by J. Scott Olmsted - Saturday, May 9, 2009
Perhaps it's the adventure accompanying a hunt that leads us to dream about one gun that can do it all, or at least one that would satisfy us forever. Perhaps it's a keen sense of our own history that leads us to pick a favorite and declare, "The Model Such-and-Such is the best rifle of all time." The words are spoken with authority, as if there can be no debate. But of course there is always debate. Which is a good thing, for without debate life would be dull indeed. At about this point in the conversation someone declares, "Okay, pick three rifles... ." So folks begin to agonize over historical significance, innovation and memories. Such is the dilemma facing anyone who dares to make a list of the "best" rifles of all time.
But we had to draw a line somewhere, so we drew it at 10. But even a list of 10 isn't without debate, as the disparate opinions on the three lists herein prove. Something tells me we haven't heard the last of this.
1. Winchester Model 70
In 1936, Winchester "Americanized" and sporterized the bolt-action of Paul Mauser's military-inspired Model 1898 with, among other things, a safety that operated smoothly underneath the telescopic sights then becoming vogue. Now, 71 years after its creation, and after fits and starts have interrupted production of the venerable controlled-round-feed design, it is still the American bolt-action that defines an archetype.
2. Remington Model 700
The gun that came along at precisely the right moment--about the time the Pre '64 Model 70 was discontinued--is today probably present in more homes than any other American bolt-gun. It's widely considered the action to start with in any custom-rifle project and is produced in more iterations than any other bolt-gun.
3. Kimber 84M
At the end of the 20th century, Kimber engineers took a combination of design cues from the Mauser 98, Winchester 70 and Remington 700 to new heights, and today the 84M is likely the best factory-produced, most accurate out-of-the-box bolt-action made in America; if this list is reproduced 10 years from now, a Kimber could top it.
4. Marlin 336
In 1936, Marlin improved on lever-action designs of the Winchester 94, Marlin 1895 and others. It's true the 94 holds special places in hunters' hearts, but 71 years later, the 336 is still produced in great numbers, and still the deer gun most Americans buy first.
5. Holland & Holland Royal Double Rifle
Compared to other designs, few doubles have ever been sold, but this list wouldn't be complete without at least one: Holland & Holland's Royal is the archetype. If Purdey comes to mind first when thinking shotguns, H&H is foremost when it comes to British custom rifles. The H&H sidelock pattern set such a standard for shotguns and rifles that makers today refer to an "H&H-type."
6. Browning BAR
This is probably the most accurate semi-auto sporter ever produced in America, and 41 years later it's still popular in hunting camps across the nation.
7. Ruger 10/22
Though there are plenty of rimfires to choose from, Ruger's is surely one of the most popular plinkers of all time-and a fine platform for customization, too; everyone needs a .22, and this is the one with which to start.
8. Knight MK-85
Tony Knight's groundbreaking muzzleloader ushered in an entirely new era in "primitive" sporting arms.
9. Mauser Model 98
The bolt-action that launched the 20th century--in 1898--with controlled-round feed and other desirable features (notably a "pressure-proof" design) is still revered and copied today.
10. Hawken Rifle
This is the gun Americans think of when they think of their forefathers on the Western frontier, and a reliable design that still defines sidelock muzzleloaders today.
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