Gun Test: Montana Extreme X2 Bolt-Action Rifle
By Adam Heggenstaller, American Hunter
Jeff Sipe is the kind of guy you want building your next hunting rifle. Sipe is the CEO of Montana Rifle Co. and we’ll get to his technical expertise later, but most importantly, Sipe is a fervent hunter. He lives near Kalispell, Mont., and spends three or four days a week hunting mule deer and elk while sneaking around grizzly bears during the state’s months-long rifle season. Throw in antelope, black bears, scouting trips and hunts in other states, and Sipe is in the field more than 100 days a year. With that much time in the woods, he’s learned things about rifles and how to build them that aren’t apparent on a factory floor or in an office. Sipe builds hunting rifles from the perspective of a hunter, and that makes all the difference.
The Extreme X2 from Montana Rifle is a palpable example of Sipe’s mindset. It is a rifle built to be dependable. Ask any hunter why a certain rifle is his favorite, and his response will either begin or end with something like “it always works” or “I know it will get the job done.” Likewise, Montana Rifle Co. focuses on producing bolt guns that are trustworthy in the field.
It starts with the action. Designed by Jeff’s father, Keith, a gunsmith and barrel maker who grew his custom gun business into Montana Rifle Co., the Model 1999 action combines the proven features of the Mauser 98 and pre-’64 Winchester Model 70 actions. Dual-lug bolt with one-piece handle, full-length claw extractor, three-position wing safety—it’s all there. In addition, the receiver contains the internal cone-shaped collar that aids in feeding, and it includes a cut for the extractor. Making the collar a part of the receiver instead of the barrel promotes strength, since material doesn’t need to be removed from the breech to form the cone or the extractor recess.
The stainless steel, flat-bottom receiver of the Extreme X2 is investment cast with a flat bottom and a thick recoil lug. Also integral to the casting, a housing on the side of the receiver contains a push-button toggle for removing the bolt. It is the smoothest and most positive bolt release I’ve encountered on a hunting rifle.
There’s more—features Sipe learned that matter to hunters. He started hanging around his father’s gunsmithing shop in 1990, and over the years he was surprised at how many hunters would want actions trued, lugs and raceways lapped, triggers tuned and custom barrels installed.
“These guys would start out with a $600-$1,000 rifle, and then put another $1,000 into it,” he recalls. “I thought, why don’t we do that to our rifles before they go out the door? We learned how to mass-produce a match-grade, hand-lapped barrel and turned that into producing semi-custom rifles that are completely trued, squared and lapped, with a trigger job and a hand-lapped barrel, all individually bedded into their own stocks.”
For the Extreme X2, Montana Rifle mates the action to a button-rifled stainless steel barrel (hand-lapped, of course). You have a choice of 17 chamberings in the short-action version and another 16 in the long-action variant. The list covers quite a selection, from tried-and-true game-getters like the .257 Roberts and .30-06 Sprg. to upstarts like the 6mm Creedmoor and .33 Nosler, in addition to cult formers like the .338 Federal and .264 Win. Mag. Plus, the rifle is available in right- and left-hand versions.
Although Montana Rifle Co. offers bolt guns with pretty stocks of American walnut, the Extreme X2 is the “all-weather” model in the company’s lineup. As such, the barreled action is glass-bedded in a carbon-fiber stock. Areas that require extra strength, such as around the aluminum pillars that support the action and the sling swivel studs, are reinforced with Kevlar. The stock is coated in hardened epoxy to resist scrapes and gouges.
The Extreme X2 I received for testing was chambered in .280 Ackley Improved, another cartridge that has a cult-like following. It’s relatively difficult to find a new rifle chambered for .280 Ackley, and to my knowledge Nosler is the only major ammunition manufacturer currently producing factory loads for the cartridge. Still, it’s favored for its performance, which comes close to matching that of the 7mm Rem. Mag. but in a standard-length case and with less recoil. American Hunter contributor Bryce Towsley provided me with one of his favorite handloads, which turned in a group average of less than a half-inch at 100 yards. Groups with the two Nosler factory loads also averaged well under an inch.
Tuned for a pull weight of slightly more than 3 pounds, the crisp pre-’64 Winchester Model 70-style trigger inspired even more confidence when I shot from field positions. The lapped action smoothly fed every cartridge from the five-round magazine, and unloading was a snap thanks to the hinged floorplate incorporated into the one-piece bottom metal. With its 24-inch barrel, the rifle balanced right at the front action screw. While the Extreme X2 wasn’t a lightweight, especially with a scope onboard, it came to the shoulder easily, naturally and on target. Another feature that aided in lively handling was the open curve of the stock’s pistol grip, although the comb was a hair too low for my preference.
Trustworthy function and repeatable accuracy are things hunters depend on a rifle to have. Jeff Sipe and Montana Rifle Co. build them into the Extreme X2.
• Type: bolt-action centerfire rifle
• Caliber: .280 Ackley Imp. (tested); others from .22-250 Rem. to .33 Nosler available
• Barrel: 24″; stainless steel; button-rifled, hand-lapped; 6 grooves, 1:9.5″ RH twist
• Trigger: single-stage; 3.1-lb. pull weight
• Magazine: internal box w/floorplate; 5-rnd. capacity
• Sights: none; receiver drilled and tapped for Winchester Model 70-style bases
• Safety: three-position wing
• Stock: straight-comb, carbon fiber w/Kevlar; LOP 13.625″
• Metal Finish: matte stainless steel
• Overall Length: 45″
• Weight: 7.5 lbs.
• MSRP: $1,412