Smith & Wesson’s New  i-Bolt .25-06 Bolt Action Rifle


by Jeff Quinn

photography by Jeff Quinn & Boge Quinn

November 24th, 2007




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 rearward position.

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.

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Jeff Quinn

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Click pictures for a larger version.


Smith & Wesson's new i-Bolt rifle in .25-'06.



The i-Bolt proved to be more than a match for whitetail deer, as Jeff found out on Opening Day.





The i-Bolt comes with a nice one-piece sculptured scope base already mounted.





Bottom metal is one piece, as it should be.





One of Jeff's favorite features of the i-Bolt is the excellent adjustable Timney trigger unit.



Magazine floor plate drops for easy & safe unloading.



Synthetic stock uses a trussed design for light weight and rigidity.





The stock's design also incorporates molded-in and recessed sling attachment points (top & center), and a soft recoil pad (bottom).



An accurate rifle deserves the finest scope sight, and you will never go wrong with a quality Leupold scope such as the VX-L.





The i-Bolt is a real tack driver!