Big Game Rifles 2009
September 23, 2010
If deer, elk or hogs and the like are in your sights this fall, here are the new guns that will get the job done.
The author took this buck with an early prototype of Thompson/Center's new Venture.
The only new rifle is a safari gun, the R93 Selous, and I'm devoting this roundup to our side of the pond, but there's a new feature called the R93 Configurator at blaser-usa.com that lets you "build" an R93. Pick grade, caliber and barrel, stock, receiver and accessories. Each time you make a choice, select "view gun" and, voilÃ , the rifle image is updated to reflect the change. If you've ever "built" a car on-line, it's just like that. I could get this to work only on a PC using Internet Explorer; it was not compatible with my Mac using either Safari or Firefox.
Just as it has done with the A-Bolt over the years, Browning is building out its newer X-Bolt action with new calibers and configurations. For the full story on this new bolt gun, check out Layne Simpson's article in the January/February issue, which you can also read on rifleshootermag.com. The Cliff's Notes version: The X-Bolt is a lighter, slimmer A-Bolt with a redesigned trigger, an improved recoil pad and a much-improved (in my opinion) magazine system.
New is the Micro Hunter version, a wood-stocked gun that weighs just a shade over six pounds with 20-inch barrel ($839) and 6.5 pounds with the 22-inch tubes found on magnum chamberings ($869).
The venerable BAR gets a metal makeover in both LongTrac and ShortTrac configurations. The receiver now sports a new satin-nickel finish and high-relief engraving. It's available in a variety of long- and short-action big game cartridges and in right- and left-hand versions. Prices range from $1,099 to $1,249.
The big news at CZ is that it has added Brno to its family of gun-making brands. I don't want to steal Stan Trzoniec's thunder, so to get the lowdown on the new, Bavarian-style single-shot coming to our shores, see his article on the Brno Effect elsewhere in this issue.
Nobody offers a better selection of AR-15s in hunting cartridges than this company. For deer-size big game you can choose from 6.8 SPC, .243 Winchester, .260 Remington, 6.5 Creedmoor, .308 Winchester and .338 Federal.
Now the company brings us the .30 Remington AR, which is so new I've not heard any field reports on its performance on game. But if you're pushing a 125-grain .30 caliber bullet out the muzzle at 2,800 fps--and doing it with an AR-15 (.223) scaled action instead of the larger AR-10--I think you've got a killer combo. The upper assembly sells for $899 and comes with a magazine.
Ed Brown has made some small but important changes to its medium-weight Savanna (prices starting at $3,895) and lightweight Damara ($3,995 and up) hunting rifles. Both have newly designed, all-steel trigger guards and floorplates, and the company has changed to a super lightweight firing pin to reduce lock time. Oh, and the Savanna now can be ordered with a walnut stock in addition to synthetic. And in keeping with the trend toward slot-rail mounting systems, a one-piece Picatinny-style base is now available for all of the company's rifles.
The new 84M Classic Stainless combines Kimber's handsome walnut with a satin-finished stainless steel barreled action, a pairing that I find even more attractive than wood and blued metal. That's heresy to some, I know, but when I saw it at a trade show a few months ago, it was love at first sight.
The 22-inch barrel has a match-grade chamber, and the barreled action is pillar- and glass-bedded into the stock. Available in .243, 7mm-08 and .308, it weighs a shade under six pounds, and the walnut stock features a hand-rubbed oil finish and Pachmayr Decelerator recoil pad. Price: $1,156.
A few years ago, I had the chance to go on the first hunt with Marlin's entry into the bolt-action rifle market, the XL7, which was written up in May/June 2008 and is still available at rifleshootermag.com. An affordable, no-nonsense rifle, it endeared itself to me with its accuracy and adjustable Pro-Fire trigger. I liked it so much I kept it, and it's now my go-to choice when I need a dependable, straight-shooting, rough-and-tumble .30-06.
New this year is a wood-stocked version, the XL7W, that retails for about $500 (about $150 more than the black-synthetic configuration of the original XL7). The bigger news, though, is the new short-action XS7 that's chambered for .243, 7mm-08 and .308 and carries a suggested retail of $340. The same rifle will be available with a camo stock (XS7C) for a few bucks more.
Marlin, of course, is more known for lever actions, and new for this year are two rifles chambered for the .338 Marlin Express, which Wayne van Zwoll covered in our March/April issue and is available for viewing at rifleshootermag.com. The models 338 MXLR ($806) and 338 MX (22-inch blue, wood stock, $611) house this new cartridge.
Mossberg is striving to make its name as well-known in the rifle world as it is in the shotgun universe, where it enjoys an impeccable reputation for reliability. The company has in a relatively short time built quite a stable of bolt actions in the 4x4 (go to our website for Wayne van Zwoll's feature) and 100 ATR series.
The significant news here is that all 4x4 and 100 ATR rifles now incorporate Mossberg's Lightning Bolt Action (LBA) trigger. The trigger can be adjusted with a simple screwdriver, and the blade on the trigger shoe blocks the sear and prevents the rifle from firing unless the blade is depressed. Machined from high-grade aluminum, the LBA trigger is hard-coat anodized and produces a crisp, creep-free pull.
The 100 ATR line sells in the $424 to $509 range (rifle only, not combos)
, and the 4x4 line sells in the $505 to $704 range (ditto).
The Model 464 lever action, introduced just a year ago to good reviews from Jon Sundra (July/August 2008 and also at rifleshootermag.com), is now available with a pistol-grip stock. The 20-inch-barreled .30-30 retails for $535.
More known for its high-end 1911 pistols, Nighthawk late last year made its debut in the hunting rifle market with a series of precision sporter rifles. I tested one for our July/August issue and found it to be the most accurate sporter-weight gun I've ever fired. It's available in a wide variety of standard and magnum calibers and sells for $3,895. You can read all about it at rifle shootermag.com.
Someday, when I'm rich and famous, I hope to own a NoslerCustom rifle, and this latest edition would be the one I'd want because it's chambered for the .280 Ackley Improved. Stocked with fancy walnut and scoped with a Leupold custom shop 3.5-10X with specially calibrated reticle, the rifle is built around a double-square-bridge action and a hand-lapped 24-inch match-grade stainless barrel.
All metal surfaces are treated with a durable, ceramic all-weather coating, and the stock features 22 lpi point-pattern checkering, shadow-line cheekpiece and Pachmayr Decelerator recoil pad.
The kicker? A half-inch, 100-yard accuracy guarantee with Nosler's loaded ammo. Only 500 are made, and it sells for $3,995 (aluminum case included).
It's not as if I'm on some sort of one-man crusade to save the .257 Roberts, but I was really excited to learn that this year's limited-edition Model 700 CDL SF will be chambered for the venerable Roberts--to commemorate the cartridge's 75th anniversary. It's available for one year only. The rifle sports a 24-inch fluted barrel and comes with special engraving and other touches appropriate to a limited-edition gun. Suggested retail is $1,132. Has anyone seen my checkbook?
It was noted in the DPMS section that that company was building .30 Remington AR upper receivers. Well, the firm that developed the round is making the whole shootin' match.
The R-15 is now all grown up and ready for big game thanks to its newest caliber, which is comparable to the .308 but can be housed in AR-15-scaled (read lighter) actions. The rifle has a 22-inch barrel, is finished in Realtree AP camo and comes with a four-round mag. Suggested retail is $1,199.
Southpaws will be happy to know that the popular Model 700 Special Purpose Synthetic is now available in a version for lefties. The left-hand configuration isn't available in every caliber, just the best ones: .270 Winchester, .30-06, 7mm Remington Magnum and .300 Winchester Magnum. And you can't beat the $639 price tag.
It's taken us much too long to review the Model 700 Extreme Hunting Rifle (XHR), but it's coming, I promise. This is the M700 with the triangular barrel design that made its debut with the 700 VTR a couple of years ago. Available in calibers from .243 to .300 Ultra Mag; $879 for short and long action, $905 for magnum and Ultra Mag actions.
Last but not least, all Model Sevens and 700s will be fitted with a new X-Mark Pro trigger, which is now externally adjustable.
One of the most handsome rifles in production today, the No. 1 has added some neat new chamberings: .300 RCM, .338 RCM,.375 Ruger, .416 Ruger and handgun rounds .475 Linebaugh/.480 Ruger and .460 S&W Magnum.
Speaking of handgun rounds chambered in rifles, Ruger is bringing back an old favorite: the 77/44, a bolt action in .44 Remington Magnum. It's got a synthetic stock, stainless steel barreled action and a 18.5-inch barrel with 1:20 right-hand twist. With a four-round rotary magazine and an overall length of 38.5 inches and a weight of just six pounds, this should make a fine, maneuverable short-range rifle. It goes for $754.
If you want something maneuverable but are thinking "more power!" the M77 Alaskan in .416 Ruger ($1,079) will suit you just fine. With a short 20-inch barrel and Hogue OverMolded stock, this eight-pound gun would make a terrific brown bear rifle--considering the .416 Ruger spits out a 400-grain bullet at 2,400 fps for an awe-inspiring 5,115 ft.-lbs. of energy. I've shot the rifle, both in .416 Ruger and .375 Ruger and found it to quite controllable.
Ruger has also brought out a Compact version of the Model 77 Hawkeye. The Compacts feature 16.5-inch barrels and an overall length of just 35.5 inches. They're available in wood/matte blue ($803) or gray laminate/stainless ($862) and are chambered to the usual-suspect list of short-action calibers--but also in cartridges such as .300 RCM, 7.62x39 and 6.8mm SPC.
There are also additional left-hand chamberings in the standard-length Model 77 Hawkeye (.243, 7mm-08 and .308), as well as a limited-edition run in 6.5 Creedmoor.
The A7 has been out for about a year, but few people have yet to lay eyes on one until fairly recently. It's Sako's "economy rifle," so to speak, about half of what you'd pay for a Model 85. Available in blue ($850) or stainless ($950), the A7 has a synthetic stock and detachable synthetic box magazine. It comes in a great selection of chamberings from .243 to .300 Winchester Magnum, including the terrific but relatively unsung .338 Federal. Rifle Shooter's review of this gun is just an issue or two away.
What's that new Savage featured on this issue's cover? Sorry--trick question. The Model 16 Weather Warrior series is hardly new, but what's inside it is. In case you missed our previous issue, Savage has developed the AccuStock--a smart piece of engineering incorporating an aluminum spine running the length of the fore-end, an aluminum cradle that envelopes the receiver on three sides when tightened and a unique wedge-shaped recoil lug. You can read all about it at rifleshooter mag.com if you can't find your July/August issue.
These features combine to create perhaps the most locked-down, stable platform you'll find in any production or custom rifle. It's offered in several versions of Weather Warrior models 16 (short-action)/116 (long action) and in sev
eral variants of the Hunter (models 11/111). The former sells in the $750 to $850 range, the latter for $656 ($682 for magnums).
The Stevens 200 line adds a camo-stock option ($439) as well as package rifles (3-9X scope mounted and bore-sighted) in gray ($449) and camo ($499). Stevens 200s come in long and short action and are offered in your essential calibers from .243 to .300 Winchester Magnum.
Young lefties will want to check out a new package rifle built just for them. It's a Model 11 (specifically 11FLYXP3 Youth Left Hand), fitted with the AccuTrigger and chambered to .243, 7mm-08 and .308. It's got a barrel length of 22 inches, is 41.5 inches overall and weighs just 6.5 pounds. It comes with a 3-9X scope, mounted and zeroed, all for $646.
We just covered the Stag 7 Hunter in the May/June issue, and you can find the writeup there or at rifle shootermag.com. The 7 Hunter is chambered in 6.8 SPC, a round that's proving itself to be a good performer on deer-size game. The rifle sells for $1,055 (right-hand) or $1,095 (left-hand).
New this year is an economy rifle called the Venture ($500). The bolt-action, synthetic-stocked gun features 5R rifling, a 60-degree bolt lift and a user-adjustable trigger. It's got a 24-inch match-grade barrel and a synthetic single-stack three-round magazine.
Last fall I hunted with an early prototype Venture and killed the whitetail pictured in this article's opening photograph. More recently I had the chance to shoot a production model in .300 Winchester Magnum (it's also chambered for .270 Winchester, 7mm Remington Magnum and .30-06) at the range, and it proved to be accurate and nicely balanced. The company guarantees one m.o.a. at 100 yards.
T/C's Icon platform is now available in a Long Action Weather Shield version, chambered in .270 Winchester, .30-06 and .300 Winchester Magnum. The rifles come with a Hogue OverMolded stock in black or Realtree AP, and the metal is treated with a corrosion-resistant Weather Shield coating. The rifle will retail for about $899.
Budget rifles continue to be a focus for Weatherby as this year the Vanguard line has been expanded with a carbine configuration ($499). Chambered to big game cartridges .243, 7mm-08 and .308, the Vanguard Carbine sports a 20-inch barrel and weighs 6.75 pounds.
And if you want to change your existing Vanguard to a detachable box magazine, Weatherby is now selling a retrofit kit for .25-06, .270 Winchester and .30-06.
All Winchester Model 70s are "new," as in returned from the dead. But unlike zombies, they're better than they were before, with an improved trigger (the M.O.A.), better recoil pad (Pachmayr Decelerator)--while retaining the desirable features such as controlled-round-feed bolt and target-crown muzzle that Model 70s had before production was halted a couple years ago.
Big game-suitable configurations include Super Grade ($1,169), Extreme Weather SS ($1,069â€“$1,099), Featherweight and Sporter ($799â€“$839), and Ultimate Shadow (with classic external claw extractor, $739â€“$769) in just about any caliber you could want.
Also rising from the grave is the Super X Rifle, Winchester's semiauto centerfire chambered in .270 WSM, .300 WSM, .30-06 and .300 Winchester Magnum. Magnum calibers retail for $979, and the '06 version goes for $949.