New model pickings are relatively slim this year as manufacturers battle to keep up with the demand they already have. Some of the bigger splashes come from European companies. There are several intriguing caliber additions, both from overseas outfits and U.S. companies such as Ruger and Weatherby.
Caliber additions to existing models are described in the text. As usual, if a rifle is not offered in rounds from .243 Win. up, it’s not included here. Yes, I know people hunt deer with .22 calibers such as the .223 and .22-250, but for article manageability and suitability for a wide range of big game I left them out. Here’s my lineup of the best hunting rifles for this season.
The M70 Super-Grade Lightweight is chambered in an old (and underrated) favorite: the .257 Roberts. It boasts fancy-grade walnut and a high-luster blue finish. The 22-inch barrel has a recessed target crown; weight is seven pounds. It, like all the Model 70s in the line, incorporates a Winchester M.O.A. trigger.
I’m not sure if the .264 Win. Mag. is poised for a comeback, but if it is, what better place to start than Cabela’s version of the original Westerner? The new M70 Sporter High Grade features a Grade III walut stock and a deep-blue 26-inch barrel. Weight is 7.75 pounds. And Africa buffs aren’t left out either. The M70 High Grade Safari is chambered in .375 H&H, with the same Grade III wood—with exclusive tang checkering—plus a Marble’s flip-down express rear sight and Williams gold bead front. Weight is nine pounds
There are also two lever guns: The Model 94 in .30-30 and the 1886/71 in .45-70. The .30-30 features a color case-hardened receiver and lever, and a deep-blue 24-inch octagonal barrel. The .45-70’s lever and round 24-inch barrel are blue, while the receiver is color case-hardened. Both sport Grade III walnut. There’s also Sako 85 Finn Bear. It has the original Finn Bear grip cap, along with a rosewood-tipped fore-end. Designed as a true hunting rifle, it has a flat-finish walnut stock and low luster blue metal.
There are too many innovations to go into in depth here (Layne Simpson has wrapped up his review of this gun, and it will appear in the next issue), but I want to touch on a couple of them. One, the Helix features an action that’s geared 2:1, which means it will be faster and smoother than other straight pulls. Two, it breaks down into three component groups without requiring any tools, which is great for travel and makes it even easier to change calibers. Three, it features integral Picatinny rail slots milled into the aluminum receiver—no more searching for obscure mounting setups.
The company has redesigned the cocking system to employ a linkage-driven hammer system that delivers more force to the primer for sure ignition. Weight is in the 6.5-pound range. The RX Helix is available in several heavily embellished high-grade versions (and also a carbon-fiber model), but the standard gun sells for around $3,800. I guess if you’re looking for a reason this style of rifle hasn’t caught on, the price tag would be a prime suspect.
Even though the barrel is a magnum profile, the Outfitter weighs just 7.25 pounds (7.5 in ’06), thanks in part to the blind magazine design that eliminates bottom metal weight. And as befits a rifle model so named, you won’t find the rifle chambered in any wimpy lightweights: Calibers start at .30-06 and go up to .458 Win. Mag. Price is around $2,400.
Nosler is now also offering four packages built around its Model 48 Custom: Long Range, Expedition, High Country and Brush Country. The packages includes a rifle in chamberings appropriate for intended use, plus a suitable scope, rings, two boxes of ammo, Pelican hard case and more. As a Custom, you can specify your stock’s length of pull. Nosler is also offering new chamberings on some of its existing rifles: .260, .264 Win. Mag., 9.3x62, .375 Ruger and .458 Win. Mag.
The 700 adds a few new configurations, including the special editions or anniversary models Remington does every year—CDL SF Limited (.300 Win. Mag.) and XCR II Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation (.257 Wby. Mag.). However, there’s also truly new Model 700 SPS Wood Tech, essentially a synthetic stock finished in such a way that it emulates walnut. I’ve not seen it in person, so I can’t speak to how well the company pulled off the aesthetics, but Remington gets kudos for the effort in moving beyond boring black. The gun also features the X-Mark Pro trigger (factory set at 3.5 pounds) and SuperCell recoil pad.
The latter feature is noteworthy because Ruger provides an identical-weight muzzle extension so you can sight in with the brake on and then thread on the extension for field work—thereby having identical barrel harmonics and overall balance. (There’s also a basic thread cap if you want to hunt without the brake and don’t want the extra barrel length.) This system is offered not just on the Guide Gun but on the Hawkeye African and Magnum Hunter rifles as well.
Two other new offerings include a 7mm-08 chambering in the American and a stainless version of the Gunsite Scout. And No. 1 fans take note: this year the company announced an official policy to vary No. 1 configurations and caliber offerings each year. This is both good and bad: good because there are bound to be some really cool options every year; bad because if you don’t have the cash at the time, you might miss out. 2013 big game-appropriate versions include a 7x57 International, .375 H&H Tropical, .45-70 Medium Sporter, and while it’s called a Varminter, I’d consider 6.5-284 Norma a big game round.
While they lack Savage’s excellent and much copied AccuTrigger, the XP means they come as scoped packages—with suggested retails under $500, and you’ll surely find them for less. The only difference between the two is that the Youth Camo has a Realtree Extra finish and the Muddy Girl has a pink-based camo pattern. Smith & Wesson
Capitalizing on the success of its M&P15 rifle line, Smith upped the ante with the M&P10, an AR-10 rifle chambering the .308/7.62x51 cartridge. The hunting version is a camo, flattop rifle with an 18-inch 4141 steel barrel (1:10 twist with 5R rifling). It features a Magpul MOE stock and comes with a five-round metal magazine. The lower is 7075 T6 aluminum, and the gas key, bolt carrier and firing pin are chromed. It operates off a mid-length gas system, and the safety, mag release and bolt release controls are ambidextrous.
The Model 70 line gets a few additions as well. One is an M70 Alaskan, now available in .375 H&H, and the Featherweight adds the 7mm WSM chambering.
But the big news revolves around the Ultimate Shadow and Ultimate Shadow Hunter SS, which are built on the pre-’64 action with full claw extractor and blade ejector. It features a lightweight Mossy Oak Break Up Infinity synthetic stock finished with Winsorb recoil pad, alloy bottom metal with steel floorplate, front- and rear-bedded barreled action. Barrels range from 22 to 26 inches and sport target crowns, and the rifles feature the M.O.A. trigger system. Chamberings are identical in both models, the only difference being that one is matte-finished stainless and one is satin blue.
The new Back Country Vanguard Series 2, which we’ll be reviewing in a future issue, is actually a model returning to the lineup after several years’ absence. The rifle, which carries a sub-m.o.a. guarantee, weighs in at 6.75 pounds and the metal is treated to a Cerakote Tactical Grey finish. Vanguard Series 2 rifles have two-stage triggers and two-position safeties. Barrel on the Back Country is 24 inches—fluted and pillar-bedded into a Monte Carlo composite stock.
Now for the nontraditional among you, check out the new WBY-X rifles, which feature “edgy” stock finishes. There are four hunting models: Whitetail Bonz (Next Camo Bonz camo, 24-inch barrel); Whitetail Bonz Youth (same camo, 20-inch barrel and stock spacer); Black Reaper (Proveil Reaper Black camo, 24-inch barrel); Hog Reaper (Proveil Reaper Hog camo, 20-inch barrel); and GH2 (stands for Girls Hunt 2—black stock with pink spiderweb accents, 20-inch barrel, stock spacer). All are built on the Vanguard Series 2 platform.
One last addition to the Vanguard Series 2 is the new Synthetic package, which pairs the Vanguard Synthetic with a 3-9x42 Redfield Revenge scope in Talley-designed mounts. An adjustable nylon sling and injection-molded case round out the package. Suggested retail is $999.