Elk are big, rugged animals that deserve respect. Underestimate them at your peril. You need a rifle that is as tough and sturdy as they are, that launches a sufficiently large bullet, and that won’t let you down when the conditions go to hell—as often happens in the mountains.
1. The Speedster: Sauer 303
The German engineers who designed the Sauer 303 probably wouldn’t know a Rocky Mountain elk from a wolverine. They made the 303 with driven boar in mind, but that doesn’t prevent this slick semi-auto from being perfekt on dark-timber elk. The bombproof gas system on the 303 makes it reliable and soft-shooting, even in heavy calibers, and you won’t find a big-game rifle that gets back on target faster. The accuracy of the rifle for longer shots is also excellent, which is not a given for semi-autos. It is now available with a tough synthetic stock. MSRP: $3,352; sauer.de
2. The Tack Driver: Savage 111 Long Range Hunter
Getting closer than three football-field-lengths from a trophy bull isn’t always in the cards. Long shots demand excellent marksmanship, but you also need a rifle that’s up to the task. The beefy 8.5-pound Long Range Hunter, built on Savage’s accurate 111 action, can help you connect. In .300 WSM, it comes with a 26-inch barrel to squeeze maximum velocity from the round. The cheekpiece adjusts to establish proper comb height, and the AccuTrigger ensures that the shot starts with a clean trigger break. MSRP: $1,136; savagearms.com
3. The Feather: Weatherby Vanguard Series 2 Backcountry
Elk country isn’t for the faint of heart. The mountains love nothing more than reducing a grown man to a mass of quivering jelly. Trimming your kit by even a few pounds can make a huge difference. The new Backcountry by Weatherby helps lighten the load without compromising accuracy. Unscoped, the rifle is about 6 ¾ pounds, making it handy and comfortable to carry. Built on the excellent Vanguard 2 action, it comes with a 3-shot-group sub-MOA guarantee. MSRP: $1,429; weatherby.com
4. The Bargain: Tikka T3 Lite Stainless
The Tikka is the scrappy little brother in the Sako/Beretta family of rifles. It isn’t as refined as its siblings, but it can do everything they can at a fraction of the cost. In big-game calibers, it has a 3 + 1 capacity and is fed from a detachable box magazine. The rifle’s trim lines and moderate weight (6 pounds 3 ounces) make it easy to hump through elk country, and the stainless-steel metal helps resist corrosion. The synthetic stock, like the rest of the rifle, is basic and functional. MSRP: $775; tikka.com
John B. Snow is Shooting Editor of Outdoor Life, where he oversees the publication’s firearms and shooting coverage. This includes gear reviews, features on technical innovations, stories on shooting techniques and general hunting coverage with the occasional fishing story thrown into the mix.