This year at the SHOT Show, I ran across a rifle that immediately caught even my jaded eye, since it was something I’d been looking for lo these several years. Montana Rifle Company, based in Kalispell, started out in 1990 as a repair shop, morphed into a barrel maker, and then in 1999 came out with its own refined version of the Winchester Model 70 action, as well as a line of complete rifles. Their rationale was simple: At that time, affordable controlled-feed actions were difficult if not impossible to get, so the Sipes built one. After a slow start, people have caught on to how good these rifles are, and Montana has added two shifts and is running 22 hours a day keeping up with orders.
The line is now pretty comprehensive and includes big-game rifles, tactical rifles, custom rifles, dangerous-game rifles, dangerous game rifles that will rip your shoulder off, and both wood-stocked and synthetic-stocked models. The latest is called the Extreme X-2, and is the direct result of Jeff Sipe, who runs the operation, wanting something that fitted his personal tastes.
He was looking for a rifle that could be used under all conditions without suffering unduly, so the X-2 is all stainless, and comes with a new synthetic stock that is slimmer than before, fits the metal better than before, and is stronger than before, as it utilizes both aluminum pillars and glass bedding. Montana retains the original Model 70 trigger, which I believe is still the best for a hunting rifle*, having very few parts and being both bombproof and weatherproof.
The X-2 presently is available in both left- and right-hand versions in long action, and right-hand only in short, with left-hand in the works. It comes in 28 calibers, starting with the .22/250 and ending with the .338 RUM. Just about every popular cartridge is here, including some that are reasonably silly and worthless, but also including some of the great classics such as the .257 Roberts and the 7×57 Mauser that are frequently ignored.
Weights are right where they should be. My .30/06, with a Meopta Meostar 1.7X-10X on board, weighs 9 pounds even. This is fine with me. Considering all the weight I pack around, I’m not about to pass up on the advantages that a middleweight rifle confers. Barrels range from 22 inches for the smaller cartridges to 26 for the .338 RUM, and if I were ordering the latter I would ask Montana to give me 24 inches instead. A Number 2 contour is standard, and I believe a #3 for the big magnums.
(Since Montana Rifles makes its own barrels, you’d expect them to be pretty good, and they are all of that. My Hawkeye borescope showed the rifling on mine to be about as clean and free of toolmarks as any bore I’d looked up in a long time.)
What I was looking for was a rifle that would do just about anything a .338 would do and not kick so much in the process. That is the .30/06 which, with today’s bullets, can take on just about anything. For my main load I worked with 180-grain Swift Sciroccos, which are both very aerodynamic and very tough. I got them moving at 2,800 fps; sighted 2 inches high at 100 yards, they drop only 4 inches at 300, and give me groups of .969. For larger stuff, I turned to 200-grain Swift A-Frames, of which I was fortunate enough to have a couple of boxes, and got them moving at 2,687. Groups measure 1.251.** They shoot dead-on at 100 yards, 2 inches under the Sciroccos, so you could take the rifle to Africa and use the heavy slugs without re-sighting.
The X-2 is a Nice Machine. It’s slender, graceful, everything fits together like watch parts, and it’s obviously the product of people who are gun nuts and hunters as opposed to industrial engineers who will be turning out washing machines on their next job. MSRP is $1,299, which is astoundingly little money for what you get. This is, for all intents and purposes, a custom gun. If I were you, and I were looking for a be-all and end-all rifle, I would pick one in a caliber such as .270, .280, .30/06, 7×57, or .338 Winchester. Take it anywhere, do anything to it, shoot anything with it. You’ll never need another rifle, although you don’t believe that and neither do I. Montanarifleco.com
*To be fair, the new Winchester three-lever M.O.A. trigger is superb. The best trigger pull I’ve seen in quite a while is an M.O.A. trigger on a $500 XPR rifle. Virtually perfect. But it does have more parts.
**If you think I’m about to burn up my remaining 200-grain A-Frames trying to get sub- M.O.A. groups for a load that’s intended to be used at 100 yards or less, think again. Mother Petzal never raised such a foolish child.