A custom-level production gun, the Montana Rifle Company X3 Extreme isn't just another lightweight hunter. It's tailor-made to excel in the most rugged backcountry conditions.
What Sets The X3 Extreme Apart From Other Hunting Rifles:
- Build with light kevlar-reinforced synthetic stock.
- Pencil-thin No. 2 contoured barrel.
- Button-rifled bore.
- Stock directs recoil directly back, reducing muzzle jump.
- Action pillar and glass bedded.
- Full-length claw extractor.
- Action made of 415 stainless steel.
- Everything on the rifle is made in house.
I’ve done my fair share of hunting in Montana, and it’s not a state known for mediocrity. The weather, terrain and sometimes even its residents are all too tough for anything that’s average, good enough … or otherwise “meh.”
So, when I learned about a rifle company that was not only based in the Big Sky State but also bore its name, I figured it had to be either one hell of a rifle or an equally impressive snowstorm. Montana is known for having both.
The Montana Rifle Company is headquartered in Kalispell, Montana, which is about 100 miles north of Missoula. Wildlife in and around Kalispell includes song birds, beautiful deer and the majestic elk. It also includes plenty of wolves, mountain lions, and bears — both black and grizzly. My point is this: Nothing survives near Kalispell, Montana, from feeding off rainbows and butterflies. Life — and good business — is earned every day there.
I think it’s important to know what western Montana is because if you name your rifle company “The Montana Rifle Company,” it better be capable of building firearms that can handle anything and everything its namesake state offers in the wilderness. Otherwise, the locals will label your rifles as touristy. After more than a month with the Montana Rifle Company’s newest X3 rifle, I think the locals ought to be proud.
Adding Tabasco Sauce
The X3 Extreme is a lighter, faster, better, smoother and prettier version of the company’s X2 rifle. Or, as Ron Petty of Montana Rifle Company said, “The X3 is a line extension from our X2 — we utilized a lighter stock that’s reinforced with Kevlar to reduce gun weight under the 7-pound threshold.”
Built to carry light, shoot straight and survive any hunt you can, my loaner X3 Extreme was chambered in the potent 6.5-284 Norma. Why the 6.5-284 Norma? I wanted to use a .264 caliber a lot like a 6.5 Creedmoor — with just a splash of Tabasco sauce. The peppy 6.5-284 Norma can push a 140-grain bullet downrange more than a 100 fps faster than a 6.5 Creedmoor with the same bullet mass. Is it a big difference? No, not really. But, Tabasco sauce should only enhance your food, never overpower it.
The gun is light, and more important to me, small. It’s a thin gun that carries well despite its 24-inch, hand-lapped barrel. The pencil-thin No. 2 contoured bullet tube, which guides its .264 bullets with a button-rifled 1:8 twist, doesn’t hurt the gun’s body mass index numbers. Every inch of the gun is there because it has to be, and it’s balanced so well that half the time I carried it I thought I was carrying one of those Nerf pool noodles and forgot I had an elk-thumping boomstick.
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However, I was reminded of its potency every time I pulled the trigger. Any rifle that weighs a mere 6 pounds, 10 ounces is going to have some personality. When you chamber it in the underappreciated 6.5-284 Norma — a 6.5 cartridge with attitude — that thumping personality is something Montana ought to be proud of.
The good news is that the recoil of the rifle is very manageable. I’m not a big fan of ultralight guns at the bench: I’ve shot too many “ultralight” Tikkas T3s and Sako A7s that kicked my dental work loose and had muzzle jump so bad that a second shot would’ve taken down Skylab. The X3 Extreme didn’t handle recoil like those featherweights at all. The recoil came straight back. The muzzle stayed mostly down, and I could cycle my bolt, find my target and shoot again without wondering where my headache medicine was. That, my gun-shooting friends, is a testament to great stock design and a well-balanced rifle.
And yes — it’s both pillar and glass bedded. Let me stand on a soapbox here. A lot of great rifle manufactures build rifles that are accurate, good-looking and sometimes even affordable, but by far the biggest place I see costs controlled in manufacturing is with the stock. That makes me wonder if the stock is the most important element of a rifle that often has the most manufacturer neglect. It is, after all, the part that connects the shooter to the gun. My point? The Montana Rifle Company has the best factory synthetic stock I have ever reviewed.
A Homemade Recipe
The Montana rifle company builds the whole gun: It makes the stock, the barrel, the action and even paints the guns in-house. And it shows. At the heart of the X3 Extreme is the legendary Montana Rifle Company Model 1999 controlled-round-feed action … though it’s a bit of a hybrid.
“The action is unique,” said Petty. “It combines the features of two legendary actions — the pre-64 Winchester and the Mauser. From these we see an adjustable trigger, full-length claw extractor and a 3-position safety, the strength of the locking lug system from the Mauser, and the excellent bolt release and removable firing pin system. We also added venting reliefs locations to prevent blowback in the event of an over-pressured load or blockage event.”
Petty further explains why Montana rifle Company went the controlled-round feed route. “Controlled-round feed just simply assures a positive feed, less opportunity for jamming under a pressure situation (charging rhino, for example). Obviously, it’s more expensive to produce, but a controlled feed is the choice of every serious Professional Hunter of dangerous game.”
Is the extra cost of a controlled-round feed rifle worth it? I use this logic: Controlled-round-feed actions are like trucks with four-wheel drive. Until you need what they do, you think you wasted your money — and then when you need them, they’re priceless.
Case in point: My go-anywhere, do-anything backup rifle is a Winchester Model 70 Featherweight Compact in .308 Winchester because their actions always work. The X3 Extreme action I reviewed was made from 415 stainless-steel, was right-handed and, to no one’s surprise, always worked. The trigger broke cleanly at 3.25 pounds, and it shot Norma 156 grain Oryx and Nosler 140-grain factory-loaded ammunition as if they were ammunition-rifle soul mates. The X3 shot sub-MOA with both loads. It did so from a bench wearing a Zeiss V4 4-16x44mm optic attached with Talley rings and bases. Accessorize your rifle as you see fit, but this was a rifle/scope combo that worked.
Enjoying The Flavor
The fact that the X3 is an accurate gun didn’t impress me. I expected it. The 6.5-284 Norma got its reputation as a long-range accuracy cartridge, so if you make a rifle chambered in it and it doesn’t shoot MOA — stop making guns. Now, would I go to a long-range match with the Extreme X3 and shoot 100 rounds, expecting the ultralight rifle to keep pace with the “rifles-on-a-sled” long-range builds I see at a lot of matches? No. Then, again, I’d never take those guns on a vertical elk hunt, or any hunt, either.
It’s obvious the gun builders at Montana Rifle Company hunt and shoot with their guns because the functionality of the rifles stands out in the woods. The entire time I tested the rifle, I never had to stop and think about where the safety was, or wonder if the bolt was going to work, or worry that the stock was going to chip, break or swell. And I didn’t wonder if the gun would shoot well.
Still, these things aren’t what made the X3 Extreme stand out as a hunting rifle. What stood out to me was what I call its “intangibles,” and the X3 has a lot of them. The rifle just felt like my loyal and feisty there-when-I-needed-it best friend, and it’s one of the few rifles I’ve tested where the price (MSRP is $1,495) seemed like mistake. The controlled-round feed action always works. The fit and finish of the gun isn’t just good — it’s the best-looking synthetic gun in my safe, and it groups bullets into tiny ragged holes. Durability-wise, if I ever took it to Montana hunting, chances are the rifle would make it back to camp in better shape than me.
These days, there are a lot of ultralight options out there for hunters. If you want to save your money, spend it once, and enjoy one of the finest hunting rifles made for the rest of your life, then I’d go buy a Montana Rifle Company X3. It’s that simple, and that’s ultimately how things in western Montana survive — by being simple, reliable and tenacious.
X3 Extreme Specs
Action: MRC Model 1999
Weight: 6 lbs. 10 oz. short-action; 6 lbs 15 oz. long-action
Barrel Length: 24 or 26 inches, depending on caliber
Trigger: Pre-64 Winchester 70 style trigger, adjustable 3-3.25 lbs.
Stock: Keval reinforced synthetic
LOP: 13 5/8 inch
Overall Length: 42.5 to 47 inches, debending on caliber
Calibers: .243 Win., .25-06 Rem., 6.5-284 Norma, 6.5 Creedmoor, 6.5 PRC, .257 Roberts, 26 Nosler, .270 Win., .270 WSM, 7mm Rem. Mag., .280 Rem., .280 AI, 30 Nosler, .300 Win. Mag., .300 WSM, .300 RUM, .308 Win., .30-06 Sprg., 33 Nosler, .338 Win. Mag., .338 RUM
Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the November 2018 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.