It doesn’t take much persuasion to prompt serious hunters to buy a new rifle, but what if I told you the current crop of bolt-action big-game guns is better than it’s ever been? Advances in machining, materials science and engineering have made modern hunting rifles more accurate and less expensive than other time in history, and with competition pushing prices ever lower, it’s a buyer’s market in bolt guns.
If you’re after an inexpensive yet accurate hunting rifle there are a handful on this list. If you’re more demanding regarding fit and finish, materials, and performance, you’ll find rifles that suit your needs here as well. In fact, there were so many good rifles launched in 2018 that we had a hard time whittling the list down to eight, but here’s a roundup of some of the best new hunting rifles on the market today.
1. Browning X-Bolt Pro Long Range
What It Is: An excellent bolt gun with lots of bling.
Why We Love It: In its most basic form, the X-Bolt is a very good rifle that comes with a superb barrel, functional rotary magazine, crisp trigger and above-average build quality. They are among the most accurate factory bolt-action rifles available thanks to these features, and the newest member of the X-Bolt family is a standout for several reasons. The Pro Long Range model comes with a fluted bolt knob, bolt body and heavy sporter barrel, a removable muzzle brake and a carbon fiber-wrap stock. The barrel, action and stock receive a Cerakote Burnt Bronze finish that’s eye-catching and functional. There are a slew of available chamberings from 6mm Creedmoor to .300 Winchester Magnum. With weights ranging from 7 pounds, 3 ounces to 7 pounds, 8 ounces this is a long-range rig that’s not too heavy to carry into steep country. MSRP: $2,159.99-$2,229.99; browning.com.
2. Mauser M18
What It Is: Very accurate and surprisingly affordable.
Why We Love It: Mauser’s take on a budget rifle, the M18 is not as ornate nor as flashy as some of the other rifles on this list. It is, however, very well thought-out and extremely accurate. The trigger is superb, the bolt runs smoothly in the raceway, and the soft-touch inserts in the stock allow for a comfortable and secure grip on the rifle. There’s a three-position safety, but instead of the traditional Mauser dual-lug controlled round feed design, this gun features a three-lug, push feed bolt. Though it’s austere compared to the X-Bolt Pro, the M18 fits right and feels right. It’s made of quality components and it shoots very well. Mauser promises 5-shot MOA accuracy, and my test rifle in .308 lived up to that guarantee making the M18 one of the most accurate guns in this price range. It’s available in seven calibers from .243 Winchester to .300 Winchester Magnum, all of which come with detachable box magazines. MSRP: $699; mauser.com.
3. Savage 110 Storm with AccuFit
What It Is: Affordable, accurate, durable and customizable.
Why We Love it: A centerfire rifle with Accu-everything (including an adjustable AccuTrigger, AccuStock rail system and AccuFit adjustable stock), the 110 Storm is a rifle that is easy to shoot well. It comes with a broad range of calibers from .223 Remington to .338 Win. Mag., and the gray stock with soft-grip surfaces and stainless barreled action mean that this gun can handle anything Mother Nature can dish out. This rifle weighs about 7.25 pounds, so it’s manageable in the mountains, and like the Savage 110s that came before, they’re capable of excellent accuracy. MSRP: $849; savagearms.com.
4. Weatherby Vanguard First Lite
What It Is: A Vanguard with a new look.
Why We Love It: Vanguard rifles are easy to love. Built in Japan, these guns come with dual lugs up front and three-position rocker safeties, a Monte Carlo stock, a fluted barrel and removable AccuBrake. The First Lite is a new look for Weatherby’s entry-level gun with a fluted barrel and action featuring a Cerakote Flat Dark Earth finish and a First Lite camo stock. Other features include a hinged floorplate, a dense, kick-absorbing recoil pad, and a superb two-stage actuator-controlled trigger that is among the best in this price range. Available caliber options include four of the Weatherby magnums (.240, .257, 6.5-300 and .300) as well as .270 Winchester, .308 Winchester, .30-06 Springfield and .300 Win. Mag. Weatherby promises MOA accuracy, but you can probably do better than that with the right load. MSRP: $1,090; weatherby.com.
5. Nosler M48 Long-Range Carbon Rifle
What It Is: A factory rifle with a custom gun feel.
Why We Love It: A rifle is the sum of its parts, and every component of the M48 Long-Range Carbon is high quality. Nosler starts with a trued and faced M48 push-feed action that is mated with a PROOF Research 26-inch Sendero contour carbon fiber-wrapped match-grade barrel with a ⅝ x24 threaded muzzle. The Manners MCS-T Elite Tac 100 percent carbon fiber stock features glass and aluminum pillar bedding, and a Timney two-stage trigger comes standard. Both the action and floorplate metal feature Sniper Gray Cerakoting, and Nosler promises at least MOA accuracy with prescribed ammunition. It’s available in 6.5 Creedmoor, .300 Win. Mag. and .26, .28, .30 and .33 Nosler. Perhaps most surprising is the M48’s light weight. This rifle weighs in at just 7 pounds, making it a long-range rig that will work for high country hunters. It’s not cheap, but if you’re buying just one rifle to hunt any game, in any weather, at any distance this rifle should be on your short list. MSRP: $3,095; nosler.com.
6. Mossberg Patriot Synthetic Cerakote
What It Is: A durable and inexpensive bolt gun for every hunter.
Why We Love It: The Patriot embodies the ethos of Mossberg’s much-loved bolt-action rifles: reliable guns that the working hunter can afford. The Cerakote version of the Patriot, with its synthetic stock and baked-on ceramic finish, is perfectly suited for the most miserable weather. The LBA bladed trigger is adjustable, the light contour barrel and the bolt body are fluted, and there’s a two-position rocker safety located on the right side of the action. Just prior to its release in early 2018, I carried the Patriot Cerakote chambered in 6.5 Creedmoor on a Spanish ibex hunt and managed to harvest a mature billy at 200 yards across a canyon and found the rifle to be durable enough to withstand the daily beating of hunting in steep country. Accuracy was impressive for a gun at this price point, too. MSRP: $440; mossberg.com.
7. Rigby Highland Stalker
What It Is: A modern masterpiece from one of London’s most storied gunmakers.
Why We Love It: The Highland Stalker is essentially the same rifle that Jim Corbett and Karamoja Bell used, for one thing. The Rigby name carries a cache that very, very few other gunmakers can match. Their rifles were never built for the masses, but rather for those who appreciated superb quality and impeccable attention to detail. The Highland Stalker comes standard with a grade 5 walnut stock, a Mauser action built to original specifications, rich bluing, hand checkering and Rigby pattern folding sights regulated at 65, 150 and 250 yards. Sure, at 6,995 Pounds sterling (currently $9,189 U.S. dollars) this London Best rifle is a pricy option, but these guns truly are works of art in wood and metal. Even if most of us will never be able to afford one, we can still appreciate the craftsmanship that goes into every single Rigby rifle. MSRP: $9,189; johnrigbyandco.com.
8. Franchi Momentum
What It Is: Franchi’s foray into the budget rifle market.
Why We Love It: Although Franchi is just wading into the world of bolt guns, the Momentum is a solid first effort. It offers a synthetic stock, adjustable trigger, threaded muzzle, one-piece fluted bolt with three locking lugs up front, TSA recoil pad, hinged floorplate and included scope bases. The stock features angular cuts and texturing that actually serve practical purposes; the checkered cutout on the rear bottom portion of the stock is designed to secure the rifle using the non-shooting hand when firing off the bench. The oversized bolt travels smoothly down the action, and with the right ammunition it will shoot MOA groups, as Franchi promises. The standard rifle is priced just over $600, but there’s also a combo gun that comes with a mounted and bore-sighted Burris Fullfield II scope for $729, which is an extremely good price for a rifle/optic combo of this quality. The Momentum is available in six calibers ranging from .243 Winchester to .300 Win. Mag., and there’s a 150th Anniversary model with a wood stock and AA-grade satin stock chambered in .30-06 Springfield available for $1,069. MSRP: $609-$1,069; franchiusa.com.