Compared: Deer Rifles in the Field
By the Guns and Shooting Online Staff
During deer season we here at Guns and Shooting Online take the opportunity to use a variety of rifles, note our impressions and compare the strong and weak points of the various rifles in the field. We live close enough to deer country (actually, in deer country) that we are able to embark of a series of day hunts, returning home each evening. No need to pack in with just one rifle for a long hunt. We sleep in our own beds every night and can start the next hunt with a different rifle.
Our quarry is the Columbian blacktail deer. This is a relative of the mule deer that behaves more like a whitetail, generally preferring deep woods to open country.
Those of us on the Guns and Shooting Online staff are fortunate to own quite a number and variety of rifles that can legitimately be used to hunt deer. Jim Fleck, Robert Fleck, Nathan Rauzon, Jack Seeling, and I (Chuck Hawks) all participated in gathering impressions for this article. The rifles with which we hunt include everything from combination varmint/deer rifles and traditional deer rifles to all-around big game rifles. Action styles include lever, falling block single shot and bolt.
We hunt primarily on the western slopes of Oregon's Cascade Mountains. This is heavily forested, mountainous country. Thus it combines aspects of mountain hunting and woods hunting. Deer in this area are usually killed at less than 100 yards, but there is also the possibility of an occasional long range shot from one hillside to another or across a clear cut. As in many parts of the country, there is always a chance of sighting a black bear.
Here are the rifle models included in this comparison:
Experimenting with all of these different rifles essentially turns our deer hunting trips into one long field test. We keep our hunting technique simple. Two to four hunters meet in the morning at a convenient cafe for coffee and to finalize the day's hunting plan, using highly detailed Forrest Service and BLM maps. We then drive into the Cascade Mountains on a paved, two-lane highway. Once in the general hunting area, we drive slowly down gravel or unimproved dirt roads (keeping our eyes peeled) to the specific area(s) we have chosen to hunt on foot.
As soon as we are off of the pavement at least one rifle is loaded and placed in the truck's rear window rifle rack or on the floor of the vehicle between the front seat and the door in the unlikely event that we spot a deer along the side of the road. We call this the "ready" rifle. By the way, although we realize that some jurisdictions prohibit carrying a loaded rifle in a vehicle, this procedure is completely legal and commonly practiced in Oregon.
Once we have arrived at the selected hunting area, we proceed on foot. Usually at least one hunter takes an impromptu stand, while the others still hunt a predetermined area in the same general vicinity. Thus, all of the rifles are used from a stand and while still hunting (walking slowly and quietly in search of game). We also have portable ground blinds for use in appropriate areas.
Following are our impressions of the individual rifles. At the end of the comments about each rifle we have given them an overall "deer rifle score" based on an A (Excellent), B (Good), C (Satisfactory), D (Poor), and F (Failure) grading system, just like in school. A plus or minus may be used to indicate a rifle at the top or bottom of its grade.
These rifles are all offered in appropriate deer hunting calibers, usually several. The actual cartridge chosen, as long as it is at least .24 caliber and capable of putting a minimum of 800 ft. lbs. of energy on target, is less important than bullet placement. If you don't like the cartridge for which our rifle is chambered, choose a cartridge you prefer. Our comments about the rifle itself will still apply.
One factor that turned out to be irrelevant, but to which an obsessive amount of attention is paid by many hunters and most reviewers, is accuracy. All of the rifles were carefully sighted-in at the range before being taken hunting. All of them proved sufficiently accurate to reliably kill a blacktail deer within their maximum point blank range (MPBR). That is all the accuracy necessary in a deer rifle.
Let us reiterate that the rifles compared in this article belong to the members of the Guns and Shooting Online staff. These are not "loaners" from the various manufacturers sent for review, but rifles we have purchased for our own use with our hard earned dollars, so the resultant grades are not a typical bell curve. The letter grades that follow represent our subjective evaluation of these particular rifles for deer hunting. The scores might be different for some other application. The deer rifles that follow are addressed in alphabetical order.
Browning 1885 Low Wall
This falling block single shot is certainly among the handsomest rifles in the group. Both wood and metal are impeccably finished. It is stocked in select, well figured and nicely checkered, walnut.
Among its other good features are a 24" octagon barrel for full ballistic performance, very smooth action, excellent adjustable trigger, and superb accuracy. The action incorporates an external rebounding hammer, which is automatically cocked when the lever is operated to load the chamber, just like a hammerless action. But you can tell at a glance if the rifle is cocked, an excellent safety feature. Bases for detachable sling swivels are standard. This Browning Low Wall is one of the most accurate rifles in the group. It wears a Weaver Grand Slam 3-10x40mm scope in Browning mounts.
For deer hunting the now discontinued Browning version of the 1885 Low Wall was available in calibers .243 Winchester and .260 Remington. The example we used is a .243. The 1885 Low Wall is now available only under the Winchester brand, although the two versions are much alike and are based on the same action. Winchester seems to be using the Low Wall as a limited production offering, manufacturing a few rifles in a different caliber each year. Check with your local Winchester dealer to see what is available.
There are few negatives to mention about the Low Wall. Obviously, it is limited to a single shot before reloading is necessary. The Browning version of the Low Wall lacks an ejector, although one has been added to the Winchester version that we tested in .17 HMR. The 24" barrel made it slightly more cumbersome to deploy rapidly from a vehicle than the Ruger 1A and the Winchester and Marlin lever actions, but its flat receiver, modest 39.5" overall length and safe single shot action made it superior to all of the bolt actions as the "ready" rifle in vehicle.
The same features make the Low Wall a very nice rifle to carry when still hunting. It can be carried slung over either shoulder, barrel up or down. Its modest weight of about 7.25 pounds with a scope makes it easy to carry long distances. The Low Wall is about 1" longer, but a pound lighter, than the Ruger No. 1A. Its long 24" barrel gives it enough forward weight to make it a better than average rifle from shooting sticks or an impromptu rest in the field. John Browning's 1885 Low Wall, although the oldest design included in this article, is still a very effective deer rifle and a testimony to the great gun designer's brilliance. Final score: B+ (Very Good).
Browning A-Bolt II Hunter and Medallion
This pair of bolt action rifles are essentially identical except for cosmetic differences. The Hunter is a functional yet good looking rifle with a low-luster blued metal finish and handsome walnut stock. The Medallion is the deluxe grade version of the same basic rifle, featuring an engraved receiver, a high-luster blue job and a select walnut stock with contrasting forend tip and pistol grip cap. The overall quality and workmanship of both models are very good. Since the two rifles are functionally identical, they will be dealt with together.
The A-Bolt II rifle is a light, slick, fast operating rifle with some unusual features. The Hunter wore a Simmons Whitetail Classic 2.5-8x scope, and the Medallion was fitted with a Sightron SII 3-9x scope. The latter fogged-up as a result of one rainy day hunt, but was replaced at no charge within in a couple of days as per Sightron's warrantee. An unfortunate occurrence made right by excellent customer service.
The Browning A-Bolt II is a smooth action with three equally spaced locking lugs and a bolt lift of only 60-degrees. Its smooth, flattened and canted bolt knob is the most comfortable of all to grasp. The fat bolt body (a la Weatherby) makes operation exceptionally smooth and fast compared to typical, two locking lug, Mauser pattern actions. Only the Weatherby Mark V provides as fast a follow-up shot among bolt action rifles.
This pair of Brownings each weigh about 7-1/2 pounds, including scopes and mounts. Due to the light recoil of the .243 Winchester cartridge (100 grain bullet at 2960 fps), they remain pleasant rifles to shoot despite their light weight, and their accuracy is second to none. The barrel length is 22", making the whole package reasonably compact and handy for use in the woods without unduly sacrificing velocity. If you want more punch, Browning offers a number of other deer calibers up to and including .300 Magnum in both models.
The A-Bolts are good stalking rifles. Their light weight and moderate 41.75" overall length make them a good choice for still hunting. They are easy to carry slung over either shoulder, in any orientation.
These are not particularly important factors when shooting from a stand. However, these rifles' excellent accuracy, flat shooting cartridge, low recoil, and 22" barrel make them relatively easy to shoot accurately from a rest or shooting sticks.
The A-Bolt II's design emphasizes accuracy over convenience in the field, as exemplified by its relatively small loading port. In fact, we found it easiest to load the unusual detachable box magazine, which is attached to the hinged floor plate, with the floor plate is swung open. Opening the bolt and pressing cartridges into the magazine from the top with the floorplate closed, the way most bolt action rifles are loaded, is kind of a finicky business. Browning's magazine design and small receiver port also make unloading a bit more troublesome than with the Model 70, Ruger 77, or Weatherby Vanguard and Mark V actions. The A-Bolt II is not the best choice for hunting from a vehicle, but it is satisfactory. Final score for the Hunter and Medallion rifles: B (Good).
Browning X-Bolt White Gold Medallion
The White Gold is the stainless steel version of the high-luster blued carbon steel X-Bolt Medallion. The Medallion is the deluxe grade version of the X-Bolt, featuring an engraved receiver and a select walnut stock with contrasting forend tip and pistol grip cap. The overall quality and workmanship of Browning Medallion rifles is very good. The White Gold version's natural finish stainless steel barreled action makes it weather resistant, since Medallion walnut stocks come with a synthetic, high gloss finish that protects the wood from moisture.
The X-Bolt is similar to the previous A-Bolt in many ways, including its overall appearance and handling. It is a lightweight, slick, fast operating rifle. Ours is a .270 and graced by a Nitrex TR2 2-10x42mm scope.
The Browning X-Bolt action is revised and improved. It remains a very smooth action with three equally spaced locking lugs and a bolt lift of only 60 degrees. The smooth, flattened and canted bolt knob is retained from the A-Bolt II and remains supremely comfortable to grasp. A new detachable box magazine replaces the A-Bolts magazine attached to a hinged floorplate. The trigger mechanism is also new and improved. It is one of the best hunting rifle triggers extant.
Accuracy remains excellent, a Browning tradition. The White Gold Medallion in .270 Winchester comes with a 22" barrel, making it handy for use in the woods without unduly sacrificing velocity. Browning offers the X-Bolt in a wide variety of calibers.
The X-Bolt Medallion is a good stalking rifle. Its light weight and moderate 41.75" overall length are conducive to still hunting. It is easy to carry slung over either shoulder, in any orientation. The X-Bolt's excellent accuracy and 22" barrel also make it relatively easy to shoot accurately from a rest or shooting sticks.
The X-Bolt detachable magazine is easier to load than the A-Bolt's unusual magazine system; it feeds cartridges smoothly and reliably. The X-Bolt is not the best choice for hunting from a vehicle, but it is satisfactory. Final score for the X-Bolt Medallion: B+ (Very Good).
Henry Big Boy
This is a short action lever gun designed specifically for use with revolver cartridges. Available calibers include .44 Mag, .357 Mag, and .45 Colt. The Big Boy features a 20" octagon barrel and a solid brass receiver, making it a distinctive rifle in the field. Our Big Boy is chambered for .357 Magnum.
The Henry action is similar in many ways to the Marlin action, but smoother in operation. Like the Marlin, the Henry ejects to the right side and has a solid top receiver. One major difference is the Henry's modern transfer bar ignition system. The transfer bar makes it safe to carry the rifle with the hammer down on a loaded chamber. No half-cock hammer position or cross bolt safety are needed or supplied. The overall quality and workmanship of the Big Boy are very good, and the grade of walnut used in the stock and forend is definitely superior to the competition.
Another difference is the method of loading. There is no loading port in the right side of the receiver. Instead, the inner brass magazine tube is slid part way out and cartridges are inserted through a cut-out in the outer steel magazine tube--just like with a tube fed .22 rifle. To unload, cartridges in the magazine need not be worked through the action. Just completely remove the inner brass magazine tube and dump out the cartridges. The cartridge in the chamber, of course, must still be ejected by operating the lever.
The Big Boy's receiver is not drilled and tapped for scope mounts. A cantilever scope mount that attaches to the barrel is available from Henry, but the barrel must be drilled and tapped to accept it, and our rifle has not (yet) been so modified. As we said in our full length review of the Henry Big Boy (see the Product Review Page), the factory should definitely supply these rifles already drilled and tapped for scope mounting. Consequently, we were forced to use the iron sights supplied with the rifle.
The Winchester Super-X .357 Magnum, 158 grain JHP factory load has an advertised MV of 1830 fps and ME of 1175 fps. At 100 yards the figures are 1427 fps and 715 ft. lbs., which is considerably better than a 4" .357 revolver produces at the muzzle and about the same energy level generated by a .44 Magnum revolver at the muzzle. This makes the Henry Big Boy a viable 100 yard deer rifle. At that distance the Henry is plenty accurate. Even with the supplied iron sights we were able to shoot groups running from 1.5" to 2.5" at the gun range.
The Henry Big Boy is well balanced and easy to carry in the hand. A good thing, since no sling swivel studs are provided. Its 20" barrel makes it a fast handling rifle, although at 8.68 pounds (empty) it is considerably heavier than the Marlin and Winchester carbines. Lever action carbines are, of course, at home in heavy cover. They point and swing as well as or better than any other type of rifle, and the lever action allows fast follow-up shots.
Due to its extra weight and heavier octagon barrel, the Henry is superior to the Marlin and Winchester lever guns when shooting from a rest or over shooting sticks. It would be a good choice for use in a stand, if you could be assured of short range shots.
Its flat receiver, compact 38.5" overall length, internal transfer bar safety, and exposed hammer make the Big Boy a good "ready" rifle in a vehicle. As mentioned above, unloading at the end of the day is simpler than with the other traditional lever actions.
Our conclusion is that the Henry Big Boy has some good features. Unfortunately, despite its good points, it also has some serious drawbacks as a deer hunting rifle. For one, its weight is excessive for a lever action carbine chambered for a mild cartridge, making it an unnecessary burden for still hunting. Perhaps the most serious drawback is the failure of Henry RAC to drill and tap the barrel for their scope mount. The absence of sling swivel studs is less serious, but still annoying; a sling is a very handy accessory in the field. Being chambered only for revolver cartridges means that the Big Boy is limited in effective range. Reflections from its shiny receiver can be a problem in the field. Henry Big Boy Final score: D (Poor).
Henry .30-30 Model H009B (brass/octagon).
This is a long action version of the brass framed Big Boy, designed for .30-30 length cartridges. It features a heavy 20" octagon barrel and a solid brass receiver with a brass barrel band and buttplate. This is a heavy rifle, weighing over 10 pounds with a Leupold VX-3 1.5-5x20mm scope and a loaded magazine.
The Henry action is similar in many ways to the Marlin action, but smoother in operation. Like the Marlin, the Henry ejects to the right side and has a solid top receiver. One major difference is the Henry's modern transfer bar ignition system. The transfer bar makes it safe to carry the rifle with the hammer down on a loaded chamber. No half-cock hammer position or cross bolt safety are needed or supplied. The overall quality and workmanship of the Henry .30-30 are very good and the grade of walnut used in the stock and forend is definitely superior to the competition.
Another difference is the method of loading. There is no loading port in the right side of the receiver. Instead, the inner brass magazine tube is slid part way out and cartridges are inserted through a cut-out in the outer steel magazine tube. To unload, cartridges in the magazine need not be worked through the action. Just completely remove the inner brass magazine tube and dump out the cartridges. The cartridge in the chamber, of course, must still be ejected by operating the lever.
The Henry .30-30's receiver is drilled and tapped to accept Marlin Model 336 scope mounts, a huge advantage over the Big Boy model. Of course, the .30-30 rifle cartridge easily out performs the revolver cartridges for which the Big Boy is chambered.
The Winchester Super-X 150 grain Silvertip factory load for which this rifle is zeroed has an advertised MV of 2390 fps. This makes the Henry .30-30 a viable 200 yard deer rifle. At that distance the Henry is very accurate, capable of consistently shooting 1 to 1.5 MOA three shot groups.
The Henry .30-30's slim receiver makes it easy to carry in the hand, a good thing, since no sling swivel studs are provided. Its heavy 20" octagon barrel and 10 pound weight make it a smooth swinging rifle if shots at running deer must be attempted and the lever action allows fast follow-up shots. Recoil is subdued. Due to its weight and heavy barrel, the Henry .30-30 is superior to the Marlin and Winchester lever guns when shooting from a rest or over shooting sticks. It would be a good choice for use in a ground blind.
Its flat receiver, compact 39.25" overall length, internal transfer bar safety and exposed hammer make the Henry .30-30 a good "ready" rifle in a vehicle. As mentioned above, unloading at the end of the day is simpler than with the other traditional lever actions.
The Henry .30-30 H009B has some worthwhile features. Unfortunately, it also has serious flaws as a hunting rifle. The most irritating of these are reflections from its shiny brass receiver, the absence of sling swivel studs and excessive weight. The latter makes carrying the rifle all day in the field a chore and markedly reduces its appeal as a still hunting rifle. Ten pounds is absurd for a .30-30 carbine. Henry H009B .30-30 Final score: D (Poor).
Kimber Model 84M Classic
This is a traditional matte blued steel, walnut stocked rifle with a 22" light contour barrel and a catalog weight of only 5 pounds, 10 ounces. The overall length is 41.25". Kimber has earned a reputation for producing very well made rifles and the 84M Classic is no exception.
The Kimber 84M action is a conventional design based largely on Mauser 98 and Winchester 70 design principles. It includes a fully adjustable trigger set to release at about 3.5-4 pounds by the factory. It is sized specifically--in all dimensions, not just length--for short action cartridges based on the .308 Winchester case. The available chamberings run from .243 Winchester to .338 Federal.
With a Leupold VX-II 2-7x33 scope (no iron sights are supplied) and steel scope mounts our Kimber weighs 7 pounds on the nose. This makes it one of the easiest carrying bolt action deer rifles around. The flip side of that coin, however, is that it is also one of the hardest kicking and its light contour barrel makes it load sensitive. Its light weight also makes it less steady when fired from unsupported positions.
Like practically all bolt action rifles, the Kimber's bolt handle sticks out on the strong side and its one-piece stock makes the rifle wider through the action than a lever action or single shot rifle. This means that the Kimber, while handier and easier to carry than most other bolt action rifles, is not quite the equal of a lever or single shot rifle in the easy carrying, fast handling sweepstakes.
The Kimber 84M Classic can be carried slung over either shoulder, barrel up or down, and gotten into action with dispatch. Its smooth 22" barrel does not have a propensity to catch on brush. This rifle is about average for use from shooting sticks or a rest.
Due to its moderate overall length and light weight, the Kimber is the among the easier bolt action rifles in this comparison to stow and to remove from the confines of a vehicle, surpassed only by the Ruger M77RSI. The Kimber also gets a top grade among repeaters for the ease with which it can be loaded and with which a cartridge can be removed from the chamber and reinserted into the magazine. The open top design of the action is a big help here. The Winchester Model 70 type three-position safety contributes to the ease and safety of loading and unloading. At the end of the day, the Kimber's inside the trigger guard magazine floor plate release makes it easy to dump the contents of the magazine into a waiting hand. All in all, the Kimber's positive features makes it a top contender among bolt action deer rifles, especially for still hunting. Final score: B (Good).
Marlin Model 1894C
This is the short action version of the Marlin lever action. Like the Model 336, the Marlin 1894 ejects to the right side and has a solid top reciever. Unlike the Model 336, which has a round bolt, the Model 1894 uses a square bolt. The 1894C (.357 Mag.) comes with a carbine length 18.5" barrel, while the more powerful .44 Magnum Models 1894 (blued finish) and 1894SS (stainless steel) carbines come with 20" barrels. The 1894 receiver is drilled and tapped for scope mounts. A fixed 2.5x or a variable power 1-4x compact scope is all that is needed for any .357 or .44 Mag. deer rifle.
The .44 Magnum is the preferable deer cartridge in terms of killing power, but the .357 Magnum kicks considerably less. It is, in fact, just about the lightest kicking 100 yard deer cartridge available. Winchester Ammunition recommends full power .357 Magnum loads with 158 to 180 grain bullets for hunting deer, and that is probably good advice. Due to its longer barrel, the Marlin 1894C rifle hits considerably harder than any .357 revolver.
The Winchester Super-X .357 Magnum, 158 grain JHP factory load has an advertised MV of 1830 fps and ME of 1175 fps. At 100 yards the figures are 1427 fps and 715 ft. lbs., which is considerably better than a 4" .357 revolver produces at the muzzle and about the same energy level generated by a .44 Magnum revolver at the muzzle.
Any Marlin 1894 carbine is exceptionally well balanced and easy to carry in the hand. Its short barrel makes it convenient to carry slung muzzle down over the weak-side shoulder, the method we prefer. And there is no bolt handle protruding from the side of the receiver to dig into the ribs. (This can be an irritation with bolt action rifles carried in this manner.) The overall quality and workmanship are good.
Lever action carbines like the Marlin 1894 are, of course, famous for use in heavy cover. They point and swing as well as or better than any other type of rifle, and the lever action allows fast follow-up shots.
The Model 1894C is a standard blue steel and walnut rifle. It is a typical traditional lever action in operation and use, and it weighs 6 pounds (bare) and measures only 36" in overall length. It is a trim little rifle with a straight grip, checkered walnut stock that features a rubber butt pad, Marlin's tough Mar-Shield stock finish, and bases for quick-detachable sling swivels.
The flat receiver, compact 3 foot overall length, hammer block crossbolt safety, and exposed hammer make the Malin 1894 an excellent "ready" rifle in a vehicle. Completely unloading an 1894 at the end of the day, however, is somewhat of a chore. Cartridges must be individually cycled through the action and ejected. The crossbolt safety included on later model Marlin's makes this procedure completely safe, but the ejected cartridges must still be gathered up. We found this easiest to accomplish by ejecting the cartridges onto a car seat, with the muzzle of the rifle pointed out the open car door at a safe backstop.
When actually hunting we relied on the hammer's safety notch, leaving the hammer block safety in the "fire" position. The hammer can be cocked in utter silence if the operator knows how.
After hunting with a Marlin 1894 it is easy to understand the appeal of this mild recoiling, ultra-light rifle. The full length magazine tube under the barrel adds weight where it counts the most, improving accuracy when shooting from a stand or over shooting sticks and smoothing the swing on running game. The 1894C is the handiest rifle in this comparison. Unfortunately, it is also the least powerful and the most restricted in terms of range, which lowered its final score somewhat. Marlin 1894C Final score: B- (Good).
Marlin Models 336SS, 336C and 336A.
These three lever action Marlin carbines are all functionally identical. A Marlin 336 carbine is very well balanced and easy to carry in the hand. Its 20" barrel makes it convenient to carry slung muzzle down over the weak-side shoulder. And there is no bolt handle protruding from the side of the receiver to dig into the ribs. The overall quality and workmanship are good.
The 336SS is the stainless steel and walnut version of Marlin's famous deer rifle, the 336C is the standard blue steel and walnut version, while the 336A is the economy version with a birch stock and a blued barreled action. They are the same in operation and use, and all three models weigh 7 pounds (bare) and measure 38.5" in overall length. The SS and C feature a better defined pistol grip with a black cap, fluted comb, and rubber butt pad. All models now come with checkered stocks, Marlin's tough Mar-Shield stock finish, and bases for quick-detachable sling swivels.
The 336SS wears a Weaver Classic V-3 1-3x scope and the 336A wears a Weaver K4 fixed power scope. The 336C relies on its standard iron sights. The SS and A models are chambered exclusively for the .30-30 Winchester cartridge, while the 336C is available in .30-30 and .35 Remington. Our 336C is chambered for the latter brush busting caliber.
Lever action carbines like the 336 are, of course, famous for use in heavy cover. They point and swing as well as or better than any other type of rifle, and the lever action allows fast follow-up shots. Because the .30-30 and .35 Rem. cartridges offer good killing power combined with moderate recoil that makes good shot placement relatively easy, repeat shots should not be required if the hunter does his or her job.
A standard 150 grain .30-30 factory load has an advertised MV of 2390 fps and ME of 1902 ft. lbs. from a 24" test barrel. Unfortunately, a more realistic velocity from a 20" carbine length barrel is probably around 2300 fps or less. It is, never the less, a very effective deer cartridge to over 200 yards.
The 200 grain .35 Remington factory load has an advertised MV of 2080 fps and ME of 1921 fps. Its MPBR is 180 yards from a rifle with iron sights.
The flat receiver, compact 38.5" overall length, hammer block crossbolt safety, and exposed hammer made these rifles excellent choices as a "ready" rifle in the truck. Completely unloading a 336 at the end of the day, however, is somewhat of a chore. Cartridges must be individually cycled through the action and ejected. The crossbolt safety included on later model Marlin's makes this procedure completely safe, but the ejected cartridges must still be gathered up.
When actually hunting we relied on the hammer's safety notch, leaving the hammer block safety in the "fire" position. The hammer can be cocked in utter silence, an advantage over all of the bolt action rifles.
I have never had a rust problem with a blued rifle, even hunting in rainy Western Oregon. However, there is no doubt that when the weather turned inclement the 336SS, along with the stainless Ruger K1-A, were our hands down favorite choices.
Hunt for a while with a Marlin 336 and it is easy to understand why this has been such a popular deer rifle for so long. The full length magazine tube under the barrel adds weight where it counts the most, improving accuracy when shooting from a stand or over shooting sticks and smoothing the swing on running game. It does everything well, and the stainless steel version is extremely rust resistant, giving it a slight advantage over blued steel lever actions. Marlin 336A/336C Final scores: A- (Excellent); Marlin 336SS Final score: A (Excellent).
Marlin Models 336XLR and 308MXLR
The Marlin 336XLR and 308MXLR are rifle versions of the basic 336 lever action. The are identical except the caliber; the 336XLR is chambered for .30-30, while the 308MXLR is chambered for the .308 Marlin. These rifles feature a stainless steel barreled action, fluted bolt, Ballard rifling, 24" barrel and half magazine. The XLR's are designed specifically with Hornady LeverEvolution ammunition in mind and are highly accruate rifles.
The XLR's checkered, grey/black laminated hardwood stock is similar in design to that of the 336A and incorporates a deluxe recoil pad. There is no front barrel band to potentially degrade accuracy. Like other lever action rifles, there is no bolt handle protruding from the side of the receiver to dig into the ribs or catch on things, a definite plus for carrying in the field.
The XLR's are the same in operation and use as any other Marlin 336 lever gun. They weigh about 8 pounds with a Bushnell Legend 2-7x32mm scope and measures 42.5" in overall length. The barrel is fitted with traditional semi-buckhorn iron sights.
The greater overall length degrades the XLR's utility as a "ready" rifle in the truck, but the longer barrel makes them superior to carbines for use from a rest. As with any Marlin lever action, completely unloading the rifle at the end of the day is something of a chore. Cartridges must be individually cycled through the action and ejected. The crossbolt safety makes this procedure completely safe.
The Marlin XLR rifle's do everything well and Hornady LEVERevolution ammunition extends the useful range of the .30-30 cartridge. The .308 Marlin cartridge is the rimmed, lever action equivalent of the .308 Winchester. The stainless steel construction of these Marlin XLR rifles gives them an advantage over more traditional blued steel lever action rifles, while their excellent accuracy and relatively flat trajectory make them equal to most bolt action rifles in these areas. Final score: B+ (Very Good).
Remington Model 700 CDL SF
The Remington 700 action is perhaps the best known action in North America to today's hunters. It is a Mauser 98 pattern action extensively modified for inexpensive mass production. It locks by means of two front locking lugs and cocks on opening, which requires a conventional 90-degree bolt rotation. The receiver is round and milled from bar stock. The recoil lug is a thick steel washer trapped between the barrel and receiver. Features include a circlip extractor in the bolt face and a plunger ejector, both located in the recessed bolt face.
The oval bolt knob is attractively checkered on both sides for a secure grip. The 700's two position safety leaves the bolt unlocked when in the "safe" position, allowing the chambered cartridge to be removed safely. It is simple and easy to use, one of our favorite bolt action safeties.
The CDL's handsome stock is conservatively shaped and handles recoil well. Remington has been getting the stock design of Model 700 rifles "right" since the beginning.
The CDL SF is an upscale version of the basic Model 700 and it boasts such refinements as a cut checkered walnut stock with cheekpiece and black forend tip, stainless steel barreled action, fluted 24" barrel, hinged magazine floor plate and detachable sling swivels. It is a good looking rifle.
The Model 700 in its various incarnations is available in a myriad of deer hunting and combination CXP2/CXP3 calibers too long to attempt to list here. This particular Model 700 was purchased in .260 Remington caliber as a general purpose CXP2 class game rifle (not specifically as a deer rifle), a role that it fulfills nicely. It wears a Sightron SII Big Sky 3-10x42mm scope and has a "clean" barrel (no iron sights). This scope is larger than necessary for most deer hunting, but an excellent choice for hunting antelope, sheep and goats while remaining acceptable for deer hunting. It is a good choice for a general purpose CXP2 game rifle.
For hunting most CXP2 game with a .260 rifle, a load using a 140 grain spitzer bullet is a good, versatile choice. This particular rifle is sighted-in for the Remington Premium factory load using a 140 grain Bonded Core-Lokt bullet. This is also a satisfactory black bear load, should the opportunity be presented.
Given that it is a bolt action with a 24" barrel, the Remington Model 700 CDL SF is not a short rifle. However, its medium weight and slender design make it easier to carry in the field than many other rifles of similar length. Its size makes it very good for use over shooting sticks or when shooting from a rest and, of course, the 24" barrel allows ammunition a chance to achieve its full catalog velocity.
The 700's action features a reasonably large loading port. This, in addition to its hinged magazine floor plate, make it relatively easy to load and unload when traveling from location to location in a vehicle.
This rifle is a bit too long to make an ideal deer rifle, but it is acceptable and good looking to boot. Its stainless steel barreled action and durable synthetic stock finish make it a good choice for hunting in inclement weather. Final score: C+ (Above average).
Remington Model 798
This is a high class, but standard grade, combination deer/elk rifle. The Mauser 98 action, on which this import is based, is the seminal "fully developed" bolt action. It locks by means of two front locking lugs and cocks on opening, which requires a conventional 90 degree bolt rotation. Other features include a full length extractor for controlled feed, receiver mounted ejector, adjustable trigger, hinged magazine floorplate, and all steel construction. This 798 wears a Leupold VX-I 2-7x33mm scope and has a "clean" 24" barrel (no iron sights).
The Model 798 is available in deer hunting and combination CXP2/CXP3 calibers that include .243 Winchester, .270 Win., 7mm Rem. Mag., .308 Win., and .300 Win. Magnum. It features a 24" barrel for full velocity and a brown laminated hardwood stock with a moderate Monte Carlo comb that looks nearly identical to that on late model Model 700 ADL rifles. This stock handles recoil well, a good thing since it is a .30-06 rifle.
For deer hunting with any .30-06 rifle a load using a 150 grain soft point spitzer bullet is a good choice for quick kills. This is also an satisfactory black bear load, should the opportunity present itself.
The Remington Model 798 is not a compact rifle. It weights over 9 pounds with a scope and sling and measures 42.25" in overall length. Its weight makes it very good for use on stand and when shooting over sticks or a rest.
The round bolt knob is flattened and checkered on the side facing the stock for extra clearance. The bolt knob is easy to grasp and equally easy on the hand when operated quickly, despite the checkering. The 798's two position sliding safety leaves the bolt unlocked when on, allowing the chambered cartridge to be removed with the safety on. It is relatively stiff and noisy when released.
The 798's Mauser pattern action features a large loading port and a hinged magazine floor plate. It is an easy rifle to load and unload when traveling from location to location.
The .30-06 cartridge kicks pretty hard, so it is not well adapted to lightweight rifles. This rifle was purchased as an all-around (CXP2 and CXP3 class game) rifle, a role that it fulfills nicely. It is a bit long and heavy for a deer rifle, keeping it in the average class, but its superior Mauser 98 style action earns it a "plus." If this article were specifically about all-around rifles, rather than deer rifles, the Remington Model 798 would score a full grade higher. Final score: C+ (Above average).
Ruger No. 1B Standard Rifle
This is the Standard model among Ruger falling block, single shot rifles. It was purchased in 6mm Remington caliber as a dual purpose rifle for varmints and CXP2 game and is probably the most representative such rifle in this comparison. Like every Ruger No. 1 we have seen, its quality and workmanship are excellent.
The No. 1B comes with a 26" barrel and weighs about 9-1/4 pounds complete with a Leupold VX-III 3.5-10x40mm scope, so it is no lightweight. Despite its weight, it carries and handles well.
This is partly due to good ergonomics, in particular the flat, slender receiver without a protruding bolt handle. And it is partly the fact that the falling block action makes the No. 1 about 4 1/2 inches shorter than a standard length Ruger M77 bolt action rifle with the same length barrel. Even with its 26" barrel, the No. 1 is only 42 1/4" in overall length, about the same as a bolt action rifle with a 22" barrel.
The No. 1B is a good stalking rifle. Its tang mounted two-position safety is the easiest type of all to operate quickly.
Its flat receiver makes the No. 1B physically acceptable as the "ready" rifle in a vehicle, and its fast single cartridge loading means that it can be carried empty and still gotten into action with dispatch. You have to be mindful of its long barrel, however, when removing it from the vehicle.
The 1B's weight, coupled with its 26" barrel and modest overall length, makes it an excellent rifle for use from an impromptu stand. It is one of the best rifles in the group for the purpose. Other available deer calibers include .243 Win., .25-06, .270 Win., .270 Wby. Mag., 7mm Rem. Mag, .30-06, .308 Win, .300 Win. Mag. and .300 Wby. Mag.
The substantial weight and long barrel make the No. 1B exceptionally steady when fired from a rest or shooting sticks, and its weight also helps to ameliorate the effects of recoil. Recoil is in any case light from a 9.25 pound, 6mm rifle shooting 100 grain factory loads.
A dual purpose hunting rifle is always a compromise. The result is never the best rifle for either single purpose (like deer hunting), but it should be acceptable for use on everything from ground hogs to mule deer under a wide range of conditions. The No. 1B fulfills that mission. Final score: C+ (Above average).
Ruger No. K1-A Lightweight Sporter
This is a limited production, stainless steel version of the standard Ruger No. 1-A Light Sporter, a falling block, single shot rifle. These K1-A rifles were built exclusively for Lipsey's Inc., a big Ruger distributor located in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Except for a stainless steel barreled action, they are identical to a standard (blued steel) Ruger No. 1-A rifle in all respects. The K1-A's quality and workmanship are excellent and this particular example has a nicely figured walnut stock.
The No. 1-A comes with a 22" barrel and weighs about 8.25 pounds complete with a Bushnell Elite 3200 2-7x scope and mount, which makes it a standard weight rifle. However, due to it's short overall length of just 38.25", it handles very fast. The falling block action makes the No. 1 about the same length as a traditional lever action rifle with a 20" barrel, or the Ruger M77RSI with its 18.5" barrel. The No. 1A is 4.5 inches shorter than a standard length Ruger M77 bolt action rifle with a 22" barrel, a tremendous advantage for a woods or mountain rifle.
Its flat receiver sans bolt handle and short overall length makes the No. 1-A ideal as the "ready" rifle in a vehicle, easy to stow and fast to get into action. Its single cartridge loading means that it can be carried empty and still gotten into action with dispatch. The best of all possible worlds for a car rifle.
The No. 1's simple, two position, sliding safety is mounted on the tang. This is the fastest and most convenient location for a safety.
The K1-A is a very good stalking rifle. Its short falling block action and flat receiver make it exceptionally comfortably to carry in the hand or slung over either shoulder, barrel down or up. Only its low rate of fire and the fact that it is a standard weight rifle kept it from scoring top marks as a still hunting rifle.
On the other hand, the 1-A's average weight and 22" barrel make it a good rifle for use from an impromptu stand. It's weight also helps to steady the K1-A when fired from a rest or shooting sticks and reduces the effect of recoil.
Standard Ruger No. 1-A rifles are chambered for several useful deer calibers including .243 Win., .270 Win., 7x57, and .30-06 Springfield. Our K1-A is chambered for the .257 Roberts cartridge, an excellent deer and mountain rifle cartridge that combines adequate killing power for CXP2 game, a 277 yard MPBR (shooting a 115 grain Ballistic Tip bullet at a MV of 2800 fps), and light recoil.
The short, handy Ruger No. K1-A model scored near the top as a still hunting rifle, weighs enough to be steady from a rest and proved to be the ideal "ready" rifle in a vehicle. Overall, it offers an excellent blend of features. Its weather resistant stainless steel construction further enhances its appeal and puts this rifle at the top of the deer rifle field. The standard blued version of the Ruger No. 1A would score an A-, while the final score for the stainless K1A is: A (Excellent).
Ruger M77RSI International
This particular bolt action rifle has been a faithful hunting companion for many years. It is a short barreled (18.5") version of the regular Model 77 action that comes with a full length Mannlicher stock. Weight, with scope, is about 8 pounds. Its overall quality and workmanship are good. Its short action and short barrel make it the easiest carrying and fastest handling of the bolt action rifles, at least for the first shot. Its Leupold 2-7x Compact scope is a good choice for deer and general purpose hunting.
The conventional two locking lug Mauser pattern action with its 90 degree bolt lift and smooth, round bolt knob leaves it in a virtual tie with the Winchester Model 70 for follow-up shots. These trail the Weatherby Mark V and Browning A-Bolt II, and all of the bolt actions trail the lever actions in this category.
On the other hand, the Ruger's generous loading port and hinged magazine floorplate make it simple to load and unload. This action clearly shows the influence of the Mauser 98 and pre-1964 Winchester Model 70, which served as inspiration for much of the Ruger's design.
This M77RSI is chambered for the .308 Winchester, an excellent all-around cartridge, but the M77RSI's short barrel exacts a considerable ballistic price. Still, our standard blacktail deer handload drives a 150 grain spitzer bullet at a chronographed MV of 2600 fps for a MPBR of 243 yards. The Sierra GameKing bullet kills deer like lighting at woods ranges. If .308 is not your cup of tea, the M77RSI is also available in .243 Win., .270 Win., and .30-06 Spfd.
The Ruger International proved to be the best of our bolt action rifle for still hunting. It can be carried slung over either shoulder, barrel up or down, and gotten into action with dispatch. Its short barrel does not catch on brush and allows the hunter to slip with relative ease through heavy cover. Only the lever action carbines and Ruger No. 1A are better stalking rifles.
The other bolt action rifles probably have more or less of an advantage when shooting from a stand, as they have longer barrels for better stability and higher velocity. Still, it is not particularly difficult to shoot the little Ruger from a rest or shooting sticks.
On the other hand, the M77RSI is the only bolt action that is truly acceptable as a "ready" rifle inside of a vehicle. Its compactness (overall length is only about 38.5") really makes a difference here. So does the ease with which a cartridge can be removed from the chamber and reinserted into the magazine. Then just press down the cartridges in the loaded magazine and close the bolt on the empty chamber, and away you go. Final score: B+ (Very Good).
Weatherby Mark V Deluxe (also Mark V Sporter)
The Weatherby Mark V Deluxe has been around for a long time and is billed as "Americas finest hunting rifle" and "the world's strongest bolt action." Its quality and workmanship are excellent. This particular .257 Wby. Mag. rifle wears a Sightron SIII 3.5-10x44mm scope and has a 24" barrel, 2" shorter than current production, so it is a little handier to carry in the field. The price for this added convenience is reduced velocity, but it still boasts a MV of about 3200 fps from its 24" barrel with a 120 grain bullet and a MPBR of 309 yards. This load is deadly on deer and antelope.
A less expensive Weatherby Mark V model similar to the Deluxe is the Sporter, a slightly lighter (8 pounds bare) version available in 7 magnum calibers from .257 Wby. Mag. to .340 Wby Mag. The Sporter's barreled action is basically identical to the Deluxe, but it is stocked in a plainer grade of walnut. The comments you read here will also apply to the Mark V Sporter.
The Weatherby Mark V Deluxe is a big rifle. It weighs about 8-1/2 pounds bare (9-1/2 pounds with scope) and measures 44-5/8" long. However, it is so well balanced that it feels smaller than it really is.
The pistol grip's slender wrist and the forearm's three dimension taper contribute to the rifle's almost delicate feel, while the cast-off designed into the buttstock makes it exceptionally fast to mount. Speed also carries over to the design of the action. The smooth, round bolt knob is easy to grasp and equally easy on the hand when operated quickly, unlike checkered bolt knobs. The ultra smooth Weatherby Mark V action, with its short 54 degree bolt lift, is just about the fastest bolt action on the market for repeat shots. Since it is chambered for Weatherby Magnum cartridges, repeat shots are seldom required.
Weatherby's two position safety locks the bolt closed in the "safe" position, to prevent inadvertent opening of the action in the field. It is the quietest of all the bolt action rifles' safeties to release when the time comes to shoot.
Like the Vanguard, Winchester Model 70 and Ruger M77, the Mark V action features a large loading port and a hinged magazine floor plate. It is an easy rifle to load and unload. The Weatherby's plunger ejector throws cartridges forcefully from the chamber.
It is a surprisingly comfortable still hunting or stalking rifle. The Weatherby's excellent accuracy, extra weight and flat shooting cartridge make it among the best of the bunch for use on stand or when shooting from a rest.
The Mark V rifle is optimized for magnum cartridges and it is about as good as it gets for its intended purpose. This .257 Mark V was purchased specifically as a long range rifle for CXP2 game, a role that it fulfills extremely well. If this article were about long range hunting rifles, rather than typical deer rifles, the Mark V Deluxe would score a full grade higher. Final score: C+ (Above Average).
Weatherby Vanguard Deluxe (also Vanguard Sporter)
This 7mm Rem. Magnum rifle is representative of bolt action combination deer/elk rifles. The Weatherby Vanguard has been around for a long time and its Howa action is fully proven. This example is the Deluxe model and the quality and workmanship are excellent, similar to a Weatherby Mark V Deluxe. It wears a Sightron SII 3-9x42mm scope and has a 24" barrel without iron sights. One less thing to catch in the brush.
Another Weatherby Vanguard model similar to the Deluxe is the Sporter, a slightly lighter (7.75 pounds bare) version available in 10 deer busting calibers from .243 Winchester to .300 Weatherby Magnum. The Vanguard Sporter also features a 24" barrel and a walnut stock nearly identical in shape the the VGX Deluxe and Mark V, so the comments you read here will also apply to the Vanguard Sporter.
The Weatherby Vanguard VGX Deluxe is a big rifle, similar in size, weight, and handling qualities to the the Weatherby Mark V Deluxe. It weighs about 9 pounds with a scope and measures 44.5" overall, but it is so well balanced that it feels smaller. The operation of its standard two lug bolt requires a 90-degree rotation and is not quite as smooth or fast as the Mark V (no standard bolt action rifle is). The Vanguard's weight and flat shooting cartridge make it very good for use on stand and when shooting over sticks or a rest.
The pistol grip's slender wrist and the forearm's three dimension taper contribute to the rifle's excellent feel. The bolt knob is easy to grasp and equally easy on the hand when operated quickly, despite a ring of light checkering. The Vanguard's two position safety locks the bolt closed in the "safe" position, to prevent inadvertent opening of the action in the field. It is positive and easy to release when the time comes to shoot.
The Vanguard action features a large loading port and a hinged magazine floor plate. It is an easy rifle to load and unload when traveling from location to location. In that regard, all it really lacks is a fixed ejector. The Vanguard's plunger ejector, located in the bolt face, throws cartridges forcefully from the chamber no matter how slowly the bolt is withdrawn. Plunger ejectors are, however, extremely reliable.
The 7mm Magnum cartridge is a high velocity number and kicks pretty hard, so it is not well adapted to lightweight rifles, or those that have barrels less than 24" in length. The Vanguard rifle was designed by Weatherby and incorporates many of the lessons learned in the development of the famous Mark V. The Weatherby stock design handles magnum recoil very well. This particular Vanguard was purchased as an all-around (CXP2 and CXP3 class game) rifle, a role that it fulfills nicely. If this article were specifically about all-around rifles, rather than blacktail deer rifles, the Vanguard Deluxe would score a full grade higher. Final score: C+ (Above average).
Weatherby Vanguard SUB-MOA
The Weatherby Vanguard SUB-MOA is, as the name implies, a super-accurate version of their Vanguard rifle. The Weatherby Vanguard SUB-MOA is available in Matte blue finish with a tan composite stock or with a stainless steel barreled action in a black composite stock. Ours is the latter version. It wears a Simmons Master Series Pro Hunter 3-10x44mm scope and has a 24" barrel sans iron sights.
Our SUB-MOA is chambered for the .270 Winchester cartridge. For deer hunting, a load using a 130 grain soft point bullet is a good choice. Typical catalog ballistics call for a 130 grain bullet at a MV of 3060 fps with ME of 2702 ft. lbs. This load will put down deer with authority. Accuracy in this particular rifle is exceptional. In fact, all of the factory loaded ammunition we tried in the SUB-MOA (and we tried 130, 140, and 150 grain bullets) shot exceptionally well. This is a rifle that truly lives up to its name and, on average, it is the most accurate rifle included in this article.
The Weatherby Vanguard SUB-MOA is a big rifle, similar in size, weight, and handling qualities to the Weatherby Mark V Deluxe and Vanguard Deluxe. It weighs about 7.75 pounds empty (9 pounds with a scope) and measures 44.5" in overall length, but it is so well balanced that it feels smaller. Magazine capacity is five .270 Win. cartridges. The operation of its standard two lug bolt requires a 90 degree rotation and is not quite as fast as the Mark V, but it is very good. The SUB-MOA's weight and flattened forend bottom make it very good for use on stand and when shooting over a rest. As a long range deer rifle it would be hard to beat.
The composite stock is of typical Weatherby style. The pistol grip's slender wrist and the forearm's three dimension taper contribute to the rifle's excellent feel. The bolt knob is easy to grasp and equally easy on the hand when operated. The Vanguard's two position safety locks the bolt closed in the "safe" position, to prevent inadvertent opening of the action in the field. It is positive and easy to release, but not as quiet as the Mark V safety when the time comes to shoot. The SUB-MOA is a better still hunting rifle than its size and weight might indicate.
The super accurate Vanguard is not, however, well adapted to the role of "ready rifle" in a vehicle. Its substantial stock, long action and long barrel simply make it too cumbersome in that role.
The .270 Winchester cartridge is a high velocity round, so the SUB-MOA's 24" barrel is necessary to achieve full velocity. Like all Weatherby rifles, the SUB-MOA incorporates the lessons learned over the years in the development of high performance rifles. The Weatherby stock design handles recoil very well. Like the other Weatherby rifles included here, the Vanguard SUB-MOA was purchased as an all-around rifle, a role that it fulfills very well. If this article were specifically about all-around rifles, rather than deer rifles, the Vanguard SUB-MOA would score a full grade higher. Final score: C+ (Above average).
Winchester Model 70 Featherweight
The Model 70 Featherweight is one of the most famous bolt action hunting rifles of all time. In the field it quickly becomes apparent that the Model 70 Featherweight earned its enviable reputation.
Its moderate weight (about 8 pounds with scope), 22" barrel and between the hands balance allow it to handle about as well as a bolt action rifle can. Its well proportioned, classic style, pistol grip stock with slender schnable forend feels good and is easy to shoulder. The Model 70's quality and workmanship are good.
The Featherweight is not a burden to carry on a long stalk and it is reasonably steady when it comes time to shoot. It is an extremely versatile rifle, equally suited to still hunting or to use from a stand. A Weaver Classic V9 scope nicely complements our Featherweight's general purpose capabilities.
The 22" barrel provides decent ballistic performance with the standard cartridges best suited to this rifle. Speaking of cartridges, the 6.5x55 SE for which our Featherweight is chambered is an exceptional general purpose cartridge for hunting any and all CXP2 game. The 140 grain load we use has a MV of 2645 fps, a MPBR of 260 yards and plenty of penetration. Recoil is moderate and accuracy is very good.
The Model 70 is built on a conventional Mauser pattern bolt action with two front locking lugs and a 90-degree bolt lift. The knurled ring around the Model 70's bolt knob does not abrade the hand when the bolt is operated swiftly.
The large opening in the Model 70's receiver when the bolt is drawn back makes loading cartridges into the magazine easy and the hinged magazine floorplate makes unloading at the end of the day a snap. The controlled feed and fixed extractor also contribute to convenient unloading, as the bolt can be opened gently and the chambered cartridge deposited neatly to hand. The three position wing safety allows extra safe unloading. We are in and out of vehicles a lot, having to load and unload rifles, so these features are particularly noticeable.
The standard .24 and .25 caliber deer cartridges (such as the .243 Win. and .257 Roberts) can be used in rifles weighing about 1/2 pound less than the Model 70 Featherweight, while the magnums deserve a heavier rifle with a longer barrel. However, the Featherweight is about as good as bolt action hunting rifles get for cartridges ranging from the .25-06 to the .30-06. Because of its many positive features and refinements, it remains the epitome of "the rifleman's rifle." Final score: B (Good).
Winchester Model 70 Super Grade and Sporter
These are the new FN/Winchester Model 70's with the upgraded, adjustable MOA trigger system of which Winchester and Browning are justifiably proud. The Super Grade is a full size Model 70 and the most deluxe version offered. Super Grade rifles are supplied with Grade IV, full fancy, black walnut stocks that incorporate a shadow line cheekpiece, wrap around cut checkering, ebony forend tip and recessed sling swivel bases. The one-piece bottom iron and hinged magazine floorplate are steel. The steel crossbolt in the stock is engraved. The hammer forged barrel comes with a recessed target crown. Super Grade rifles come with highly polished and luster blued metal surfaces. The Super Grade is the top of the Model 70 line.
The Sporter is stocked in standard grade black walnut and is similar in style and weight to the Super Grade, but without the deluxe touches. Its cheekpiece is the standard variety, but equally functional. There is no ebony forend tip, the detachable scope bases are surface mounted and the metal finish is Winchester's standard, polished, hot bluing. The bottom iron and hinged magazine floorplate are aluminum alloy. Like the Super Grade, the Sporter comes with a Pachmayr Decelerator recoil pad and its free floated barrel has a recessed target crown. The Sporter and Super Grade are both nice rifles and the two grades are equally useful in the field. Functionally, the Super Grade and Sporter can be considered together, although the Sporter weighs about 3/4 pound less than the Super Grade in any given caliber.
These Model 70's are supplied with 24" barrels in standard and WSM calibers and 26" barrels in belted magnum calibers. Their well proportioned, classic style, pistol grip stocks feels good in the hands and are easy to shoulder. The new Model 70's quality and workmanship are the best ever.
They are more of a burden to carry on a long stalk than the Featherweight, but are steadier when it comes time to shoot, particularly from unsupported positions. These are classic all-around rifles in appropriate calibers.
The 24" barrels provides full catalog performance with standard and WSM cartridges. Our Super Grade is chambered for the .30-06 and its extra weight helps moderate the kick of this powerful cartridge. Accuracy is very good.
All Model 70's are built on the same Mauser pattern bolt action with two front locking lugs and a 90-degree bolt lift. The large opening in the Model 70's receiver when the bolt is drawn back makes loading cartridges into the magazine easy and the hinged magazine floorplate makes unloading at the end of the day a snap. The controlled feed and fixed extractor also contribute to convenient unloading, as the bolt can be opened gently and the chambered cartridge deposited neatly to hand. The three position wing safety allows extra safe unloading.
For deer hunting, these standard size and weight Model 70's score about the same as the Weatherby Mark V and Weatherby Vanguard Deluxe and Sporter bolt actions. Final score: C+ (Above Average).
Winchester Model 94 Carbine
This pre-'64 version of the all-time most popular deer hunting rifle wears a Leupold M8-2.5x IER "scout" scope mounted just forward of the receiver. This arrangement seems to me to be the best way to scope a top eject lever action Model 94, and it works fine. Newer "angle-eject" Model 94 lever actions can wear their scopes in the preferred location on top of the receiver.
As a standard Model 94 carbine (20" barrel), this rifle is the forerunner of the last generation of Model 94 angle-eject rifles and you would have to look closely to tell the difference. The straight grip walnut stock, full length tubular magazine, and outstanding balance and handling qualities are the same. The quality and workmanship of this pre-'64 are very good.
The .30-30 Winchester cartridge is one of the greatest deer rounds ever designed, a near perfect balance of power and recoil. Model 94's are also found in .25-35, .32 Winchester Special and .38-55, good deer cartridges in their own right.
The Winchester 94 and Marlin 336 carbines with 20" barrels have similar strengths and weaknesses. However, there are some differences and they are worth mentioning.
The Winchester is about 3/4 pound lighter than the Marlin (only 6.25 pounds catalog weight and probably about 7 pounds with EER scope and mount). Its straight hand stock and generally more slender lines (the open top receiver contributes to this) makes it even handier than the Marlin to carry when still hunting. The Model 94 is the best stalking rifle included in this article and probably the best anywhere. However, the Marlin comes with sling swivel bases, an important feature to me if I have to hike any distance, and the Winchester does not. (After market sling swivels can, of course, be added.)
The Marlin and the Winchester feel different in use, primarily due to the Marlin's extra weight, pistol grip stock and thicker forearm. The Marlin 336 is one of the world's best handling rifles, particularly on running game, but to me the Winchester 94 is the best. The difference is not great, but it is there. The mechanical operation and follow-up shot speed of the two actions is similar; both are traditional lever action rifles and much faster to cycle than any bolt action.
Pre-'64 Model 94's rely on the hammer's safety notch to prevent an accidental discharge when carried with the chamber loaded. The latest versions of the angle-eject Model 94 have an unobtrusive sliding tang safety in addition to a hammer safety notch. We judged this more convenient (but not as strong) as the Marlin's crossbolt hammer block safety.
When actually hunting with any Model 94, we rely on the hammer's safety notch, leaving the tang safety (if present) in the "fire" position. The hammer can be cocked in utter silence if the operator knows how, a minor advantage over all of the bolt action rifles. Loading and unloading are accomplished in the same manner with either a Marlin or a Winchester and magazine capacity is the same (6 rounds).
The Model 94 comes with a polished blue metal finish, as does a standard Marlin 336C. However, the Model 336SS is made largely of satin finished stainless steel, a more weather resistant material to be sure, and an advantage in inclement climates.
In summation, we rated the Model 94 Winchester functionally about a push with the blued steel versions of the Marlin 336, although the slightly slimmer Winchester with its walnut stock and better metal polish is the more attractive rifle. Final score: A- (Excellent).
Winchester Model 94 Sporter Rifle
This is one of the new, Miroku made, Model 94 angle-eject rifles. The quality and workmanship are excellent, better than all previous post-'64 Model 94's I have seen. Because these new Model 94's have the angle eject action, the receiver is drilled and tapped for conventional scope mounting. Ours wears a Leupold VX-3 1.5-5x20mm variable power scope.
The Sporter Rifle comes with a 24" half-round barrel, straight grip walnut stock, rifle style forend with a blued steel forend cap, cut checkering, crescent steel butt plate, full length tubular magazine and a high polished blued metal finish. Other features include round locking bolt trunions and reduced hammer drag to smooth the operation of the action, machined steel loading gate, adjustable rear sight, Marble gold bead front sight and a knurled hammer spur is included for scope use. The caliber of our rifle is .30-30 Winchester; also available in .38-55.
The 94 Sporter Rifle weighs 7-1/2 pounds empty, without a scope or mount. Overall length is 42.5", only 1/4" longer than a Model 70 Featherweight despite its 2" longer barrel. Like all Model 94's, sling swivels are not provided. Like other recent versions of the angle-eject Model 94, there is a sliding tang safety. The magazine capacity is eight cartridges, a lot of fire power!
The Model 94 Sporter comes with a highly polished blue metal finish and a satin stock finish. It is an exceptionally attractive rifle. It is also quite accurate and excellent over shooting sticks or for shooting from unsupported positions. Being as slender an any other Model 94, it feels great in the hands. However, due to its greater length and weight, it is not as handy as the carbines and more of a burden when still hunting or inside a vehicle.
In summation, we rate the Model 94 Sporter functionally about equal to the Marlin 336XLR, although the slimmer Winchester with its walnut stock and better metal polish is the more attractive rifle. Final score: B+ (Very Good).
While there are no absolutely perfect deer rifles, some came closer than others and a few came very close, indeed. All of the rifles listed here are fine if used within the capability of their cartridge and most can be had chambered for a variety of cartridges. Which is why there was not more emphasis on cartridges in this comparison.
Deer are light framed animals that do not require a great deal of killing power if the bullet is well placed. For that reason we tend to favor moderate calibers and the lighter, handier rifles and our final scores reflect that bias. When more killing power is needed the heavier rifles with longer barrels come into their own, but they tend to be overkill and overweight for deer hunting.
We have not owned and hunted with every make and model of deer rifle, but the rifles included in this article represent a reasonable cross section of available types. We hunt with several basic types of rifles: falling block single shot rifles and carbines, lever action rifles and carbines and bolt action rifles and carbines. Or, viewed a different way, an ultra-lightweight rifle (less than 7 pounds including scope and mount), lightweight rifles (less than 7.5 pounds), medium weight rifles (7.5-8.5 pounds) and heavy rifles (9 pounds or greater). We consider this a reasonably representative sample of deer rifles!
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