder and bullet combinations and only used two different bullets yet had two groups under 0.5 inches and several under 1 inch. I think this round is going to be a handloaders dream, as it seemed to like just about everything I threw at it.
There really isn’t any reason that the Winchester XPR Mossy Oak Country DNA, chambered in 6.8 Western shouldn’t fill most hunter’s needs. A good-looking sweet handling rifle that shoots a variety of loads with results under an inch and, with a little effort, will shoot bullets weighing from 145 to 170 grains under ½ inch. Seriously, what’s not to like?