Big-game rifles have come a long way in the past few decades. Accuracy is better than ever, and today you can get an off-the-shelf gun in any color, weight, size, caliber and configuration you want. Just as exciting, prices continue to come down as manufacturing efficiencies improve, and it’s possible to buy an excellent deer rifle that will last you the rest of your life for just a few hundred dollars.
If you’re shopping for a new bolt-action big-game rifle that will reliably take game without putting too much strain on your wallet, these six options should be at the top of your list.
Ruger’s American Rifle might be one of the best bargains in deer hunting today. It has everything you’d want in a rifle: ergonomic stock for easy handling, a rubber buttpad to reduce felt recoil, a crisp trigger (user adjustable between 3 and 5 lbs), free-floated barrel, one-piece three-lug bolt that cycles smoothly, cold hammer-forged barrel, tang safety, Picatinny rail and MOA accuracy. It comes in left-handed configurations for southpaws, too.
Ruger offers the American in a lot of versions, all of which come in deer-appropriate calibers, and a compact version is available for smaller-statured shooters. MSRP on the standard version (pictured) starts at $489.
The Mossberg Patriot comes in walnut or synthetic, with lots of configurations to choose from, including Predator, Night Train, and Youth versions, and you can even get it with a Vortex scope already mounted on the gun. The standard walnut version, pictured, has a recessed target crown, fluted barrel, spiral fluted bolt, Weaver scope bases, drop box magazine, and Mossberg’s Lightning Bolt Action trigger, which is user-adjustable between 2 and 7 lbs. The barrel is matte blue for reduced shine and glare.
The Patriot comes in a wide array of calibers from .243 Win. up to .300 Win. Mag., all weighing about 7 lbs. MSRP on the model pictured in $594, or $752 if you want the model that comes with the Vortex scope.
Savage Axis II XP
Savage created the Axis II XP as a no-frills price-point gun without sacrificing quality. It’s got a rugged synthetic stock, a button-rifled barrel, detachable box magazine and Savage’s popular AccuTrigger, which is user-adjustable. To make things easy and offer even more of a bargain, it also comes with a Bushnell scope factory mounted. All of this for an MSRP of $495!
Lots of calibers are available, including 350 Legend for those of you in straight-wall-only hunting areas. All calibers have a four-round capacity and 22” barrels, and all weigh 7.38 lbs. For a little more money, you can get the Axis II XP in a compact, wood, or different stock versions. The FDE version is pictured.
T/C Compass II
Thompson/Center’s Compass II has T/C’s Generation II trigger with a 3- to 4-lb pull, a three-lug bolt, three-position safety (locked, load/unload and fire), detachable rotary magazine, MOA accuracy guarantee and T/C’s 5R rifling design, which the company says causes less bullet deformation and leads to better accuracy and easier cleaning. It also comes with a lifetime warranty.
No fancy wood or stock colors — all models come in black composite with blued barrels and weigh about 7 lbs. All of the most popular deer-hunting calibers are offered, and you can get the Compass II with a premounted Crimson Trace scope if you’re in the market for a ready-to-go option. MSRP without the scope is $405, making this the least expensive gun on this list.
Winchester’s XPR borrows some elements from the company’s legendary Model 70 and takes advantage of modern manufacturing efficiencies to offer a solid rifle at a lower price point. The base model XPR, pictured, has a polymer stock, two-position safety, a recoil pad to soften felt recoil, Winchester’s M.O.A. trigger, hardened steel components for durability and corrosion resistance, a detachable box mag and a nickel Teflon coating on the bolt.
Loads of options are available for stock color, including a walnut version, a long-range stock and a variety of camo patterns. More than a dozen calibers are offered. A compact version is available for smaller-framed shooters, and a scoped version (with a Vortex scope) is also an option. MSRP without the scope is $549.99; the scope combo is $709.99.
Weatherby Vanguard Synthetic
The Weatherby Vanguard Synthetic comes with a sub-MOA guarantee, which isn’t always easy to find in this price range. It accomplishes that accuracy via a hammer-forged barrel, a match-grade trigger (two-stage; adjustable) and the company’s Vanguard action. It has a three-position safety, a hinged floorplate (drop box magazine on some models), a fluted bolt body, a recoil pad, a Monte Carlo stock, bead-blasted matte finish and an integral recoil lug.
With a Griptonite stock for sure hold, this gun is made to handle the elements. A compact version is available, as are a couple of different stock options. You can get the Vanguard Synthetic in your choice of 16 calibers at an MSRP of $599 for the standard synthetic.