Compared: Bolt Action Economy Rifles
(Includes Browning AB3, Marlin X7, Mossberg ATR, Remington 783, Ruger American, Savage Axis, Tikka T3 Lite and Weatherby Vanguard Series 2 Synthetic)

By Chuck Hawks

Rifle actions originally designed to reduce production costs, such as the Remington Model 700 and Savage 110, are now considered upscale rifles. Over the years and mostly due to inflation, the retail price of these rifles has risen into the medium price class.

However, there remains a substantial market for inexpensive hunting rifles and that has spawned a new generation of even cheaper rifles. These are bolt actions based on simplified, basic actions and the cheap synthetic stocks. The external and internal finish of this new generation of economy rifles is generally crude to cut costs, but marketed as "matte" or "anti-glare." Truth, or at least the whole truth, in advertising is a rare commodity.

Barrels are typically free-floating, because it is a cheap way to avoid the time and cost involved in precisely bedding the barreled action into the stock. While a free-floating barrel is widely (but deceptively) advertised as an accuracy feature, the truth is sporter weight barrels usually shoot more accurately when bedded full length in a rigid stock. Heavyweight varmint and bench rest rifle barrels are typically more accurate when free floating. Sporter barrels and heavy contour barrels are not the same and should be bedded differently, a distinction ignored in all but one of our economy rifles.

The Remington Models 710 and 770 rifles even have their barrels press fitted into the receiver, rather than threaded. Such a barrel cannot be replaced. When the rifling becomes worn you trash the whole rifle, rather than just replace the barrel.

Economy receivers are generally drilled from bar stock, rather than machined from a steel billet. Recoil lugs are typically a sort of thick washer trapped between the round receiver and barrel, rather than an integral, machined part of a flat bottomed receiver. Ejection ports are usually oval slots cut in the receiver tube, which makes single loading cartridges or removing a stuck cartridge more difficult, especially in the field. This shortcut is sold to the public as a more rigid receiver for better accuracy. Like most "accuracy" claims, it is just a way to justify a production economy.

The one-piece, machined bottom iron / trigger guards found on the best rifles are absent from almost all economy rifles. Instead, the manufacturers have substituted incredibly cheap plastic parts. Often these rifles use cheap detachable box magazines, made of sheet metal or plastic, to avoid the necessity of inletting an internal magazine and fitting a hinged magazine floor plate and latch. More production economy sold as an advantage by the advertising flacks, who ignore the fact that detachable magazines are much easier to jam, damage, or lose during the excitement and stress of a hunt.

A couple economy rifles come with internal magazines and blind stocks to further reduce production costs. These magazines can only be unloaded by cycling the cartridges through the action.

Bolt bodies are usually assembled from multiple parts, including a separate bolt head, bolt body, bolt handle and bolt knob. The highest quality bolts, such as used in the Mannlicher-Schoenauer, Mauser 98, Weatherby Vanguard and Weatherby Mark V actions, are machined in one piece from a steel billet.

The fire control (trigger) mechanisms in economy rifles are not machined steel parts. Instead, the internal parts are typically stamped from sheet metal and critical engagement surfaces are usually not polished. Plastic is substituted for steel wherever possible in order to cut costs. Only a few years ago, almost all entry level rifles (except the Weatherby Vanguard) came with heavy, creepy, non-adjustable triggers. The trigger situation has been dramatically improved in most brands, thanks primarily to the influence of the seminal Savage AccuTrigger. Decent trigger pulls are now common and many trigger mechanisms are adjustable for pull weight.

No economy rifle with which I am familiar uses a controlled feed action; they are all push feed designs with bolt face, plunger ejectors. The best entry level designs use bolt head mounted claw extractors of the Weatherby/Sako/M-16 type that take a decent bite on the case rim. Others use inferior (but cheaper) designs, such as a small hook (common in .22 rimfires), spring clip (per Remington) or bolt face sliding designs of the Savage type. Needless to say, these cheap extractors are more prone to failure, leaving a fired case in the chamber and hopelessly jamming the action in the field.

Of course, these cheap rifles generally lack rigid stocks. Injection molded synthetic stocks are notoriously flexible and make a poor bedding platform for a barreled action. They are so flimsy that using a shooting sling, even a "hasty sling," will pull the stock laterally against the free floating barrel and change the bullet's point of impact.

Most injection molded stocks are hollow, but some are foam filled or have internal ridges to reduce the hollow sound when rapped. Many plastic economy rifle stocks lack even molded-in checkering, substituting simpler textured surfaces reminiscent of the anti-slip found in the bottom of shower-baths. While weather resistant, cheap plastic stocks are also more subject to warping, breakage and UV degradation than normally realized. These black stocks are advertised as low visibility. Do you really believe black plastic stocks are less visible than wooden stocks in the woods?

Economy rifle aesthetics often run to the bizarre, particularly in stock design. Apparently, ugly stocks are being used to differentiate economy rifles from the manufacturers' flagship models, making it obvious that the economy rifles are, well, cheap. Squared trigger guards and stocks with harsh angles and unnecessary molded lines often replace the gentle curves on more upscale rifles that better fit the human hand and body. Forends are often thick and bulky. Euro-trash design predominates in many of these rifles, to the detriment of fast, smooth handling in the field. Of course, you can hunt with an ugly rifle, but why would you want to?

The manufacturers of these economy rifles tend to stress accuracy in their advertising and promotional material. This is a standard fall-back position when you can't advertise quality, reliability, fit and finish, since almost all modern bolt action rifles are, on average, very accurate if fed good ammunition. (As a salesman friend of mine was fond of saying, "If you can't sell the product, wrap it in baloney and sell the baloney.") Accuracy from a bench rest is easy, while quality is expensive.

Therefore, I am not going to evaluate the individual accuracy potential of these rifles. They are all very similar and sufficiently accurate to get the job done within the maximum point blank range (+/- 3") of the cartridges for which they are chambered. That is all anyone can ask of a big game hunting rifle. When you choose to pay more for a higher grade rifle, you are buying superior design and quality, refinement, reliability, long term value, pride of ownership and the enjoyment you get from using it (a positive life experience), not necessarily better out of the box accuracy. Like more expensive models, these economy rifles typically shoot just fine.

Please bear in mind that this article is not intended to be a review of each of these rifles. (Full reviews of most of them can be found on the Guns and Shooting Online "Product Reviews" or "Rifle Information - Reviews" index pages.) It is intended to be a summary of salient information and features useful for comparison purposes. Remember, you usually get what you pay for and cheap rifles are no exception to that general rule. The prices shown below are January 2014 MSRP rounded to the nearest dollar. Okay, on to the descriptions of our economy bolt action rifles (in alphabetical order).

Browning AB3

Browning AB3
Photo courtesy of Browning.

The new for 2014 Browning AB3 (A-Bolt III) scores well among our entry level contenders. The overall matte blued finish, while not a thing of beauty, isn't as crude as most entry level rifles. The standard length barreled action looks like a Browning A-Bolt/X-Bolt design, with a faceted bolt shroud and a larger ejection port cut-out than some of these economy rifles. The barrel is threaded into the receiver, trapping a washer style recoil lug between barrel and receiver. The button rifled barrels are 22" long for standard calibers and 26" long for magnum calibers.

There is a cocking indicator below the steel bolt shroud. The safety is a convenient top tang slider. A bolt unlock button is located directly behind the bolt handle to allow ejecting a chambered cartridge with the safety on. This is a considerably cruder version of the feature introduced on Browning's flagship X-Bolt action, but it does the same thing. The trigger has a reasonably light pull weight (advertised as 3.5 pounds) and a clean release.

The assembled bolt has a head with three body-diameter locking lugs that allow a short, 60-degree bolt rotation. Weatherby invented the fat bolt with their Mark V action to eliminate the bolt slop common with Mauser pattern bolt actions when the bolt was open. The concept was copied by Ruger in their American and now by Browning. The bolt body is plated with matte electroless nickel for smother operation and corrosion resistance. The bolt knob is integral with the bolt handle and of the very comfortable, flattened round shape used in more expensive Browning rifles. A separate bolt release is provided at the left rear of the receiver.

What passes for an extractor in the AB3 is a little hook mounted in one of the front locking lugs that takes a small bite on a case rim. At least the plunger ejector should reliably kick cases clear of the action, if the extractor can pull them out of the chamber.

The metal, detachable, staggered box magazine holds four standard cartridges or three magnum rounds. Unfortunately, its rounded plastic floorplate protrudes slightly from the bottom of the stock. The recessed magazine release is located at the front of the magazine well.

The AB3's black synthetic stock shows euro-trash design elements, but its lines are less objectionable than some economy stocks. An unattractive, pebble texture gripping surface extends uselessly from the forend to the pistol grip. The flat forend tip slants rearward at an angle. The Browning Inflex recoil pad is effective and has rounded corners to assist smooth mounting to the shoulder. Steel, detachable sling swivel studs are standard.

Available calibers include .270 Winchester, .30-06, 7mm Rem. Magnum and .300 Win. Magnum. The MSRP is $600.

Marlin X7

Marlin X7
Photo courtesy of Marlin.

Available in short and long action forms, the X7 shows considerable Savage 110 design influence, particularly in its receiver, barrel attachment, bedding, extractor, trigger system and bolt knob. Its round receiver is drilled from 4140 steel bar stock with a generous ejection port. The 22" sporter contour barrel is threaded into the receiver and secured by a locking collar, in the Savage manner. A "square bottomed washer" type recoil lug is trapped between the barrel and receiver. The receiver is drilled and tapped for an included, one-piece, scope mounting base, a nice extra.

The barreled action is dual pillar bedded in the stock. Unlike almost all other economy rifles, the X7 barreled action comes with a standard polished and blued metal finish. (Hurray!) It is nice to see an economy barreled action that doesn't come with a dull, matte finish.

The front locking, assembled bolt has a fluted body and two (Mauser pattern) locking lugs that require a 90-degree bolt lift. There is a Savage type sliding extractor in the front of one locking lug and a plunger ejector in the recessed bolt face. A groove in the other locking lug rides in an anti-bind ridge machined into the receiver. The X7 bolt handle and round knob are a single piece and the knob is checkered in a manner similar to a Savage 110 bolt knob. A metal injection molded (MIM) bolt shroud fully encases the rear of the bolt. Below the bolt shroud is a red cocking indicator. A two-position, electroless nickel-Teflon coated safety lever is positioned conventionally at the right rear of the receiver.

The Pro-Fire trigger, set at 3.5 pounds at the factory, is user adjustable down to 2.5 pounds. It is Marlin's take on the AccuTrigger concept, with a center blade that must be fully depressed to free the trigger to move, but different internal parts. The trigger group housing appears to be cast or MIM metal.

The blind, internal sheet metal magazine lacks a hinged floorplate, requiring that cartridges must be worked through the action to empty the rifle. This is a cost cutting economy I wish entry level rifle manufacturers would avoid. The magazine capacity is four rounds, except five rounds in .223 Rem.

The black stock is injection molded polymer with a raised cheek piece and positive molded checkering panels at pistol grip and forend. This relatively slender, conventionally shaped and proportioned American Classic style stock has a tapered, commendably slender forend. The forend terminates in a rounded tip. In shape, it is one of the best of the cheap plastic stocks in the budget rifle class and it contributes considerably to the X7's good handling in the field.

Unfortunately, the stock is subject to all the usual drawbacks of injection molded plastic stocks. An oval shaped, molded plastic trigger guard is screwed to the stock, another obvious economy. Steel sling swivel bases are included, as is a grip cap and Marlin Soft-Tech recoil pad.

X7 Youth and varmint rifle configurations are also available. Short action calibers are .223 Remington, .243 Winchester, 7mm-08 and .308 Winchester, while the long action calibers are .25-06, .270 Winchester and .30-06. The MSRP is $400.

Mossberg ATR

Mossberg ATR
Photo courtesy of Mossberg.

Mossberg ATR rifles are available in short and long action versions. ("ATR" stands, no kidding, for All Terrain Rifle.) The most economical models are supplied without sights and black synthetic stocks. (Other ATR models are available with wood stocks, camo stocks, iron sights, mounted scopes and other variations.) Factory installed Weaver style scope bases are included with all ATR models, as is a fluted, 22", free floating barrel. A fluted barrel is an unexpected feature in a rifle at this price point.

The ATR uses the Mossberg 100 push feed action, which is machined from bar stock with an open top receiver. The recoil lug is a thick washer trapped between the threaded barrel and receiver. The assembled bolt is held closed by two substantial, Mauser pattern locking lugs at the front, one of which houses a Savage type sliding extractor. Bolt lift is 90-degrees. A plunger ejector is installed in the bolt face and positively ejects fired cases. There is a gas shield on the left side of the bolt for ruptured case protection. Bolt lift is light and it is easy to cycle repeat shots. The barreled action wears a very plain matte blue finish.

The ATR utilizes a top-load, four-round capacity, internal blind magazine. This feeding system is commendably smooth. There is no hinged magazine floorplate, so cartridges in the magazine must be cycled through the action to unload.

A stamped metal safety lever is mounted behind the bolt handle on the right side. A separate bolt release is located on the left side of the receiver.

Originally supplied with a non-adjustable trigger mechanism, the latest ATR's come with trigger assemblies that are adjustable for pull weight. (The adjustment range is not specified.) The plastic trigger guard has a smooth, oval shape.

The modern classic style, straight comb stock has pleasing lines, a commendably slender pistol grip with a medium curve and a rounded contour forend that--although a bit too thick in cross-section--still feels good in the hands. This conventionally shaped stock allows the ATR to feel and handle like a more expensive rifle. Sadly, the injection molded stock's detachable sling swivel "bases" are simply holes in plastic loops that are integral to the synthetic stock and not nearly as strong as steel sling swivel studs. There is no pistol grip cap, but a black rubber recoil pad is standard.

The available short action calibers are limited to .243 Winchester, 7mm-08 and .308 Winchester, while the long action calibers are .270 Winchester and .30-06. MSRP is $366, making the ATR the least expensive of our budget priced rifles. (For $416 you can get the same barreled action in a checkered black walnut stock with steel sling swivel studs, which is definitely worth the extra $50 bucks.) A review of the Mossberg 100 ATR and 4x4 rifles can be found on the Product Reviews page.

Remington 783

Remington 783
Photo courtesy of Remington.

During my lifetime, Remington has attempted to design and manufacture a number of economy class rifles. The previous Models 788, 710 and 770 immediately come to mind. The Model 788 (1967-1983) was successful, the others not so much. (The flawed Model 770 is still available at this writing, sold only with a cheap, pre-mounted 3-9x40mm riflescope for a measly $373.)

Since the Model 700, Remington's long running flagship rifle, is itself based on an action designed to minimize production costs, to further cut costs required a completely new design and serious quality sacrifices. For example, the 788 used a simplified action with rear locking lugs; the 710 used a plastic receiver insert, mostly plastic internals and a barrel that was press fitted into the receiver and could not be replaced; the Model 770 (an improved 710) changed the "plastic receiver" to steel, but left other problems unaddressed. All of these rifles were accurate, but otherwise uninspiring and very plain utility rifles.

In 2013, Remington introduced a new design cheaper to manufacture than the Model 700. To produce a rifle better than the much maligned Model 770 and cheaper than the lowest grade Model 700 SPS (MSRP $708), which itself is pretty darn basic, presented a real challenge to the Remington engineers. The Model 783 is the result and Remington's latest attempt to compete in the market segment that is the focus of this comparison.

Remington's marketing plan for the 783 seems to focus almost entirely on accuracy, which should always be a red flag to experienced hunters. Need I repeat that accuracy is cheap, quality (and quality control) is expensive?

Here is Remington's opening statement about the Model 783: "Accuracy to a whole new level on an entirely new bolt-action platform designed from the ground up by the engineering team. It's a tack-driving confluence of our legendary bolt-action heritage and today's most advanced precision-enhancing features."

What they evidently mean is a tubular receiver with the smallest possible oval slot for an ejection port, nylon fiber plastic stock with a weird shape to delineate it from the graceful Model 700, pillar bedding, plastic trigger guard, button rifled barrel, free floating barrel, detachable magazine and new CrossFire (I hope they don't mean that literally) trigger mechanism. None of these features are particularly beneficial for a big game hunting rifle and most are definitely retrograde.

It is the precision of action bedding and barrel rifling that matter, not the method used to achieve that precision. For example, excellent barrels can be produced by gang broaching, button rifling, hammer forging, or cutting one groove at a time. From Remington's perspective, the real advantages of a tubular receiver, free floating barrel, button rifling and pillar bedding is they are cheap production methods. I don't have a problem with cutting production costs to produce a lower priced product, but I do have a problem with deceptive advertising.

The 783's assembled bolt has dual, opposed front locking lugs and requires a conventional 90-degree bolt lift. The safety lever sticks up at the right rear of the action and the bolt release is located at the left rear of the receiver. The barrel is attached by a Savage type nut.

As usual for Big Green, the recoil lug is a heavy washer trapped between the barrel and receiver. The barreled action's matte finish is extremely rough and poorly executed. Inside the 22" sporter contour barrel (magnum calibers get a 24" tube), the button rifling appeared to be roughly executed. The top of the receiver is drilled and tapped to accept two Model 700 front receiver ring scope bases.

The new CrossFire trigger appears to be a cruder version of the AccuTrigger concept. The trigger pull is allegedly factory set at 3.5 pounds and adjustable between 5 and 2.5 pounds. The plastic trigger guard is angular and bulky for no functional reason.

The rear half of the 783's black plastic stock is reasonably shaped to fit a human face and shoulder and it terminates in a good SuperCell recoil pad. The forend is less satisfactory, with odd angles and nonfunctional, molded grip panels (not checkering). The same shower mat texture pattern is molded around the pistol grip area. It contributes nothing to positive handling. The sling swivel attachment holes are part of the molded stock and cannot be replaced if damaged. Remington has a long history, starting with the first Model 700, of designing graceful and good handling stocks for their bolt action rifles, so the only possible conclusion is that the 783 stock is intentionally ugly to prevent confusion with more upscale Remington rifles.

The flush fitting, detachable magazine holds four standard cartridges or three magnums. The magazine box is sheet metal, with an outsize and very bulky plastic bottom. You are not going to want to carry one of these magazines in your pocket. The recessed magazine release is located at the front of the magazine well. It is metal and probably more durable than the plastic catch on the front of the Axis magazine.

Remington must be proud of this rifle, as they put an "R" on the bolt knob, on the rear of the recoil pad, on the bottom of the pistol grip and wrote "Remington" on the side of the recoil pad. This is in addition to the usual stampings on the barreled action.

Overall, there is not much new here, just existing ideas recycled in an inferior manner. Announced 783 calibers include .243 Winchester, .270 Winchester, 7mm Rem. Magnum, .308 Winchester, .30-06 and .300 Win. Magnum. The MSRP is $451. If you are pining for a Model 783, take two aspirin and go to bed until the fever subsides.

Ruger American

Ruger American
Photo courtesy of Ruger.

Ruger's entry in the economy bolt action class, the American, shows a little more creativity than most. As a result, the Ruger catalog and website offer more details about the rifle's action, construction and features than do Marlin, Mossberg, Remington and Savage about their budget rifles.

On the plus side is a three-lug fat bolt and a 70-degree bolt rotation. The entire bolt body is machined from a steel bar. Only the bolt handle with its integral round knob is a separate piece. The locking lugs are the same diameter as the bolt body, a design pioneered by Weatherby with the Mark V that eliminates most bolt slop when the action is open. Dual cocking cams reduce the force necessary to open the bolt.

Cartridges are fed from a plastic, removable, rotary magazine with an integral catch that fits flush with the bottom line of the stock when in place. Magazine capacity is four rounds.

The Ruger Marksman trigger is user adjustable from 3-5 pounds. The safety slider is mounted on the top tang, the handiest location, and there is a cocking indicator behind the bolt shroud. There is a separate bolt release at the left rear of the receiver. Two-piece Weaver type scope bases are included, as are steel sling mounting studs on the stock and a plastic grip cap. The bolt operation is relatively smooth and, overall, the American's design and mechanics appear to be good.

Ruger has invented a new system for bedding the American's barreled action in its stock. Named "Power Bedding," it used two sets of steel V-blocks permanently molded into the synthetic stock. Matching inverted-V slots are machined into the underside of the receiver into which these bedding blocks fit. The barreled action is secured in the V-blocks (and hence the stock) by means of two Allan head machine screws. On one side of each pair of V-blocks there is a very slight radius, so that the barreled action seats consistently as the screws are tightened. The system positively locates the receiver, free floats the barrel and eliminates the need for a conventional recoil lug.

The Ruger Marksman trigger assembly is based on the AccuTrigger concept and incorporates a similar metal blade in the trigger face that must be depressed to unlock the trigger. The trigger pull of the sample rifle I examined, factory set at about four pounds, was decent. I didn't have an opportunity to adjust the trigger to its minimum pull to see how much improvement it would make.

The Ruger American's hammer forged barrel is 22" long in all calibers. The barrel is threaded into the receiver and secured by means of a separate lock ring, a system pioneered by Savage for their 110 action. Unlike other systems of this type, the Ruger's lock nut is very unobtrusive.

On the minus side of the ledger is an ugly plastic stock with molded gripping surfaces reminiscent of a shower mat, plastic trigger guard molded as part of the stock, a receiver milled from 4140 bar stock with an oval cut-out for an ejection port, a free floating barrel, small lug-mounted claw extractor (the ejector is the usual bolt face plunger type), horrible matte metal finish and a plastic bolt shroud that I absolutely would not trust for protection from escaping powder gasses in the event of a blown case. The bolt shroud is apparently just for looks. This is, unlike the more sophisticated M77, a push feed action.

It is an ugly rifle, but not as bad as the Remington 783 and Savage Axis offerings. The ugly stock design is particularly unfortunate, as one look at a walnut stocked Ruger M77R Standard rifle makes it perfectly clear that Ruger is capable of designing a stock that is exceptionally attractive and more practical in the field. The American's semi-vented recoil pad is functional, but again, intentionally ugly.

Available calibers include .22-250, .243 Winchester, .270 Winchester, 7mm-08, .308 Winchester and .30-06. The MSRP is $449. A review of the Ruger American can be found on the Rifle Information - Reviews page.

Savage Axis

Savage Axis
Photo courtesy of Savage.

When Savage wanted to develop a new economy rifle they faced a situation similar to what Remington faced when they developed the 710/770 series. The flagship Savage 110 action, introduced in the 1960's, was itself developed for economical production and incorporated all the production shortcuts available at the time. To find additional ways to cut costs (beyond adopting an injection molded plastic stock, which had already been applied to 110 action based Savage and Stevens rifles) would be a challenge. Basically, only peripheral features were left to cheapen or omit.

The Axis uses a very long and bulky receiver drilled from bar stock and a bolt with two large, opposed, Mauser pattern front locking lugs that require a 90-degree bolt rotation. The major parts of the bolt (head with locking lugs, body, handle, etc.) are assembled, not machined from billet in one piece. There is a lug-mounted sliding extractor and a plunger ejector. A typical Savage barrel nut system secures the free floating barrel to the receiver and the recoil lug is a heavy steel washer trapped between the barrel and receiver. Bolt removal requires the usual, awkward Savage routine of simultaneously pulling the rigger while operating the bolt removal release.

The most obvious of the new economy measures include reducing the 110's open top receiver loading/ejection port to a small, oval slot, an incredibly cheap looking (apparently cast) bolt handle, deleting the bottom metal entirely and substituting a plastic trigger guard, replacing the internal magazine with the cheapest possible detachable magazine using a plastic bottom and a flimsy integral catch to keep it in the rifle's magazine well and replacing the excellent Savage AccuTrigger with a heavy, not particularly smooth, single stage trigger that is among the worst in our group of economy rifles. Needless to say, none of these are positive changes.

To visually differentiate the Axis from 110-action based economy models, Savage left the barreled action almost unpolished and applied an ultra crude finish. Then they dropped the Axis barreled action in a really ugly, Euro-trash style stock. The result is a rifle with no functional advantages that is a strong contender for the "ugliest rifle in comparison" title, along with the 783. Yes, I know, pointless ugliness doesn't necessarily diminish function, but it certainly doesn't improve it, either, and it diminishes resale value and pride of ownership.

Available calibers include .223 Remington, .22-250, .243 Winchester, .25-06, .270 Winchester, 7mm-08, .308 Winchester and .30-06. The MSRP is $375, making the Axis the second cheapest of our budget rifles. A review of the Savage Axis can be found on the Rifle Information - Reviews page.

Tikka T3 Lite

Tikka T3 Lite
Photo courtesy of Tikka.

The Tikka T3 Lite is one of our better entry level rifles. It is supplied with a basic black synthetic stock and a matte blued barreled action. The faceted receiver is bored from bar stock and the ejection port is an oval hole cut into the receiver. The receiver has a flat bottom bedding surface and a substantial recoil lug between the barrel and receiver. There are integral rails for Tikka Optilock scope mounts; the top of the receiver is also drilled and tapped to accept Weaver style scope bases. The cold hammer forged barrel is threaded into the receiver and, of course, free floating in the stock.

The stainless steel, assembled bolt has two front locking lugs offset for a 70-degree bolt lift. A smooth, pear shaped bolt knob is integral with the removable bolt handle. A Sako type extractor is complemented by a plunger ejector. There is a cocking indicator below the streamlined bolt shroud. Bolt operation is unusually smooth.

The two-position safety lever is mounted at the right rear of the receiver. It locks both the trigger and the bolt when applied. The one-piece magazine well and trigger guard is formed from polymer. There is, naturally, no trigger guard tang. The fire control housing is aluminum and all other trigger group parts are steel. The single stage, grooved trigger is adjustable for weight of pull between 2-4 pounds, an excellent feature.

The detachable polymer magazine is an inline, straight feeding design that (unfortunately) protrudes well below the bottom line of the stock. Magazine capacity is four standard or three magnum rounds. The magazine release is recessed at the front of the magazine well.

The stock is claimed to be formed from "glass fiber reinforced copolymer polypropylene." The stock's lines are not as sleek as the Weatherby Vanguard, but better than most of our economy rifles. The buttstock has a straight, fluted comb and there are positive checkering panels molded into the stock at pistol grip and forend. The stock contours are rounded, as is the tip of the forend. Unfortunately, a couple of useless, molded ridges below the bolt handle and along the lower buttstock area detract from the appearance of the stock. A rubber recoil pad and steel sling swivel studs are provided. Length of pull is adjustable by means of spacers.

There is a long list of available calibers, including .204 Ruger, .222 Remington, .223 Remington, .22-250, .243 Winchester, .25-06, .260 Remington, 6.5x55mm, .270 Winchester, .270 WSM, 7mm-08, 7x64mm, 7mm Rem. Magnum, .308 Winchester, .30-06, .300 WSM, .300 Win. Magnum, 8x57mm, .338 Federal, .338 Win. Magnum and 9.3x62mm. The MSRP is $675 ($725 for WSM calibers), making the T3 Lite the most expensive of our budget rifles. A review of the Tikka T3 Lite can be found on the Product Reviews page.

Weatherby Vanguard Series 2 Synthetic

Weatherby Vanguard Series 2 Synthetic
Photo courtesy of Weatherby.

The Vanguard Series 2 Synthetic is our first place finisher in the economy rifle sweepstakes. None of the other economy rifles come close in terms of fundamental quality.

The least expensive Vanguard Series 2 model is the synthetic stocked, matte blued version described here. There are also more expensive versions with stainless barreled actions, Weatherby luster blued barreled actions, heavy varmint barrels, fiberglass composite stocks, standard grade walnut stocks and deluxe walnut stocks.

The Vanguard Series 2 Deluxe is a premium rifle that carries a MSRP of $1149. I mention this to illustrate that the Vanguard is not, essentially, an economy rifle, although the basic Synthetic model falls into the upper range of the economy price class. Regardless of price, all Vanguard Series 2 models are based on the same excellent action.

The Vanguard incorporates many premium features. It uses an open top, flat bottomed receiver machined from steel billet with a heavy, integral recoil lug. The bolt raceways are polished for smooth operation. The barrel is securely threaded into the receiver and, in conjunction with the bolt's recessed face, constitutes the famous Weatherby "three rings of steel" (recessed bolt face, barrel chamber and front receiver ring) that surround the cartridge case head.

The fluted bolt body, bolt head, bolt handle and bolt knob is also machined as one piece from a single steel billet. The integral, rounded bolt knob has a knurled ring for enhanced gripping. This quality construction is almost unheard of in modern rifles, even deluxe rifles, let alone economy rifles. (Weatherby's famous Mark V receiver and bolt, of course, are made this way.)

Even the Vanguard's bead blasted, matte blued external metal finish is a cut above most economy matte finishes. A 24", cold hammer forged, #2 contour barrel delivers full velocity from factory loaded ammunition.

The Vanguard bolt uses large (Mauser pattern) dual front locking lugs that require a 90-degree bolt lift. There is a generous Weatherby/M-16 type claw extractor mounted at the front of the bolt body that takes a substantial bite on a case rim and a reliable, bolt face mounted plunger ejector. A steel, streamlined bolt shroud fully encloses the rear of the bolt and three holes drilled in the bolt body are designed to vent dangerous escaping gas safely away from the shooter's face in the event of a blown case. The Vanguard probably protects the shooter from escaping powder gasses better than any other rifle in this comparison.

The steel, two-stage trigger has hand-honed engagement surfaces and is factory tuned and inspected. It is user adjustable down to 2.5 pounds. The three-position safety is mounted conventionally at the right rear of the receiver and there is a cocking indicator below the rear of the bolt sleeve.

The sheet steel, internal box magazine is provided with a hinged magazine floorplate. The floorplate release is mounted in the front of the trigger guard and the one-piece trigger guard / bottom iron is machined from steel.

The dark gray, synthetic Vanguard Series 2 stock's forend incorporates extensive cross-bracing to eliminate (or at least minimize) flexing. Likewise, the buttstock is not hollow and doesn't resonate when thumped.

The barreled action is full length bedded in this stock, not free floating, to maximize accuracy from the sporter weight barrel. Almost alone among modern manufacturers, Weatherby still differentiates between heavy contour and lighter contour barrels and beds each accordingly.

Black pistol grip and forend inserts provide a firm grip and look better than the integral textured surfaces common on economy rifle stocks. The stock features a Weatherby style Monte Carlo comb with cheek piece and an effective recoil pad to minimize the effect of magnum kick. The black recoil pad, pistol grip cap and "Griptonite" inserts create an attractive contrast with the gray stock. Steel sling swivel studs are provided.

This stock has pleasing lines, is comfortably slender at pistol grip and forend and all contours are smoothly rounded. It is well shaped and handles well. It is the best of our economy rifle synthetic stocks.

A substantial list of available calibers includes .223 Remington, .22-250, .243 Winchester, .240 Wby. Magnum, .25-06, .257 Wby. Magnum, .270 Winchester, 7mm-08, 7mm Rem. Magnum, .308 Winchester, .30-06, .300 Win. Magnum, .300 Weatherby Magnum and .338 Win. Magnum. The MSRP is $649. A full review of the otherwise identical stainless version of the Weatherby Vanguard Series 2 Synthetic can be found on the Product Reviews page.

Summary: Approximate Order of Preference

This is not Holy Writ; it is just my impression after comparing these rifles. True value means the best quality and fewest cheesy shortcuts for the money. It won't hurt my feelings if you disagree.

  1. Weatherby Vanguard Series 2 Synthetic
  2. Tikka T3 Lite
  3. Browning AB3
  4. Marlin X7
  5. Ruger American
  6. Mossberg ATR
  7. Savage Axis
  8. Remington Model 783


If the only centerfire hunting rifle you can afford is one of these economy models, rest assured that they will take down a coyote, feral hog, deer or elk in an appropriate caliber. They are generally available at discounted prices. However, remember that you can probably buy a used, higher grade rifle in good condition at your local gun or sporting goods store for about the same price. A good used Remington Model 700 BDL, for example, is a much better investment than a new Remington Model 783.

The Weatherby Vanguard Series 2 Synthetic is the clear winner in terms of quality and long term value. It is the only barreled action worth upgrading. You could replace the cheap plastic stock with a decent walnut version, have the barreled action polished and high luster blued and emerge with a semi-custom rifle of which you could be proud. (Of course, it would be more cost effective to simply buy a Weatherby Vanguard Deluxe in the first place.)

The Tikka T3 and Browning AB3 stand above the remainder of the pack. The Browning's action design is a little more sophisticated than normal for the class and its finish is a bit better. The Browning's stock and furnishings are below what you would get on an X-Bolt or classic A-Bolt, but above average for the class. Basically, the same can be said about the Tikka T3 Lite.

The rest are essentially throw away rifles that you use-up and discard. They are suitable for use as loaners to visiting hunters, for leaving behind the seat of your pick-up or tractor in case of a chance encounter in the field or as a first rifle for a new hunter that will soon be replaced by something better. They are not rifles you would be proud to bequeath to the next generation when they grow up to be hunters.

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Copyright 2014, 2016 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.