My Top Ten Deer Rifles
By Ed Turner
All right, I'll admit it; I'm a deer rifle nut. I absolutely love looking for and finding a new addition to my already larger than needed collection of rifles. All bought specifically for deer hunting which is, absolutely, my favorite pastime. Whether it be for a deep woods Maine still hunt, or a sit overlooking an Idaho meadow, I love the allure of looking for and finding a handsome, well made rifle to suit my hunting needs.
I have learned a lot and formed some definite personal opinions about what I like in a rifle. I am only comfortable with forming opinions about those things with which I am experienced. Most of my hunting has been for whitetails in the eastern U.S. from the hills of Tennessee to the dark and wild woods of northern Maine. I have also done a bit of mule deer hunting out west as well, in the mountains of Idaho and Alberta. At least enough real life experience to feel I know what's needed and useful. There may be some rifles that would surely handle all of the situations I have encountered in my 30 plus years of deer hunting, but I find it more enjoyable to look for and collect rifles to meet any so-called "specialized" situation. Whether that might be due to terrain, hunting style, or even weather conditions expected on a given day or hunt.
Goodness knows, I have any number of rifles to cover most any situation anyone could encounter, but I still have some favorites among the 50 plus deer rifles that I presently own. No, I could not tell you exactly how many I own at this very moment. But, it is certainly not nearly as many as my wife accuses me of coveting, and still somewhere just north of the half-century mark.
I would be the first to admit to my preference for trim rifles, of no more than 42" in total length, but will admit to understanding the occasional need for something as long as 44" in a long range, magnum caliber, deer setup. Most of my favorite rifles would possibly be considered carbines by most, but still these would be adequate for 98% of all shooting situations. Every one of the rifles I selected as one of my favorite 10 would have been suitable to use in the harvest of any of the 50+ deer I have taken in the last 25 years or so. So, without any further ado, here's Ed's top ten list, and hopefully it's not nearly as comical to you all as David Letterman's.
The rifles I've chosen are not listed in any particular order, and other than the additional comments I may add to their selection info, they should be considered listed in random order.
1. Ruger Model 77Mk. II RSI in .308. I do enjoy a compact rifle that can do many things in many situations, and I consider this rifle to be an all-round excellent choice for most any type deer hunting. Long range shots, those in excess of 300 yards, would certainly not be it's forte, but most anything else would be right up it's alley. The caliber is maybe the best whitetail caliber out there, attested to by the number of spin-offs derived from it. The .243 Win, .260 Rem, 7mm-08 Rem, .338 Federal, and .358 Win are direct descendants of this fine cartridge and the .307 and .356 Winchesters, along with the new .308 Marlin, are closely related.
This rifle, topped with a good quality 2-7X32 scope, is a superb outfit for stalking, sitting, or tree stands. This particular rifle shoots very well, but it's short (18-1/2") barrel does cause some additional muzzle blast, especially noticeable at the range. The Mannlicher stock surely adds to its personal appeal for me, as I have always been fond of them. It is a very handsome, trim rifle that does a man-sized job.
2. Browning BAR Grade II in 30-06. This rifle attached itself to my "list" the moment I got it. I found it online maybe 5 years ago, after I'd already bought another, which was a 1968 model, Grade II, new in the box. That one harvested a whitetail buck in it's first season, but I found that piece of French Walnut to be too damn nice to take in the woods anymore, go figure. So now, it's "replacement", the one listed here, goes to the woods with Ed. It wears another 2-7X33 scope, this one a Leupold with a target dot reticle, kinda different, but very nice. It has a nice honey colored walnut stock with gorgeous fiddleback that you see when the light hits that stock just right and, just enough dings to make it a no-worry rifle.
3. Ruger No. 1A Light Sporter in 7X57. It was a tough decision here, between this particular rifle and another #1 that I have, an RSI in 270 Win. But something about the balance and size of the 1A might be just a tad nicer than the RSI. I had struggled for the longest time, trying to get just the right scope for this rifle. The ring setup on this single shot is such that a long eye relief is required and the rings are also set rather close together. It was finally solved when I found an older Leupold M8 4X33 at a gun show earlier this year. So finally my 7year search came to an acceptable conclusion. A nicely grained select walnut stock with an Alexander Henry type forend makes this classically styled rifle very appealing to my eye.
4. Winchester Model 70 pre'64 in 30-06. This was my first pre '64, and still holds a special place in my collection. It is not an example of a highly sought collectible as a former owner added a butt pad (darn it) and also removed the sling swivels, the rear sight, and the front sight hood. Those missing pieces/parts do not seem to effect it's shooting abilities, however, as it is one of the most accurate rifles I have ever fired. I mounted a decent period scope on it several years ago, taken off an old Savage model 99, if I remember correctly. It's a Lyman All American scope. I was so tickled when I shot a buck about 3 years ago with this setup, as classic a setup as I have ever owned. It was obviously no difficult feat, simply neat because it was with equipment older than I. (The rifle was made in '52.)
5. Winchester Model 70 Featherweight Classic in 7mm/08. I consider this to be the most perfectly styled deer rifle ever produced. From the classic stock sans cheek piece, schnable forend tip, and the thin barrel to the plain steel floorplate, this is the best looking factory built rifle that I have ever seen, period. This particular one has a decent piece of walnut, but nothing really eye-opening. I'd change nothing about the stock style, it is so nice. This rifle wears a nice Leupold Vari-X II 3-9X40 and would be possibly the finest all-around rifle in my collection for deer, being an excellent choice in nearly any deer hunting scenario. Compact, lightweight, and a truly wonderful caliber for all deer hunting. In short, a winner in my book.
6. Marlin 336ER in .356 Win. This is maybe the best handling rifle I have in my gun cabinet. It balances nicely and better yet, while it looks like a 30-30 or .35 Rem, except for its 2/3 length magazine, it packs a real wallop, something I cannot help but admire. I feel that there can be a reason to use a more powerful than actually needed caliber at times. Actually, there is no caliber to "big" for deer as long as it is used safely and, more importantly, you can shoot it well.
There is, no matter what you may want to tell me, a distinct difference in the killing power of various calibers. The effect that a .356 has on a deer sized animal is decisive, when hit properly. I have pretty extensive experience with several medium bore calibers, and any animal shot in a vital area simply dropped in it's tracks or moved only a very short distance, remaining in plain sight. I mean every one. This is definitely a benefit in some circumstances, and something I like about my mediums.
This rifle wears an old Tasco wide-angle scope, and although that sounds kinda cheesy, it still does the job. I would like to install a Leupold 1-4X20 in it's place, feeling that is one of the very best short range rifle scopes out there today. Until that happens my .356 will still accompany me in a tree stand this year looking for yet another nice Tennessee or Kentucky deer to take home.
7. Remington Model 673 in 350 Rem. Magnum. I can already hear the moans and groans as some read this. Sure it is a larger than needed caliber for deer, but it is an absolute hammer on deer sized game. This was a tough choice though, as I actually own 3 different 673's one in .300 Rem. SAUM, one in .308 Win, and this one. Even tougher still, they all have really nice scopes, but this one has the best. It's a Pentax 2-5X25 and it is perfect on this rifle. The 3200 Elite on the SAUM and the new 4X Redfield Wideview on the .308 are no slouches, either. But this setup is simply awesome, and something that would be good to use in bad weather too.
A blood trail has not been needed with this caliber, thank you. Again, although it seems an overly heavy caliber for deer, the stock design does help with the recoil a lot. I don't find it a bothersome rifle to shoot, but I'm not going to bang off 3 boxes of shells, either.
8.Winchester Model 88 in .308 Win. This is one I needed to think about a bit. It was either the Model 88 or one of my 3 Model 100s. The Model 88, however, is much more accurate than any of my Model 100s. It is a very accurate rifle, capable of shooting well under 2" at 100 yards if I do my part. It has a decent piece of walnut on its nicely styled, one-piece stock.
The scope is a 1.5-6X32 Simmons Whitetail Expedition that sits nicely on this short action rifle. The Model 88 is basically a bolt gun, worked by a lever action, so it's as accurate as most bolts but much faster for follow-up shots. The rifle sits next to a Model 70 Winchester in my cabinet and it is amazing how similar in size and stock design they are. Both are nice, classically styled stocks with no frills or add-ons.
9.Ruger Model 77RSM Mk. II in the now discontinued 30-06 caliber. This has to be one of my favorite rifles, period. It carries a Leupold VX-I 2-7X33 scope and they look great together. This is a fairly heavy rifle, due to its express rifle type design, and it has minimal recoil in 30/06. The stock is absolutely gorgeous Circassian walnut. There are some very pretty streaks in the stock. The integral sling mount on the barrel, along with the milled sights, express style, give the rifle a very formidable look, very African. With the extra weight and design meant for much heavier cartridges, it is a piece of cake shooting the stoutest 30-06 loads in this rifle, so I do. A favorite is the Winchester 180 grain Power Point Plus, an excellent, fast opening, hard hitting round for CXP2 game. This is a good load for short to medium range with its rapid expansion and added velocity for shock effect.
10. Browning BLR in .358 Winchester. Well, here it is over a week later with me trying to narrow down number ten in my top 10 list. The .358 BLR is so close in performance and handling to my .356 that I initially felt that I couldn't include them both. But, after owning both going on 20 years now and knowing how often I enjoy handling and using them, it simply had to be on this list. It wears a very nice compact scope, a Weaver Classic 1-3X20 that looks great on the gun. It's as if they were made for each other. The scope certainly suits the performance parameters of this caliber, no doubt. This rig shoulders as nicely as any rifle I have ever held, and I suppose that must lend to my urge to use it as much as I do. I am contemplating having "Stars and Stripes Ammo" load some custom loads for it and me with a 200 grain Barnes X-Bullet.
So, that's my list of favorite deer gettin' guns. A varied lot they are, and all good looking to the eye as well. There are some fiberglass stocked rifles and several laminated ones as well in my gun cases, but they rarely catch my eye the way fine walnut does. I do covet my prettiest guns, no doubt about that.
The rifles listed above still make me grin each and every time I handle or look at them. I suppose a month from now the list might even look a bit different. I had a heck of a time not including a few others. Among the "Honorable Mentions" are a very cool old Remington model 740 BDL Deluxe, a Model 100 Winchester with which I shot my biggest deer, a sporterized '98 Mauser in 8X57 (a new favorite caliber of mine), and a T/C Encore, which, had I a second barrel for, would probably have made the list.
For the record, I own five Winchester Model 70s making them my favorite type, with four Browning BARs a close second. In terms of caliber, I have eight .308s and eight 30-06s among the twenty or so calibers in my collection, making then my favorites.
I do like my deer rifles, and enjoy my days in the woods a bit more because of them and what I might choose to use on a particular outing. I have harvested something north of 30 big game animals in the last ten years using no less than 28 different rifles. I have used maybe a total of 50 - 55 different rifles altogether in that time frame and enjoyed the opportunity to do so.
To the man who hunts with one rifle and is intimately familiar and successful with his rifle, my utmost respect to you. I would never consider that a detriment to a wonderful hunting experience. But, I'd also ask, if that is your preference, that you try to understand the other side of the coin, and recognize that I gain added enjoyment with my "working" collection.
Many of my hunting buddies seem to enjoy the idea that they never know just what I will be sliding out of a case on any given day. Besides, I have been able to further my enjoyment by sharing some of my "ex" rifles with them in the form of a very nice used rifle they have purchased from me. I can't help but grin when they get that same look in their eyes that I do too when handling a new rifle; I just seem to do it a bit more often.
Copyright 2007 by Ed Turner. All rights reserved.