bull elk
A big bull elk tests the wind. Donald M. Jones

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;

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;

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;

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;

See more of our picks for Best Elk Hunting Rifles here.