Compared: Elk Rifles in the Field
By the Guns and Shooting Online Staff
During elk season we use the same hunting strategy we use during deer season, essentially turning the season into a series of day or weekend hunts, each with a different rifle. This allows us to compare the strong and weak points of various elk rifles in the field.
Oregon is home for Roosevelt and Rocky Mountain elk. The former are found primarily along the coast and in the coastal foothills, while the latter are east of the Cascade summit. The Roosevelt elk is a large, heavy bodied elk; mature (6 point) males probably average 700 pounds on the hoof and 8 feet in length. The weight range is given as 600-1100 pounds, although bulls at the upper end of that range are very rare. Particularly during the hunting season, Roosevelt elk generally prefer the cover of the deep woods to open spaces.
Rocky Mountain elk are lighter than their Roosevelt cousins and usually inhabit more open (though wooded) country. Adult males probably average about 500 pounds on the hoof with 600 pound, 6 point bulls being fairly common. Very large individual animals may weigh 800 pounds.
Here at Guns and Shooting Online we are fortunate to own a number of rifles that can legitimately be used to hunt elk, most frequently in Oregon's Cascade Mountains. This is steep, forested country. It combines aspects of mountain hunting and woods hunting. Long range calibers such as the .270 Weatherby Magnum and short range numbers such the .45-70 are both appropriate, depending on the specific locale hunted.
Here are the elk rifles included in this comparison:
Our hunting technique is simple. Two to four hunters meet in the morning and finalize the day's hunting plan, assisted by highly detailed Forrest Service maps. We then drive into the Cascades. Once in the general area we had selected, we follow gravel or unimproved dirt roads to the specific area(s) we have chosen to hunt. We sometimes hunt more than one area during any given day, using a pickup or SUV to transit from one hunting location to another.
Once we arrive at the selected hunting area, we proceeded on foot. Usually at least one hunter takes a stand, sometimes using a portable ground blind, while the others still hunted a predetermined area in the same general vicinity. Thus, all of our elk rifles are used at least from a stand as well as for still hunting (walking slowly and quietly in search of game).
Following are our impressions of some individual rifles. At the end of the comments about each rifle we have given them an overall "elk rifle score" based on an A (Excellent), B (Good), C (Satisfactory), D (Poor), and F (Failure) grading system, just like in school. Remember, the letter grades represent our subjective evaluation of these particular models as elk rifles. The scores would likely be different for some other application, or if the rifles were judged by different criteria.
Our rifles are always carefully sighted-in at the range before they go hunting. All of them proved more than sufficiently accurate to reliably kill an elk within their maximum point blank range (MPBR). That is all the accuracy necessary in an elk rifle. Accuracy was therefore not a factor in the final results. Most of these rifles are available in a variety of calibers more or less suitable for shooting elk, as well as other large game.
A good trigger pull is very helpful to shooting any rifle accurately and most of these rifles have satisfactory trigger mechanisms. The Ruger M77R Mk. II trigger became satisfactory after minor tuning, but the Browning BAR Mk. II has the sort of spongy, non-adjustable trigger pull typical of autoloading rifles.
Here are the elk hunting rifles, listed in alphabetical order.
Browning 1885 High Wall
The Browning 1885 High Wall is perhaps the most beautiful rifle in the group. It is a very high quality falling block, single shot rifle with an nicely figured walnut stock and forearm and a high luster blue job. The materials and workmanship are excellent throughout.
This is a 9.5 pound rifle (including scope and mount), with a heavy 28" octagon barrel that makes it muzzle heavy. It measures 44" in overall length. It wears a Redfield Widefield 2.5x fixed power scope that nicley suits the caliber and purpose of the rifle.
The Browning version of the High Wall is no longer offered, but essentially the same rifle is now offered under the Winchester name. Winchester and Browning are owned by the same holding company. Since its reintroduction under the Winchester name, the 1885 High Wall has been offered in elk calibers .30-06 Springfield and .270, 7mm, .300 and .325 WSM.
The killing power of the big .45 caliber, 350 grain Hornady RN bullet as handloaded here for a muzzle velocity (MV) of 2100 fps is unquestioned. This rifle is extremely accurate over its maximum point blank range (+/- 3") of 189 yards, probably the most consistently accurate rifle of the bunch.
The High Wall can be set to eject to the right, left, or not to eject at all; this rifle is set to eject to the right. Never the less, it was by far the slowest of all the rifles for a repeat shot. The fat, round nose bullets and the rifle's flat breech face combined to make rapid reloading a hit or miss proposition. On the other hand, its falling block action made this Browning very easy and safe to unload before piling back into the vehicle after a stalk.
Some of us right handed shooters prefer to carry hunting rifles slung muzzle down over our left shoulders. We have found that from this position they are faster to get into action. However, this put the muzzle of the High Wall's long barrel too close to the ground for comfort. We found it advisable to carry the High Wall slung muzzle up over the right shoulder, as soldiers carry rifles on parade.
Its weight made still hunting with the big Browning more of a chore than necessary. Although we lugged the High Wall a good distance, up and down hill, it was not our favorite rifle for the purpose.
On the other hand, when shooting from a rest the long, heavy rifle settled down on the target quickly and its inherent accuracy and steadiness inspired confidence. From a solid rest, the 1885's weight and heavy barrel are an asset.
Although it is an exceptionally accurate and very fine rifle, the length, weight and relatively short MPBR of the big bore Browning 1885 relegates it to the bottom of our list in this comparison. Final score: D (Poor).
Browning BAR Mk. II Safari Grade with BOSS
The Safari Grade BAR Mk. II is a big rifle. It weighs about 9 pounds 6 ounces with its Simmons Whitetail Expedition 1.5-6x scope and measures 45" in length from its rubber butt pad to the tip of its 24" BOSS equipped barrel. It was purchased primarily as a dangerous game rifle, where the quick second shot provided by its autoloading action might prove decisive and for that application it is unexcelled.
This rifle shoots exceptionally well with Remington Express factory loads using the 225 grain Core-Lokt bullet. This is an excellent elk load, so that is what we used in the BAR. The MV of that load is 2780 fps and the MPBR is 274 yards, so it will reach across a clear cut if necessary.
The BAR proved too long and heavy, in our estimation, to be an ideal elk rifle. On the other hand, a rifle firing a cartridge as powerful as the .338 Magnum has to be heavy to moderate the considerable recoil. (Sort of a Catch-22.) The BAR is quite accurate and from a solid rest it serves very well, but as a still hunting rifle its weight and bulk are a disadvantage. Another disadvantage is this rifle's rather poor trigger mechanism, the worst of the rifles compared here.
Slung over the shoulder the big autoloader should be carried barrel up. Carried muzzle down there is too much chance of jamming the muzzle into the ground.
The BAR's box magazine is attached to its swing open floorplate. This is released by a large catch located in front of the trigger guard. The magazine loading procedure is simple. The floorplate is swung open and three cartridges are pressed into the magazine. The floorplate is then closed. Pull the bolt fully rearward and then release it to chamber a cartridge.
Unloading is not quite as simple if a cartridge has been chambered. First, swing the floorplate open. Then use the bolt handle to pull the bolt fully rearward, ejecting the chambered cartridge. Unfortunately, the plunger ejector in the bolt face will throw the cartridge some distance unless you catch it in the air.
The box magazine may be detached from the floorplate and pocketed. It is not necessary to unload the magazine unless you want to. For transport to the next hunting area, we simply closed the bolt on the empty chamber, replaced the ejected cartridge in the magazine and then swung the floorplate shut. This leaves the magazine attached and fully loaded, but the rifle is completely safe. To get back into action, you need only to rack the action.
The safety is a button in the rear of the trigger guard that blocks the movement of the trigger. It is completely separate from the operation of the action; loading and unloading can be accomplished on "safe." This safety is positive, but not convenient to use quickly in the field.
On the plus side, the BAR's autoloading action offers the quickest possible follow-up shot and serves to significantly reduce the apparent recoil of the powerful .338 Magnum cartridge. Its accuracy and ballistics are excellent; we regard the .338 Win. Mag. as a superb Rocky Mountain elk cartridge. For those who want something less, the Safari grade BAR Mk. II is also available in other elk hunting calibers including .270 Win., 7mm Rem. Mag., .308 Win., .30-06 and .300 Win. Mag.
In summation, the Safari Grade BAR is akward to carry in the hand, on horseback, or even in a hunting vehicle. However, when the action starts it is hard to beat. The Lightweight Stalker version of the BAR, which is available in elk calibers from .270 Win. to .338 Win. Mag., might be a different story. It is about a pound lighter. Final score for the Safari Grade BAR Mk. II with BOSS: D+ (Poor).
Browning BLR Lightweight
The Browning BLR Lightweight is a carbine length (20" barrel in .358), rack and pinion operated, lever action rifle chambered for a number of powerful cartridges. Among the most appropriate of these for the short to medium range elk hunter is the .358 Winchester. As tested, our BLR weighed 7-3/4 pounds with scope and mount and measured 40" in overall length. Lever action operation means that it has a smooth receiver, comfortable to carry in the hand or slung over either shoulder, barrel up or down. This makes it an easy rifle to carry in the field, particularly on arduous hunts.
The Winchester .358 factory load advertises a 200 grain Silvertip bullet at a MV of 2490 fps and 2753 ft. lbs. ME. Specialty ammo makers offer a variety of other bullets. Our BLR prefers the S&S factory load using a 220 grain Speer Hot-Cor bullet and it shoots this load very accurately. This is an excellent elk load, so that is what we use in the BLR.
The BLR is a handy rifle to carry still hunting or to use from a tree stand or ground blind, where a long barrel may be inconvenient. Its action is exceptionally smooth and allows very quick follow-up shots. The trigger pull is considerably better than the BAR, but not as good as a typical Browning X-bolt rifle.
The trigger and trigger guard move with the lever when it is operated, so there is no chance of spearing your trigger finger when the lever is closed. The lever arc is shorter than the usual 90 degrees to speed cycling. The BLR action incorporates an external hammer, so there is no question whether it is cocked. This hammer has a very wide and comfortable thumb spur that is positioned low enough for use with a receiver mounted scope. Safety is by means of a conventional "quarter cock" hammer position.
The BLR's steel, detachable, four round box magazine drops free when the release is pressed. The release is located in front of the magazine well, secure and easy to operate. The magazine itself is easy to load and should be inserted with the bolt closed.
Unloading is as simple as removing the magazine and operating the action to eject the chambered round. To get back into action, you need only to reinsert the magazine and operate the lever to chamber a cartridge.
In summation, the Browning BLR lightweight is about as good an elk rifle as the woods hunter is going to find, portable, powerful, accurate and fast in action. There is even a Takedown BLR model that is ideal for the traveling hunter. Final score for the Browning BLR Lightweight: A (Excellent).
Browning/FN Safari Grade
This bolt action rifle was manufactured in the 1960's and is an African veteran. It has been there and done that. Like most such rifles, it came with iron sights. Now it would be pressed into service as an elk rifle. No one needs a .458 Magnum to kill elk and with full power loads the recoil is punishing. Loaded down for CXP2/CXP3 class game, it performed just fine.
Perhaps the most evident thing about the Browning/FN rifle is the craftsmanship that went into it. The fit and finish are impeccable, the action is slick and completely reliable, and the crisp trigger feels like a good trigger should. The smooth, round bolt knob is easy to grasp and operate quickly. The well shaped stock mounts quickly and handles recoil well. It is a confidence inspiring firearm.
The extractor is a claw in the bolt's front rim. Ejection is by means of a spring operated plunger in the bolt face, which throws emptys well clear of the rifle. The two position rocker safety is simple and quiet in operation, as befits a dangerous game rifle. It locks the bolt closed when in the "safe" position to prevent accidental opening of the action, a good feature on a dangerous game rifle.
Chuck Hawks wrote an article ("Compared: the .45-70 and .458 Win. Mag. for North American and European Hunting"), which you can find on the Rifle Cartridge Page, suggesting reduced loads to "civilize" the .458 Magnum, and that is exactly the sort of load we chose for elk hunting. We used SR 4759 powder to drive a 400 grain Speer JSP bullet at a MV of 1400 fps, essentially duplicating the performance of a standard velocity .45-70 load. Not only does this reduce recoil to moderate levels, it also proved to be exceptionally accurate at the range, delivering MOA groups at 100 yards. This is an excellent brush cartridge, but a long range load it is not (MPBR 136 yards), so we used it to still-hunt the thickets in preference to glassing the clear cuts. If more steam is desired, a 350 grain bullet can be driven to a MV of around 2100 fps before recoil gets completely out of hand.
The old Browning is not particularly long or heavy as safari rifles go; in fact, it is something of a lightweight .458 Mag. It wears a 24" barrel and weighs about 9 pounds with its 1-4x Leupold scope. This made it no more of a burden than the Weatherby bolt actions and less of a burden than the Browning High Wall and Safari Grade BAR rifles.
It was as easy to get in and out of the back of the SUV as any other bolt action rifle with a 24" barrel. Its hinged floor plate and traditional full length action made it easy to load and unload at our frequent stops. To unload only the chamber, open the bolt fully to eject the chambered cartridge, then put that cartridge back into the magazine. Use a thumb to press down the cartridges in the magazine so that the bolt can be slid forward over them, and closed on the empty chamber. The rifle is now completely safe, but can be returned to action simply by operating the bolt, chambering a cartridge. To fully unload the rifle, open the bolt, removing the chambered cartridge, and then swing open the floorplate, dumping the remaining cartridges out of the magazine.
The Browning's weight and inherent accuracy make it an excellent rifle for use from shooting sticks or from a stand. Unfortunately, the .458 cartridge, especially as handloaded, works against it here. This is basically a short range cartridge.
As a stalking rifle, the Safari Grade Browning must be one of the best .458's in the business. It is longer and heavier than the Ruger 77R or Remington Model 673, but no worse than most other magnum rifles.
It is perhaps unfair to compare this CXP4 class dangerous game rifle to normal elk rifles and the .458 elephant cartridge lacks the relatively flat trajectory of most smaller calibers. The final score reflects that, but the reality is that there is not a great deal of difference between the Browning/FN and the rifles that scored higher in this comparison. If you own a .458 similar to the Browning and you want to load it down for elk or deer hunting, you will not be at any great disadvantage in the woods. In camp, a .458 rifle is a real attention getter! Final score: C- (Below Average).
Kimber Model 84M Classic
Kimber added the fine .338 Federal cartridge to their nicely turned out, controlled feed, Model 84M bolt action rifle and thereby created one of the handiest of all bolt action elk rifles. 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 our 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. Among these cartridges the .338 Federal is the most powerful.
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 elk rifles on the planet. 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 and not particularly accurate, as modern rifles go. However, it is sufficiently accurate when used within the MPBR of the .338 Federal cartridge. Fortunately, most elk rifles are carried a lot and shot very little and elk are large animals.
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.
In .338 Federal caliber, bullets weighing between 200 and 225 grains are most appropriate for elk hunting. Among the current factory load offerings, the Federal Premium load using a 210 grain Nosler Partition bullet (SD .263) is the standout. This highly effective elk load produces a MV of 2630 fps and ME of 3225 ft. lbs. The maximum point blank range (+/- 3") is about 258 yards.
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 easiest of the rifles in this comparison to stow and to remove from the confines of a vehicle, surpassed only by the Marlin 444 and Ruger No. 1-S. 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 the hand.
The Kimber's excellent blend of positive features and powerful medium bore cartridge makes it a top contender in the great elk rifle sweepstakes. Final score: A- (Excellent).
Marlin Model 338MXLR
The 338 MXLR is the rifle version of the Marlin 336 action chambered for the new .338 Marlin Express cartridge. It features a stainless steel barreled action, fluted bolt, Ballard rifling, 24" barrel and half magazine. This is known to be the "accuracy" version of the 336, a reputation borne out when we reviewed the XLR series rifles for Guns and Shooting Online.
Like the other Marlin 336 rifles we own, the overall quality and workmanship of the MXLR are good. The checkered, grey/black laminated hardwood stock incorporates a deluxe recoil pad. There are no carbine style barrel bands 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 and fast follow-up shots are a given.
The Model 338 MXLR is the same in operation and use as any other Marlin 336 action-based rifle. It weighs about 8 pounds with a 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 MXLR's utility as a "ready" rifle in the truck, but its longer barrel makes it somewhat superior to the shorter MX version (22" barrel, blued steel finish) for use from a rest. As with any Marlin 336, 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 Hornady LeverEvolution 200 grain Flex-Tip bullet as factory loaded for the .338 Marlin Express cartridge has an advertised MV of 2565 fps and ME of 2921 ft. lbs. The MPBR (+/- 3") of this load is in the vicinity of 250 yards. Recoil is noticeably less than for a .338 Magnum, a big advantage over most elk rifles.
The Marlin 338 MXLR does everything well when used with Hornady LEVERevolution ammunition. Its stainless steel construction gives it an advantage over more traditional blued steel lever action rifles, while its excellent accuracy and relatively flat trajectory make it equal to most bolt action rifles. Compared to the Browning BLR Lightweight in .358, the Marlin .338 is sleeker and more traditional in appearance, shoots flatter and carries more cartridges. On the other hand it is longer, heavier, less convenient to load and unload, a little slower to operate and not as smooth. Final score: B+ (Very Good).
Marlin Model 444
The Marlin Model 444 is a big bore version of the Marlin 336 action chambered for the .444 Marlin cartridge. It features a blued steel barreled action, 22" barrel with Ballard riflilng, 5-shot tubular magazine and walnut stock and forend.
Like other Marlin lever action rifles, the overall quality and workmanship of the 444 are good. The stock's pistol grip and forend are checkered and incorporate a rubber butt pad. There are no carbine style barrel bands to potentially degrade accuracy. There is also no bolt handle protruding from the side of the receiver to dig into the ribs or catch on things, a very good thing. For those who want an even bigger bullet, the nearly identical Marlin Model 1895 rifle is available in calibers .45-70 and .450 Marlin.
The Model 444 weighs about 8 pounds with a Weaver K4 Classic scope and measures 40.5" in overall length. The barrel is fitted with semi-buckhorn iron sights for those who insist on doing things the hard way. A crossbolt safety at the rear of the receiver as well as a traditional "1/4 cock" hammer position can be used to prevent an accidental discharge while hunting.
This rifles short overall length makes it well suited for use as a "ready" rifle in a vehicle, as well as an excellent stalking rifle. Its flat receiver, moderate weight and 22" barrel make it a top choice as a companion on long hikes. Its medium weight allows it to be held relatively steady from unsupported positions or when shooting over sticks.
Like any traditional 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. However, the crossbolt safety makes this procedure completely safe.
Despite its name, the .444 Marlin cartridge actually uses .429" diameter bullets. There are three common factory loads offered in .444 Marlin. The Remington Express load uses a 240 grain bullet at a MV of 2350 fps. This is a devastating deer load, but the bullet lacks the necessary SD to make it a good elk projectile. Hornady offers two .444 factory loads, a LeverEvolution load and a Light Magnum load, both with 265 grain bullets. The Light Magnum version features a 265 grain Interlock bullet at a MV of 2335 fps with 3208 ft. lbs. of muzzle energy. Its trajectory gives it a MPBR of about 200 yards, but the big bullet sheds energy quickly. Keep your shots at mature bull elk to not much over 100 yards for best results. Recoil is reasonable, less than you might expect, particularly with Remington cartridges.
The Marlin 444 is a handy rifle that does everything well as long as ranges are kept fairly short. Final score: B (Good).
Remington Model 673 Guide Rifle
The bolt action Guide Rifle is moderate in weight (about 8.5 pounds with scope) and overall length (41 3/16"), and the powerful .350 Magnum cartridge will certainly do a bang-up job on elk. Adjustable iron sights are standard equipment. This rifle's quality and workmanship are about average for factory produced rifles in the 21st Century, but its ventilated rib barrel and two tone laminated wood stock set it apart. Other available calibers include 6.5mm Rem. Mag, .308 Win., and .300 Rem. SAUM.
The Guide Rifle is not burdensome to carry when still hunting, and it is steady when it comes time to shoot. It is short enough to be carried slung muzzle up or down. It is useful for both still hunting and shooting from a stand. Its greater than average recoil is the principle impediment to precise accuracy from shooting sticks or a rest, but its light, clean trigger (after adjustment) is an asset.
Compared to the other rifles used for still hunting, the 673 is easier to carry than the Browning High Wall, Browning/FN, BAR, Remington Model 798, Winchester Model 70 and the Weatherbys. The Model 673 and Ruger M77R are equal in length, weight, and caliber. Only the lightweight Kimber Classic is easier to carry on a long hike. These three rifles probably represent the best balance of size, weight and power among the bolt action rifles included in this comparison.
The 22" barrel provides decent ballistic performance with the .350 Magnum cartridge for which this rifle was designed. The Remington factory load, a 200 grain Core-Lokt PSP bullet at a MV of 2775 fps, is suitable for elk. It provides a MPBR (+/- 3") of around 260 yards and keeps recoil within tolerable limits. Accuracy in this particular rifle is good. The Leupold VX-II 1-4x scope worn by this rifle provides an exceptionally wide field of view and adequate magnification for shots out to 300 yards.
The Model 673 is based on the Model Seven bolt action and loads from the top, like any conventional bolt action rifle. However, its loading port is smaller than that of the Kimber, Ruger, Browning/FN, Winchester, Remington 798 or Weatherby bolt rifles, making loading slower and more troublesome. The hinged magazine floorplate makes unloading at the end of the day relatively easy, but the location of the Guide Rifle's floorplate release (a flush button directly in front of the trigger) is more difficult to manipulate than the others. On the other hand, it is also very unlikely to be hit accidentally. On balance, the 673 is a little more hassle to load and unload than the other bolt action rifles in this comparison, but not enough to be a serious impediment to its use.
Like all contemporary Remington bolt action rifles, this is a push feed design. The extractor is a spring steel circlip in the bolt's face that takes a rather small bite on the cartridge's rim. Ejection is by means of a spring operated plunger in the bolt face, which throws emptys well clear of the action. The fast and convenient Remington two position safety allows the bolt to be operated with the safety set, for extra safe unloading of the chambered round.
The bolt lift is approximately 90 degrees and the bolt raceway is not polished, so this was probably the slowest of the bolt action rifles to operate for a second shot. The checkered bolt knob looks good but does not feel as good in the hand as the smooth bolt knobs on the Browning, Weatherby, and Ruger rifles.
The Model 673's greatest asset is its excellent blend of size and power. An 8.5 pound rifle with a 22" barrel chambered for a powerful medium bore cartridge is potent elk medicine. Note, this model has been discontinued and replaced in the Remington line by a Model Seven CDL with a 20" barrel. Final score: B (Good).
Remington Model 798
This is a classy but standard grade combination deer/elk rifle. By which we mean that it is a superior barreled action in a utilitarian stock. The famous 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 elk hunting and combination CXP2/CXP3 calibers that include .270 Win., 7mm Rem. Mag., .308 Win., .30-06, 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 these are powerful calibers. For elk hunting with any .30-06 rifle a load using a 180 grain or heavier bullet is the usual choice.
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. For elk calibers, I would not want it lighter. Its weight and 24" barrel 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. This safety is relatively stiff and noisy when released, so do it cautiously.
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.
This rifle was purchased as an all-around (CXP2 and CXP3 class game) rifle, a role that it fulfills nicely. 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 .270 Winchester caliber as an all-around big game rifle for CXP2 and CXP3 class game. Its quality and workmanship are excellent, and this particular example has a nicely figured walnut stock.
The No. 1B comes with a 26" barrel and weighs about 9 1/4 pounds complete with a deluxe Weaver Grand Slam 3-10x scope, so it is no lightweight. In fact, it weighs approximately the same as the Weatherby Mark V. Like the Weatherby, it carries and handles better than its weight would suggest.
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.
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 No. 1's simple, two position, sliding safety is mounted on the tang. This is the fastest and most convenient location for a safety.
Despite its heavier than average weight, the No. 1B is a good stalking rifle, comfortable to carry. Its short falling block action and flat receiver allow it to be comfortably carried slung over either shoulder, barrel down or up in most circumstances. Only its weight keeps it from scoring higher marks as a still hunting rifle to be carried long distances.
The 1B's weight, coupled with its 26" barrel and average overall length, makes it an excellent rifle for use from an impromptu rest, especially in a long range caliber like .270 Winchester. Other available elk calibers include .270 Wby. Mag., 7mm Rem. Mag, .30-06, .308 Win, .300 Win. Mag, .300 Wby. Mag. and .338 Win. Mag. The substantial weight and long barrel make the No. 1B exceptionally steady when fired from a rest or shooting sticks and the weight also helps to ameliorate the effects of recoil.
Selecting an all-around hunting rifle is always a matter of compromise. The result is never the best rifle for any single purpose (like elk hunting), but it should be acceptable for use on everything from small antelope to elk under a wide range of conditions. The No. 1B fulfills that mission. Final score: B- (Good).
Ruger No. 1-S Medium Sporter
This is the medium weight version of the Ruger No. 1 falling block, single shot rifle. It is quite similar to the No. 1-A Light Sporter except for a heavier contour barrel, which is required by its bigger bore cartridges. The Ruger No. 1's quality and workmanship are generally excellent and this particular Medium Sporter has an exceptionally attractive walnut stock.
The No. 1-S comes with a 22" barrel and weighs about nine pounds complete with a Weaver 1.5-4.5x Classic Extreme scope in Ruger rings. That is about the right weight for a rifle chambered for a cartridge as powerful as the 9.3x74R. Due to it's short overall length of just 38.25", it handles very quickly for a nine pound rifle. The No. 1-S is 4.5 inches shorter than a standard length Ruger M77 bolt action rifle with a 22" barrel, a tremendous advantage in the woods.
Its flat receiver sans bolt handle and short overall length makes the No. 1-S 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 Medium Sporter's simple, two position, sliding safety is mounted on the tang. This is the fastest and most convenient location for a safety.
The No. 1-S is a very good stalking (still hunting) 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. This rifle's weight and 22" barrel also help to keep it steady when fired from shooting sticks or an impromptu stand.
Ruger No. 1-S rifles are chambered for only two cartridges, the 9.3x74R and .45-70. Both are classic old cartridges that are still going strong. Either is a good elk caliber within its MPBR, but the 9.3x74R is definitely the flatter shooting, harder hitting cartridge for use in an all-around medium bore rifle. That 9.3mm bullet measures .366" in diameter. In Africa, the reputation of the 9.3x74R even rivals that of the .375 H&H Magnum and it has been used for similar purposes for over 100 years. The most common 9.3x74R load for large game is a 286 grain bullet at a MV of 2360 fps with 3538 ft. lbs. of muzzle energy. The maximum point blank range (+/- 3") is about 225 yards. Recoil is right up there, about like the .338 Win. Mag. in a rifle of the same weight, but noticeably less than the kick of a .375 Magnum.
The short, handy Ruger No. 1-S scored well 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. The final score for the No. 1-S Medium Sporter is: A- (Excellent).
Ruger M77R Mk. II Standard
As its name indicates, this model was the standard version of the Ruger Model 77 Mk. II bolt action rifle until it was replaced by the M77 Hawkeye Standard. It came with a blued barreled action and a classic style walnut stock. Iron sights were not included. Weight, with scope and mount, is about 8.5 pounds.
The overall quality and workmanship are good. Its short action and 22" barrel make it (and the Remington 673) among the easiest carrying and fastest handling of the bolt action rifles in this comparison. Its Leupold VX-II 1-4x20mm scope has a tremendous field of view at the lower powers and is a good choice for hunting Roosevelt elk and other large game. Note that three of our elk rifles wear essentially the same model scope.
The conventional Mauser style action with its 90-degree bolt lift and smooth, round bolt knob is easy to operate. It is not as smooth as the Browning/FN and Weatherby Vanguard actions, but it is noticeably smoother to operate than the Remington 673. Unlike those actions, the Ruger features a full length Mauser-type extractor that takes a huge bite on the rim of the case for maximum extraction power. It also incorporates a receiver mounted blade ejector that makes it possible to gently deposit the extracted case or cartridge in the hand. Just operate the bolt smartly to fling the fired case a good distance from the rifle.
The safety is a three-position type at the right rear of the receiver. The fully rearward position is "safe" and also locks the bolt closed, the intermediate position is for loading/unloading and fully forward is "fire." The bolt release is conveniently located at the left rear of the receiver.
The Ruger's generous loading port and hinged magazine floorplate make it simple to load and unload, much like the Browning and Weatherby bolt rifles. This action clearly shows the influence of pre-1964 Winchester Model 70 and custom Mauser 98 rifles. The Ruger is, from a hunter's standpoint, one of the best designed bolt actions in this comparison.
The Ruger M77 Standard Rifle can be carried slung over either shoulder, barrel up or down, and gotten into action with dispatch. Its smooth 22" barrel does not tend catch on brush and allowed us to slip through heavy cover relatively easily. This rifle is about average to use from shooting sticks or a rest.
The .350 Rem. Mag. is an excellent elk cartridge. The Remington Express factory load with a 200 grain PSP Core-Lokt bullet that we used in this rifle will definitely get the job done if it finds a vital spot. The advertised ME of that load is 3419 ft. lbs.
Other potential elk cartridges available in the M77R include the .270 Win., .270 WSM, .280 Rem., 7mm WSM, 7mm SAUM, 7mm Rem. Mag., .308 Win., .30-06, .300 SAUM, .300 WSM, .300 Win. Mag., and .338 Win. Mag. Of these, the two medium bores are probably the most decisive elk cartridges. In either .338 or .350 Magnum the M77R is difficult to beat as a primary elk rifle.
The M77R's relative compactness makes it a little more convenient than the rifles with longer barrels when operating from the back of an SUV. The Ruger gets top marks for 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. The only real drawback is its five pound (stock) lawyer inspired trigger. Final score: B (Good).
Weatherby Mark V Deluxe
The Weatherby Mark V Deluxe has been around for a long time and is billed as "the world's strongest bolt action," due to its massive one-piece bolt with nine locking lugs. Its quality and workmanship are excellent. This particular .270 Wby. Mag. rifle wears a Nikon Buckmaster 3-9x scope and has a 26" barrel.
.270 Weatherby factory loads with 150 grain bullets boast a MV of 3245 fps, ME of 3507 ft. lbs., and a MPBR of 320 yards, making this the most potent long range rifle in our comparison. The Mark V Deluxe rifle is also available in Weatherby Magnum calibers from .257 to .460.
The Mark V Deluxe is a big rifle. It weighs about 9 1/2 pounds with scope and has an overall length of 46-5/8". But 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 this, 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.
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, Browning/FN 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 when traveling from location to location. The Mark V's plunger ejector throws fired brass well clear of the rifle when the bolt is pulled rearward.
The Weatherby Mark V is a surprisingly comfortable still hunting or stalking rifle, despite its 26" barrel and long action. Just keep the muzzle away from branches and out of the dirt. Its excellent accuracy, 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 that purpose. Final score: C+ (Above Average).
Weatherby Vanguard Deluxe
This magnum rifle is representative of combination deer/elk rifles. The Weatherby Vanguard has been around for a long time and its Howa bolt action is fully proven. This example is a VGX Deluxe model, and the quality and workmanship are excellent, similar to a Weatherby Mark V Deluxe. It wears a Weaver Grand Slam 3-10x40mm scope and has a 24" barrel without iron sights.
For elk hunting, a factory load or handload with a 154-160 grain bullet at a MV of about 2950-3000 fps is the usual recommendation. The MPBR of a Hornady 154 grain SP InterLock bullet at a MV of 3000 fps is 295 yards.
The Weatherby Vanguard Deluxe is a big rifle, similar in size to the the Weatherby Mark V Deluxe and Browning/FN Safari rifles. It weighs about 9 pounds with scope, but it is so well balanced that it feels smaller than it really is. It is noticeably less of a burden to carry than the Browning High Wall.
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.
Like the Mark V, Kimber, Ruger M77 and Browning/FN, 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. The Vanguard's plunger ejector throws cartridges forcefully from the chamber no matter how slowly the bolt is withdrawn. Plunger ejectors are, however, extremely reliable.
The 7mm Magnum cartridge burns a lot of powder, so it is not well adapted to rifles that are much lighter, or 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 rifle was purchased in 7mm Magnum caliber as an all-around rifle. New Vanguard rifles are available in elk calibers from .270 Winchester to .338 Win. Mag., and at very economical prices.
The Vanguard is a surprisingly good still hunting or stalking rifle. This Weatherby's excellent accuracy, weight and flat shooting cartridge make it very good for shooting from a rest. Only its two locking lug action with the requisite 90 degree bolt rotation placed it below the slightly smoother and faster Weatherby Mark V. Final score: C (Average).
Winchester Model 70 (Classic or Sporter)
This rifle is the standard blue/walnut Model 70. In 2012, it is called the "Sporter" but the model name has changed over the years. It was previously called the Classic and before that the Standard. Whatever you call it, the Model 70 is one of the most famous bolt action hunting rifles of all time.
Its moderate weight (about 8.75 pounds with 3-9x40mm scope) and good balance allow it to handle and perform about as well as a .338 Magnum bolt action rifle can. Its well proportioned, classic style, pistol grip stock feels good and is easy to shoulder. However, it is still a big rifle, with a 26" barrel and an overall length of 46.75". The Model 70's quality and workmanship are good.
The Model 70 Sporter is not a great burden to carry on a long stalk, but you have to mind the long barrel. It is particularly well suited for use from a rest or shooting sticks.
The 26" barrel provides top ballistic performance with magnum cartridges; Model 70 Classic Sporter rifles chambered for standard calibers came with 24" barrels. The .338 Win. Mag. is about as good as it gets for shooting elk. The 225 grain Federal factory load for which this rifle is zeroed has a MV of 2780 fps, and ME of 3860 ft. lbs., making it suitable for hunting elk in dense woods and open spaces. Accuracy is very good, but recoil is heavy. The killing power is beyond question.
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 appreciated, although this rifle's overall length is not. Final score: C (Average).
Winchester Model 70 Super Grade
This rifle is the top of the line Super Grade, revised and re-introduced in 2008. Production rifles started reaching the retail dealers and the hands of shooters early in 2009. As mentioned previously, the Model 70 is one of the most famous bolt action hunting rifles of all time and this is its finest incarnation. In fact, the new Super Grade is probably the best Model 70 ever produced, given its improved MOA trigger mechanism.
It is not a lightwieght, weighing about 9.33 pounds with a Leupold VX-3 2.5-8x36mm scope and mount. On the other hand, the weight helps to control the recoil of heavy .30-06 loads. Good balance allows it to handle and perform about as well as a full size bolt action rifle can. Its well proportioned, classic style, pistol grip stock feels good and is easy to shoulder. However, it is still a big rifle, with a 24" barrel and an overall length of 44.5". The Model 70 Super Grade's quality and workmanship are very good in most areas and it will certainly draw attention in elk camp. (See the review on the Product Reviews page for details.)
The Model 70 Super Grade is not an excessive burden to carry on a long stalk, but you will probably notice the weight at the end of the day. On the other hand, when it comes time to shoot, the additional stability is welcome and it is particularly well suited for use from a rest or shooting sticks.
The 24" barrel provides catalog ballistics with .30-06 factory loads. The .30-06 has killed more elk than any other caliber and there can be no question about its effectivness with a well placed shot. Usually recommended are premium bullets from 165 grains on up, or standard bullet designs from 180-220 grains. The 180 grain Remington Express Core-Lokt PSP factory load for which this rifle is zeroed has a MV of 2700 fps and it shoots flat enough to be useful in practically any terrain. Accuracy is good and this load may well be the top elk harvester, in terms of popularity, on the planet.
The Model 70 is built on an improved Mauser 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 new MOA trigger is very crisp, clean and fully user adjustable.
The large opening in the Model 70's receiver when the bolt is drawn back makes loading cartridges into the magazine quick and easy, while 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 usually in and out of vehicles a lot, having to load and unload rifles, so these features are particularly appreciated.
Operationally, there is little difference between the new Super Grade and standard Model 70's, but the Super Grade is prettier, has neater sling swivel studs (the recessed kind) and we prefer its MOA trigger and 24" barrel. Final score: C+ (Above average).
While there are no absolutely perfect elk rifles, some came closer than others. All of the rifles listed here are at least satisfactory if used within the capability of their cartridge and most can be had chambered for a variety of cartridges. We could not hunt with every make and model of rifle, but we have managed to hunt with autoloading, single shot, lever and bolt action rifles. Calibers included .27, .28, .30, .33, .35, .36 and .45.
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