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6 + 6, A Dozen Top Deer Rifles
By Chuck Hawks
The discussion about what constitutes a top deer rifle has filled the hours of many a night in hunting camps all over North America. Rather than lump together a collection of diverse rifles, I have divided them into two categories.
First are the woods and brush country rifles, most popular in areas where shots are usually within 200 yards or less. I usually prefer short action cartridges for such rifles, 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 fixed power scope.
Second are the long range deer rifles. These are appropriate when shots are likely to run over 200 yards, and may run 300 yards or even farther. The rifles I have selected are not special, ultra-long range "beanfield" or "sendero" rifles intended to be fired from a rest. These are general purpose deer rifles and cartridges suitable for shots well beyond 200 yards. They typically offer a maximum point blank range (MPBR) +/- 3" of around 300 yards. Standard calibers range from .243 Winchester to .280 Remington, and suitable magnum calibers range from .24 to .270. The 7mm and larger bore magnum calibers are excluded from consideration here for, while they will certainly kill deer, they are more appropriate for larger game. A variable power scope in the 3-9x40mm range nicely complements any of the long range deer rifles listed below, and the traditional 4x fixed power scope is still a viable choice.
Note that the rifles in each category are listed in alphabetical order rather than any order of preference. These are all great deer rifles or they would not be included in this article.
Short to medium range hunting (woods and brush rifles)
The Browning BAR is the premium autoloading hunting rifle on today's market. Its reputation for accuracy and reliability is not exaggerated. Not an adaptation of a military rifle, the BAR was designed from the outset with the needs of the big game hunter in mind.
The BAR Lightweight Stalker 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. Because it is gas operated, the BAR offers a very significant reduction in felt recoil.
Short action deer calibers include .243 Winchester and .308 Winchester. Long action calibers include .270 Winchester and .30-06. Of these the short action .308 caliber probably makes the most sense for the woods and brush country deer hunter. With appropriate loads it has the bullet weight and sectional density to slip through the brush and make short work of deer size game if the hunter does his or her part. And, although I believe its usefulness is overrated, the BAR certainly has fast follow-up shot capability.
The heavy BAR Safari model comes with a beautifully finished, high gloss, checkered walnut stock and a highly polished blue-black metal finish. The less expensive Lightweight Stalker comes with a black synthetic stock and matte finished metal. Barrel length is 20" in standard calibers, overall length is 41", and weight is 7 pounds 2 ounces in caliber .308 Win. There are two BAR reviews on the Product Review Page.
This is one of the lightest weight and best handling bolt action rifles in production. But 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. Except for the .338 Federal, which is basically an elk caliber, all of the others mentioned here are fine deer calibers. Given the Model 84M's light weight (approx. 5 lbs. 10 oz.) I like it best in .243, .260 and 7mm-08.
The fine Kimber 84M action is a genuine controlled feed design with a full length extractor and a receiver mounted ejector. The Classic's A-grade Claro walnut stock features 4 panel cut checkering and a Pachmayr Decelerator recoil pad. The Classic Select Grade comes with a AA-grade Claro walnut stock, and the very lovely Super America grade (AAA-grade walnut and many extras) is one of the finest production rifles made in the USA. Versions with composite and laminated stocks are also available. Those interested in more details can read the review on the Product Review Page.
The Marlin 336C is unquestionable 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, forged steel parts, and a checkered, pistol grip stock made from genuine American black walnut. When you heft a Model 336 and cycle the action you can feel the quality.
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. The MPBR (+/- 3") of the standard 150 grain factory load is 225 yards, making a scoped .30-30 a truly versatile deer rifle. If exceptionally large black bear or wild boar are also on the menu, the .35 Remington might be the preferred cartridge choice.
The same rifle with a stainless steel barreled action is called the Model 336SS and it comes in caliber .30-30 only. Other model variations are also available including the Model 308MX, which is made of blued steel and walnut, sports a 22" barrel, and is chambered for the .308 Marlin Express cartridge. There are complete reviews of the Marlin Model 336 rifles on the Product Review Page.
Remington's entry in the short, light and handy bolt action rifle sweepstakes is the Model Seven. The Model Seven is available with either a walnut (CDL), synthetic/camo (XCR) or laminated wood (LS) stock. The Model Seven CDL is the deluxe version, similar in appearance to the Model 700 CDL.
Model Sevens in standard calibers comes with a 20" barrels. The Seven's short action is similar to the famous Model 700. It is a very strong and accurate little carbine, well suited to use in brushy and wooded terrain. Overall length is 39.25" and the catalog weight is 6.5 pounds in .308 Win.
The CDL comes in 13 calibers ranging from .17 Fireball to .350 Rem. Mag., but the cartridges of choice for the deer hunter are .243 Win., 7mm-08 and .308 Win. These provide good killing power with big game hunting weight bullets and tolerable recoil. In the latter area the .243 is superior to the 7mm-08 and .308 Win. See the Product Review Page for more about the Model Seven.
This trim and deadly Mannlicher-stocked beauty is one of the finest bolt action woods and mountain rifles ever made in the USA. With its 18" barrel, trim classic style walnut stock, controlled feed, integral scope base and 38.25" overall length (in short action calibers), the M77RSI is one trim, fast handling, hunting rifle. It weighs 7 pounds and comes with adjustable iron sights.
The International is available in short action calibers .243 Winchester and .308 Winchester, and long action calibers .270 Winchester and .30-06, deer calibers all. For the woods and brush country deer hunter the standout caliber is the short action .308 Win. Capable of harvesting all CXP2 and CXP3 class North American game, the .308 Winchester cartridge is an all-around caliber more than capable of holding its own with the other great woods and brush country cartridges. There is a complete rifle review featuring the Ruger Model 77RSI on the Product Review Page.
The Ruger No. 1 is the single shot rifle that put the type back on the map. The No. 1A is a compact, graceful rifle with a black walnut stock, a quarter rib to facilitate scope mounting 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. 1A rifles are available in a number high intensity cartridges. There are reviews of various Ruger No. 1 rifles on the Product Reviews page.
Medium to long range rifles (open country deer rifles)
The Browning A-Bolt II is one of the smoothest operating bolt action rifles on the market. The top of the line Medallion is a well made and finished hunting rifle 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 A-Bolt rifles. It weighs 6 pounds 11 ounces in long action calibers with a 22" barrel, and measures 42.75" in overall length.
There are a number of variations in the A-Bolt line beside the Medallion. These include the well known Hunter (walnut stock, satin finish) and Stainless Stalker (black composite stock and stainless steel barreled action).
Medallion rifles come in a wide variety of standard and magnum calibers from .223 Rem. to .375 H&H Mag. Appropriate long range deer calibers include the .243 Winchester, .25-06, .270 Win. and .280 Rem. Reviews of the Browning A-Bolt II line can be found on the Product Review Page.
The Remington Model 700 is the best selling bolt action hunting rifle in history, and for decades the definitive Model 700 has been the BDL Deluxe. In recent years it has been joined by the similar but understated CDL version and the lightweight LSS Mountain Rifle.
Renown for its strength, accuracy and handsome appearance, the Model 700 BDL features a gloss finish walnut stock with ample checkering and a black forearm tip, polished blue metal surfaces, an adjustable trigger, and many other nice touches. The CDL is similar but its metal and wood finish is matte. The BDL and CDL weigh 7 3/8 pounds in standard long action calibers and measure 42 1/2" long. The LSS Mountain Rifle features a stainless steel barreled action and a brown laminated hardwood stock. It comes with a light contour 22" barrel, is 42-1/2" long and weighs 6-5/8 pounds.
The Model 700 BDL, CDL and LSS Mountain Rifle versions are available in calibers ranging from the .17 Remington to the .300 Remington Ultra Mag. Among them are such long range deer calibers as .243 Winchester, .25-06, .280 Rem. and .270 Winchester. There are reviews of Remington Model 700 rifles on the Product Review Page.
The Ruger No. 1 is the single shot rifle that put the type back on the map in terms of popular appeal. A compact, graceful falling block action, black walnut stock, a quarter rib to facilitate scope mounting and a 26" barrel to extract the full potential from long range cartridges are among its best features. Even with its long barrel, the overall length of a No. 1B is 42.25", about the length of most bolt action rifles with 22" barrels.
Ruger No. 1 rifles are available in a number of variations and 27 calibers, ranging from .218 Bee to .458 Lott. Among the top long range deer calibers for a No. 1B are .243 Winchester, 6mm Remington, .257 Roberts, .25-06, .270 Winchester, .270 Weatherby Magnum and .280 Remington. There are reviews of various Ruger No. 1 rifles on the Product Review Page.
Those who feel the need for a super accurate, stainless/synthetic, long range deer rifle can probably do no better than the Weatherby Accumark. This Mark V model incorporates all of the usual Weatherby performance enhancing features. In addition, Accumark's come with a Bell & Carlson hand-laminated Monte Carlo composite stock with a molded-in aluminum bedding plate that stiffens the receiver. The Accumark comes with a fluted, heavy sporter contour, stainless steel barrel mated to a matte blued action.
The smooth and super strong Mark V action with its short 54 degree bolt lift, No.3 Krieger Criterion barrel, target muzzle crown, user adjustable trigger mechanism, Pachmayr Declerator recoil pad and other performance features guarantee exceptional performance. The Accumark weighs 7.25 pounds in standard calibers and 8.75 pounds in most magnum calibers. Overall length is 44" with a 24" barrel.
The Accumark is available in 7 standard and magnum calibers. (Other calibers are available through the Weatherby Custom Shop.) The Weatherby Mark V line is reviewed in detail on the Product Review Page.
This is the quintessential Weatherby. The Mark V Deluxe is one of the most attractive and best finished rifles on the market, a production rifle loaded with custom rifle features. It is expensive compared to lessor rifles, but a bargain none the less. 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 great deal. One look at the highly polished, deep luster blued barreled action, Monte Carlo claro walnut stock with its fineline checkering pattern, maple grip cap inlay and line spacers, and contrasting forearm tip make it is clear that the Mark V Deluxe is a top of the line hunting rifle.
The smooth and super strong Mark V action with its short 54 degree bolt lift, Krieger Criterion barrel, application-specific muzzle crowns, clean (and user adjustable) trigger mechanism, Pachmayr Declerator recoil pad, 1.5" MOA accuracy guarantee, and other deluxe performance features verify that initial impression and guarantee the exceptional performance that made Weatherby's reputation.
The Deluxe weighs 6.75 pounds in standard calibers and 8.5 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 magnum caliber rifles.
The Mark V Deluxe is available in some 17 standard and magnum calibers, from .22-250 to .460 Weatherby Magnum. Included are traditional long range favorites like .243 Winchester, .25-06, .270 Winchester, and .280 Remington. Also available are ultra-long range calibers such as the .240, .257, and .270 Weatherby Magnums that will drop deer cleanly at ranges well beyond where most hunters are capable of making sure hits. Roy Weatherby's favorite ultra-long range deer cartridge, and mine, is the .257 Weatherby Magnum. The Weatherby Mark V line is reviewed in detail on the Product Review Page.
If you are looking for a weather resistant, stainless/synthetic, long range deer rifle you should investigate the Weatherby Vanguard SUB-MOA Stainless. Many shooters and hunters do not realize that the Weatherby Vanguard is built on one of the best push feed actions in the world. Vanguard's incorporate all of the usual Weatherby performance enhancing features. In addition, SUB-MOA's come with a special hand-laminated Monte Carlo composite stock with a molded-in aluminum bedding plate that stiffens the receiver.
SUB-MOA barreled actions are selected from among all Vanguards after accuracy testing is completed then are then dropped into their special stocks. As the name implies, these select Vanguards are guaranteed to deliver three shot groups at 100 yards measuring less than 1" with premium factory loaded ammunition. Weight is 7.75 pounds in standard calibers and overall length is 44.5".
The Vanguard SUB-MOA Stainless comes in 13 calibers from .223 Remington to .338 Win. Mag. Of greatest interest to long range deer hunters will be the .243 Winchester, .257 Wby. Mag., .270 WSM and .270 Winchester, all supplied with 24" barrels.
Copyright 2003, 2016 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.