Recommended Centerfire Hunting Rifles

By Chuck Hawks

One of the most common e-mail queries I receive asks what hunting rifle I recommend. I usually reply that the most important things about any hunting rifle, and particularly a hard-kicking centerfire rifle, is that it be well made, reliable and fit the owner. The prospective owner should be able to work the controls (bolt, safety, trigger, etc.) comfortably. Pride of ownership is also important; if you are not proud of your new rifle and appreciate owning it, you should have purchased something else.

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. Buy the one you like 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. The factors mentioned above are critical, so if a recommended rifle does not appeal to 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 firearms retailer and I have been an 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.

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 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 unsatisfactory hunting rifles in the marketplace and most of the poor ones are autoloaders.

Note that only currently (or very recently) 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 bespoke custom built rifles, such as the Grulla C-95 bolt action and E-95 double rifles.

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.

Bolt Action Ultra-Deluxe Rifles

  • Cooper Arms Western Classic, Custom Classic, Mannlicher models
  • Dakota Model 76 Classic
  • Kimber Models 84M / 8400 Super America
  • Mauser M98 Diplomat
  • Nosler Model 48 Custom Rifle
  • Remington Model 700 Custom C Grade
  • Remington Custom Shop Model Seven Mannlicher
  • Steyr SM 12
  • Weatherby Mark V Deluxe, LazerMark, Safari

Bolt Action Deluxe Rifles

  • Browning X-Bolt White Gold Medallion
  • Cooper Arms Classic, Schnabel models
  • CZ 550 series
  • Kimber Models 84M / 8400 Select Grade
  • Mauser M98 Expert
  • Nosler Model 48 series
  • Remington Model 700 CDL SF
  • Sako 85 Classic and Bavarian
  • Shaw Precision Guns Mk-VII series
  • Steyr CL II
  • Weatherby Mark V series
  • Weatherby Vanguard Deluxe, Safari, LazerGuard
  • Winchester Model 70 Super Grade

Bolt Action Standard Rifles

  • Bergara B-14 series
  • Browning X-Bolt series
  • CZ 557 series
  • Howa M1500 series
  • Mauser M12 series
  • Kimber Models 84M / 8400 series
  • Remington Model 700 series
  • Remington Model Seven series
  • Ruger M77 Hawkeye series
  • Sabatti Saphire Series
  • Sako 85 series
  • Savage 12 Varmint series
  • Weatherby Vanguard series
  • Winchester Model 70 Featherweight and Sporter

Bolt Action Economy / Entry Level Rifles

  • Browning AB3 series
  • Mossberg Patriot series
  • Remington Model 783 Walnut
  • Ruger American series
  • Tikka T3x series
  • Weatherby Vanguard Select
  • Winchester XPR series

Lever Action Rifles (for rifle cartridges)

  • Browning BLR Lightweight, Lightweight '81
  • Henry .30-30
  • Henry .45-70
  • Henry Long Ranger
  • Marlin Model 336 series
  • Marlin Models 444 and 1895
  • Winchester Model 94 series
  • Winchester Model 1886
  • Winchester Model 1895
  • Winchester Model 71

Lever Action Rifles (for short cartridges)

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

Single Shot Rifles

  • Blaser K-95 series (break-open)
  • BRNO Effect (break-open)
  • Dakota Arms Model 10 (falling block)
  • Henry Single Shot Rifle (break-open)
  • Merkel K3 series (break-open)
  • Mossberg SSI-1 (break-open)
  • Ruger No. 1 series (falling block)
  • Winchester 1885 High Wall (falling block)
  • Winchester 1885 Low Wall (falling block)

Autoloading and Pump Action Rifles

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

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

  • Beretta SxS Express (side-by-side)
  • CZ 550 Safari series (bolt)
  • Dakota Model 76 African (bolt)
  • Kimber Model 8400 Caprivi (bolt)
  • Krieghoff Classic SxS (side-by-side)
  • Mauser Model 98 (bolt)
  • Merkel Safari SxS Models 140-2 (side-by-side)
  • Ruger M77 Hawkeye African (bolt)
  • Sabatti Big Five Classic Safari and Big Five EDL (side-by-side)
  • Sako 85 Safari (bolt)
  • Weatherby Mark V Safari Custom / Mark V DGR (bolt)
  • Weatherby Vanguard Safari / Vanguard DGR (bolt)
  • Winchester Model 70 Safari Express (bolt)

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

  • Browning BLR Lightweight Short Action (lever; .450 Marlin)
  • Henry .45-70 Round Barrel Models H010, H010AW (lever; .45-70)
  • Marlin Model 1895 Guide Gun (lever; .45-70, .450 Marlin)
  • Remington Custom Shop Model Seven Mannlicher (bolt; .350 Rem. Mag.)
  • Ruger M77 Hawkeye Guide Gun (bolt; .338 Win. Mag., .375 Ruger, .416 Ruger)

Takedown Travel Rifles (any action type)

  • Browning BLR Lightweight '81 Takedown (lever)
  • Dakota Traveler (bolt)
  • Merkel K3 Jagd (break-open single shot)

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Copyright 2003, 2018 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.