February 18, 2016
Another SHOT show teeming with some 64,000 attendees and boiling with cool new-product announcements is on the books. As the dust (or perhaps I should say snow) settles, it's decision time. Time to sit back, ponder a bit and pick out your next purchase.
Whether you're in search of the best rifle for reaching varmints or a can-perforating AR-type rimfire, or the best rifle to fend off ISIS or the zombies (or perhaps the zombies of ISIS), there's a gun for you. Need a new upper-crust lightweight bolt-action but have few nickels rattling around in the piggy bank? Doubt not — you're in luck too.
What if you're in the market for the best rifle for reaching out at big game? You're perhaps best served of all — no trend is burgeoning like that of the long-range precision movement. I could have written an article filled with just long-range hunting models that I saw at the show.
Finally, the best rifles for hunting on a budget — good hard-using tools of the meat-making trade — abound like never before. So if it's time to outfit your triplet tweens with the best rifle for hunting, fear not and read on.
Browning X-Bolt Long Range
Engineered from its very foundations as a lightweight action, Browning's X-Bolt is inherently accurate. This makes it a natural choice on which to create the best rifle for long-range precision with the majority of the weight where it counts — in the barrel — and that's just what the company has done. A whole line of them, to be exact, ranging from a basic "Stalker" version for under a grand up to the Hells Canyon Long Range McMillan, which is the version pictured here. Sporting the first-ever marriage between a production X-Bolt and one of McMillan's superb composite stocks, it comes in A-TACS AU camo on the stock, Burnt Bronze Cerakote on the metal parts, and has a removable muzzle brake paired with a thread protector. Most popular long-range calibers ranging from 6.5mm Creedmoor to 28 Nosler and .300 Win. Mag. are available. Tactical-type optic rails with 20 moa of elevation built in can be purchased from Talley.
Barrel length: 26 inches. Weight: 7.5 pounds. Price: $2,130.
CZ-USA Model 557 Varmint
Sporting a 25.6-inch heavy-profile barrel in a newly designed walnut stock engineered to support maximum accuracy, the 557 Varmint takes advantage of the action designs precision and consistency in a way that the 557 Sporter models can't. A generous palm swell and flat fore-end make it easy to shoot well from the bench or a prone position. Initially offered in .308, it's really more than a varmint rifle — it's the best rifle for honest precision, capable of shooting 600 yards accurately. The barrel is hammer forged and rifled with a twist rate of 1 turn in 10 inches. Overall weight is 11 pounds. Price: $865.
Desert Tech MDR
Built in my native state of Utah, Desert Tech rifles have a reputation as the best rifle in precision bull-pup form. Initially available in 5.56 and 7.62x51, the MDR — or Micro Dynamic Rifle — is a semiauto that allows fast barrel and caliber changes and is fully ambidextrous. Even the ejection port/ejector may be reversed in order to throw empty cartridge cases to the preferred side. Barrels are available in various lengths, including those appropriate for an SBR (short-barreled rifle) for those willing to undergo the NFA paperwork in order to own one legally — and when fit with one of those 10.5-inch short barrels, the entire carbine is only 20 inches long. Weight: 7.5 pounds. Price: $1,999 (5.56 caliber).
About the only complaint any rifleman ever had with one of Kimber's fine-shooting big game rifles is that there wasn't a model priced for the blue-collar fellow. Previously, the low end was $1,300-plus. Lament no longer. The company's newly-introduced Hunter rifle retails at only $885 — lower than many Winchester Model 70s and Ruger Model 77s — and still features the beautifully designed and finished stainless barrel, action, and trigger on the superb Kimber Montana model, perhaps Kimber's best rifle. The difference is in the stock: instead of a very light super-composite stock the Hunter wears an injection-molded polymer version. Not to worry, it looks and feels great and the Hunter carries the same one-MOA accuracy guarantee as it's more expensive brethren. Also, instead of a hinged or blind magazine, the Hunter wears a detachable box magazine. Chambered in popular calibers, it weighs in at about 6.5 pounds and has a 22-inch barrel.
Mossberg Patriot Kryptek Highlander camo
While it's not a purely new model, the Patriot line extension in Kryptek Highlander camo is, asthetically speaking, the best rifle Mossberg ever made, and thus — in my admittedly biased opinion — deserves mention. Featuring the model's proven LBA adjustable trigger, it should shoot as well as it looks. Two versions are available, one full-size standard rifle and one Bantam model with a stock extension block so it can start short and grow with your youthful hunting partner. Popular calibers ranging from .243 Win. to .300 Win. Mag. are available in the full-size model, which sports a 22-inch barrel; only the .243 can be had in the 20-inch youth version. Weight runs about 6.75 pounds. Even with the sporty camo finish, price is only $421.
Remington 700 ADL 200-year anniversary commemorative
While there's a much-more-expensive uber-fancy limited edition Model 700 to commemorate Big Green's 200th birthday, this 700 ADL commemorative is Remington's best rifle for the common man. Featuring a Fleur-De Lis checkering pattern, commemorative grip medallion, and satin walnut stock, it has just the tasteful kind of decoration that I like. Best of all, it's priced at $695. A Remington employee at the SHOT Show told me that customers were saying it's just the model they've been looking for, and I suspect sales will be brisk. Calibers include .243 Win., .270 Win., .30-06 SPRG. and .300 Win. Mag. Barrel length is 24 inches in standard calibers and 26 inches in the magnum.
Smith & Wesson M&P22-15 Sport
Touted as the most "feature rich" M&P15-22 to date, this new iteration of Smith & Wesson's M&P 15-22 is the company's best rifle option for rimfire seekers to date and will replace other existing models in the lineup. A 10-inch slim M-LOK handguard comes standard, making for better ergonomics and easy accessorizing, and every rifle is fit with a set of lightweight Magpul MBUS folding sights. In addition to the standard black, two optional finishes grace the line: Kryptek's Highlander camo and Moon Shine's Muddy Girl camo. Best of all, price doesn't go up: the base model still retails at $449 and comes with a limited lifetime warranty. Capacity is 25 rounds. Weight: 5 pounds.
Springfield Armory M1A SOCOM-16 CQB
What could be cooler than Springfield's hard-hitting, compact .308 M1A SOCOM-16? How about an adjustable-stock SOCOM-16 with M-LOK fore-end compatibility? Featuring a buffer-tube-like affair that accepts most AR-15 stocks and a AK-47-type grip mount, the new CQB version offers outstanding adaptability and ergonomics, and its compatibility with lights and lasers makes it the best rifle in the M1A line for close quarters (thus the "CQB" name) and indoor use. Plus, a version with a proprietary Vortex Venom factory-mounted optic (shown) is available. Each SOCOM-16 CQB comes in a ballistic nylon soft case with internal support straps and magazine pouches. Barrel length: 16.25 inches. Price: $2,099.
Thompson Center Compass
When it comes to the best rifle options for budget-priced big game hunting, none are more outstanding than T/C's Venture. Accuracy and reliability are invariably excellent. Its brand-new little brother, the Compass, costs even less (some 20 percent less) yet sports features like an adjustable trigger, factory-threaded muzzle, three-lug electroless nickel/Teflon plated bolt and pillar-bedded action, and 5R rifling in the free-floated barrel. A flush-fit, rotary magazine holds five rounds in standard calibers and four rounds in magnum calibers, putting the hurt on expensive rifles that hold fewer cartridges. Scope bases are included with every rifle. It's chambered in popular calibers from .204 Ruger to .300 Win. Mag. Barrel length is 22 inches; 24 inches on magnums. Weight: 7.25 pounds. Price: $399.
Weatherby Vanguard Modular Chassis
In a first for Weatherby, the company is offering its accurate, reliable Vanguard action in an aluminum chassis. CNC machined of 6061 aircraft-grade material and hard-coat anodized, the chassis has a vented, free-floated fore-end, a generous mag well that gulps loaded 10-round detachable polymer magazines, and a buttstock fully adjustable for length and cheekrest height. The grip is an AR-type Hogue OverMolded version. Initially available in .223 Rem. and .308 Win., the model weighs in at 8.75 pounds. Barrel length is 22 inches, and the .223 version boasts 1:9 twist rifling that will stabilize most popular high-performance .223 projectiles such as Sierra's 69-grain MatchKing. The only thing missing is a threaded muzzle so owners can add a suppressor — and that's an easy fix. Though, 6.5mm Creedmoor version with a 26-inch barrel would be the best rifle option, in my humble opinion.. Price: $1,449.