A Double-Duty Rifle Goes West

Can a heavy varmint gun like the Franchi Momentum Elite Varmint also handle big game? Chambered in .224 Valkyrie, it sure can.

A Double-Duty Rifle Goes West

When it comes to hunting rifles, there are two extremes and a spectrum between them that your customers fall into. On one hand is the one-gun-to-do-everything shopper, and on the other hand is the buyer who wants a new rifle for every conceivable use. There’s nothing wrong with either — although as a retailer, you probably love the frequent buyer — but most of your shoppers are going to fall somewhere in the middle. They’re the guys and ladies who don’t mind picking up a new gun for a particular use, but they realize they don’t need it and they’ll need some kind of excuse to buy. If the rifle can do double or triple duty, that’s a major selling point and could be just the excuse they need.

I’d put myself in this category — the double-duty rifle appeals to me as a hunter and a buyer. When Franchi invited me on a Montana hunt to try out the Franchi Momentum Elite Varmint, I was interested. When they mentioned it was for pronghorn and prairie dogs, all with the .224 Valkyrie? I was in.

Franchi launched the Momentum, the first rifle in the company’s 150-year history, in 2018. In 2020, the Elite version debuted, and Franchi followed that up with the Elite Varmint model in 2021. The Elite Varmint was designed with Benchrest shooting in mind. “It was designed to be a varmint gun — shot from a bench, from prone, whatever,” says Bret Maffett, Franchi’s product manager. “It’s a little heavier. With the scope on we’re probably talking about 11 pounds or so, so it’s not ideal for trekking through the fields. But the beauty of the calibers we chose is that there are loads out there that are suitable for the smaller big game to the lower end of medium-sized big game. So it can double for that purpose, which is sort of what we chose to do for this hunt.”

He wasn’t kidding about that heavy part, as I found out over the course of several stalks before I got a pronghorn on the ground. We were hunting on the Crow reservation in southeastern Montana, and those hills are no joke for an Alabama girl. But the beauty of all that weight, combined with a light-recoiling cartridge to begin with, is almost no felt recoil and impressive accuracy. The Varmint Elite comes with a factory MOA guarantee, and as I verified on the bench and later over some prairie dog towns at long ranges, it more than delivers on that promise.


The .224 Valkyrie

For ammo, we were shooting two different loads from Federal, using a 78-grain Barnes TSX bullet for antelope and a 60-grain Nosler tipped bullet for prairie dogs. And that’s a huge benefit of the .224 Valkyrie: versatility.

“It’s perfect for this prairie dog hunt, of course,” said Federal engineer Jake Burns, who created the .224 Valkyrie himself a few years ago. We had taken a break from prairie dog shooting on a sunny Montana afternoon when I started asking questions about our ammo. “You get really good ballistics from the range of bullets we have,” he continued. “For example, you’ve got this 60-grain Nosler tipped bullet we’re shooting right now that, in a .223, for example, is gonna be 3,000 fps, whereas in this platform it’s 3,300 fps. So you’ve got that additional flatness to the arc that buys you some more range and certainty, which is perfect in this scenario. The guys shooting coyotes really like the Valkyrie as well because you can have heavier bullets and more terminal performance, and it’s still not too heavy from a recoil standpoint. As you’re seeing here, it’s still sufficient to kill up to whitetail-sized animals. It’s kind of a good one-trick pony for anything from whitetail on down. If someone wanted to have one gun that kind of did everything in that range, the .224 Valkyrie is a great choice.

“This 78-grain Barnes TSX is a monolithic all-copper bullet,” Jake continued. “It’s a great opportunity for a heavier 22-caliber bullet. This is a perfect hunting bullet for that medium-sized game animal, like antelope, whitetail, things of that size. It’s got all the same performance you typically see out of a TSX or an all-copper bullet — really good penetration, you still get expansion on the soft tissue, and in this load, out of a 24-inch barrel like we’re shooting here, you’ll get 2,850 fps out of the muzzle, so you get really good energy at a pretty wide range.”

He’s right, of course. I couldn’t have asked for better terminal performance on my pronghorn, but I shot it at just over 100 yards. What about farther shots? “I mean, I hit my antelope at 640 yards and this bullet killed it,” Jake said. “Typically, you don’t expect to see that kind of performance out of a 22-caliber bullet, but that’s what you get out of this cartridge.”

The Elite Varmint

I was more than sold on the .224 Valkyrie based on its performance at the range and on the pronghorn. But what really sold me was the next day’s prairie dog shoot, where the double-duty versatility of the Elite Varmint became evident.

“It is a versatile rifle because of the caliber choices,” Maffett emphasized. “I could sell you a standard .308 that’s great for big game, but you’re not going to sit around and pop prairie dogs for hours with a .308. But you can take this, you can come out here and have some fun, and if you have a deer or antelope tag, you can decide to pack everything up and go set out across the prairie and see what you find. It was designed to have very nice varmint-type capabilities but also to be able to be slung up so you can go take it out and shoot what you want to. Take ranchers, for instance. They might be set up to shoot coyotes that are after their livestock, and you know, they have to cull the prairie dog population as well. And they might want to take that same rifle, because they’re comfortable with it, and shoot a whitetail or two. This gun provides the capability for all of that because of the caliber choices and just the high grade of ammunition that is available.”

When I tell you the Franchi Momentum Elite Varmint is versatile, I don’t just mean that it works on multiple types of game with a variety of ammo options. I also mean that it will work well for almost any shooter — and that’s primarily a function of fit.

“The big thing with Franchi is our motto: ‘Feels right,’ ” Maffett told me while we took a break from prairie dog shooting. “All of our guns are built around ergonomics and giving the shooter a good shooting experience in terms of comfort. We looked at the ergonomic aspect of the original Momentum stock and we optimized it for varmint and benchrest shooting by doing things like flattening the forend. Then we took the back end of the stock and said ok, this is where some adjustability needs to come into play.”

Franchi accomplished some of that adjustability via TSA recoil pads. The Elite Varmint comes with the standard size, giving the gun a 14-inch length of pull, but a shorter and a longer version are available.

“The TSA adjustability is not widely talked about, and it gets forgotten sometimes, but it’s the same for all Franchi firearms,” Bret revealed. “So we kind of took that concept and applied it to the comb as well. This gun comes with a medium-height comb. There’s also a higher version and a smaller version, and there will ultimately be a flush-mount version as well, so you’ll have a full range of comb height adjustability.”

The gun’s grip has the same type of mounting as the comb, and Franchi plans to offer a range of grip contours that can be swapped out. The Elite Varmint has more of a vertical benchrest-type grip, but the company is planning to release a more standard hunting version and is considering other contours as well, so buyers can get an ideal fit in their hand.


The Specs

“We wanted to provide a fully-featured hunting rifle right out of the box,” Bret told me. “We camoed the stocks in popular patterns and added Cerakote to the barrel, receiver and bolt handle. We added a Picatinny rail and a muzzle brake for all the Elite options in matching Cerakote, so people could go out and get something that was ideal for them, with the fit and style they wanted.”

The Franchi Momentum Varmint Elite features a rugged synthetic stock with removable cheek rest, removable checkered-polymer grip, and a versatile OptiFade Subalpine camo pattern. The heavy, free-floating, spiral-fluted barrel has a weather-resistant, glare-reducing bronze Cerakote finish, and the barrel is threaded. A muzzle brake is included — not because a heavy rifle in .224 Valkyrie needs a muzzle brake by any means, Bret admits, but because Franchi has found that shooters just want one, and guns with muzzle brakes sell better. Hey, perception is reality, right?

The bolt is fluted as well, with three locking lugs and a 60-degree throw for fast, smooth cycling and rapid follow-up shots — which I appreciated when the prairie dog shooting got hot and heavy. I found the single-stage trigger, which is adjustable from 2 to 4 pounds, to be crisp and clean.

Other features include a Picatinny rail and two removable box magazines — one flush-mount and one extended. For 2021, the Elite Varmint debuted in .22-250 Rem., .223 Rem. and .224 Valkyrie. The 6.5 Creedmoor and .308 Win. are coming in 2022, as are additional camo/Cerakote combinations.

This gun is just plain comfortable to shoot, and that goes back to the ergonomics. With a smooth action and a crisp trigger, you can’t go wrong. And of course, the virtual lack of recoil helps, too.


How to Sell It

“The best way to sell this gun is to get it in somebody’s hands,” Bret advises retailers. “I haven’t found consumers out there that don’t like the feel, the look of it, the features that it offers, the way the bolt and trigger work and feel — and that’s how I’ve had the most success really drumming up support and sales. I bring them out for my friends to shoot; if I’m going on hunts, I bring an extra, and that’s where the rubber really seems to meet the road. People are like, hey, this is really nice.

“Franchi as a whole, even though we’ve been around 153 years, still isn’t the most well-known brand out there. The brand was completely re-envisioned and all the products redesigned in the early 2010s, and it’s really started to come into its own the last three or four years. And a lot of that is just getting stuff into people’s hands, letting them try it, letting them work the action and try the trigger and feel how the gun feels to them, and that’s typically what sells it.

“If a dealer is just transactional, it’ll be more of a difficult sell for them. If they’re hands-on type dealers who know their customers and want to work with them and want them to be happy, it is an excellent rifle platform that practically sells itself once people pick it up.”

Encourage shoppers to handle the gun at your counter. Have them pick it up and mount it, laying prone or crouching in the store or whatever they normally do in the field. Ask them how it feels. “I can guarantee it’s going to feel better than pretty much anything else up on that shelf, because that’s what we really designed it to be,” said Bret. “The other piece is it’s a fantastic consumer value, and I don’t mean that from a ‘cheap’ standpoint. It’s not a cheap rifle by any stretch of the imagination, but there are a lot of features in it that provide an excellent value for sub-$1000.”

The Varmint Elite retails for $899 (MSRP), as compared to $799 for the standard Momentum Elite, which has a lot of the same features without the adjustability.

“All of our rifles offer an MOA guarantee,” Bret pointed out, “same as the Tikkas, the Brownings, the Bergaras, all that stuff. So, from an accuracy standpoint, it’s easily comparable. And we’re offering things that they don’t, and I think that would appeal to any consumer out there.”

Over the course of three days, I killed a pronghorn and untold numbers of prairie dogs with the Franchi Momentum Elite Varmint. And although I can’t say it’s an ideal spot-and-stalk rifle, in .224 Valkyrie, it proved more than capable of handling medium-sized big game and really shone in a bench-shooting scenario. For your customers who fall somewhere in the middle of the one-gun-for-everything/different-gun-for-every-use spectrum, this could be an excellent double-duty rifle.


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