March 11, 2022
By Keith Wood
If you’ve ever watched outdoor television, you’ve probably heard of Best of the West. This company, based in Cody, Wyoming, was one of the early voices in the long-range hunting community, depicting shots on game to its viewers at previously-unheard-of distances. Regardless of your opinion of this type of hunting, there is little doubt it has pushed the envelope in terms of hunting rifle technology. Thanks to the public’s obsession with all things long range, today’s big game rifles are more accurate, durable and effective than ever before. The Best of the West Hunter Elite is just such a rifle.
This company’s rifles aren’t inexpensive, but the Hunter Elite model was designed from the ground up to be available at a lower price point than many of the firm’s other products. The Hunter Elite isn’t just a rifle; it is a turnkey range-ready package.
The rifle comes with a pre-mounted Huskemaw Optics Blue Diamond long-range optic with a ballistic turret calibrated to a specific load. Twenty rounds of that load are included, along with a TSA-approved, hard-sided travel case. Our test sample even came zeroed from the factory.
The Hunter Elite is offered with minimal options, which is one of the factors that helps keep costs down. Three stock colors are available, and buyers can choose from one of four scope models. Hunter Elites are available in five cartridges ranging from the 6.5 Creedmoor chambering of our test rifle to magnums, including the .28 Nosler and .300 Win. Mag.
Like all Best of the West rifles, the Hunter Elite is based on a two-lug push-feed bolt action with a round Remington 700-style footprint. The actions are CNC machined from stainless steel and include several upgraded features. The bolt body is spiral-fluted and uses a spring-loaded M16-style extractor along with a plunger ejector. Like a 700, the bolt face is recessed into the nose to add additional steel around the cartridge case.
The bolt knob is machined integrally to the bolt body for strength and is extended to make it more accessible under stress. Unlike many of the oversize tactical knobs on the market, this one still maintains a reasonably slick profile. The bolt stop is located at the nine o’clock position on the action, making bolt removal a quick and simple process.
The action uses a traditional non-integral 0.250-inch recoil lug that sandwiches between the face of the action and the barrel’s shank. This feature cuts down on manufacturing costs when compared to integral-lug actions, but the difference to the shooter is nil.
The Hunter Elite uses an internal 700-style steel magazine that holds three rounds in the 6.5 Creedmoor chambering. A hinged aluminum floorplate allows shooters to quickly unload the rifle and provides a more trim appearance than some of the detachable magazine rifles out there. The Best of the West logo is laser engraved into the bottom metal’s aluminum floorplate.
A single-stage Timney trigger is included with the rifle, and my sample was set to break cleanly right at two pounds. This excellent trigger paid big dividends on the practical accuracy of the rifle. The safety is a traditional 700-style lever that rides on the starboard side of the tang.
The Wilson Arms barrel is button-rifled and made from stainless steel. The barrel is 25.75 inches long, which includes the threaded-on six-port muzzle brake. The barrel is attractively spiral-fluted along much of its length with six deep grooves. The twist rate is 1:8, which is capable of stabilizing most any bullet on the market. All of the visible metal parts are finished in Graphite Black Cerakote, and with stainless steel underneath the coating, the Hunter Elite should require minimal effort in keeping corrosion at bay.
The stock is made from graphite-reinforced fiberglass and comes pillar- and glass-bedded to the barreled action. Though I’ve seen rifles that were obviously mass-bedded to slave actions as a cost-saving measure, this Hunter Elite came hand-bedded and correctly fitted to the individual barreled action used.
The stock’s shape is a hybrid of sorts, including elements of both traditional sporter and modern tactical designs. There is a fixed, raised cheekpiece; a vertical pistol grip; and a tapered fore-end. Flush-cup QD sling swivels are inletted into the buttstock and fore-end, which provides a slick profile.
The stock is finished in one of three Cerakote colors—gray, black or tan—along with a spiderweb accent. A soft LimbSaver pad helps dampen felt recoil, which was a non-issue in the 6.5 Creedmoor version I tested.
The Hunter Elite is offered with a choice of Huskemaw optics ranging from the 4-16x42mm to the 5-30x56mm. The 5-20x50mm on my test rifle sits in the middle in terms of size and magnification range. Still, it’s a big scope. The optic was mounted in Talley lightweight rings and, as I mentioned previously, arrived pre-zeroed.
Huskemaw was one of the first scope manufacturers to offer custom elevation turrets matched to a specific load and environmental factors. Rather than using an m.o.a.-based or a mil-based system, Best of the West includes a laser-engraved turret.
This system is both freeing and limiting at the same time. If you plan to use only the ammunition matched to the rifle by the company and hunt in fairly constant weather and elevation conditions, the system is simple to use.
On the other hand, if you want to use numerous loads in your rifle or hunt at varying altitudes and temperatures, a more generic turret would offer better flexibility. To that end, a standard 1/3-m.o.a. dial was included with the Hunter Elite. The scope’s 30mm tube allows for 80 m.o.a. of total adjustment.
The Huskemaw is an interesting scope with several unique features. The first is the patented HuntSmart reticle. This glass-etched second focal-plane reticle comes with both elevation and windage graduations to establish various holdovers and holdoffs. To determine which wind hold to use, the shooter dials the elevation turret to the correct target range. At the top row of that dial are a series of numbers, which indicate the appropriate average wind hold for that distance. It sounds more complicated than it is.
When shooting long range, using either an elevation turret or a reticle, it is imperative that the scope be held level. Even a slight cant can cause a horizontal miss at extended ranges. The Huskemaw scope has a bubble spirit level visible at the bottom edge of the reticle to allow shooters to confirm that everything is where it should be before the shot is taken. Beyond the level, the scope has an adjustable parallax turret on the nine o’clock side that is combined with an illuminated reticle control.
Based on Best of the West’s reputation, I expected great things in the accuracy department. I was not disappointed. The company’s manual places great emphasis on using the specific load that the rifle is “qualified” with—i.e., the load on the ballistic dial.
Due to current demand, though, the Hornady Match 147-grain load that the rifle was designed around wasn’t available to us. Instead, I used three loads I had on hand: Remington 140-grain Premier Match open-tip match, SIG Sauer 140-grain Match Grade open-tip match and Prime’s 130-grain boattail hollowpoint. I’ve seen strong performances from all three loads in the past.
I tested each of the loads with three three-shot groups at 100 yards. The average across all of those groups was a mere 0.46 inch. Best group of the day was with Remington Premier Match ammunition and measured just 0.26 inch center-to-center. SIG’s Match Grade was the most consistent, with an average group size of 0.42 inch. It is one thing for a rifle to shoot one load exceptionally well, but this Hunter Elite did it across the board, and I was impressed.
Since I did not have access to the load engraved on the dial, I did some figuring to determine how much of an issue that would be. This could come up in the real world when, for example, the airlines lose the bag containing your ammo.
I used the SIG Match Grade ammunition for this comparison since it shot so consistently well in the rifle. The loads didn’t meaningfully diverge until past 400 yards, which is usually about my limit when it comes to shots at unwounded game. Out to 400 yards the target matched what the data told me. At 600 yards the points of impact were 10 inches apart, which is enough to cause a miss or, worse, a wounded animal.
The takeaway is that, given reasonable distances, there is some flexibility in what load you can use with the custom dial. On truly long-range shots, though, you need to use the load on the dial or order a new dial matched to the ammunition you plan to use.
The scoped rifle weighs in at nine pounds, five ounces unloaded. Though ultra-lightweight rifles have become popular, I have migrated back toward heavier rifles for most of my hunting. Lightweight rifles can be accurate, but they are less forgiving when it comes to making tough shots in practical scenarios.
I’ll put it this way: I’ve never wanted a heavier rifle while hiking, but I’ve never wanted a lighter rifle when it comes to shooting. In my experience, the weight of this package is about right for a rifle designed for precision shooting afield.
The Hunter Elite isn’t an everyman’s rifle. Base price for this rifle package is $5,499. The price tag is not out of line with Best of the West’s competitors, but it’s certainly beyond the means of many hunters and shooters.
I see the target market for this rifle as a professional who makes a good living but, due to the rigors of his or her career, doesn’t have much spare time to do load development and create bullet drop and drift data. No, you can’t buy skill, but you can invest in tools that flatten the learning curve. Price aside, the performance of this rifle speaks for itself.
I love shooting steel targets at great distances, but purposeful long-range hunting isn’t for me. I would appear to be in the minority in that department, though, and the firearms industry is responding accordingly. Many of the rifles that we see on the market today are well built, incredibly accurate and capable of amazing work with a skilled shooter behind them. Best of the West’s Hunter Elite epitomizes this precision hunting rifle category.
Best Of The West Hunter Elite Specifications
- Type: Two-lug bolt-action centerfire
- Caliber: 6.5 Creedmoor (tested), 6.5-284, 7mm Rem. Mag., .28 Nosler, .300 Win. Mag.
- Capacity: 3+1 (as tested), internal box magazine
- Barrel: 25.75 in., 1:8, threaded w/brake
- Overall Length: 44 in.
- Weight: 9 lb., 5 oz. (scoped)
- Finish: Graphite Black Cerakote
- Stock: Graphite-reinforced fiberglass
- Sights: none; drilled and tapped for scope mounting
- Trigger: single-stage Timney; 2 lb. pull (measured)
- Safety: two-position lever
- Price: $5,499 base; $6,098 as tested
- Manufacturer: The Best Of The West, BestoftheWestArms.com