No other firearm reflects the personality of a hunter more so than his or her personal deer rifle. As every hunter is an individual, every single rifle is as well. For no 2 rifles will pattern the same, few have the same exact accessories, slings, scopes, and mounts (unless they came as a weekend special!). There are more calibers out there than there are dirty politicians. Every rifle is different and has a story behind it, just like the men and women who lug these lead slingers into the woods every year in pursuit backstraps or racks.
While there are many models of hunting rifles, there are a few that are my favorites. When I think of hunting and the white-tailed deer in the same thought, these are the rifles that dance through my mind. I have handled and fired more firearms than most people do in a lifetime, and I have found these to be the most accurate, dependable, and dare I say, handsome firearms for the deer hunter.
Ye Olde Rifle
The Remington 700 has been accompanying big game hunters since the early 1960s. The rifle is still going strong today and has seen a production run to date, of well over 8 million rifles. The vast majority being purchased by hunters in the United States and Canada. The 700 is utterly reliable and accurate, so accurate in fact that they are now used as the base for sniping rifles in many NATO militaries including the US Army and US Marine Corps. My two favorite chamberings for a Remington 700 are in either the .308 Winchester or the .270. I have never been known to thumb my nose at a rifle chambered in the classic and powerful .30-06 as well. The rifle comes in more trims than a Cadillac, and when topped with a good optic can win a rifle competition at Camp Perry.
When Savage first released their new Savage Model 11 with the company’s proprietary “accutrigger”, I was skeptical. To me, the trigger looked like something that could be found on my Glock pistol. At first, I thought it was a “safe action” trigger mounted on a rifle. The trigger may look like a safe-action style trigger, but it allows the rifle’s trigger to be set at very low poundage, aiding in the accuracy of your rifle. Savage’s accutrigger has been so successful in fact, it is now copied by Ruger, Remington and other companies on their new line of hunting rifles. My personal setup is a Savage 11 chambered in .243 which works great on deer and also is excellent for a coyote.
You can’t get much more rugged than the Ruger 77. I believe this to be the most solid stock rifle a hunter can purchase. The 77 has craftsmanship that you just will not find in a Savage or Remington, and the rifle, “just feels right” when you pull it to your shoulder. The action is the same you’ll find on a Mauser and the 77 is a Mauser for all intents and purposes and even features the controlled round feed. The trigger is superb, and the rifle is just as accurate as a Savage 11 or Remington 700. Sweetness is a 77 Hawkeye chambered in .308 and topped with a Leupold.
Mausers are another rifle I have a fondness for. There are many sporterized Mausers floating around, and today you can still buy Serbian made Mausers imported from Zastava. Kimber rifles too are built on Mauser actions with controlled round feed.
The classic Winchester Model 70 surely falls in the Mauser category, especially those built before 1964 and certain Model 70s built today. The Model 70 has a strong following as it should. It is a reliable performer and has been and will be a feature in many gun safe’s across the North American continent.
I cannot write this article and forget to mention the old marlin 336, the second most common lever action rifle made by mankind. The marlin is chambered in the classic .30-30 or, as some old-timers prefer, the .35 Remington. This iconic rifle that often sees deals at Sporting Good stores across the continent, can be seen every fall accompanying hunters from the Pacific Norwest to the American Southeast. The stout action with side eject permits an optic to be mounted on top, and all modern 336s of the past 50 years comes drilled and tapped from the factory for such a mounting. The reliability is superb, and the accuracy is good for a lever gun, albeit as with all .30-30s and .35 Rem chambered rifles, only effective out to around 200 yards.
The Winchester 94 has been putting game in the freezer since before the Marlin 336 was born. Chambered in .30-30, this classic rifle has been built to the tune of nearly 8 million, making it the most prolific lever action game rifle in the world. The 94 is reliable and has a better build quality than the 336. However, Model 94s built before 1982 were top eject rifles, requiring any optic to be mounted on the side. Since 1982, the 94 incorporates an angled ejection and with special mounts, a top mounted scope can be affixed.
The New Era
While wood and blued steel is classic, they are slowly slipping away, yielding to bargain-priced tack drivers and AR platform rifles chambered in a plethora of cartridges. This is not a bad thing at all. Hunting rifles are far more affordable today than they were 20 years ago. The Savage Axis and Ruger American Rifle have done great things for American hunters, and both rifles have proven to be reliable arms that place rounds on the black at a few hundred yards easily. The Mossberg Patriot and Remington 783 too have gained a popular following and offer the same level of accuracy.
The level of accuracy I’ve seen from these el cheapo rifles out of the box is astounding. And while they may not be as ruggedly constructed as some of the older rifles, they are cheap enough that if you break one, it is easy to repair and won’t break the bank.
AR-15 and AR-10 rifles are quickly becoming the go-to rifle for many sportsmen. Long ridiculed, foolishly, as the Black Rifle; hunters soon found out that they were missing out! The AR is best to be thought of as an erector set for adults. It is one of the most easily customized firearms in the world and one that can be built easily in your basement or garage. Accuracy is good, depending on the barrel and recoil is negligible. If you haven’t been bitten by the AR craze, you should jump in. Prices are low and it’s hard to find a smoother shooting rifle.
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