Best Hunting Rifles for this Season

Best Hunting Rifles for this Season

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.

Ambush Firearms

You might not have heard of this AR company, but you may have heard of its 'œparent': Daniel Defense. While Daniel Defense is all about defense/tactical, Ambush is all about hunting, and the brand offers 6.8 SPC (II chamber) and .300 BLK rifles that are available in Black, Mossy Oak Break Up Infinity, Realtree AP and Mossy Oak Blaze Pink. The rifles feature cold hammer-forged barrels — 1:11 twist 18-inch in the 6.8 and 1:8 twist 16-inch in the .300 BLK — that are treated to a salt bath nitride finish. Both have six-position collapsible buttstocks and two-stage Geissele SSA triggers, as well as shotgun-inspired fore-end grips.


The company's R8 flagship rifle — a switch-barrel straight-pull rifle — is now available in a new configuration for lefties: the R8 Professional Success. It's available in a wide array of big game calibers, from .243 to .375 H&H. The Professional Success variant's stock features a rather exaggerated thumbhole. The company says the design 'œprovides a relaxed posture of hand and arm in any shooting position.' Stock choices include dark green and dark brown. After a bit of searching, I found a base suggested retail price of $4,356.


If you're in the centerfire hunting market, you have to come out with an economy model. Hey, everybody's doing it. Enter Browning's downscale gun: the A-Bolt III. Browning decided not to go all the way to the bargain basement; the suggested retail is right at $600, a good bit more than the Ruger American, Savage Axis and Remington 783. Offered in Composite Stalker configuration, it offers a free-floated matte blue barrel with recessed target crown and a trigger with a 3.5-pound pull. The electroless nickel bolt has a 60-degree throw, and there's a bolt unlock button that allows you to unload the chamber with the top tang safety on. Capacity is 4+1 in standard calibers, 4+1 in magnums. Also new is the X-Bolt Full Line Dealer, a name that doesn't exactly give you a warm, fuzzy feeling but does let you know where you'll be able to buy it. It's a walnut-stocked gun with a raised cheeckpiece, 60-degree bolt lift, glass-bedded barreled action and features the company's Inflex Technology recoil pad.


The 'œWorld's Foremost Outfitter' celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2011, then last year the catalog company debuted its Custom Classics line. Current offerings include several Winchester Model 70 and lever-action variants — as well as a Sako 85. They're not just stock guns with special engraving; they feature select wood, special finishes and more.

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.

Dakota Arms

Four years ago, Dakota Arms was purchased by Freedom Group, and many wondered what Freedom — whose portfolio includes Remington, DPMS and more — had in mind. For the first couple of years the answer seemed to be 'œnothing,' but this year Dakota announced it is expanding its Model 76 line to include the new Professional Hunter. The Model 76 takes much of its design from Winchester's pre-1964 Model 70 action, to include a Mauser-type extractor. Available in right- or left-handed versions, the Professional Hunter features a Cerakote-finished 23-inch Douglas stainless barrel that's pillar bedded into a synthetic stock and sports a quarter-rib fixed blade rear sight and a banded and hooded front sight with fiber-optic bead. As the name suggests, it's offered in calibers from .375 H&H on up. But the question remains, are hunters willing to part with $8,000 for a gun without the cache of a custom maker's name or super high-end components?


Is there a name with more history in the rifle universe than Mauser? Paul Mauser's revolutionary turnbolt design, developed in the late 1800s, was so good it's still with us today in various forms. New from the rifle company bearing his family's name is the M12. Available in a basic wood-stocked version as well as a synthetic Extreme model, the M12 locks up directly in the barrel courtesy of six locking lugs, providing strength without weight and a short 60-degree bolt throw. The bolt also has a double ejector, a three-position Smooth Roll Safety and, according to company claims, a two-pound trigger pull. Craig Boddington just finished his RifleShooter review; look for it next issue. Standard chamberings come with a 22-inch barrel and feature a 5+1 capacity with detachable box mag; 24-inch on the magnums and a 4+1 capacity. Weight is around seven pounds.


I readily admit a fondness for straight-pull actions and have shot and hunted with several different ones. But this fast, convenient European design simply hasn't caught on here. Maybe it will with the new RX Helix from Merkel, a company located in Suhl, Germany.

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.


Nosler continues to build up its excellent Model 48 rifle line, this year adding the Outfitter. It's designed as a 'œbrush' gun with a shorter, 22-inch barrel and adjustable open sights, the front boasting a fiber-optic insert. The composite stock features a full-length aluminum bedding chassis for a truly stable platform, and the match-grade stainless barrel is hand-lapped and finished in black Cerakote. It's got a three-pound trigger, and the trigger guard is enlarged for easy use with gloves.

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 gallery=52,400.

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.


Obviously the biggest news is Remington's latest entry into the economy bolt-action market, the Model 783. We featured this rifle on our March/April cover, but if you missed that issue, here are the highlights. One, the suggested retail is $450, which means street price will be $400 or even less. For that you get a good-looking synthetic stock, pillar bedding, a target-crowned barrel and a new CrossFire user-adjustable trigger that employs a lever in the finger piece which allows pull weights down to 3.5 pounds. The receiver has an enclosed ejection port and accepts two M700 front scope bases. Weight is in the low seven-pound range, and the gun is chambered for basic big game chamberings.

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 big news from Ruger is, of course, the Guide Gun, which we featured on the May/June cover. It's a no-nonsense rifle meant for heavy-duty work with its laminate stock that offers a spacer for length of pull adjustment, stainless metal, iron sights, barrel band sling swivel attachment point and a removable muzzle brake.

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.


Another of our cover rifles, this one from July/August, is Sako's new Arctos. It took quite a while for the model to reach these shores, but it's totally worth the wait. Built on the fantastic 85 action, it sports a gorgeous piece of wood, but don't be fooled: With its iron sights, barrel band sling swivel attachment point and partially fluted heavy barrel, this gun is built to hunt. And judging from its chambering lineup, the Arctos is meant for the big stuff; calibers start at .308 and go up to the powerful .370 Sako. It's a bit pricey at close to $3,000, but you're getting a lot of gun for the money.


I admit to not knowing much about the new Sauer M101 beyond what the company has published. It's a six-lug turnbolt rifle, the lugs engaging the barrel directly — a standard European design. What's intriguing is how the rifle is bedded. The company is calling it Ever Rest and says it isolates the stock from the action, ensuring long-term accuracy. The stock, which it's calling the Ergo Max, is available in black synthetic or oiled walnut; both styles feature a Schnabel fore-end and an ambidextrous palm swell. Barrels are 22 inches for standard rounds, 24 for magnums; weights range from 6.7 to 6.9 pounds.


The big news is that Savage Arms has been acquired by ATK, the same conglomerate that owns such renowned brands as Federal, Blackhawk, Weaver, Outers, Champion and more. Whether this is good news remains to be seen. What is clear is that, after years of line expansions, Savage dialed it back and introduced only two new models. Both are extensions of the economy Axis line, and both are aimed at the youth market. The Axis XP Youth Camo and Muddy Girl rifles have 20-inch barrels and a 40-inch OAL; they weigh 6.2 pounds. They feature pillar bedding and feed from detachable box mags.

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.

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.


Winchester continues to slowly reintroduce models following the relocation of its manufacturing facilities. One new one for this year is near and dear to my heart: the Model 94 Carbine, my first deer rifle. What can I tell you about this whitetail classic that you don't already know? It has all the looks of the original (except mine, circa 1973, didn't have a curved metal buttplate), with a few updates — including a a triple-checked button-rifled barrel, a bolt relief cut for reduced hammer drag, radiused lever edges to protect your fingers, and a hammer that's drilled and tapped for the supplied knurled hammer-spur extension. Plus the new rifle is drilled and tapped for scope mounts. Oh, and the price has changed from 40 years ago; it's pushing [imo-slideshow gallery=52],200 these days.

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.


There's actually quite a bit new at Weatherby, starting with its hallmark Mark V rifle, to which the company had been paying scant attention as it focused on the Vanguard line. The new Mark V Accumark RC (Range Certified) rifle comes with a sub-m.o.a. guarantee using specified Weatherby factory or premium ammunition. The rifle boasts a hand-laid synthetic Monte Carlo stock, and its button-rifled No. 3 contour stainless fluted barrel (24- to 28-inch, depending on caliber) mates with the stock courtesy of a CNC-machined aluminum bedding block.

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 'œedgy' 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.

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