The bolt-action rifle market has evolved over the past decade, and that’s due in large part to improvements in machining technology. Modern CNC equipment allows manufacturers to tighten tolerances and lower costs, and the result has been a trend toward more accurate hunting rifles at comparatively lower costs. These improvements have also made hunters a more demanding lot, too. Twenty years ago, low-cost rifles came with heavy, creepy triggers and produced minute of milk jug accuracy at 100 yards, but today’s hunters demand better—and rifle companies have responded.
What type of rifle will $700 buy today? A very good one, as a matter of fact. Here’s a look at seven of the best budget bolt guns for 2019.
1. Ruger American Rifle Ruger’s American Rifle has become one of the standard bearers in the budget rifle market. At its heart is a cylindrical action with a narrowed ejection port and a three-lug, oversized bolt with dual cocking cams, and the action is mated with a cold hammer-forged barrel. An integral bedding block system that Ruger refers to as Power Bedding allows the barrel to free float, and all American rifles come with durable synthetic stocks and the company’s Marksman trigger that is user-adjustable from three to five pounds. Since its inception, the Ruger American family of rifles has grown to include eight models including a Compact version and a combo package that ships with a pre-mounted Vortex Crossfire II riflescope. All Ruger American rifles come with a tang-mounted safety and optics rail, and other options include threaded muzzles, camo stocks and detachable magazines. Plus, hunters in straight-wall cartridge states can opt for an American in .450 Bushmaster or the new .350 Legend. All of the Ruger Americans I’ve tested shot well, and many put more expensive rifles to shame. MSRP: $489-$699; ruger.com.
2. Browning AB3 The A-Bolt 3, or AB3, is Browning’s take on a budget rifle, and it’s a solid choice for hunters. Like the A-Bolts that came before it, the AB3 comes with a tang-mounted safety which is easy to operate in the field whether you’re right or left-handed. The AB3 also shares much of the same receiver geometry as the original A-Bolt, a classy styling nod to its ancestors. But the AB3 also shares many features with the company’s current flagship X-Bolt rifle including a bolt release button (which allows the bolt to be unlocked and cycled with the safety engaged) and, perhaps most importantly, the same free-floated, hand-chambered precision button-rifled barrel. This helps improve accuracy, and as a result, the AB3 outshoots many guns that cost more. The entry-level Composite version comes with a black synthetic stock, and there’s also a compact version for small-statured shooters. Traditionalists will love the look and feel of the Hunter version with its walnut stock, and all three models come with detachable box magazines. Caliber options range from .243 Win. to .300 WSM, so there’s no North American big game for which the AB3 isn’t suited. It’s also easily one of the best-looking rifles in the $700 and under class. MSRP: $599.99-$699.99; browning.com.
3. Mossberg Patriot It’s been a few years since Mossberg introduced its Patriot line of rifles, and during that period, hunters have grown to appreciate everything these rifles offer at a very affordable price-point. The Patriot is a better gun than its predecessor, and stands up well against tough bolt gun competition by adding features like detachable box magazines, spiral-fluted bolts, a Lightning Bolt Action (LBA) user-adjustable trigger, and various stock and finish options. Not only is the Patriot among the most affordable bolt actions (MSRPs start at $409), but it also offers hunters a seemingly endless list of options. There are both walnut and synthetic-stocked models, a Bantam version with LOP spacers, package versions with pre-mounted scopes, and several different camo and Cerakote options. What’s more, it offers a lengthy list of caliber options ranging from .22-250 Remington to .375 Ruger, a list that includes the .350 Legend, .450 Bushmaster and the hot new 6.5 PRC. I’ve hunted ibex in Spain, aoudad in Texas and whitetails in Kansas with the Patriot and have been impressed by this gun’s capabilities, especially at this price. MSRP: $409-$848; mossberg.com.
4. Franchi Momentum Franchi has been producing shotguns for decades, but the Italian brand’s first budget bolt-action rifle, the Momentum, has been a big success. While it’s easily boasts the most avant-garde rifle on this list in terms of styling, the Momentum’s various cuts and lines are a product of Franchi’s effort to make the gun’s stock more user-friendly and practical. Raised texturing on the pistol grip, below the ejection port and on the forearm offer a comfortable and secure hold when shooting, and there’s even an indentation near the toe of the stock for gripping while shooting off bags. The molded sling studs are even recessed into the synthetic stock. Like other guns on this list, the Franchi incorporates a full-diameter bolt with three lugs into its rifle recipe, but unlike many other guns here, it comes with a hinged floorplate. Also included are scope bases, a TSA recoil pad (borrowed from the company’s waterfowl shotguns), two-position safety, threaded muzzle and one of the best triggers in this segment. I tested the Momentum when it was first announced and was impressed with it then. More budget guns have come to market since, but the ultra-accurate Momentum is still a class leader in the budget deer rifle segment. There are currently six caliber options ranging from .243 Win. to .300 Win. Mag. for $609, and there’s a combo version that comes with a pre-mounted Burris scope for $729. The base rifle is a great value, but the combo gun may be the best bargain on this list of you can swing it. MSRP: $609-$729; franchiusa.com.
5. Thomson/Center Compass Let’s lead this off by mentioning that the Compass comes in with the lowest MSRP of any gun on this list at $399. And while it doesn’t offer the finish options or styling you’ll find on some of the other guns here, the bargain-priced Compass is a workaday hunting rifle that’s suitable for just about any game and any terrain. These guns come with 5R rifled barrels which are designed to reduce bullet deformation (improving accuracy) and make the bore easier to clean, and like so many of the other guns here, it uses a three-lug bolt. Additionally, the Compass comes with a flush-fit rotary magazine, scope bases, a three-position safety and a threaded muzzle. Thompson/Center believes they have the best value in bolt-action hunting rifles today, and they back those claims with a three-shot MOA guarantee. No, the Compass isn’t fancy, but it’s a dependable hunting rifle that will leave enough money in your pocket to buy a scope, a couple boxes of ammo and your annual hunting license. MSRP: $399; tcarms.com.
6. Weatherby Vanguard The Vanguard was one of the original budget rifles, introduced to allow hunters who couldn’t afford a Mark V to own a rifle bearing the Flying W logo. And while the Vanguard isn’t the cheapest rifle on this list, it’s certainly one of the best. Built by Howa in Japan, the Vanguard employs a push-feed bolt with the traditional dual-lug design and a hinged floorplate. It also comes with a superb two-stage adjustable trigger and several styling nods to traditional Weatherby guns such as the Monte Carlo stock and fluted bolt body. The company promises sub-MOA accuracy, and I’ve never shot a single Vanguard that wouldn’t do that. In fact, I’ve shot many that would do far better with their favored ammo, and the Weatherby stacks up well with rifles costing a lot more. The Synthetic model with its Griptonite stock and blued metalwork costs $599, and is available chambered for a number of cartridges from .22-250 Remington to .375 H&H Magnum. The Weatherguard version, with its Tactical Grey Cerakote finish, costs just $50 more and offers better corrosion resistance, so that upgrade is worthwhile in my mind. You’ll be pleased with the build quality and performance of these rifles regardless of which one you choose, though. There are a lot of good budget guns, but the Vanguard is at the top of the class. MSRP: $549-$1,149; weatherby.com.
7. Winchester XPR The XPR is the first bolt-action centerfire Winchester has released since 1937. As heir apparent to the Model 70, the XPR had some enormous shoes to fill, but Winchester didn’t make the XPR a newer version of an old gun. Instead, the XPR is a complete departure from the Model 70, lacking the controlled feed action and three-position safety that were hallmarks of the older bolt gun in favor of a full diameter bolt with three locking lugs and a two-position safety with bolt release button similar in design to the Browning AB3. Unlike the AB3, though, the XPR’s two-position safety is located on the right rear portion of the receiver and not the tang. Key features include a detachable box magazine, hardened steel parts throughout, an excellent hammer forged barrel and Winchester’s MOA trigger system. The XPR line has grown extensively over the last few years; there are currently several configurations and chambering options from which to choose including a scoped combo, compact and even a thumbhole laminate version. It was the first bolt gun chambered in .350 Legend, and with a starting MSRP well below the $700 cutoff, the accurate XPR should be on your short list of budget rifle options. MSRP: $549.99-$799.99; winchesterguns.com.