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6x6, A Dozen Good Deer Rifles

By Chuck Hawks

The discussion about what constitutes a good deer rifle has pleasantly filled the hours of many a night in hunting camps all over North America. Naturally, there are many more deer rifles on the market than will fit in an article such as this, so I have chosen a dozen good rifles from well known manufacturers. Rather than lump together a collection of totally diverse rifles, however, I have divided my 12 choices into two categories, hence the "6x6" in the title.

First are a half dozen woods and brush country rifles, most appropriate in areas where shots are usually within 200 yards and often shorter. (Most deer in North America are still killed within 100 yards.) These rifles are also good choices for use in tree stands and ground blinds, where space is limited and a handy rifle is convenient.

I usually prefer short action cartridges and rifles for such conditions, as they have plenty of power and reach for the conditions and make for a slightly shorter, handier rifle. A reasonably compact, variable power scope in the 1-4x, 1.5-6x, or 2-7x range nicely complements the woods rifles listed below, as will a 2.5x or 4x fixed power scope.

Second are a half dozen open country deer rifles. These are appropriate when shots are likely to run over 200 yards and may run 300 yards, or even somewhat farther, depending on the maximum point blank range of the cartridge and load. (I never recommend taking a shot beyond the MPBR of the cartridge and load.)

The open country rifles mentioned here are not special, ultra-long range "beanfield" or "sendero" rifles intended to be fired from a rest. These are general purpose deer rifles suitable for shots well beyond 200 yards. A good quality, variable power scope in the 3-9x range nicely complements any of the deer rifles listed below.

Note that the rifles in each category are simply listed in alphabetical order. I consider all of these good deer rifles, or I would not have included them in this article.

Woods and Brush Country Deer Rifles

Ruger K1A
Ruger No. K1A, a fine example of a compact, handy hunting rifle. Illustration courtesy of Sturm, Ruger & Co., Inc.

The Browning BLR is a premium lever action hunting rifle that has been on the market for a long time. The lever's rack and pinion operation is very smooth. Its reputation for accuracy, reliability and a fast repeat shot is not exaggerated. Features include a solid top receiver, side ejection and a single stage trigger. Open iron sights are standard and the top of the receiver is drilled and tapped for scope bases.

The BLR Lightweight has an aluminum alloy receiver to keep its weight down and a steel bolt with a rotating head that locks directly into the barrel to keep its strength up. Models are available in stainless steel or luster blued steel with walnut stocks featuring a pistol grip or a straight hand. There is even a takedown model. A wide range of short and long action calibers is offered. Standard calibers come with 20" or 22" barrels. Weight varies between 6.5 pounds and 7.75 pounds, depending on model and caliber.

The Long Ranger is Henry's blued steel and walnut, lever action rifle designed for high intensity, .308 length cartridges. Of course, Henry Arms also offers their traditional Big Boy and .30-30 deer rifles, but the Long Ranger is the latest and most modern Henry lever action rifle and it handles the most powerful cartridges, so I chose it to represent the Henry lever action line.

The Long Ranger uses a thoroughly modern, rack and pinion lever action with transfer bar in the hammer, making a separate (manual) safety unnecessary. The rotating, multi-lug bolt head locks into a barrel extension, making a weight saving aluminum alloy receiver practical. Cartridges are fed from a 4-round, detachable box magazine and the magazine release button is flush mounted in the right side of the receiver. The solid top receiver ejects to the right and factory installed Weaver scope bases are provided at no extra charge.

The standard Long Ranger is a carbine and comes with a 20" barrel. The straight hand stock is black walnut with cut checkering and the fore end terminates with a blued steel cap. The overall length is 40.5" and the catalog weight is 7.0 pounds in .308 Win.

The Long Ranger was introduced in calibers .223 Rem., 243 Win. and .308 Win., with additional calibers to be added in the future. Guns and Shooting Online has published a series of articles suggesting future calibers for the Henry Long Ranger; these can be found on the Rifle Information index page.

This is one of the lightest weight and best handling bolt action rifles in production. The amazing thing is that it is made of walnut and steel, with no aluminum or synthetic parts, and comes with a 22" barrel. It is available only in short action calibers including .243 Win., .260 Rem., 7mm-08, .308 Win. and .338 Federal. Given the Model 84M's very light weight (approx. 5 lbs. 10 oz.) I like it best in .243, .260 and 7mm-08; the lightweight rifle KICKS, especially in .338 Federal.

The Kimber 84M action is a controlled feed design with a full length extractor and a receiver mounted ejector. The single stage trigger is adjustable. The Classic's A-grade Claro walnut stock features four panel cut checkering and a Pachmayr Decelerator recoil pad. Versions with composite and laminated stocks are also available..

The Marlin 336 is unquestionably one of the most popular, reliable and effective deer rifles of all time. Its 20" barrel and full length magazine allow it to get on target fast and yet swing smoothly. Overall length is a compact 38.5" and it weighs 7 pounds.

This famous lever action carbine offers a solid top receiver for strength and easy scope mounting and a checkered pistol grip stock made from genuine American black walnut. A semi-buckhorn rear and ramp front sight are standard. The 336C comes with a blued steel barreled action, while the 336 SS is the same rifle in stainless steel.

The contemporary Model 336 calibers are .30-30 Winchester and .35 Remington. Both are proven venison getters, but the .30-30 offers a nearly perfect blend of accuracy, killing power, moderate recoil, and trajectory. If exceptionally large black bear or wild boar are also on the menu, the .35 Remington might be the preferred cartridge choice.

The Ruger No. 1 is the single shot, falling block rifle that put the type back on the map. The No. 1's hammerless action includes a single stage trigger, two-position top tang safety and an ejector that facilitates fast reloads. Open iron sights are standard. It is immensely strong and can handle the most powerful magnum hunting cartridges.

The No. 1A Light Sporter is a compact, graceful rifle with a black walnut stock, Alexander Henry fore end, a quarter rib to facilitate scope mounting (steel Ruger scope rings are supplied with all No. 1 rifles at no extra charge) and a 22" barrel that makes it a short, fast handling rifle. That 22" barrel results in an overall length of only 38.25", as short as a classic lever action carbine with a 20" barrel. The K1A is the same rifle with a stainless steel barreled action.

Ruger No. 1RSI International models feature a full length Mannlicher style fore end and a carbine length 20" barrel. Otherwise, they are the same as the No. 1A. They have also been offered with blued steel or stainless steel (K1RSI) barreled actions. As I write these words, all No. 1 models are being built as Lipsey's distributor specials, so caliber and availability vary from year to year.

The Winchester Model 94 lever action is the classic deer rifle, as well as the most popular deer rifle ever made. The current Model 94, beautifully made by Winchester's partner Miroku in Japan, is offered in Carbine and Short Rifle versions with a 20" round barrel, as well as a Sporter model with a 24" half-octagon/half-round barrel. There is even a take-down model with a 20" round barrel.

All current Model 94's use an angle-eject action that allows a riflescope to be mounted low over the top of the receiver. Calibers include .25-35, .30-30 and .38-55, all of which are viable choices for deer hunting. The Model 94 Carbine weighs 6 pounds 8 ounces and is 38" in overall length. The Sporter rifle weighs 7 pounds 8 ounces and is 42-1/2" in overall length.

The barreled actions are highly polished and blued steel and the classic style stocks are American black walnut. A semi-buckhorn rear and ramp front sight are standard. The Sporter and Short Rifle come with a blued steel fore end cap, while the Carbine models use a carbine ring to secure the fore end. Barrels are button rifled. There is a single stage trigger and an unobtrusive top tang safety. Open iron sights are supplied on all models.

Open Country Deer Rifles

Weatherby Mark V Deluxe
Mark V Deluxe. Illustration courtesy of Weatherby, Inc.

The Browning X-Bolt is one of the smoothest operating bolt action rifles on the market. The top of the line Medallion models are well made and finished hunting rifles with a high gloss finished, genuine walnut stock with contrasting rosewood forend tip, slick 60 degree bolt operation and the excellent accuracy that hunters have come to expect from Browning rifles. Medallion models weigh between 6 pounds 6 ounces and 7 pounds even.

There are a number of variations in the X-Bolt line. Other models of particular interest to me include the White Gold Medallion, a Medallion with a stainless steel barreled action and the less expensive Hunter (walnut stock, satin blued finish).

Medallion rifles come in a wide variety of standard and magnum calibers from .223 Rem. to .375 H&H Mag. with barrels from 22" to 26" in length. Appropriate standard deer calibers include the .243 Win., .25-06, .270 Win., .280 Rem., .308 Win. and .30-06.

The Remington Model 700 is the best selling bolt action hunting rifle in history. The current flagship Model 700 is the CDL version. It is offered with either a blued steel barreled action or a stainless/fluted barreled action.

Renown for its strength, accuracy and handsome appearance, the Model 700 CDL features a satin finish walnut stock with ample cut checkering, a black forearm tip and grip cap, cheekpiece, Super cell recoil pad, machined steel receiver, an X-Mark Pro externally adjustable trigger, hinged magazine floor plate, hammer forged barrel and other nice touches. The short action CDL SF (stainless/fluted) we reviewed weighed 6 pounds 14 ounces in .260 Remington and measured 43-5/8" long with its 24" barrel.

Model 700 CDL rifles are available in a great many calibers, which change periodically. Among them are such useful deer calibers as .243 Win., .25-06, .257 Wby. Mag., 6.5mm Creedmoor, 7mm-08, .270 Win., .308 Win. and .30-06.

The Ruger Hawkeye Standard Rifle is a traditional, controlled feed, walnut and blued steel, bolt action rifle. Among other features it offers a one-piece/stainless steel bolt, receiver mounted ejector, three position safety, LC6 trigger, hinged steel floor plate and integral scope bases machined directly on the solid-steel receiver. Ruger steel scope mounting rings are included at no extra charge.

It is offered in a variety of standard short and long action calibers, including .243 Win., .257 Roberts, .270 Win., 7mm-08, .308 Win. and .30-06. Hawkeye Standard rifles in standard (not magnum) calibers are supplied with 22" barrels. In .270 Winchester the rifle weighs eight pounds and is 42.75" long.

This is the quintessential Weatherby. The Mark V Deluxe is one of the best finished rifles on the market, a production rifle loaded with custom rifle features. It is expensive compared to lesser rifles, but value is not so much a matter of price, but a matter of what you get for the money you spend.

In the case of a Weatherby Mark V Deluxe you get a lot. One look at the highly polished, deep luster blued barreled action, AA fancy Monte Carlo walnut stock with fine line checkering, rosewood fore end tip and grip cap with maple wood line spacers make it clear that the Mark V Deluxe is a top of the line hunting rifle.

Other notable features include a smooth and super strong, six lug (standard calibers) or nine lug (magnum calibers) Mark V action with a short 54 degree bolt lift, one-piece bolt, integral recoil lug, hand-lapped chrome-moly barrel, single stage (and user adjustable) trigger mechanism, steel bottom metal with a hinged floor plate and a Pachmayr Declerator recoil pad.

The Deluxe weighs 6.75 pounds in standard calibers and 8.0 pounds in most magnum calibers. Overall length is 44" with the 24" barrel supplied with standard calibers, and 46-5/8" with the 26" barrel supplied on most magnum caliber rifles.

The Mark V Deluxe is available in deer calibers that include .240 Weatherby, .257 Weatherby, 6.5-300 Weatherby, .270 Winchester, .270 Weatherby, .308 Winchester and .30-06. The late Roy Weatherby's favorite long range deer cartridge was the .257 Weatherby Magnum.

If you are looking for a weather resistant, open country deer rifle you should investigate the Weatherby Vanguard Stainless Synthetic, which comes with a SUB-MOA guarantee. As the SUB-MOA label implies, these Vanguards are guaranteed to deliver three shot groups at 100 yards measuring less than 1" with premium factory loaded ammunition.

Many shooters and hunters do not realize that the Weatherby Vanguard is built on one of the best push feed actions available. Vanguards incorporate a number of Weatherby performance enhancing features, including a machined steel receiver with integral recoil lug, a single stage, adjustable trigger and a Weatherby designed Monte Carlo stock that reduces the subjective effect of recoil.

The Vanguard Stainless Synthetic is currently offered in nine calibers, including .243 Winchester, .257 Wby. Mag., .270 Winchester, .308 Winchester and .30-06. All are supplied with 24" barrels. Weight is 7.5 pounds and overall length is 44.0" in short action calibers and 44.5" in long action calibers.

Winchester's Model 70 bolt action has long been known as "The Rifleman's Rifle." The Model 70 action features controlled feeding with a machined from steel billet receiver, integral recoil lug, full length extractor, fixed receiver mounted ejector, three position safety, one-piece alloy bottom metal with hinged floor plate, cold hammer forged barrel and MOA trigger system. The Featherweight's barreled action is polished and blued.

The Model 70 Sporter is the standard, long action rifle with a 24" barrel in standard calibers, while the Featherweight is a lightened and slimmed version with a 22" barrel in standard calibers; both short and long action Featherweights are available. The short action Featherweight weighs 6 pounds 12 ounces in standard calibers and the overall length is 42-1/4". The long action Featherweight is 1/2" longer and four ounces heavier.

The Featherweight comes with a Grade I American walnut stock that features a Schnable fore end tip, 20 lpi cut checkered, pistol grip cap and a Pachmayr Decelerator recoil pad. Standard Featherweight calibers appropriate for deer hunting include .243 Win., .25-06, .270 Win., 7mm-08, .280 Rem., .308 Win. and .30-06.

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Copyright 2017 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.