Recommended Centerfire Hunting Rifles

By Chuck Hawks


Perhaps the most common e-mail query I receive asks what hunting rifle I recommend. I usually reply that the single most important thing about any hunting rifle, and particularly a hard-kicking centerfire rifle, is that it be reliable and fit the owner.

A prospective buyer should make a list of possible models and then visit his or her local gun shop and try each. Throw the rifle to your shoulder, operate the action, switch the safety on and off, dry fire the rifle. Then buy the one that fits best, or order it if the store does not have that particular model in the desired caliber in stock.

Saying this is not a cop-out and I'm not being paid by anyone in or out of the firearms industry to write the things I do. Stock fit and ergonomics are critical, so if a recommended rifle does not fit you, don't buy it.

Over the years I have formed opinions about the various brands and models of hunting rifles. Those e-mails I mentioned above are asking for my opinion. That is what this article is about. I have not used every brand and model of rifle in the world and particularly not models seldom seen in the U.S. However, at one time I did sell rifles for a large gun retailer and I have been a fairly active recreational shooter for my entire adult life, as well as being a gun writer, so I have come into contact with most of the well established models.

Like all shooters, I have personal likes and dislikes. I may value one feature over another for a particular application. These preferences are reflected in my recommendations. I think, for example, that a decent trigger (by which I mean adjustable with a smooth pull, clean break and a pull weight of less than four pounds) is very important for accurate shooting, so I am inclined to favor rifles with decent triggers. The best triggers seem to be found in rifles from Anschutz, Browning, Cooper, CZ, Dakota, Kimber, Savage, Weatherby and Winchester.

I am also a fan of wood (walnut or laminated) stocks. Not only do I find most synthetic stocks surpassingly unattractive, I am convinced that the great majority of them are functionally inferior to walnut or laminated wood stocks in most circumstances. (See my article "Rifle Stocks" for more on this subject.) Synthetic stocks are certainly inferior in resale value. As synthetics go, "composite" stocks (usually mostly fiberglass) are far superior to injection-molded plastic stocks.

If I don't list a particular rifle that you cherish, if does not mean that it is no good; it merely means that either: (a) I find the features of the rifles I did list more desirable, or (b) I am not familiar with it. There are few really bad rifles in the marketplace.

Note that only currently produced rifles are included in the list that follows. I greatly admire many discontinued rifles, such as the Mannlicher-Schoenauer, but they are not included here. Nor are custom built rifles; you cannot go into a sporting goods store and try one and they are too expensive for most hunters. If the only way to obtain a certain model is to order it as a bespoke rifle direct from the maker, you will probably not find it listed here, fine though it might otherwise be.

I have grouped my recommendations into categories to facilitate comparison. The various categories group rifles by action type and application. Due to their numbers, bolt action rifles are also grouped into general categories (ultra deluxe, deluxe, standard and economy) based on approximate price class, grade and place in the manufacturer's line. The rifles in each category are listed in alphabetical order by manufacturer. In many cases there is, objectively, little to choose between the rifles in a given category. Finally, the rifles I'd recommend to left handed shooters are the left handed models of the rifles listed below, when available.

Autoloading and Pump Action Rifles

  • Browning BAR Mk. II Safari (auto)
  • Merkel SR1 (auto)
  • Remington Model 750 Woodsmaster (auto)
  • Remington Model 7600 Deluxe (pump)

Bolt Action Ultra-Deluxe Rifles

  • Cooper Arms Western Classic and Custom Classic
  • Dakota Model 76 Classic
  • Kimber Models 84M and 8400 Super America
  • Weatherby Mark V LazerMark and UltraMark

Bolt Action Deluxe Rifles

  • Browning X-Bolt Medallion and White Gold Medallion
  • Cooper Arms Classic series
  • CZ 550 American Premium Grade
  • Kimber Models 84M and 8400 Select Grade
  • Remington Model 700 Custom C Grade
  • Sako 85 Classic and Deluxe
  • Steyr Classic Mannlicher
  • Thompson/Center Icon
  • Weatherby Mark V Deluxe, EuroMark and AccuMark
  • Weatherby Vanguard Series 2 Deluxe
  • Winchester Model 70 Super Grade

Bolt Action Standard Rifles

  • Browning X-Bolt Hunter, Composite Stalker and Stainless Stalker
  • CZ 550 American series
  • Kimber Models 84M and 8400 Classic and Montana
  • Remington Model Seven CDL
  • Remington Model 700 BDL, CDL, CDL-SF and XCR
  • Ruger M77R Hawkeye Standard
  • Sako 85 Hunter and Grey Wolf
  • Savage Model 14/114 Classic series
  • Weatherby Mark V Sporter, FiberMark Composit and Synthetic
  • Weatherby Vanguard Series 2 Stainless and Sporter
  • Winchester Model 70 Featherweight and Sporter

Bolt Action Economy Rifles (favored models in italics)

  • CZ 557 Sporter
  • Howa Lightning and Lightning Stainless
  • Remington Model 700 SPS
  • Ruger American (bolt)
  • Savage Model 11/111 Hunter series
  • Savage Model 40 Varmint Hunter (bolt)
  • Weatherby Vanguard Series 2 Synthetic

Lever Action Rifles (for rifle cartridges)

  • Browning BLR Lightweight series
  • Henry .30-30
  • Marlin Model 336, 308 and 338 series
  • Marlin Models 444 and 1895
  • Winchester Model 94
  • Winchester Model 1886
  • Winchester Model 1895

Lever Action Rifles (for pistol cartridges)

  • Beretta Renegade
  • Henry Big Boy
  • Marlin Model 1894 series
  • Uberti Model 1860 Henry, 1866 series, 1873 series
  • Winchester Model 1892

Single Shot Rifles

  • Blaser K-95 (break-open)
  • BRNO Effect (break-open)
  • Dakota Arms Model 10 (falling block)
  • H&R Buffalo Classic (break-open)
  • H&R Ultra Hunter (break-open)
  • Merkel K1, K2 (break-open tilted-block)
  • Remington No. 1 Rolling Block Mid-Range Sporter (rolling block)
  • Ruger No. 1 series (falling block)
  • Winchester 1885 High Wall (falling block)
  • Winchester 1885 Low Wall (falling block)
  • Mossberg SSI-1 (break-open)

Takedown Travel Rifles (any action type)

  • Browning BLR Lightweight Takedown series (lever)
  • Dakota Traveler (bolt)
  • Merkel Petite Frame Double Rifle Models 141 and 161 (SxS break-open)
  • Merkel K1 and K3 Jagd (break-open tilted-block)

Youth and Smaller Adult Rifles (any action type)

  • Browning X-Bolt Micro Hunter (bolt)
  • Marlin Model 336 SpikeHorn (lever)
  • NEF Handi-Rifle Youth (break-open)
  • Remington Model 7 Youth (bolt)
  • Ruger M77 Compact (bolt)
  • Savage Model 10GY Youth and 11FYXP3 Package w/scope (bolt)
  • Weatherby Vanguard Series 2 Carbine (bolt)
  • Weatherby Vanguard Series 2 Synthetic Youth (bolt)

"Guide Rifles" for Protection in the Field (any action type; caliber .338 and larger)

  • Browning BLR Lightweight Short Action (lever; .450 Marlin)
  • Marlin Model 1895 Guide Gun (lever; .45-70, .450 Marlin)
  • Merkel Petite Frame Double Rifle Models 141 and 161 (SxS; 9.3x74R)
  • Remington Model Seven CDL (bolt; .350 Rem. Mag.)

Lightweight / Mountain Rifles (any action type)

  • Browning BLR Lightweight Short Action series (lever)
  • Browning X-Bolt Micro Hunter (bolt)
  • CZ 550 FS (bolt)
  • Kimber 84M Classic and Montana (bolt)
  • Merkel K1 and K3 series (break-open tilted-block)
  • Remington Model Seven CDL (bolt)
  • Remington Model 700 Mountain Rifle (bolt)
  • Ruger No. 1A Light Sporter (falling block)
  • Ruger International Model 77RSI Mk. II (bolt)
  • Sako 85 Finnlight (bolt)
  • Savage Model 10 Sierra (bolt)
  • Steyr Mannlicher Full Stock Carbine (bolt)
  • Steyr Mannlicher Ultra Light (bolt)
  • Weatherby Mark V Ultra-Lightweight (bolt)
  • Weatherby Vanguard Series 2 Carbine (bolt)
  • Winchester Model 70 Featherweight (bolt)

Long Range Big Game Hunting Rifles (any action type)

  • Kimber 84M LongMaster Classic (bolt)
  • Kimber 8400 Sonora (bolt)
  • Remington Model 700 VLS, 700 Sendero SF (bolt)
  • Ruger No. 1B and K1-B-BBZ (falling block)
  • Savage Model 11 Long Range Hunter (bolt)
  • Savage Model 12FV/12FVSS (bolt)
  • Weatherby Mark V Accumark (bolt)
  • Weatherby Vanguard Sub-MOA (bolt)

"Safari" Rifles (CXP4 dangerous game), Side-by-Side and Bolt Action, calibers 9.3mm and larger

  • Beretta SxS Express
  • CZ 550 Safari Magnum and Safari Classic series (bolt)
  • Dakota Model 76 African (bolt)
  • Kimber Model 8400 Caprivi (bolt)
  • Krieghoff Classic SxS
  • Merkel Safari SxS Models 140 and 160
  • Ruger M77 Hawkeye African (bolt)
  • Ruger M77RSM Magnum Rifle (bolt)
  • Sako 85 Safari (bolt)
  • Weatherby Mark V Safari Custom (bolt)
  • Weatherby Mark V DGR (bolt)
  • Winchester Model 70 Safari (bolt)

Small Predator Rifles (any action type)

  • Anschutz Model 1740 Classic Sporter (bolt; .222)
  • Browning BLR Lightweight series (lever; .223, .22-250, .243)
  • Browning X-Bolt Stainless Stalker (bolt; .223, .243)
  • CZ 527 M1 Ultralight Predator (bolt; .223)
  • Dakota Predator (bolt; .223)
  • Kimber 84M LongMaster Classic (bolt; .223)
  • Kimber 84M SVT (bolt; .223)
  • Remington Model 700 LV SF Light Varmint (bolt; .223, .22-250)
  • Ruger Model 77R Mk. II (bolt; .223, .22-250, .220, .243, 6mm)
  • Savage Model 10 Predator Hunter (bolt; .204, .223, .22-250, .243)
  • Weatherby Mark V Special Varmint Rifle (bolt; .223, .22-250)
  • Weatherby Vanguard Series 2 Predator (bolt; .223, .22-250)
  • Weatherby Vanguard Series 2 Varmint Special (bolt; .223, .22-250)
  • Winchester Model 70 Coyote Light (bolt; .22-250, .243)

Varmint Rifles (any action type)

  • Anschutz Model 1730 and 1740 series (bolt)
  • Browning X-Bolt Varmint Stalker (bolt)
  • Cooper Arms Phoenix and Varmint series (bolt)
  • CZ 527 Varmint series (bolt)
  • CZ 550 Varmint series (bolt)
  • H&R Ultra Varmint (break-open)
  • Kimber Model 84M Pro Varmint (bolt)
  • Kimber 84M LongMaster VT (bolt)
  • Remington Model 700 VLS (bolt)
  • Ruger No. 1-V Varminter and No. K1-V-BBZ Stainless Varminter (falling block)
  • Ruger Model 77VT Mk. II Target Grey (bolt)
  • Sako 85 Varmint and Varmint Laminated Stainless (bolt)
  • Savage Model 12 Varminter series (bolt)
  • Savage Model 25 Lightweight Varminter series (bolt)
  • Savage Model 40 Varminter Hunter (bolt)
  • Weatherby Mark V Super Varmintmaster (bolt)
  • Weatherby Vanguard Series 2 RC Varmint



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Copyright 2003, 2014 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.


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