Hunting isn’t a cheap sport. By the time you calculate the cost of your gun, optics, clothing, boots, licenses and tags, it’s easy to spend a lot of money before you ever head into the field. The good news for those with a limited hunting budget—which is probably most people—is that modern machining technology has allowed manufacturers to produce better firearms at lower prices. Once upon a time, legitimate sub-MOA factory rifles were relatively rare, but in today’s rifle market it’s possible to find a budget gun that groups under an inch at 100 yards. Shotguns, too, are more affordable than ever, and today’s guns come standard with features that were exclusive to high-end firearms just a few years ago.
If the events of 2020 have left your hunting budget a bit thin, don’t lose heart. There’s a new crop of sub-$700 guns that are built to work. Here’s a look at 10 of our favorites.
1. Mossberg Patriot Predator Cerakote/Strata Camo 6.5 PRC Mossberg’s Patriot has been around for about 5 years now, and sales of these affordable bolt-action rifles remain strong. For 2020, Mossberg launched the Patriot Predator Cerakote/Strata Camo in 6.5 PRC, and this well-appointed hunting rifle offers one of the most affordable ways to take advantage of the 6.5 PRC’s outstanding ballistics. The Patriot Predator Cerakote comes with a synthetic stock covered in TrueTimber Strata camo, and a fluted, threaded, 24-inch sporter-profile barrel. The included Picatinny top rail makes optic mounting easy, and other key features include an LBA user-adjustable trigger, two-position safety, a spiral fluted two-lug bolt and a detachable box magazine. The metalwork is coated in Cerakote Patriot Brown, which offers excellent corrosion resistance. The Patriot Predator Cerakote/Strata Camo rifle I tested in 6.5 PRC produced sub-MOA groups, and this gun is a great choice for an all-around big-game rifle. MSRP: $574; mossberg.com.
Bottom line: The eye-catching Patriot Predator Cerakote/Strata in 6.5 PRC offers unequaled corrosion resistance and superb accuracy at an affordable price.
2. CZ 1012 All-Terrain When I tested an early version of CZ-USA’s 1012 semi-auto I was very impressed. These guns offer inertia-operated reliability and simplicity in a well laid-out and affordable package. In 2020, CZ added a version of the 1012 to their new family of All-Terrain shotguns which come with a weather-resistant OD Green Cerakote surface treatments and walnut stocks. The CZ 1012 All-Terrain one of the best all-around shotguns available today: it’s tough enough to stand up to wet and windy days in a duck blind, and the durable OD Green Cerakote finish won’t catch the eyes of incoming ducks, doves or gobblers. The 1012 All-Terrain comes with a 3-inch chamber and five extended black choke tubes. MSRP: $715; cz-usa.com.
Bottom line: A versatile inertia-operated semi-auto 12-gauge with lots of high-end features at a reasonable price point.
3. Thompson/Center Venture II The original Thompson/Center Venture was a fine rifle capable of delivering good accuracy at a low cost of ownership, but the original Venture’s trigger left something to be desired. Thompson/Center quickly addressed that and recently launched the Venture II, which comes with a class-leading Generation II trigger that breaks cleanly at 3 to 4 pounds. The Venture II comes with all the great features found on the previous iteration of this rifle, including a proprietary Weather Shield coating that is fifty times more corrosion resistant than traditional stainless steel, a Hogue stock with Overmolded traction panels and a threaded barrel with 5R rifling. This gun is available in nine calibers from .223 Rem. to .300 Win. Mag., including the new straight-walled 350 Legend. T/C promises sub-MOA accuracy at 100 yards with factory ammo, but the 6.5 Creedmoor version I tested for American Hunter produced three-shot groups closer to a half-inch at that range. That’s premium rifle performance at a very low price point. MSRP: $525; tcarms.com.
Bottom line: A better trigger made a good gun great, and the Venture II is on the short list of best budget hunting rifles.
4. Winchester SXP Upland Field Winchester’s SXP is a workaday pump gun that is affordable and ultra-reliable. But, for the most part, these guns are pretty utilitarian. The new SXP Upland Field is the exception, and it comes with a matte nickel engraved upland scene on the receiver and a Grade II/III Turkish walnut stock and forearm. It is available in either 12- or 20-gauge, with your choice of 26- or 28-inch barrels and 3-inch chambers. Three Invector Plus choke tubes come standard, and so does the company’s Inflex recoil pad, which does an admirable job reducing recoil impact. Despite its upgraded aesthetics, the SXP Upland Field is a great price for a gun that’s so well-constructed and eye-catching. MSRP: $509.99; winchesterguns.com.
Bottom line: A classy, stylish pump-action shotgun that you’ll be proud to pass down to your kids.
5. Weatherby Vanguard Weatherguard Bronze Weatherby practically wrote the playbook on producing quality budget rifles with the Vanguard, and even though that family of guns has continued to grow, and some Vanguard variants have eclipsed the $1,000 price point, there are still many really good, affordable options in the line for those who don’t want to spend that much cash. This year’s Vanguard Weatherguard Bronze model is just such a rifle. It features a block polymer stock with bronze accents, which nicely matches the Burnt Bronze Cerakote finish on the barreled action. Weatherby Vanguard rifles are made in Japan, and the fit and finish is superior to other rifles in this price category. Vanguard rifles also come with host of high-end features like an adjustable two-stage trigger, three-position safety and a cold hammer-forged barrel. Weatherby promises three-shot groups at .99 inches or better at 100 yards, and I’ve never shot a Vanguard rifle that couldn’t beat that figure with the right load. What’s more, you won’t have to deal with nagging issues like ugly plastic stocks and cheap, ill-fitting magazines that plague some budget bolt guns. There are 16 different caliber options ranging from .22-250 Remington to .300 Weatherby Magnum, so no matter the game, this could be your go-to gun. MSRP: $649-$699; weatherby.com.
Bottom line: An affordable bolt gun that shoots extremely well and doesn’t look or feel like a budget rifle.
6. Stoeger M3020 Upland Special It’s no secret that Stoeger’s sleek, affordable semi-autos offer excellent reliability at a low price point. The company recently launched the M3020 Upland Special, which offers the same inertia-operated reliability of Stoeger’s other M3000/M3020 shotguns with some notable cosmetic upgrades. For starters, this gun comes with a beautiful gloss walnut stock that looks great with its anodized silver receiver and blued barrel. The center of mass on this 5.6-pound 20-gauge semi-auto lies right at the front of the receiver for perfect between-the-hands balance, making it a lively, smooth-shooting upland gun. The Upland Special comes with three extended choke tubes and costs just $649, and while I haven’t had the chance to torture test this particular version, I have fired thousands of rounds with other M3020 shotguns with excellent results. Reliability is superb, and cleaning and maintenance is a snap, thanks to the simplicity of the inertia system. If you’re in the market for a new upland gun, check out this new addition to the Stoeger family. MSRP: $649; stoegerindustries.com.
Bottom line: A stylish, sweet-handling semi-auto that punches well above its price tag.
7. Thompson/Center Compass Utility Scope Combo Thompson/Center gets another spot on our top ten list with the release of their new Compass Utility Scope Combo. The name “Utility” suits this rifle due to its austere design features few embellishments. The trigger isn’t as crisp as the one found in the Venture II, and the Utility doesn’t come with a Weather Shield protective finish, either. However, if you’re looking for a rifle that serves as a versatile hunting rifle at a rock-bottom price, this is a great option. It does feature a 5R rifled barrel, and that allows T/C to guarantee MOA accuracy from a gun costing just $359 dollars. But perhaps the best value in the new T/C Compass Utility family is the Scope Combo version that comes with a 3x-9x-40mm scope pre-mounted for just $459. If you’re on a tight budget but need a hunting rifle that can put meat on the table, look no farther than the Compass Utility. As an added bonus, this rifle’s short 21.625-inch barrel makes it extremely handy in a ground blind or treestand. MSRP: $459; tcarms.com.
Bottom line: A bare-bones yet accurate scoped rifle combo that provides everything you need at a price that’s impossible to beat.
8. Browning BPS Field Composite Browning has been making the venerable BPS for over 50 years, but the gun recently got a refresh that includes a newly designed stock. The BPS product family has been trimmed down some, but the do-everything BPS Field Composite version is probably the most versatile gun of the bunch. In a world where aluminum receivers are standard equipment on pump shotguns, the BPS Field Composite’s receiver and component parts continue to be made from machined steel. Bottom feeding and ejection prevent hang-ups, and twin steel action bars make the BPS the smoothest-cycling pump gun available today, in my opinion. This version comes with a trim new forearm and stock that handle better than previous models, and a gunsmith can easily reduce the length of pull by as much as ¾ of an inch as needed. The tang safety makes this gun friendly for left-handed shooters, and three Invector Plus choke tubes come standard. The BPS Field Composite is available in 12-gauge with either a 3- or 3½-inch chamber. If you’re looking for one gun that can handle all your waterfowl, upland and turkey hunting needs, the BPS Field Composite is a superb choice. MSRP: $699.99; browning.com.
Bottom line: The venerable BPS is back with some minor upgrades, and this do-everything pump gun does not disappoint.
9. Mossberg Patriot Walnut Mossberg’s Patriot Walnut isn’t necessarily new, but the company recently added three magnum caliber offerings—7mm Rem. Mag., .300 Win. Mag. and .338 Win. Mag. If you like the look and feel of a wood-stocked gun but your budget is limited to $700, you’ll love the new Patriot rifles. They come with standard features like a fluted, threaded barrels and spiral fluted bolt, a detachable drop box magazine, and Mossberg’s bladed, user-adjustable LBA trigger. What’s more, there’s a version of the Patriot Walnut with iron sights chambered in .300 Win. Mag. if you’re hunting at close range and don’t need a magnified optic. Mossberg’s Patriot rifles are quickly earning the same reputation for superb reliability and build quality at an affordable price that has made the company’s 500 shotguns so popular, and the Patriot Walnut is an accurate American-made hunting rifle. MSRP: $559-$631; mossberg.com.
Bottom line: A classically styled, accurate bolt-action rifle that’s perfect for any big-game hunt.
10. TriStar Trinity TriStar’s new Trinity is a Turkish-built over/under shotgun that comes with lots of high-end features, such as 24-karat gold inlay, an acid-etched receiver, a walnut stock and five choke tubes. Most importantly, these guns are extremely reliable, and TriStar backs them with a five-year warranty. As with more expensive over/under shotguns, the barrel selector/safety is mounted on the tang of the gun. The top and mid ribs are vented, and the bright fiber-optic front sight is easy to see in any light. The 12- and 20-gauge versions are available with either 26- or 28-inch barrels, and to the delight of traditionalists, TriStar has added a 16-gauge version of the Trinity with 28-inch pipes. The Trinity is ideal for upland hunting, and if you shoot trap, skeet or sporting clays in the off-season, the it makes a fine sporting gun, too. MSRP: $685; tristararms.com.
Bottom line: You don’t have to spend a lot to own a reliable, stylish over/under field gun, and the Trinity proves that.