Deer Rifles

I’m just guessing, mind you, but I believe the first American deer rifle was the Model 94 Winchester. To be sure, a lot of deer fell to Model 73s, Marlins, Trapdoor Springfields and flintlocks, but the first sporting deer rifle was the 94. Since that iconic rifle there have been a whole lot more.

In the east and south Remington 141s and Marlin lever actions largely ruled the deer camps of the early 20th century. A few intrepid souls came to camp with Model 8 Remingtons believing the adage of “where there’s lead in the air, there’s danger.” When the Doughboys returned from Europe, they began shooting deer with 1903 Springfield and 1917 Enfield rifles. Out west the bolt action held court as the premier deer slayer. Winchester brought out the Model 54 in 1925 and improved it greatly by evolving it into the Model 70 11 years later. Remington simplified the 1917 Enfield into the Model 30 which later spawned the Model 721 and eventually the Model 700. Remington also kept the notion of pump and semi-autos alive with its 760 and 740 series of rifles. Browning weighed in with its renditions of bolt, slide-action, lever-action and semi-auto rifles often combining American ingenuity with European class. Today the AR platform of semi-autos is making inroads to deer hunting camps across the nation.

The deer rifle is an eclectic combination of tradition, lore, effectiveness and heirloom. I’ve seen—and occasionally shot—a pretty wide spectrum of deer rifles. One old sheepherder had a pre-’64 Model 70 Featherweight in .30-06 that had a stock that reminded me of driftwood. Devoid of all finish, it literally had slivers of walnut standing proud on the comb waiting to imbed themselves into the cheek of the shooter. Another guy I met in Maine shot his deer with a commemorative gold-plated and engraved Model 94. Still another was in love with his Garand deer thumper. Point is, a deer rifle is a very personal choice. What’s perfect for one hunter is an anathema to another.

For the most part I’ve stayed with bolt actions, primarily Model 70 Winchesters. However, I’ve also dabbled a fair amount in lever actions, single shots and even the Model 141 Remington—just for grins. If a lot of walking is to be done, I often opt for a Model 70 Featherweight in .270 Winchester or another one in .30-06. On the other hand, if on horseback or in a ground blind on the back of my property, I can be found with anything from a standard weight M70 in .270 to a Kimber M8400 in .300 Win. Mag. I may take my replica Sharps 1874 in .45-90 out later this week, again, just for grins. And just to do something different, I have a couple of whitetail doe tags to fill for sausage meat, and I’m leaning toward my T/C G2 Contender pistol with a .30-30 Win. barrel on it.

I’d be interested in hearing what readers have to say about this. Is your deer rifle nothing more than a tool to harvest some table fare? Or is it a valued family heirloom, treasured because if its history and connections to your family? Maybe you are a tekkie and adore the most modern, efficient and weatherproof bullet spitter. This isn’t an argument as to which is best. That will never be answered. Let’s just wax about our favorite deer rifles.

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4 Responses to Deer Rifles

Robert D. Jones Author wrote:
December 10, 2012

I'm a bolt action guy myself. Twice in the last year I have gone to buy a black rifle and come home with a bolt gun. I have an arsenal of bolt actions from .17 HMR to .416 Ruger. I like to think I am ready for any hunt mice to elephants. My dad had one rifle, a model 54 .270 that he used for coyotes to moose. This fall I used his old rifle with it's 4 power scope. I never felt handicapped. Not long before he passed he told me the only thing I had now that was much better than what he hunted with in his youth was waterproof boots. Robert D. Jones

Brush Buster wrote:
November 08, 2012

To me a deer rifle is that classic wood & steel gun of yesteryear. A lever action 30-30 with no safety cut into the reciever, or a Remington pump in your classic 35Rem or the newer .308/30-06 and even a Remington 742 or Winchester 100 semi auto. Even more special is that rifle that was your Grandpa's or Dad's and it was passed down to you. Something that just brings you back to that day when you walked into the woods and it was just you & nature. Time was forgotten and only daylight was important. Good memories to all !

Dale wrote:
November 07, 2012

The Ruger .44 magnum semi auto (old style). Light, short, and powerful. A day still hunting in the eastern woods makes you appreciate something that is easy to carry.

DSMbirddog wrote:
November 01, 2012

My old timer is a Rem 700 in 264 Win Mag that I bought in 1970. My new deer shooter is a Savage Model 116 SS 300 Win Mag. But I have also shot a few deer with my 1895 Marlin 45-70. I like them all.