10 Rifles for Today's Deer Hunter
When it comes to selecting a rifle, there's almost no end to the options available. Which models are the best on the market today? Check out Keith Wood's Top 10.
November 16, 2012
10. Savage 111 Hunter XP
Times are tough right now and not everyone has a pile of money to spend on a rifle they may only use a few days out of the year. The Savage Hunter “package” is an accurate, durable and dependable rifle that comes with a Bushnell 3-9X40 scope and mounts right out of the box. This turnkey setup retails for just over $500 and, thanks to Savage’s reputation for accuracy, will likely outshoot many rifles available at twice the price.
9. CVA Accura V2 209 Magnum Muzzleloader
Some states don’t allow deer hunting with a center-fire rifle, so for those chasing whitetails in places like Illinois, a “deer rifle” has a ramrod. CVA’s flagship muzzleloader isn’t much of a handicap afield thanks to its stainless-steel Bergara barrel and 209 shotgun primer ignition. It’s quick to both load and clean due to its Bullet Guiding Muzzle and quick-release breech plug. Add a quality scope where the rules allow it and you’re ready to hunt.
8. Marlin 1895G “Guide Gun”
When deer live in thick brush and shots are quick and close, your deer rifle needs to be powerful, compact and easy to handle. Marlin’s Guide Gun in .45-70 is only 37 inches overall and feels lighter than its well-balanced 7 pounds. In its modern loadings, the .45-70 doesn’t lack for horsepower and the lever-action allows for quick follow-up shots. A great choice for when things are fast and close, my Guide Gun wears a set of X/S ghost ring sights and is my go-to for the thick stuff.
7. Hill Country Rifles “Harvester”
Custom rifles are great and there’s nothing that inspires confidence like a rifle that shoots bughole groups, but that kind of rifle often involves the equivalent of a few mortgage payments. Hill Country Rifles offers “accurizing” services for factory hunting rifles, but also produces semi-custom rifles it calls the Harvester line. You basically get a factory Remington 700 barreled action with a precision cut crown, pillar bedded into a McMillan fiberglass stock with a free-floated barrel. The trigger is also tuned and the barrel is inspected with a borescope. Each rifle is guaranteed to shoot sub-MOA groups at 100 yards with factory ammo. For the hunter looking for something in-between an off-the-rack rifle and a full-custom build, this is a great choice.
6. MG Arms “Ultra-Light”
Not all deer wander around on flat ground. Sometimes deer hunting means backpack hunting in the high country where every ounce adds up. MG Arms Ultra-Light rifles weigh in at as little as 4 ¾ pounds and are both accurate and reliable. Made from skeletonized Remington 700 actions with match-grade stainless-steel barrels, jewel triggers and Kevlar stocks, these rifles carry like a bag of feathers but hit like a bag of bricks. I’m currently evaluating one in .300 WSM and absolutely love it. Forget what you’ve heard about lightweight rifles being hard to shoot; these guns carry, point and hit with the best of them. At $3,695, they are not cheap, but it takes lots of skilled hand labor to turn out this kind of hardware.
5. Ruger M77 Hawkeye Compact
Deer rifles don’t have to be big to be effective and if you’re climbing in and out of vehicles and treestands, a full-size rifle can be an albatross. The Hawkeye compact is light and small, yet maintains a traditional “American Classic” appearance with its walnut stock and satin-blue finish. A 6 pound .243 or 7 mm-08 would be just about perfect for the majority of whitetail hunting in the East, and would be a treat to carry up the mountains out West. They retail for under $900 and include rings and bases, which saves you a few extra bucks.
4. Luxus Arms Model 11
Single shots are rifleman’s rifles—sleek, simple and classy. It’s rare that I’ve had a second shot at a deer so, for me, they aren’t much of a handicap. The Luxus Arms Model 11 is a petite take-down rifle capable of switching barrels to just about any caliber, but the real star of this show is the exhibition grade Turkish walnut that turns this little rifle into a head-turner. As the first guy to actually take one of these guns out hunting, they hold a special place in my heart. The best part is that, if you don’t see any deer, you’ll be happy just to stare at the stock.
3. Kimber 84M Montana
With rifles that are functional, accurate and trim, you can tell that Kimber’s design shop is full of guys who actually hunt. The stainless-steel and synthetic Montana is the most utilitarian of the 84M lineup—this rifle is built to get wet and dirty and sometimes that’s what it takes to get the buck of a lifetime. As much as I love the beautiful French Walnut on the Classic Select Grade, I wouldn’t give rain or snow a second thought with the Montana on my back. Chambered in short-action classic cartridges like the .257 Roberts and .308 Win., the 5 ½ pound Montana is lot of rifle for the money.
2. Echols Legend Sporter
If no expense is to be spared in the pursuit of big game, it’s hard to match the functional masterpiece that is the Echols Legend series of rifles. Painstakingly hand-built from Winchester Model 70 actions by Utah gunmaker D’Arcy Echols, the Legend is the epitome of understated perfection. Most people would expect that a custom rifle costing more that two dozen Savage 111s would feature garish engraving and inlays, but the Legend’s artwork is on the inside. Every surface is machined and polished, and most components are built from scratch. The synthetic stocked Legend doesn’t stand out from across the room, but those fortunate enough to own them swear by their performance afield.
1. Remington 700
You can argue over which deer rifle is the best, but with over 5 million rifles produced over the last 50 years, it’s hard to argue that the Remington 700 isn’t the most popular. I shot my first deer with a 700 and, though I hunt with other rifles, there’s not a season that goes by without me carrying one of my Remingtons afield. The 700’s diverse lineup offers about as many flavors as Baskin Robbins, but the classically styled CDL epitomizes the American deer rifle.