50 Best Hunting Rifles of the Past 10 Years | Outdoor Life

50 Best Hunting Rifles of the Past 10 Years

There are plenty of great guns out there, but these are our most recent

outdoor life gun test

For years Outdoor Life has run the most rigorous gun test in the industry, and next week you'll be able to find our 2011 Gun Test online and on the newsstands. While it's hard to beat a brand new gun, there's also something to be said about a gun that has stood the test of time.

With that in mind, we put together an extensive list of the best rifles we've tested in our Gun Test over the last 10 years. The first 10 guns in this gallery were hand-picked as Shooting Editor, John Snow's, personal favorites. The next set of rifles are the Editor's Choice winners in chronological order, then there's the Great Buy winners, and finally, the honorable mentions round out the list.

Outdoor Life

Ruger No. 1 Varminter K1-V-BBZ

SHOOTING EDITOR JOHN SNOW PICKS THE 10 BEST RIFLES OF THE DECADE

#1) Ruger No. 1 Varminter K1-V-BBZ (Editor's Choice 2004)** John's Take: This rifle stole the show during the gun test in 2004. The combination of the stylish No. 1 action, a brand new sizzling varmint round and sub 1/2-inch accuracy caused the whole test team to swoon, me included. This unforgettable rifle is the perfect companion to take afield when the siren song of gophers and prairie dogs beckons in the spring and it is my number one rifle of the last decade.

Price: $950
Cartridge: .204 Ruger
Smallest Group: .469
Trigger Pull: 5 lb. 2 oz.

From the Gun Test: "It's just a matter of time until a factory .20 is announced. It will be similar, if not identical, to the . 20 TNT." Thus read OL's shooting column nearly three years ago [ August 2001]. Not only has this prophecy come resoundingly true, bit it has done so in a rifle-cartridge combination that earned our Editor's Choice Award for 2004. Ruger's No. 1 single-shot rifle has a reputation for erratic accuracy, depending on caliber, and newly introduced calibers generally require a shakedown period to work out the bugs. But the stainless-steel Ruger we tested and Hornady's spanking new .204 Ruger ammo go together like apple pie and ice cream.

Overall Score: 4 Stars
Workmanship: B
Performance: A
Price/Value: B

Ruger

Marlin 336XLR

#2) Marlin 336XLR (Editor's Choice 2006)

John's Take: The very first real rifle I ever bought was a Marlin rimfire. And not long after I acquired a 336C in .35 Remington which is still one of my favorite deer guns. So, yes, I'm a big Marlin fan. I also own a number of big bore Marlins, none of which I ever plan to part with.

For me, this gun was a real revelation. The accuracy turned our heads and no one was more surprised than I was at the groups I shot with it at 200 yards. It made all the other bolt guns in our test--some of the costly semi-custom jobs--hang their heads in shame.

To my great shame I didn't buy this rifle--but I wish I had. For whatever reason I've never been able to warm up to the .30-30 as a cartridge. I'll grab my .35 Remington every time instead. But that pigheaded attitude deprived me of an unbelievably high-performing lever gun.

Price: $874
Cartridge: .30-30 Win
Smallest Group: 1.00
Trigger Pull: 5 lb. 11 oz.

From the Gun Test: What can be said when a lever-action "thutty-thutty" outperforms three high-quality bolt-action rifles? Well, you might say that lever rifles just aren't supposed to shoot that way. At least that's what we've been told or learned firsthand for a century and then some. This latest version of Marlin's tried and true--for over a half century no less--Model 336 can hardly be called a completely new rifle.

But it incorporates enough new features to qualify for our new gun tests, and we're glad it did because it gave us a new perspective on the accuracy capability of a lever rifle. And by accuracy I'm talking about the 200-yard five-shot group fired by Executive Editor John Snow that measured a wee 1.892 inches and 100-yard groups that averaged close to an inch.

Overall Score: 4 Stars
Performance: A
Design: B
Price/Value: B

Marlin

M48 TGR 2010

#3) Nosler M48 TGR 2010

John's Take: The craftsmen at Nosler understand hunters and hunting and that knowledge is reflected in the well-balanced and thoughtful rifles they are making. Despite their pricetags I think they are some of the best values out there and if you're looking to make one gun your rifle-of-rifles you could do a hell of a lot worse.

Price: $1,745
Cartridge: .308 Win
Smallest Group: .54
Trigger Pull: 2 lb. 8 oz.

From the Gun Test: The new Nosler M48 TGR is an easy rifle to like, especially for the hard-core big-game hunters on the Outdoor Life Gun Test panel. At $1,745, it isn't inexpensive, but when you start looking at what the rifle offers--a hand-lapped custom barrel, Timney trigger, Bell and Carlson stock--that price starts to sound pretty good.

Overall Rating: 4 Stars
Workmanship: A
Performance: A+
Price/Value: B+

Nosler

Model 798

#4) Remington Model 798 (Editor's Choice 2007)

John's Take: I fell in love with this rifle during the gun test. It deserves a better stock than it came with, but the metalwork on it just made the traditional gun lover in me smile. There's just no substitute for an honest-to-goodness Mauser action and these were just beautifully executed. I purchased this rifle and have taken it around the world hunting and it is my favorite .30-06 in my collection.

Price: $648
Cartridge: .30/06
Smallest Group: .880
Trigger Pull: 7 lb. 10 oz.

From the Gun Test: The legendary Model 1898 Mauser's popularity in the hunting field is unequaled, simply because it does everything a bolt-action rifle is supposed to do, and does it reliably. This latest Mauser wears the Remington trademark and is made in Serbia by Zastava. The accuracy of our test rifle, while not spectacular, equaled or bettered that of several other more expensive bolt-actions we have tested, and it performed particularly well with Federal's load with the 150-grain Sierra GameKing bullet, which produced one five-shot group measuring under an inch. We were also impressed with the machined-steel bottom metal with a convenient push-button release of the hinged floor plate.

Unlike many modern bolt-action designs, the basic Mauser 98 is rather difficult to manufacture, which suits the artisans at Zastava because they seem to like nothing better than to take a chunk of steel and mill, drill, grind, hand fit and polish it into a well-finished firearm. They do it with such economy that their guns are consistently among the best buys in the world's sporting firearms market.

Overall Score: 4 Stars
Workmanship: B
Performance: A
Price/Value: A

Remington

Shilen DGV

#5) Shilen DGV (Editor's Choice 2010)

John's Take: I love the single-minded purpose of this varmint eradicator. It is so well built, so accurate and easy to use that you can't help but smile as you put bullets downrange in tiny clusters—or into tiny targets.

Price: $3,600
Cartridge: .223
Trigger Pull: 2 lb. 2 oz.
Smallest Group: .499

From the Gun Test: In the pantheon of prairie dog gods, the Grim Reaper probably uses not a scythe, but a Shilen DGV. This slick varmint rifle is about as perfect a gun as you could ask for when planning your next trip in pursuit of grass-eating rodents, starting with its outstanding accuracy.

Sub-MOA? Forget about it. The DGV turned in cluster after cluster of tiny five-shot groups and made each of the judges long for a pasture full of varmints and a case (or two) of .223 to feed through it. We put half a dozen different types of factory ammo through the DGV, and when all was done, the average group size was .760 inches. With its favorite load, the Win. 55-grain BST, it shot under a half-inch.

Overall Rating: 4 stars
Workmanship: A
Performance: A+
Price/Value: B+

Shilen

Savage Model 12 F/TR

#6) Savage Model 12 F/TR (Great Buy 2007)

John's Take: This is another great gun by Savage. First the company turned the gun world upside down with its AccuTrigger, which kicked the industry out of its stupor and forced everyone else to come out with decent triggers, then they came out with this--a factory gun with a 6-ounce target trigger. In a word, that took serious stones. (Though, being picky, ours tripped it's sear at 10.5 ounces.)

Price: $1,142
Cartridge: .308
Smallest Group: .615
Trigger Pull: 10.5 oz.

From the Gun Test: In order to understand how the Savage Model 12 F/TR excels, it helps to know a little about the fast-growing target game called F-Class. In F-Class, all shooting is done from the prone position with the rifle supported on sandbags, a bipod or a benchrest-type stand, and scopes are allowed. Thus women as well as men, senior citizens as well as young folks, and handicapped as well as able-bodied shooters can compete on an equal basis. Depending on range facilities, firing distances may be a few hundred yards or as much as a thousand yards.

An accurate firearm, of course, is a major factor in success, which is why many of the rifles used for F-Class are custom-made affairs. Their several-thousand-dollar price tags could be prohibitive for many competitors. Savage addresses this problem with the F/TR, which has the accuracy to be competitive in F-Class straight out of the box, and at an affordable price.

Overall Score: 4 Stars
Workmanship: B
Performance: A
Price/Value: A

Savage

Sauer 202 Avantgarde Grande

#7) Sauer 202 Avantgarde Grande (Editor's Choice 2003)

John's Take: The Sauer 202 is one of those rifles that instantly elevates your standards. The rifle runs so beautifully that you'll never want to go back to a standard bolt gun with an action that grinds and binds like the transmission on an 18-wheeler when working it. The Sauer's slickness is something I appreciated during a bear hunt in Alaska where I had to anchor the animal in place to keep it from running off into the dark rainforest jungle of evergreens. This rifle is at the top of my splurge list, though I'd get it in .375 H&H.

Price: $3,500
Cartridge: .300 Win.
Smallest Group: 1.465
Trigger Pull: 4.2 lb.

From the Gun Test: Until recently, takedown rifles were considered little more than novelties. But now, with increasing concerns about traveling with firearms, the concept of rifles that quickly come apart and store in compact, inconspicuous cases makes a lot of sense. Which is why the new Sauer 202 got our attention. Of course, the gorgeous wood and tasteful engraving of our sample also caught our eye, but what impressed us most was its slippery-slick action, smooth feeding and unique safety operation.

Overall Score: 3.5 Stars
Workmanship: A
Performance: B
Price/Value: B

Sauer

T bolt

#8) Browning T-Bolt

John's Take: Some guns have a nearly magical ability to fit a shooter and, for me, the T-Bolt is one of those guns. The moment I picked it up my hands seemed perfectly positioned to manipulate all the controls--trigger, bolt handle, safety, magazine catch. Working the rifle was so simple and intuitive that while putting it through the evaluation shooting from field positions I felt as though I had owned the gun my whole life. I don't know how the T-Bolt has fared in this economy, but anyone looking to acquire a "grown-up" .22 should give the T-Bolt a try.

Price: $611
Cartridge: .22 LR
Smallest Group: .350 (at 50 yards)
Trigger Pull: 3 lb. 11 oz.

From the Gun Test: It's long been something of a mystery that Browning's original 1965 T-Bolt was not more successful. The rifle, made in Belgium's FN Browning plant, offered slickly finished metal and wood, good accuracy and reliable operation, along with all the other nice features of a good Browning. Yet it was discontinued after only nine years. Perhaps the operation of a nonrotating bolt handle was too radical for those times. Well, the T-Bolt is back, and about the only similarity between this one and the original is the T-Bolt locking system. You operate it by simply pulling the bolt handle straight to the rear and then pushing it forward again to feed a fresh cartridge. This latest T-Bolt, made in Japan, differs from the original in several ways.

It has a somewhat larger, swept-back handle, a restyled stock (which has good checkering) and a truly innovative "double-helix" 10-shot magazine. It works like Ruger's 10/22 rotary-spool magazine, but with two smaller spools, one on top of the other. As a result, its magazine is 1⁄4 inch narrower than Ruger's, permitting a trimmer stock contour around the action. For this and a number of other reasons, the new T-Bolt should be more popular than the original.

Overall Score: 3.5 Stars
Performance: B
Design: B
Price/Value: B

Browning

Weatherby Vanguard

#9) Weatherby Vanguard (Great Buy 2004)

John's Take: The Weatherby for the rest of us, and in a caliber that gun nuts on a budget could only dream of owning. And now that Weatherby is producing economical ammo in .257 Wby. to go with the rifle there's no excuse not to get one. The only reason I got rid of mine was to upgrade to the slightly nicer Vanguard sub-MOA. When I think of a go-to rifle for hunting the West, this is it.

Price: $476
Cartridge: .257 WBY. Mag.
Smallest Group: .65
Trigger Pull: 6 lb.

From the Gun Test: If I were to make a list of the most neglected good cartridges, the .257 Weatherby would be near the top. "Neglected" probably isn't the right term, because everyone who studies ballistic charts knows that this flat-shooting quarter bore is one of the best for long shots ar varmints and medium game such as pronghorn. Though it zips through ballistic barriers with ease, the price barrier of the .257 Weatherby has been tougher to penetrate because the gun comes in Weatherby's rather elegantly priced Mark V rifle only.This has confined the .257 Wby to the wish list of many hunters. But this year, Weatherby is chambering the .257 in its budget-priced Vanguard bolt rifle.

Overall Score: 3.5 Stars
Workmanship: C
Performance: B
Price/Value: A

Weatherby

Savage MK II

#10) Savage MK II (Editor's Choice Rimfire 2008)

John's Take: This rifle was so astoundingly accurate we didn't know whether to credit the groups it was printing on our targets. But the calipers didn't lie. This rimfire from Savage was turning in groups that would give the finest Olympic target rifles a run for their money--and with it's list price the appropriate reaction was: Are you kidding me? And the answer was: No, this rifle's for real.

Price: $421
Cartridge: .22 LR
Smallest Group: .109 (at 50 yards)
Trigger Pull: 3 lb. 8 oz.

From the Gun Test: For the first time since we began doing our annual gun test, a single rifle has won both the Editor's Choice and Great Buy awards. So how did it do it? With its gleaming stainless-steel action and barrel and a laminated hardwood stock that echoes the sculpting of legendary stock-stylist Reinhart Fajen, the MK II certainly looks considerably more upscale than its price tag indicates. But good value alone doesn't win Outdoor Life's top award. To do so, a firearm must exhibit a level of performance consistently better than that of other guns in its class. The Savage MK II .22 RF we tested proved to be not just the most accurate rimfire we tested this year, but the most accurate rimfire we've ever tested, including some high-dollar rifles of exalted European origin.

Overall Score: 4 Stars
Workmanship: B
Performance: A
Price/Value: A

Savage

Sako 85 Finnlight

THE EDITOR'S CHOICE WINNERS FROM 10 YEARS OF GUN TESTS

Sako 85 Finnlight (Editor's Choice 2009)
Price: $1,600
Cartridge: .308
Smallest Group: .581
Trigger Pull: 3 lb. 4 oz.

A mountain rifle is a curious thing. We ask more of it than we do of other hunting rifles. We expect it to have the accuracy of a varmint rifle for long shots on what are potentially once-in-a-lifetime hunts, to be durable enough to survive the rigors of mountain hunting and, at the same time, to be light and easy to carry - equality that is most often in direct conflict with the first two. The rifle that excels in all three categories is a rare and valuable creature indeed, one that deserves a place of nor in the gun safe. In the case of the Sako 85 Finnlight, it also deserves to be named this year's rifle test's Editor's Choice.

Testers' Comments: Butter-slick action on the bolt throw and luck-up * One of the easiest-loading magazines in the test * Rifle feels like it wants to group

Overall Rating: 4 stars
Workmanship: A
Performance: A
Price/Value: B

Sako

Cooper M52

Cooper M52 (Editor's Choice Centerfire 2008)

Price: $1,862
Cartridge: .280 Rem.
Smallest Group: .626
Trigger Pull: 3 lb. 8 oz.

Anyone who thinks, "They don't make 'em like they used to," needs to look at the Cooper rifle that won this year's Editor's Choice award. The impression it makes is that of a finely handcrafted rifle with such custom features as classic stock styling, hand-cut borderless checkering with nary a runover at the edges, elegantly contoured metal and slick operation, all of which usually add up to a rifle priced in the thousands. Yet the Cooper rifle we tested carries a price tag of only $1,862, which includes an extra $267 for deluxe French walnut. For the base price of $1,595, you get the same gun with a nice claro walnut stock.

Testers' Comments: Lovely wood * The bolt-throw is slick as silk * The trigger angle to the pistol grip is not great * Impressive accuracy

Overall Score: 4 Stars
Workmanship: A
Performance: A
Price/Value: B

Cooper

Weatherby Mark XXII

Weatherby Mark XXII (Editor's Choice 2007)

Price: $949
Cartridge: .17 HMR
Smallest Group: .810
Trigger Pull: 2 lb. 12 oz.

Combine two iconic names in the gun industry and you have a winner--in this case, our Editor's Choice rimfire, the Weatherby Mark XXII. Anschutz, located in the historic town of Ulm, Germany, is renowned for the accuracy of its Olympic medal-winning rimfire rifles. Weatherby, of course, enjoys a unique reputation for the distinctive "California" styling of its firearms and its line of high-velocity magnum cartridges. Working together, the companies combined the trim and accurate German-made Anschutz Model 64 action and barrels with unmistakable, all-American Weatherby styling in the Mark XXII.

Testers' comments: A very accurate rifle * Fun to shoot * This is an excellent rifle by every measure * Great trigger--quality design and workmanship

Overall Score: 4 Stars
Workmanship: A
Performance: A
Price/Value: B

Weatherby

Anschutz 1502

Anschutz 1502 (Editor's Choice 2005)

Price: $836
Cartridge: .17 Mach 2
Smallest Group: .681
Trigger Pull: 2 lb. 3 oz.

With only a few points separating the four top-scoring rifles in our 2005 test series, the winner had to have it all: performance, dependable and trouble-free operation, good finish of wood and metal, good looks and accuracy. The Anschutz 1502 we tested had just that-and then some. The rifles we tested in the sizzling-accurate new .17 Mach 2 caliber all delivered groups of less than a half inch at 50 yards. But the Anschutz was born to be shot, with a beavertail stock that rode the bags solidly and a nicely checkered grip that fit the hand so well it was just a matter of putting the crosshairs on target, touching the 2-pound 3-ounce trigger and seeing the tiny 17-grain bullets follow each other into tight clusters.

Testers' comments: Excellent trigger * Fun to shoot * First-rate workmanship

Overall Score: 4 Stars
Workmanship: B
Performance: A
Price/Value: B

Anschutz

Tikka Whitetail Hunter

Tikka Whitetail Hunter (Editor's Choice, Great Buy 2002)

Price: $615
Cartridge: .308 Win.
Average Group: 1.28

Our sample wore a likely styled and finished stock of pretty wood and the metal appeared to be fitted and finished by gunmakers determined to make a desirable, first-rate rifle. When we stripped down our test sample to adjust the trigger, what we found was clean inletting, good bedding and the same trigger down our test sample to adjust the trigger, what we found was clean inletting, good bedding and the same trigger mechanism used in Sako rifles costing twice as much.

Testers' Comments: Loved the rigger and handling * finely finished for the price surprisingly little recoil

Overall Score: 4 Stars
Workmanship: B+
Performance: B+
Price/Value: A-

Tikka

Jarrett Rifles

Jarrett Rifles (Editor's Choice 2001)

Price: $5,545
Cartridge: .300 Jarrett
Average Group: 1.3

Best-known for the sterling accuracy of its custom, long-range "beanfield" hunting rifles, Jarrett Rifles has now taken the big step of manufacturing its own actions, thus earning the recognition and criticism due any "legitimate" gun maker. As such, Jarrett was invited to unveil its new rifle for the Outdoor Life test team. What we saw was abolt-action design quite unlike anything we've seen before. Whereas many "Custom" actions are more or less copies or refinements of existing designs - Mausers, M-70 Winchesters and Remington 700s, for example - Jarrett took a new path. Its all-machined, three-locking-lug action is so different in operation as well as appearance that four separate patents have been filed to cover specific features.

Testers' Comments: Great metal work; obviously well-designed * I expected it to shoot better

Overall Score: 4 Stars
Workmanship: B
Performance: B+
Price/Value: C

Jarrett Rifles

Kimber Model 84M Classic

Kimber Model 84M Classic (Editor's Choice 2001)

Price: $895
Cartridge: .243
Average Group: 1.5

If a panel of rifle aficionados were asked to jot down the features they'd most like to see in a new bolt-action rifle, their lists would include most, if not all, of the following: classic stock styling with cut-checkering; nice walnut; Mauser-style control-round feeding and extraction; Model-70 Winchester "look" in a scaled-down action complete with M-70 style safety; good trigger; steel bottom metal with classic hinged floorplate; and a reasonable price. All of these features, and more, pretty well describe Kimber's new short-action centerfire.

Testers' Comments: Sweet trigger, lovely action * A lot of rifle for the money * Great group with Winchester ammo, awful with Nitrex

Overall Score: 3.5 Stars
Workmanship: B
Performance: B-
Price/Value: B

Kimber

T/C Venture Predator

GREAT BUY WINNERS FROM 10 YEARS OF GUN TESTS

T/C Venture Predator (Great Buy 2010)
Price: $549
Cartridge: .22-250
Trigger Pull: 3 lb. 7 oz.
Smallest Group: .795

Portability, accuracy and stealth come together in this newest addition to Thompson/Center's lineup of bolt-actions, a trio of attributes T/C hopes will appeal to hunters who pursue coyotes and other predators.
The all-camo treatment on the stock and metalwork--with the exception of the rubberized inserts in the forend and grip, and the butt pad, bolt and magazine--leave little doubt as to this rifle's purpose.

Testers' Comments Nice, crisp trigger * An excellent value * Wish the mag release was a little larger for gloved fingers * Rubber grip inserts a nice touch, especially for a walking gun

Overall Rating 3.5 Stars
Workmanship: B
Performance: B+
Price/Value: A

Thompson/Center

Marlin XS7

Marlin XS7 (Great Buy 2009)

Price: $341
Cartridge: .308 Win.
Smallest Group: 1.170
Trigger Pull: 2 lb. 15 oz.

The arrival of the XS7 was as unsurprising as it was welcome. On the heels of last year's successful introduction of the Marlin XL7, which marked the company's reentry into the bolt-action market after a seven-year hiatus, it was simply a matter of when, and not if, Marlin would develop a short-action version of the rifle. The qualities that made the XL7 so appealing - affordability, no-frills utility in a design that incorporates cost-conscious and accuracy-enhancing features-are evident in the XS7.

Testers' Comments: Awesome price * This gun is an incredible value * Marlin made no missteps in the design of this gun

Overall Rating: 3.5 stars
Workmanship: C+
Performance: B+
Price/Value: A+

Marlin

Browning X-Bolt

Browning X-Bolt (Great Buy 2008)

Browning X-Bolt (Great Buy 2008)
Price: $849
Cartridge: 7mm Rem. Mag.
Smallest Group: .828
Trigger Pull: 3 lb. 8 oz.

Comparisons of Browning's X-Bolt with its popular but nearly quarter-century-old A-Bolt are, of course, inevitable, and what the nitpickers will find is a substantially different and much improved rifle. The A-Bolt's three-lug bolt is carried over, as is its super-slick operation and twisty bolt handle. Visually, however, the X-Bolt is a product of a design team that favors the European "mod" look in firearms and has brought us such startling stylistic concepts as the Cynergy shotgun. As with the Cynergy, the stock contours are--well--different, apparently just for the sake of being different.

But even old-school traditionalists who scoff at seemingly gratuitous efforts of stock sculpting will have to admit that the X-Bolt feels mighty good in the hands, especially the neatly shaped forend. It also earns high praise for the integration of metal and wood in the way the extra-wide floor plate/trigger guard assembly flows into the stock contour.

Testers' comments: Nice trigger helped account for the great groups * A sensible sporter that's well priced * Shot well; functions well * Wow! Accurate rifle

Overall Score: 4 Stars
Workmanship: B
Performance: A
Price/Value: A

Browning

Savage 93R17

Savage 93R17 (Great Buy 2006)

Price: $399
Cartridge: .17 HMR
Smallest Group: 1.00
Trigger Pull: 2 lb. 11 oz.

Any rifle in .17 HMR is fun to shoot, and almost always accurate. But when we fired our first groups with this latest Savage .17, our team knew we were shooting something especially good.

Long suffering from a reputation for having the worst triggers in the rifle industry, Savage utterly reversed its standing with its revolutionary adjustable AccuTrigger, which is now a mainstay on all Savage rifles. But that's just one of the reasons the 93R17 ran away with our Great Buy award. The sleek, laminated wood thumbhole stock, unlike some thumbhole stocks, is gracefully sculpted. The wide, vented forearm rides the bags like a benchrest rifle and, quite honestly, looks like it belongs on a far more expensive rifle.

Testers' comments: The AccuTrigger is always great * I wish the grip were slightly fuller
* Functions well, shoots even better

Overall Score: 4 Stars
Performance: A
Design: B
Price/Value: A

Savage

Stevens 200

Stevens 200 (Great Buy 2005)

Price: $316
Cartridge: .270 Win.
Smallest Group: 1.400
Trigger Pull: 2 lb. 13 oz.

Even before we finished accuracy testing the Stevens 200, we began to suspect that we had a potential winner in our hands. After all, though the name on the barrel said "Stevens," the gun was unmistakably a Savage. It incorporated the slick, functional reliability and accuracy that have earned the company's bolt rifles high praise in recent years. And its $316 price tag was one-half of two-thirds less than those of other centerfires of similar function and performance. Accuracy, while not spectacular, was solid with nice round groups (no suspicious flyers) ranging from 1 1/2 to about 2 inches. The price/value score for this rifle was 95, one of the highest ever earned in OL's gun tests.

Editor's comments: Fantastic trigger for the money * Cycles smoothly * An excellent value for a big-game rifle

Overall Score: 3.5 Stars
Workmanship: B
Performance: B
Price/Value: A

Stevens

Savage 12 BVSS

Savage 12 BVSS (Great Buy 2003)

Price: $675
Cartridge: .22/250
Smallest Group: .585
Trigger Pull: 3.5 lb.

Over the past several years Savage Arms has earned a reputation for moderately priced rifles that equal or surpass the accuracy of much more expensive fare. One lingering complaint with the basic Savage bolt-action rifle, however, has been a god-awful trigger pull that stubbornly resist fine-tuning. But now that problem has been put to rest in some models by Savage's new and very innovative fire-control mechanism, the AccuTrigger. Not only is it adjustable down to the lighter pulls favored by long-range hunters and varmint shooters; it even comes with a handy key-like tool to do it with. Our team found the Savage 12 the most accurate rifle we tested and the most shootable Savage yet.

Testers' Comments: Accuracy is the name of the game in varmint rifles, and this one is the best bargain in accuracy

Overall Score: 3.5 Stars
Workmanship: B
Performance: B
Price/Value: B

Savage

CZ-ZKM 452 American

CZ-ZKM 452 American (Great Buy 2001)

Price: $351
Cartridge: .22 LR
Average Group: .642

It didn't take long for word to spread among .22 rimfire benchrest shooters that the M-452 is mighty accurate for a rifle at this price. It also has a solid "grown-up" feel and look, with good wood and honest hand-checkering. If I were looking to buy a sleek, bolt-action, clip-fed, rimfire, this one would be on my "A" list.

Testers' Comments: Very accurate * Nice trigger * Magazine was very easy to load

Overall Score: 3.5 Stars
Workmanship: B+
Performance: A-
Price/Value: B

CZ

CZ 527 American

CZ 527 American (Great Buy 2001)

Price: $590
Cartridge: .223 Rem.
Average Group: 1.25

Ceska Zbrojovka is a tongue-twister, but there's a lot being said in shooting circles about the accuracy you get for your dollar from these riffles made in the Czech Republic.

The M-527 American we tested is so called because of its classic American stock styling. The same model also comes in a more traditionally European-styled version for those who fancy Old World Flavor. Either way, you get a healthy sampling of European gun making reminiscent of pre-World War II craftsmanship.

Tester Comments: Lots of gun for the money * Shot very well despite an awful trigger Wood isn't bad, but checkering is pretty rough.

Overall Score: 3.5 Stars
Workmanship: C+
Performance: B+
Price/Value: A-

CZ

Blaser R8

HONORABLE MENTIONS

Blaser R8 (2010)
Price: $4,745
Cartridge: .308 Win
Smallest Group: .956
Trigger Pull: 2 lb. 11 oz.

The Blaser R8 is a complex and expensive bit of engineering that rewards the shooter with an intuitive and easy-to-use straight-pull action that cycles with the speed of a striking cobra.

This simplicity is enhanced by the ergonomics of the rifle. The gorgeous wood stock is blessed with excellent proportions (for right-handed shooters, at least) in the grip, forend and buttstock, and has nice checkering to boot. The result is a very shootable rifle that seems to point toward the target with a will of its own.

Testers' Comments: Super fast action * Switches barrels easily * Lovely wood * Cocking indicator bright and visible

Overall Rating: 3.5 stars
Workmanship: A+
Performance: B+
Price/Value: C

Blaser

CZ 455 American

CZ 455 American (2010)

Price: $504
Cartridge: .17 HMR
Smallest Group: .439
Trigger Pull: 4 lb. 2 oz.

At first blush, the CZ 455 American is so much like CZ's 452 series of rimfires that you might wonder what all the fuss is about. But a look below the surface tells the story.

The most significant change is that the rifle uses a single type of receiver in order to create a consistent platform for future versions of the 455. Consistency is one of the key ingredients for accuracy, and in this regard, to judge by our sample, the 455, chambered in .17 HMR, is off to a great start. Gear Editor John Taranto shot the smallest group of the test, a .439-inch screamer. This was no fluke, either. The 10 best five-shot groups from the rifle averaged .944 inches—an outstanding performance.

Testers' Comments: Rifle has nice lines * Functions well, feeds easily * So accurate! * Creepy trigger * Delivered great groups

Overall Rating: 3.5 stars
Workmanship: B
Performance: A
Price/Value: B+

CZ

Precision hunter rifle

T/C Precision Hunter (2009)

Price: $1,299
Cartridge: .22-250
Smallest Group: .531
Trigger Pull: 3 lb. 6 oz.

When Thompson/Center rolled out its first-ever bolt-action rifle two years ago, we noted that features such as its integral Weaver-style bases would be aptly suited for varmint and tactical configurations. the introduction of the Precision Hunter confirms that our observation was on target. The riles's heavy fluted barrel, oversize bolt handle knob, crisp adjustable trigger and beefy stock with its flat forend all complement the stout Icon action to create a capable and attractive varminter.

Testers' Comments: Stylish and pretty; feeds like a dream * Wish the magazine were metal

Overall Rating: 3.5 stars
Workmanship: B+
Performance: A
Price/Value: B+

Thompson/Center

Remington R-15

Remington R-15 (2009)

Price: $1,199
Cartridge: .30 RAR
Smallest Group: .818
Trigger Pull: 4 lb. 15 oz.

The evolution of the big-game AR rifle has taken an interesting step forward with the introduction of the Remington .30 AR. Despite the recent enthusiasm to create AR-style rifles for deer-size and larger game, the concept isn't without its problems. At the top of the list is the weight of the rifles chambered in rounds adequate for the task. Compared with similarly configured bolt guns, they are bulky and uncomfortable to carry.

Overall Rating: 3.5 stars
Workmanship: B
Performance: A
Price/Value: B

Remington

Savage M11FHNS

Savage Arms M11FHNS (2009)

Price: $656
Cartridge: .308
Smallest Group: .083
Trigger Pull: 2 lb. 6 oz.

When Savage introduced its AccuTrigger in 2003, it sent shockwaves through the gun industry. The message was clear: No longer was there any reason to tolerate a creepy, heavy, "lawyer-proof" trigger on a production rifle, no matter its cost. Since then, nearly every major gunmaker has either redesigned or upgraded the triggers on its firearms to the benefit of all shooters. Savage hopes its latest innovation will prove as significant. Called the AccuStock, it is an aluminum bedding surface molded within a synthetic stock that's designed to squeeze the action from the front and sides as the guard screws are tightened.

Overall Rating: 3.5 stars
Workmanship: B
Performance: A
Price/Value: B+

Savage

Varmint target rifle

Remington M700 VTR (2008)

Price: 805
Cartridge: .223
Smallest Group: .835
Trigger Pull: 4 lb. 1 oz.

The triangular-shaped barrel on Remington's latest incarnation of the ageless Model 700 is certain to get lots of attention and comment. According to the company, the triangular barrel contour of the VTR (Varmint Target Rifle) reduces weight, which is obvious, because when you slice metal off a barrel it gets lighter.

Remington also claims that it enhances rigidity and promotes rapid heat dissipation. But that may depend on what you're measuring. (Which reminds me of some writers and editors who should know better but have fallen for the notion that cutting external grooves in a rifle barrel makes it stiffer.)

Testers' comments: Comfortable stock configuration * Triangular barrel looks cool * Shot well * A nice new look for the 700 action

Overall Score: 4 Stars
Workmanship: B
Performance: A
Price/Value: B

Remington

Sako A7

Sako A7 (2008)

Price: $850
Cartridge: .243
Smallest Group: .873
Trigger Pull: 3 lb. 1 oz.

Gunmakers tend to get upset when their space-age "synthetics" are called plastic. But I'm an old-fashioned guy, and if it ain't wood or metal, then it's gotta be plastic. Of which there is a lot in Sako's A7, including not just the stock, but the bolt shroud, safety tab, detachable magazine and, yes, even the floor plate and trigger guard. That's how the price is kept under a thousand bucks, which is no small feat considering the decline of the dollar against European currencies.

But even with the obvious, and some not-so-obvious changes, there's still a lot left of the accuracy and slick operation that has made Sako one of the most admired and desired of today's rifles. The three-lug bolt is still recognizable, and even without the high polish of pricier Sako models, it works as slick as a greased minnow, and the trigger pull is crisp and adjustable down to a couple of pounds.

Testers' comments: Sets new standard for accuracy guarantee in moderately priced rifles * Very good
rifle * Stock too racy for my taste

Overall Score: 3.5 Stars
Workmanship: C
Performance: B
Price/Value: B

Sako

Savage Mark II Classic

Savage Mark II Classic (2007)

Price: $495
Cartridge: .22 LR
Smallest Group: .572 (at 50 yards)
Trigger Pull: 2 lb. 11 oz.

The classiest rimfire rifle in the Savage lineup is the new Mark II bolt rifle, and the Classic name is justified. The slickly finished stock is real American black walnut, and its elegant styling is more than a little reminiscent of the classic American stock makers.

Overall, the rifle has a distinct grown-up look, with a hand-filling forearm with a detachable sling stud and black forend tip. The machine-cut checkering of our sample was unusually sharp and deep, with the classic point pattern continuing completely around the forearm. The grip area likewise has point pattern panels of checkering and is enhanced with a grip cap. The test team also liked the nicely contoured bolt handle and the all-steel trigger guard.

Testers' comments: Good-looking wood * Savage's most nicely finished rimfire ever * Trigger guard is graceless

Overall Score: 4 Stars
Workmanship: B
Performance: B
Price/Value: B

Savage

Savage Model 10 Predator

Savage Model 10 Predator (2007)

Price: $691
Cartridge: .223
Smallest Group: .392
Trigger Pull: 12.3 oz.

"Predator"…now that's a good name for this latest from Savage. It conjures the image of a camo-festooned coyote hunter hunkered in the sage with a likewise-camo-clad rifle.
From its muzzle to its oversize bolt-handle knob, even to its Weaver-style scope bases, almost everything about this thick-barreled varmint rifle is layered with Mossy Oak Brush camo. The only exception is its AccuTrigger, which lets go at a crisp 12-ounce pull that earned praise from our test team. (It was noted, however, that the trigger can be tricky to use when wearing gloves, as varmint callers usually do.)

Testers' comments: Looks and performs like a precision rifle should * This is a heavy varmint rifle for car and bench only

Overall Score: 3.5 Stars
Workmanship: C
Performance: A
Price/Value: A

Savage

Remington Model 5*

Remington Model 5 (2007)

Price: $348
Cartridge: .22 LR
Smallest Group: .509 (at 50 yards)
Trigger Pull: 5 lb. 4 oz.

Remington's Serbian-made rimfire has the look and feel of a centerfire rifle, no doubt the result of gunmaker Zastava's love of steel-and lots of it. The massive receiver is about the same diameter as that of Winchester's legendary Model 52 target rifle, and the Model 5's barrel is contoured like centerfire's. Even the bottom metal, usually plastic or pot metal on rimfire rifles, is made from a big chunk of machined and nicely oilseed blue steel.

Testers' Comments: A nice little .22 at a good price * Some creep in trigger detracted from performance

Overall Score: 3.5 Stars
Workmanship: B
Performance: B
Price/Value: B

Remington

Kimber 8400 Classic

Kimber 8400 Classic (2006)

Price: $1,087
Cartridge: .270
Smallest Group: 1.225
Trigger Pull: 2 lb. 4 oz.

If any one word defines Kimber's rifles it's "classic," meaning classic lines and hand-cut checkering on pretty wood, along with trimly contoured metal and mechanical features you'd expect on far costlier custom rifles. Beginning with its near legendary rimfire rifles, Kimber expanded into short-action centerfires with its 84 series and this year has introduced a full-length action for cartridges of .30/06 length, which include the .25/06, .270 Win., 7mm Rem. Mag., .300 Win. and .338 Win. Mag.

As expected, our test sample was a pretty thing to look at and handle, with a crisp trigger pull and slick operation, all of which earned it high scores from our panel of shooters.

Testers' comments: Lovely to look at, but only so-so performance * Definitely preferred the handloads to factory ammo

Overall Score: 4 Stars
Performance: B
Design: A
Price/Value: B

Kimber

CZ 550 Hunter

CZ 550 Hunter (2006)

Price: $1,100
Cartridge: .300 Win.
Smallest Group: 2 lb. 6 oz.
Trigger Pull: 1.512

Picking up CZ's upscale 550 Hunter and working the bolt, you'll be reminded of the slick but businesslike feel of the fine commercial Mausers of generations past. It's obvious that its Czech makers wanted to capture the look and feel of old-world gun making, but with a few modern features added. Most impressive about the 550 Hunter is the metalwork, the oily smooth feel when the bolt is cycled and a control-fed cartridge snakes into the chamber.

The single-set trigger is so light and crisp at 2 pounds 6 ounces that there is really no need to set it for its 5.5-ounce touch-off position. The stock has the full, manly feel that's needed for magnum calibers. The wood on our test rifle was good walnut but not at all enhanced by the humdrum checkering pattern, which seemed at odds with the rifle's otherwise classic features.

Testers' comments: Heavy enough for caliber and comfortable to shoot * One handsome rifle

Overall Score: 3.5 Stars
Performance: B
Design: B
Price/Value: B

CZ

Savage M12

Savage M12 LRP Varminter (2006)

Price: $967
Cartridge: .223 Rem
Smallest Group: .826
Trigger Pull: 1 lb. 15 oz.

With a reputation for accuracy that is increasingly envied by other rifle makers, Savage pushes the envelope ever further with an RBLP (right-side bolt with lift-side loading/ejection port) action. This configuration has long been used on top-drawer custom benchrest actions because it makes single-shot feeding faster and the solid receiver top adds support for heavy varmint/target-type barrels. These features, along with Savage's light-pull AccuTrigger and synthetic, wide-forend varmint-style stock should move the new M12 to the top of the varmint class.

Testers' Comments: Great trigger * Closing the bolt is like shutting a door on a high-quality safe

Overall Score: 3.5 Stars
Performance: B
Design: B
Price/Value: B

Savage

Sako Quad

Sako Quad (2005)

Price: $1,739
Cartridge: .22 Mag/ .22 LR/ .17 HMR/ .17 Mach 2
Smallest Group: .411 (at 50 yards)
Trigger Pull: 3 lb. 1 oz.

According to Webster, a quad is an assembly of four units; in military weaponry it's four mating guns mounted together, according to Sako, it's four rimfire barrels that interchange in a bolt-action receiver. They can be bought all together in a fitted case, giving you an immediate choice of .17 Mach 2, .17 HMR, .22 Long Rifle or .22 Win Mag., or bought separately. A single bolt does it all without alteration and the barrels are easily and quickly interchanged with a hex tool.

Testers' comments: A very accurate rifle * Modern, stylish looks * Changing barrels is very easy, but do you need all four rimfire calibers?

Overall Score: 3.5 Stars
Workmanship: B
Performance: A
Price/Value: B

Sako

Pro Varmint

Kimber Pro Varmint (2005)

Price: $1,055
Cartridge: .17 Mach 2
Smallest Group: .481
Trigger Pull: 2 lb. 7 oz.

Kimber's .17 Mach 2-caliber Pro Varmint was one of the highest scoring rifles of our entire test series. Everyone liked the crisp trigger, the smooth operation, the stylish contours of the laminated wood stock and especially the way the gun reliably delivered sub-half-inch groups at 50 yards. The .17 Mach 2 is a delight to shoot, especially with a rifle as stylish and accurate as this one.

Testers' comments: Balances nicely in hand and points naturally * Nice ergonomics * A slick rifle for hunting squirrels * Lots of fun to shoot

Overall Score: 3.5 Stars
Workmanship: B
Performance: A
Price/Value: B

Kimber

Remington 504-T

Remington 504-T (2005)

Price: $799
Cartridge: .22 LR
Smallest Group: .181 (at 50 yards)
Trigger Pull: 3 lb. 3 oz.

One of the groups we fired at 50 yards measured a peanut-sized .181 inches, which is exactly the purpose of Remington's rimfire target rifle, which we tested in .22 RF (it also comes in .17 HMR). Based on the M504 action introduced by Remington last year, this target version is "accuracy enhanced" by a heavy barrel chambered to Eley match specifications and a laminated wood stock with beavertail forend and palm-swell grip.

Testers' Comments: Lovely trigger, very crisp * Rides the bags well * Would be a blast for ground squirrels

Overall Score: 3.5 Stars
Workmanship: B
Performance: A
Price/Value: B

Remington

Henry Big Boy

Henry Big Boy (2004)

Price: $749
Cartridge: .44 Rem. Mag.
Smallest Group: .715
Trigger Pull: 4 lb. 12 oz.

At first glance, the new "Henry" looks like just another Italian-made copy of the brass-frame Henry-cum-Winchester lever rifle known in legend and Indian lore as the Yellow boy. Were that the case, it would not have qualified for our new-gun test series. Look more closely, however, and you'll see a quite new rifle. The Yellow Boy flavor is there aplenty, but the brass receiver is bigger and more robust to handle .44 Magnum ammo.

Testers' Comments: Tons of fun to shoot * A really neat little rifle * Beautifully finished

Overall Score: 3.5 Stars
Workmanship: A
Performance: A
Price/Value: B

Henry

Remington 504

Remington 504 (2004)

Price: $710
Cartridge: .22 LR
Smallest Group: .396
Trigger Pull: 2 lb. 6 oz.

It's always a big event in the gun industry when Remington introduces a new .22 rimfire rifle, even more so with its M-504, an upscale bolt rifle targeted to the "adult" rimfire market currently courted by the likes of Anschutz, Kimber, and Ruger's 77/22. Being Remington, with its long history of fine unmaking, multiple talents and vast resources, any introduction of a new firearm invites more than the usual inspection and, perhaps, criticism. This is certainly true with the M-504, which gives the impression of having been designed mainly on the basis of a "what features do you want in a new .22?" questionnaire, without any particular sense of what it takes to make a classic rimfire, as was accomplished by, say, the Stery Zephyr.

Testers' Comments: A joy to shoot * A nice lifelong .22 to start a young shooter on

Overall Score: 3.5 Stars
Workmanship: A
Performance: A
Price/Value: B

Remington

Weatherby Mark V

Weatherby Mark V Special (2003)

Price: $1,099
Cartridge: .22/250
Smallest Group: 1.249
Trigger Pull: 3.63 lb.

Testers' Comments: For a varmint rifle to carry over your shoulder this would make a perfect choice. It was very comfortable to shoot, cycle and feed and had very positive ejection. Accuracy was a disappointment.

Overall Score: 3.5 Stars
Workmanship: B
Performance: B
Price/Value: B

Weatherby

Remington 597 Magnum

Remington 597 Magnum (2003)

Price: $361
Cartridge: .17 HMR
Smallest Group: 1.252
Trigger Pull: 5.63 lb.

A light, fast-handling carbine with nice overall fit, finish and accuracy. A refreshing look that should sell well, but the trigger serration hurt some fingers.

Overall Score: 3.5 Stars
Workmanship: B
Performance: B
Price/Value: B

Remington

Marlin 17V

Marlin 17V (2002)

Price: $263
Cartridge: .17 HMR
Average Group: 1.34

Over the coming months there will be a flurry of rifles chambered for the new .17 HMR cartridge, but I doubt if many will be less expensive - or more accurate - than this one. There's nothing fancy about this rifle, let there be no doubt. The creepy trigger requires concentrated effort to avoid wild shots, but we were determined to give the test sample our best effort by mounting a high-quality, high-powered scope on it. We were rewarded by some 100-yard groups that demonstrated the .17 HMR can be a serious varmint cartridge and that the inexpensive Marlin version can put five shots inside a one-inch circle.

Shoots better than it looks * Accuracy for price is its best saving grace

Overall Score: 3.5 Stars
Workmanship: B-
Performance: B+
Price/Value: B+

Marlin

Marlin 1894 Cowboy Competition

Marlin 1894 Cowboy Competition (2002)

Price: $965
Cartridge: .38 Special
Average Group: 1.145 (50 yards, open sights)

With a price tage barely on the safe side of a thousand bucks, this new lever rifle is the priciest item in the 2002 Marlin catalog. It is also the most beautiful. With its octagonal barrel, rich case-hardened hues on the receiver and lever and good walnut, there's not much more to wish for with this American Beauty except perhaps an earlier style steel buttplate and the absence of the useless push-button safety.

Testers' Comments: My favorite "fun gun" tested * Well done Marlin, a personal favorite

Overall Score: 3.5 Stars
Workmanship: B
Performance: B+
Price/Value: C+

Marlin

CZ-527 Varmint

CZ-527 Varmint (2002)

Price: $753
Cartridge: .223
Average Group: .954

Combine legendary Czech gunmaking with American accuracy know-how and you're bound to have a hot-performing combination. So it is with this sweet little rifle that utilizes a H-S Precision stock to squeeze the accuracy potential out of a stiff CZ barrel and action. As test team member John Taranto proved when he fired a five-shot group with our .223 test sample that measured a tiny .229 inches.

Testers' Comments: Best varmint rifle we tested * A smooth accurate rifle

Overall Score: 3.5 Stars
Workmanship: C+
Performance: A-
Price/Value: B

CZ

Remington Model 7

Remington Model 7 (2002)

Price: $743
Cartridge: 7mm UMSA
Average Group: 1.30

What makes the Model Seven "new" is the concept of combining a light-weight, carbine-size rifle (of the type usually reserved for light-to medium-power cartridges) with a magnum-class caliber. Thus the Model Seven in Remington's new 7mm Short-Action Ultra Mag. is an attention getter. Test team member, Allen Day, an experienced hand with magnum rifles, fired two fast five-shot groups back to back that measured 1.026 inches and 1.224 inches with the barrel too hot to touch.

Testers' Comments: I score it high for accuracy * Sharp recoil - rough bolt

Overall Score: 3.5 Stars
Workmanship: B
Performance: B-
Price/Value: B

Remington

Thompson/Center .22

Thompson/Center .22 "Classic" Semi-Automatic (2001)

Price: $335
Cartridge: .22 LR
Average Group: .760

Though announced a year ago, T/C's first-ever autoloader wasn't ready for Gear Test 2000, so we rescheduled it for this year. We're glad we did, because discover of little gem like this make long days of test firing guns worth the effort. Basically, the T/C Classic is a clip-fed .22 rimfire autoloader, but beyond that little about it can be considered your basic .22 auto.

Testers' Comments: Very comfortable to shoot * Nice accuracy but clip is very hard to load

Overall Score: 3.5 Stars
Workmanship: C+
Performance: B
Price/Value: B-

Thompson/Center

After years of Gun Tests we compiled a list of the 50 best hunting and sporting rifles to hit the market in the last decade.