Hunters and shooters today have it better than
ever before in terms of quality rifle selection. A rifle
buyer can go into a well-stocked gun shop and spend anywhere
from a couple of hundred to several thousand dollars on a new
highly accurate bolt action rifle, and the more expensive guns
will not necessarily shoot any better than the cheaper ones.
Just a few short years ago, most
over-the-counter bolt action rifles were shipped with horrible
triggers. We were told that it had to be that way. As a matter
of habit, I would always do, or have done, a trigger job on a
new bolt action rifle. That all changed a few years ago with Savage’s
introduction of their AccuTrigger
as standard equipment on their bolt action rifles. Other rifle
manufacturers then felt the pressure to install better triggers
on their rifles also.
Smith & Wesson has recently
introduced their new i-Bolt rifle. This is an all-new design,
entirely different from the rifles that were branded by S&W
several years ago. I first saw the new I-Bolt at the
S&W factory back in June. The first thing that I checked,
after assuring that it was unloaded, was the trigger. It was
nice. Further prodding revealed that Smith & Wesson is using
Timney triggers in the new i-Bolt. Timney has been a
premier supplier of excellent triggers to the aftermarket for
many years, and it shows S&W’s commitment to building a
quality rifle by going to Timney for the triggers on this new i-Bolt.
The trigger is user-adjustable from a reported three to six
pounds. I found the trigger on my sample rifle to break with a
crisp, perfect release, and it measured just under three pounds
as delivered. Starting with a great trigger makes a lot more
sense than having to change it out later.
Another nice feature is the low sixty degree
bolt lift. Most bolt action rifles have a ninety degree bolt
lift. The lower bolt lift makes a lot more sense, allowing the
scope to be properly mounted low over the action, without it
interfering with the operation of the bolt. The i-bolt uses
three locking lugs, allowing the low bolt lift. The i-Bolt has a
drop-open floorplate magazine to allow quick unloading of the
rifle without cycling each cartridge through the action. The
safety is a three-position unit, allowing the bolt to be cycled
with the safety on, and locking the bolt in place in its most
A very important component of an accurate rifle
is the barrel. S&W has been making pistol and revolver
barrels for over one hundred and fifty years. However, with
their recent acquisition of Thompson/Center Arms, S&W
had a ready supplier of high quality rifle barrels in the
family. T/C knows how to make accurate barrels, and S&W uses
T/C barrels in the new i-bolt.
The stocks on the i-Bolt are all synthetic,
either black or camouflaged. The forend has a unique truss
design internally to add stiffness without unnecessary weight.
The stock uses a Monte Carlo style comb, which is an aid to
accurate, comfortable shooting, plus it keeps the comb from
smacking the shooter’s cheek during recoil. The butt is capped
with a nice, soft recoil pad. The length of pull is thirteen and
five-eighths inches. The stock has unique recessed molded-in
sling attachment points, which worked perfectly with Uncle
Mike’s sling swivels. With its tapered twenty-three inch
barrel, the i-Bolt weighs in at six and three-quarters pounds.
Another really nice feature of the i-Bolt is that it comes with
a one-piece sculptured scope base already mounted, making
installing a scope much simpler. Thanks S&W. The first
i-bolts will be in a long action version only, chambered for the
.270 Winchester, .30-06 Springfield, or .25-06 Remington
cartridges, with the sample gun reviewed here being chambered
for the latter. In all three of these chamberings, the magazine
holds four cartridges, with a total loaded capacity of five. The
overall length measures forty-three inches. The metal is a
matte blue/black, with the bolt and barreled action being steel,
and the trigger guard/magazine floorplate being a matte black
anodized aluminum alloy. The trigger guard has plenty of room
for a gloved finger. Another feature that I noticed about the
stock is that it is very comfortable. The forend and pistol grip
areas have generous molded-in checkering, and the wrist of the
stock is slim, offering a good, comfortable hold even while
wearing thick gloves.
Removing the bolt from the new i-bolt will drive
you nuts trying to locate the bolt release button. There is
none. Withdraw the bolt to the rear, push it forward about half
an inch, rotate it downward, and withdraw it from the action.
Very simple to do, and again, it is easy to do even while
wearing heavy gloves. Good idea.
For accuracy testing the new i-bolt, I mounted a
Leupold 3.5 to 10 power VX-L scope, and also tried a few
loads using the 8.5 to 25 power Leupold Mark 4 Target scope.
Both scopes performed very well. The .25-06 is so flat shooting
and so versatile, that it can serve perfectly for varmint
hunting at long range, and equally as well for hunting whitetail
deer, antelope, and mule deer. I tried a variety of handloads
using bullets weighing from seventy-five grains up to one
hundred and seventeen grains. With most loads tested,
accuracy was superb. Especially for a hunting weight rifle. I
was extremely pleased with the accuracy performance of the i-bolt.
I had hoped that the Barnes 100 grain TSX bullets would
shoot well in the i-Bolt. The accuracy of those bullets was
pretty fair, and plenty good for deer hunting. However, the
accuracy of the Hornady 117 grain Boat Tail Spire Point
bullet was outstanding, as was the performance of the Sierra
seventy-five grain varmint bullet. The 117 Hornady was pushed to
over 3000 feet per second from the muzzle of the i-Bolt, and is
a very flat shooting bullet. Trying several powders, I
discovered that I could do all of my .25-06 shooting using
nothing but good old 4350 powder, whether from Hodgdon, Accurate
Arms, or IMR Powder. All shot well for me, offering
great velocity, accuracy, and consistency. This is the
perfect powder for the .25-06.
The .25-06 is one of our best cartridges for
whitetail deer hunting. It should be a lot more popular than it
is. It offers true magnum performance with very little recoil.
One of the areas where I hunt is from an elevated stand, with
shots coming from twenty yards out to almost four hundred yards.
I decided to carry the i-Bolt deer hunting. It had only arrived
the day before opening day of breech-loading deer season in
Tennessee, so I had to hurry to get it ready. My accuracy
testing ending late in the day, with darkness quickly
approaching, so I decided to leave the 8.5 to 25 power scope
attached. Normally, this much magnification is not needed at all
for deer hunting, but the Leupold Mark 4 will focus clearly at
under twenty yards, so I left it attached. Arriving on stand
just at daybreak, I settled into the stand and was looking
through my binoculars when about four minutes into the hunt, a
nice buck appeared down field in the left hand section of Sugar
Hollow. Maybe the word "hunt" is not the right one to
use, as the actual hunting part of deer season had occurred over
the previous months. This was the shooting part, as I had
already learned where the deer would likely be. With the
flat-shooting .25-06, I didn’t have to worry about distance or
trajectory. I knew that the deer was inside of two hundred
yards, so I aligned the crosshair on the Leupold scope just
behind the shoulder and touched off the trigger. There was no
need to chamber another round. The buck was down, and I poured
my first cup of coffee for the day. I lasered the range to where
the buck was standing when I shot. He was at 162 yards, and the
bullet entered and exited exactly where I had aimed, resulting
in the destruction of both lungs. This is the shot that I prefer
for well bled-out meat. It doesn’t destroy both shoulders as
it would had I shot farther forward, and doesn’t result in a
gut-shot deer as it would had my shot landed too far back. That
Leupold scope has such good resolution that it allowed me to
place that bullet exactly where I wanted. With that scope, I can
choose which two hairs to slip the bullet between! It is that
good. As I stated earlier, it has more magnification than
needed, so I just left it set on 8.5 power. The flat-shooting
.25-06 is just perfect for this type of precision shooting, and
the superb accuracy of the i-bolt made the shot easy to make.
If you can’t tell already, I like this rifle.
With the new i-bolt, Smith & Wesson has another winner. The
excellent stock design makes recoil very easy on the shooter.
The rifle is very accurate, and the Timney trigger makes it easy
for the shooter to use that built-in accuracy. I absolutely
detest a hard, rough trigger, and S&W made the right choice
with this Timney unit. The more I shoot it, the better I
like it. I look forward to some more new and very interesting
rifles in the next few months from Smith & Wesson.
Check out the extensive line of Smith &
Wesson rifles, pistols, revolvers, shotguns, and accessories
online at www.smith-wesson.com.
For the location of a S&W dealer near you,
click on the DEALER FINDER button at www.lipseys.com.
For a look at the entire line of Leupold optical
products, go to www.leupold.com.
For a list of dealers where you can
buy this gun, go to:
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