Great Big Game Rifles
August 04, 2015
Each year, the industry gives us, the consumer, some fresh choices to see if we'll bite. Some are instant classics and some will go the way of the 8-track cassette (do a search on that if you're younger than 35). Selling big game rifles is tough- the reality is that most of us could buy a .270 or 30-06 and hunt with it our entire lives. Guns don't really wear out with normal use, so our kids and grandkids could likely use it as well. An industry can't survive on selling a rifle every few generations, so they innovate - they try to find something that we have to have, or at least want badly enough. We've taken a look at this year's lineup and picked out a few special guns that you might have to have. So let us take a look at some of the new and some of the improved big game rifles available in 2015.
Kimber 84L in 280 AI
Kimber is well-known for building some of the lightest factory rifles on the market, but not every hunt calls for an five-pound rig. The 84L Classic Select in .280 AI weighs in at a very reasonable 6 pounds, 2 ounces and looks like the North American classic that its name suggests. I've hunted with the .280 AI for well over a decade, and I can tell you that it is an extremely versatile cartridge. This rifle would be about right for everything from antelope to elk and most things in-between. If you can't warm-up to the idea of a synthetic stock but want a rifle to do it all, you could do far worse than this one.
Remington Model Seven
When I sold guns retail, I sold a ton of customers on the virtues of the compact Model Seven. If you're climbing in and out of the tight confines of tree stands or navigating the thick stuff, the Seven's small size becomes a huge advantage. Remington has re-launched the carbine for 2015 in the wood-stocked CDL, as well as synthetic and laminate configurations. They come chambered in everything from the 17 Remington Fireball to the short-magnums, but my choice would be the 260 Remington or 7mm-08. There's no reason to drag a long and heavy rifle through the woods to make 200-yard shots - this little guy will get it done.
Ruger Hawkeye Predator FTW
When the Hawkeye Predator FTW came out, I was excited; after my first trip to the range with it, I was ecstatic. This gun weighs 8 pounds, thanks to a medium-heavy contour barrel, making it extremely forgiving to shoot in field positions while light enough to carry. Its two-stage trigger breaks at under three pounds - a dream from a factory rifle. I'm consistently getting ½" MOA groups with this rifle with Hornady factory ammo in 6.5 Creedmoor. When I sit over my soybeans for deer this fall, this will be the rifle that I take with me.
The Legend isn't new, per se, but gunmaker D'Arcy Echols is constantly evolving his efforts to produce what may be the best hunting rifle on the planet. This rifle may be "aspirational" for many of us, but with more than 150 highly-skilled man hours and several proprietary components going into the construction of every rifle, you get what you pay for. The rifle depicted is one of the most recently completed of the 10 or so Legends that D'Arcy build per year; this one is chambered in .270 Winchester and is ready for whatever the mountains throw its way. I've made a couple of pilgrimages to Utah to watch these rifles be built and can tell you that the maker leaves no stone unturned, no matter how long it takes him.
The Mauser name is famous across the globe for the game-changing M98, but one of its more recent creations, the M12, is no slouch. These rifles are solidly built, attractive and accurate. Working the bolt on the M12 gives you a similar sensation to closing the door on a Mercedes, there's no slop, no hiccup, no scraping. Europeans hunt lots of driven game, so this rifle is meant to point and shoot fast- a 60-degree bolt throw and trim lines make this rifle handle quickly if need be. The two-pound trigger is fantastic and the rifle is available with or without iron sights.
CZ 550 Badlands
For some hunters, less is not more. For those who are willing to handle the recoil and expense, the 338 Lapua Magnum produces significant power and the ability to maintain it at long distances. CZ's Badlands is a 9.2-pound bolt action built specifically for the big Lapua cartridge. Its single set trigger can be adjusted to well under a pound in the "set" position, and the removable muzzle brake helps tame some of the ample recoil. This is a specialized rifle for a specific task, not a "do it all" sporter, but if you're trying to put big bullets into game a long distance, this rifle has a lot going for it.
Nosler Model 48 Patriot
I haven't used the 26 Nosler yet, but Mike McNett from DoubleTap ammo has used it extensively and tells me that it hits like the hammer of Thor. Nosler's Patriot is a semi-custom rifle that comes with an MOA guarantee and weighs in under 8 pounds when chambered in Nosler's screaming 6.5mm. A match stainless barrel, pillar-bedded action, good trigger and weather-resistant Cerakote finish are all strong features in a rifle in this price range. The rifles aren't due to ship until the end of this year but they are worth putting on your radar if the idea of the 26 Nosler blows your skirt up.
Tikka T3 Compact Tactical Rifle
Don't let the "tactical" moniker scare you off - this rifle is equally suited to hunting as it is "being tactical" (whatever that is). Available in .308 and .260 Remington, this Tikka T3 CTR sports a thick 20" barrel that is threaded for suppressor use. With suppressor hunting legal in most states nowadays, threads are a cool option. This rifle definitely fills the general-purpose niche, with the equal ability to tackle steel targets in the desert and deer or hogs on the hillside. Make sure that the 10-round magazine is legal where you are before taking it hunting.
Ok, you in the cowboy hat with Yosemite Sam 'stache, I have something for you, too. Marlin lever actions have been getting it done in the field for long, long time and their lack of "high-tech" features leave them no less lethal than they were a century ago. The 1895 Limited Edition is a classic-looking rifle with a 24" full octagon barrel and walnut stock. Chambered in 45-70, there isn't much that you can't kill with this thing, so long as you can sneak close enough. The deep-cut rifling is well-suited to cast bullets, and cast bullets go with this gun like peanut butter goes with jelly.
Bushmaster Enhanced ORC
No list would be complete without a quality semi-auto and, since we're after big game, we may as well make it a .308. The Bushmaster Enhanced Optics Ready Carbine gives you the power of the .308 Winchester with the compact dimensions of a 16" barrel and collapsible buttstock. Mounting virtually any scope you choose is straightforward, due to the Picatinny rail and a chrome-lined barrel resists corrosion in tough conditions. Lots of us in the South hunt with semi-autos these days, due to our prolific hog populations, and the ORC is just right for that type of hunt.
Heym Martini Express
Since the topic is big game, I'd be remiss without mentioning at least one rifle suited for truly big game. Heym, the prestigious German gunmaking firm, has teamed-up with Ralf Martini, who is one of the most talented custom gunmakers in the world. These Martini Express rifles are essentially factory-built versions of Ralf's one-of-a-kind custom rifles, complete with a trim English-style express stock he designed. Available in .375 H&H, 404 Jeffery, 416 Rigby, and 458 Lott, these rifles are ready for any game outside of Jurassic Park. All you need now is a plane ticket to Mozambique and a handful of solids.