Published Jun 27, 2022 3:52 PM

Whether you hunt whitetails in the hardwoods, elk in the mountains, or bears in the Alaskan bush, there’s a hunting rifle for you. The landscape you plan to hunt, your hunting tactics, and the game you’re chasing will all play a role in the rifle you choose. But so will personal taste. Your rifle defines in part who you are as a hunter, whether it is a practical beater that lives in your truck for much of the year, a handy lever action, or a pricey long-range hammer. We’ve made that task a little easier by narrowing down the field to the best hunting rifles we’ve tested. 

How We Picked the Best Hunting Rifles

The list here includes many of the best rifles in our annual gun tests, the most in-depth (and honest) evaluation in the industry. But we’ve added in some of our personal favorite hunting rifles as well. These are guns that have proven themselves on the range and in the field—rifles that we are willing to stake the success of our hunts on, whether we’re headed to our family farm, hiking mountains, or crossing oceans in pursuit of game. 

Best Overall: Nosler 21

Nosler

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Key Features 

  • Caliber: 6.5 Creedmoor
  • Weight: 6 pounds, 10 ounces
  • Stock: Carbon fiber composite
  • Barrel: 22 inches, threaded, 5/8-24
  • Trigger: 4 pounds, 4 ounces, adjustable

Why It Made the Cut

The Nosler 21 is both a great performing rifle, and aesthetically pleasing. It’s accurate and superbly balanced.

Pros

  • Great weight and balance
  • Great price for the performance
  • Very accurate
  • Tool-less takedown for field serviceability

Cons

  • Bolt handle could use a drop of thread locker

Product Description

The Nosler 21 is a fantastic hunting rifle, and it won our Editor’s Choice award in our 2022 gun test after extensive evaluation. It’s a finely crafted rifle with a carbon fiber synthetic stock, stainless-steel Mack Brothers Evo action, and stainless-steel Shilen No. 3 contour barrel.

At just under 7-pounds, the Nosler 21 is a wonderfully-balanced all-around hunting rifle that can easily be carried anywhere, but not so light that it exhibits the limitations and drawbacks of many ultralight rifles, which can be difficult to shoot accurately.

A cape buffalo taken while hunting in Zimbabwe,
Shooting editor John B. Snow carried a Nosler Model 21 in .375 H&H for a buffalo hunt in Zimbabwe. Justin Moore

The carbon fiber stock is reinforced with Aramid, features a 1-inch recoil pad, and aluminum bedding pillars. Fit of the barreled action into the stock is nice and tight. The Mack Brother’s action on this rifle utilizes a two-lug bolt that features tool-less disassembly for cleaning and maintenance in the field.

With the action, adjustable Triggertech trigger, and Shilen barrel, this package delivers excellent accuracy, and out of the hundreds of 5-shot groups we fired in our gun test, this rifle shot the tightest one (0.266 in.). Even tested against more-expensive rifles, it was impossible to argue with the results the Nosler 21 produced. —T.F.

Best Lever Action: Marlin 1895 SBL

Marlin Firearms

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Key Features

  • Caliber: .45/70 Government
  • Weight: 7 pounds, 4 ounces
  • Stock: Laminated wood
  • Barrel: 19 inches, threaded, 11/16-24
  • Trigger: 6 pounds, 7 ounces

Why It Made the Cut 

The Marlin 1895 SBL, under the new ownership of Ruger, is the finest version of this rifle ever made. Quality materials and attention to detail elevate it above previous factory Marlins.

Pros 

  • Reliability and detail work are excellent
  • Over-sized lever loop
  • XS Ghost ring rail/sights included
  • Good accuracy

Cons

  • 11/16-24 threaded muzzle requires separate thread adapter for most suppressors

Product Description

The 1895 SBL is the first rifle to go into production after Ruger’s acquisition of Marlin, and it’s a handsome one. The short 19-inch-barrel configuration is produced in stainless-steel with gray laminate furniture. It also includes an over-sized lever loop and XS sights ghost ring sights with an optics rail.

This lever action rifle holds 6 rounds of .45/70, and cycles reliably with little slop—due to the precise CNC machined and EDM-cut components. The action is butter-smooth, but tight. Checkering on the furniture is excellent, as is the fit.

In our 2022 gun test, we found the 1895 SBL to be accurate—even with a 6X magnification optic. Using Hornady 325-grain FTX loads, the rifle’s 5-shot groups averaged 1.66 inches, making it a realistic 200 or even 300-yard gun.

lever action rifle on hunt
The new Marlin 1895 SBL proved itself on a challenging aoudad hunt in the wide open country of West Texas. John B. Snow

Keeping up with the wishes of many modern hunters and shooters, the muzzle is threaded—but in 11/16-24, not 5/8-24. Suppressors like the Silencerco Hybrid 46M have adapters available that will work. The threaded muzzle comes capped with a thread protector that’s so finely machined, the seam essentially disappears when it’s tightened. —T.F.

Best Value: CZ-USA 600 Alpha

CZ USA

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Key Features 

  • Caliber: 6mm Creedmoor
  • Weight: 7 pounds, 10 ounces
  • Stock: Synthetic with rubber textured inlay
  • Barrel: 22 inches, threaded, 5/8-24
  • Trigger: 1 pound, 11 ounces, adjustable

Why It Made the Cut 

The CZ-USA 600 Alpha brings great accuracy, ingenuity, and versatility to the table—and all at a very competitive price.

Pros 

  • Simple and sweet adjustable trigger
  • Comfortable stock
  • Great accuracy for price
  • Smooth, 3-lug bolt

Cons

  • CZ has temporarily backed off on the switch-barrel capability

Product Description

The 600 series from CZ represents a clean break from their previously manufactured actions, and this more modern design is where they’re putting their chips. The 600 Alpha is the economy variation of the 600 and features a short-throw, 3-lug bolt with a round over-sized bolt handle.

The synthetic stock on the 600 Alpha has some flexibility in it but features a very comfortable grip angle and textured soft-rubber inlays for a secure grip in wet conditions. The rifle is configured with some target rifle lines and a slightly heavy barrel but would be perfectly suitable for any hunting—aside from possibly the most extreme mountain backpack hunts. Even then, it’s not terribly heavy.

CZ 600 and mouflon sheep
The CZ 600 is an all-new rifle platform from the Czech gun maker. Matt Foster

The 600 Alpha uses a detachable box magazine that has to be “rocked” into place, and the safety design is unique as well. It’s a crossbolt safety that runs vertically through the grip behind the bolt—pushing it down places the rifle in “fire” mode.

The barrel of the 600 Alpha is threaded for a suppressor or muzzle device, and in our 2022 gun test, we found it to be exceptionally accurate for a sub-$1000 rifle. Our sample was chambered in 6mm Creedmoor and our average 5-shot group was .814 inches. —T.F.

Best Long Range: Proof Tundra

Proof Research

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Key Features 

  • Caliber: 6.5 CM
  • Weight: 7 pounds, 2 ounces
  • Stock: Carbon-fiber composite
  • Barrel: 24 inches, threaded, 5/8-24
  • Trigger: 2 pounds, 10 ounces, adjustable

Why It Made the Cut

The Proof Tundra is top-notch when it comes to materials, manufacturing, fit and finish, and accuracy. It was the most accurate hunting rifle of the 2022 Outdoor Life Gun test.

Pros

  • High-quality materials and fit of all components
  • Adjustable trigger
  • Carbon-fiber adjustable cheek piece
  • Accurate

Cons

  • Expensive

Product Description

Proof’s Tundra is the barrel-maker’s own semi-custom hunting rifle designed to maximize looks and performance in almost every category. It features a carbon-fiber stock with adjustable carbon fiber cheek piece, into which a Proof carbon fiber-wrapped barrel and the Defiance two-lug bolt action are perfectly fit and bedded. Our sample came in a silver-on-black netting-style finish, but a variety of options are available.

The Tundra is a price-be-damned rifle that exhibits excellent craftsmanship and performance. The fit and attention to detail was unmatched among the competition in our 2022 gun test. The combination of the rifle’s features—from the top-loading BDL-style magazine, to the lightweight stock with an adjustable cheek-piece— has resulted in one of the best rifles for long-range hunting you can find.

The Tundra comes with a 3-shot, ½ MOA accuracy guarantee, which it easily achieves. During our evaluation its 5-shot groups averaged .683 inches—which was only bested by the two precision competition rifles in the test. The Tundra has excellent balance and is light enough to not be an encumbrance on any hunt.  —T.F.

Most Versatile: Christensen Arms Ridgeline Scout

Christensen Arms

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Key Features

  • Caliber: 6.5 CM
  • Weight: 5 pounds, 14 ounces
  • Stock: Carbon-fiber composite
  • Barrel: 16 inches, carbon-fiber, 5/8-24 threaded
  • Trigger: 2 pounds, 1 ounce, adjustable

Why It Made the Cut

The Christensen Arms Ridgeline Scout is a short, handy rifle that can do just about anything, whether it’s hunting hogs in the brush or sheep in the mountains.

Pros

  • Short, handy, and well-balanced
  • Uses AICS-pattern magazines
  • Suppressor or muzzle-device-ready
  • Great accuracy

Cons

  • Flat trigger shoe doesn’t fit well with grip angle

Product Description

An ode to the scout rifle concept pioneered by Jeff Cooper, the Christensen Arms Ridgeline Scout is a light and versatile bolt action. It features a black nitride-coated action with a two-lug bolt and skeletonized bolt handle. The carbon-fiber stock is slim with classic lines but includes a section of rail that incorporates a barricade stop at the front of the forend for attaching a bipod. Under the hood, the stock incorporates stainless steel bedding pillars.

The action includes a rail optics mount and over-sized magazine release and is compatible with AICS-pattern magazines—both polymer and steel. It has a 16-inch threaded carbon-fiber barrel that comes with a 3-prong flash suppressor but would make a perfect host for a suppressor.

The Ridgeline Scout is short, but accurate. In our 2022 gun test, it averaged .784-inch 5-shot groups—even better than the 3-shot sub-MOA guarantee. The only thing we weren’t fans of was the fit of the flat trigger shoe with the classic-style sporter grip angle— a curved trigger shoe would be a better choice with the stock’s geometry.

The rifle’s handiness and accuracy make it more-than-ideal for a number of tasks ranging from a ranch rifle to an NRL hunter competition gun, and just about anything in-between. It would be just as at-home in a Midwest deer stand as it would be spot-and-stalk hunting black bears on the beaches of Prince William’s Sound. —T.F.

Best Long-Range Varmint Rifle: Seekins Havak HIT

Seekins Precision

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Key Features

  • Caliber: 6.5 PRC
  • Weight: 11.5 pounds
  • Stock: Seekins folding aluminum chassis
  • Barrel: 24-inch threaded 5/8-24
  • Trigger: 2 pounds, 8 ounces, adjustable

Why It Made the Cut 

The Havak HIT is an incredibly innovative, versatile, and accurate precision rifle—all at a great price.

Pros

  • Extremely accurate
  • Switch-barrel and cartridge capability
  • Adjustable trigger
  • Great Price

Cons

  • Doesn’t have integral ARCA rail on chassis

Product Description

The Seekins Havak HIT was one of the stars of our 2022 Gun test. It was one of the most accurate rifles we shot—second only to the Accuracy International AT-X, and not by much. The Havak HIT we received in 6.5 PRC printed 5-shot groups that averaged .542 inches. It received both a Best Value and Innovation Award—a rare and well-deserved double win.

The Havak HIT action and chassis are entirely unique to Seekins Precision. The only non-proprietary component is the trigger, which is a Remington 700-pattern adjustable trigger. The aluminum chassis features easy comb and length-of-pull adjustments, and has a folding stock, AR-style vertical grip, and compatibility with AICS magazines. The only thing it lacks is an ARCA rail, though one can be added to the fore-end.

The switch-barrel system is a big part of the rifle’s innovation. By loosening a set screw, the barrel can be removed and replaced, and only the bolt head needs to be swapped out to shoot a different caliber. Weight can be added to the rifle for stability in competition, but as-is, it makes an excellent long-range varmint rifle and is chambered in light-recoiling long-range cartridges like the 6 Creed and 6 GT. —T.F.

Best Bear Rifle: Ruger Guide Gun

Key Features

  • Caliber: .338 Win. Mag.
  • Weight: 8 pounds
  • Stock: Green Laminate Wood
  • Barrel: 20 inches, stainless-steel, threaded, 5/8-18
  • Trigger: 4 pounds, 2 ounces

Why It Made the Cut 

When it comes to coercing bears out of the brush, the Ruger Guide Gun is hard to beat. It’s short, handy, and chambered in several heavy-hitting calibers.

Pros

  • 20-inch barrel is handy in the brush
  • Includes muzzle brake and equally-weighted thread protector
  • Mauser-style controlled-feed action and fixed ejector
  • Length-of-pull is adjustable with included stock spacers

Cons

  • Shorter barrel gives up some velocity

Product Description 

Ruger’s Guide Gun—an adaptation of their long-successful M77 action—is one of the best bear rifles out there when it comes to dealing with them at close range. As the name suggests, the idea behind the Guide Gun is as a bear-stopping rifle in tight quarters when it really hits the fan.

The Guide Gun is a simple rifle, essentially a short-barreled M77 that’s designed to be quick, handy, and powerful. The Mauser-style controlled feed action is ultra-dependable and only gets smoother with age and use. It features a fixed (not spring-powered) ejector for reliable ejection that only gets more powerful the harder you stroke the action. The action also features a non-rotating extractor, 3-position safety, and Ruger’s proprietary integral scope bases.

The green laminate wood stock is heavy but designed to withstand the weather and heavy recoil—it features a soft rubber butt pad and optional spacers to change the length-of-pull. The action and barrel are stainless-steel, and the barrel is fitted with a sling swivel stud barrel band and express-style iron sights. The muzzle is threaded, but each caliber is threaded in pitches that aren’t compatible with typical suppressor adapters. The rifle comes with a removable radial muzzle brake, matching-weight thread protector, and smaller thread protector.

Freel with an interior Alaska Grizzly
Tyler Freel with a grizzy he shot running towards him at 15 yards. Tyler Freel

I’ve long used the M77 platform for bear backup rifles, and the Guide Gun is the handiest one of them yet. It’s offered in .30/06, .338 Win. Mag., .375 Ruger, and .416 Ruger—all great options. I recently killed a grizzly coming towards me at 15 yards with mine chambered in .338 Win. Mag. —T.F.

Best Mountain Rifle: Weatherby Mark V Backcountry 2.0 TI Carbon

Weatherby

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Key Features

  • Caliber: 6.5 CM
  • Weight: 5 pounds, 2 ounces
  • Stock: Carbon-fiber composite
  • Barrel: 24 inches, carbon-fiber, threaded
  • Trigger: 3 pounds, 4 ounces, adjustable

Why It Made the Cut

The bottom line when it comes to mountain rifles is weight, and the Backcountry 2.0 TI Carbon excels while bringing the performance needed to instill confidence on the mountain.

Pros

  • Lightweight
  • 24-inch carbon-fiber barrel is accurate and strong
  • Great ergonomics
  • Short bolt throw

Cons

  • Titanium action is a little sticky
  • Fit and finish could be better considering price tag

Product Description

The Mark V Backcountry 2.0 TI Carbon is an update to Weatherby’s original Backcountry series, which focuses on lightening up the famous Mark V action and producing a truly ultralight mountain rifle. For the 2.0, a couple key upgrades are the option for a carbon-fiber barrel and a re-design of the 3D-printed recoil pad (the original would hold a smashed-down shape when the rifle was rested on the recoil pad).

The Backcountry 2.0 TI Carbon features the 6-lug Mark V action, which uses 2 rows of 3 lugs for a light, but strong action tailored to Weatherby’s rebated rim cartridges. The titanium action and carbon-fiber barrel help to achieve an impressively low weight of just over 5 pounds with the 24-inch-barreled 6.5 CM we tested. The short bolt throw makes cycling the gun a pleasure, and although titanium actions tend to be sticky, it’s a worthwhile compromise in this case.

The full carbon-fiber stock adds rigidity at a minimal weight penalty and although we feel some of the fit and finish could be improved, it has a very comfortable grip and grip angle. Light rifles can be difficult to shoot well, and the ergonomics of this rifle helped. It shot pretty well across a variety of loads in our 2022 gun test, and the average of our best ten 5-shot groups was .824 inches. We did notice that the groups started to open up as the gun warmed up—especially on the fifth shot—but for most mountain hunting situations, it’s that first one or two that really matter. —T.F.

Best Rimfire: Ruger 10/22 Competition

Key Features

  • Caliber: .22 LR
  • Weight: 6 lb. 3 oz.
  • Stock: Synthetic with adj. cheek piece
  • Barrel: 16.12 in., threaded ½-28 with muzzle brake
  • Trigger: 2 lb. 14 oz.

Why It Made the Cut

 A do-everything rimfire that comes in a left-handed configuration.

Pros

  • Great trigger 
  • Good fit and finish 
  • Accurate
  • Utterly reliable

Cons 

  • Spendy

Product Description 

The Ruger 10/22 has come out in more variations than the IPAs at your local brewery. This iteration is from the Custom Shop and is one of the most refined 10/22s to date. 

It takes the classic 10/22 action—the 350 Chevy short block of rimfires—and tricks it out with a series of upgrades to create a high-performance, grown-up .22 LR. And in a nod to all the wrong-handed folks out there, Ruger is offering it in a lefty version as well.

The trigger on my sample is outstanding, breaking at a crisp and consistent 2 pounds 14 ounces. Combined with the hammer-forged barrel, it delivers excellent accuracy at 50 yards. To help with the rifle’s long-range potential, the action is topped with a 30 MOA Picatinny rail for mounting optics.

Being a 10/22, it would be a chore to make the gun not shoot well, and it runs like crazy, digesting every type of .22 LR I stuffed into its 10-round rotary magazines.

The Competition model has an ergonomic mag release integrated into the trigger guard that is easy to manipulate and relatively unobtrusive. The attention to ergonomics extends to the stock which has an adjustable cheek piece that goes up and down and can slide fore and aft with a single throw lever. As handy as that feature is, the hardware is a bit clunky looking and it is the one aesthetic sore spot on the rifle.

Everything else on the 10/22 competition is nicely finished. The barrel is fluted and comes with a racy and effective muzzle brake. The laminate stock has an attractive speckled gray coating that provides a bit of grip. And the fore-end has a beaver-tail-like contour that is comfortable and gives a good purchase.

One thing to know is that if you do opt for the left-handed model, regular right-handed 10/22 magazine won’t work. The lefty rotary mags spool up the other way. —J.B.S

Best Air Rifle: Air Venturi Avenger 

Air Venturi

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Key Features

  • Regulated 
  • Adjustable Trigger
  • Max Fill Pressure: 4,350 psi
  • Shrouded barrel
  • 900 fps in .25 caliber 
  • About 20 shots per fill (depending on tune)
  • Weight: 6.4 pounds

Why It Made the Cut

The Air Venturi Avenger has excellent accuracy, power, and shot-to-shot consistency. 

Pros 

  • Accurate
  • Consistent velocity
  • Handles well in the field 
  • Quiet

Cons

  • Requires a pump, tank, or compressor to fill 

Product Description

In a time when ammo is still hard to come by, an air rifle is an attractive alternative because pellets are readily available and even a few bucks cheaper than bulk .22 LR ammo. I recommend skipping past the pump and spring pellet guns you’re probably familiar with, and instead jumping into pre-charged pneumatic air rifles. PCPs use a pressurized air tank that is filled via a hand pump, compressor, or scuba tank. The main advantage is that the air power source makes them more accurate, powerful, and easier to shoot. They also don’t need special scopes that spring air rifles require. 

The best PCP airgun to get started with is the Air Venturi Avenger, an impressively accurate, affordable air rifle. Airgun expert, Jim Chapman, chose it as one of the best air rifles, and as Avenger owner myself, I agree. In Champan’s Avenger review his rifle had just a 19 fps variation over a 30 shot string. That consistency is reflected in the rifle’s accuracy—my Avenger shoots ¼ inch groups at 25 yards. It’s also a fairly quiet airgun, which is nice for introducing new shooters, backyard pest control, and basement ranges. 

A man shooting an air rifle in the woods
The AIr Venturi Avenger is relatively affordable without sacrificing performance. Jim Chapman

This sub $400 air rifle has features you’d typically only find on top-tier guns. One of those is that it’s regulated. This means that you can set the regulator to a specific psi and it will shoot every shot at that exact psi until the pressure drops below the setting. As a result, you get drastically improved consistency over an unregulated gun in which the pressure changes with each subsequent shot. This also allows the gun to be fine-tuned to work with a specific projectile or for a specific application. —Scott Einsmann

Other Top Rifles

Benelli Lupo Limited Edition

Benelli

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Key Features

  • Caliber: 6.5 CM
  • Weight: 7 pounds, 6 ounces
  • Stock: Walnut
  • Barrel: 24-inches, threaded 5/8-24
  • Trigger: 2 pounds, 8 ounces

Why It Made the Cut

The Lupo Limited Edition is a fast-handling, sleek hunting rifle with an elegant European feel that’s made to be fired offhand.

Pros

  • Excellent handling characteristics
  • Two-position safety is quick and comfortable to operate
  • Customizable stock fit
  • Great-looking wood, lines, and finish

Cons

  • No sling swivel studs

Product Description 

The Benelli Lupo Limited Edition is a 3-lug bolt-action that feeds from a flush-fitting detachable box magazine. It has sleek, futuristic lines and feels utterly European in its design and handling characteristics. It’s a rifle that was made to be shot from standing or kneeling positions, and walking or driven hunts are where this rifle would be most at-home.

The rifle features a handsome walnut stock and forend that are finished to look high-class, and blend well with the bright finish of the steel. The sharp angles of the trigger guard look like what you’d see on a shotgun, but the grip angle, contour, and location give the shooter a nearly perfect finger position for the trigger—the rifle is very comfortable and intuitive to shoot.

Although the bright-blued-looking finish might turn off some harsh-weather hunters, it’s treated with Benelli’s proprietary surface treatment (acronym BE.S.T.), we just wish they didn’t print “BE.S.T.” in bold letters on the otherwise sleek and elegant-looking receiver. —T.F.

Henry Long Ranger Express

Henry Repeating Arms

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Key Features

  • Caliber: .223 Rem.
  • Weight: 7 pounds, 7 ounces
  • Stock:  Birch Laminate
  • Barrel: 16.5 inches, threaded 5/8-24
  • Trigger: 5 pounds, 4 ounces

Why It Made the Cut

The Henry Long Ranger Express is a slick-operating box-magazine fed lever gun that is accurate and pure fun to shoot.

Pros

  • Box magazine allows you to use modern spitzer-style bullets
  • Ultra-smooth action
  • Threaded barrel is suppressor-ready
  • 16.5-inch barrel makes it handy and maneuverable

Cons

  • Set up for scope-only, no iron sights

Product Description 

The Long Ranger Express we received for our 2022 gun test is a perfect blend of fun and practicality from Henry Repeating Arms. Chambered in .223 Rem., this handy rifle is fed by a box magazine and features a 16.5-inch barrel that is tipped with a 5/8-24 thread. Although most .223 barrels are threaded in ½-28 thread, many suppressors have adapters that will work with that thread pitch.

This rifle features an aircraft aluminum receiver and 6-lug rotating bolt head similar to what you’d see in an AR-type rifle. The action is gear-driven and smoother than more traditional late 1800’s-style lever guns. You’ll get more bolt movement for the amount of travel of the lever which allows for smooth, snappy, quick cycling.

The rifle features a durable and weather-resistant birch laminate stock and forend with sling swivel studs. The lack of a barrel band and iron sights is noticeable, but the receiver is topped with a rail for scope mounting, and the medium-heavy-contoured barrel is capable of good accuracy when paired with an optic. In our gun test, the rifle averaged 1.29-inch 5-shot groups but printed several sub-inch groups when we put a higher-magnification scope on it. —T.F.

Browning X-Bolt Mountain Pro

Browning

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Key Features

  • Caliber: 6.8 Western
  • Weight: 6 pounds, 4 ounces
  • Stock: Foam-filled carbon-fiber
  • Barrel: 24 inches, threaded, 5/8-24
  • Trigger: 3 pounds, 5 ounces, adjustable

Why It Made the Cut

The Browning X-bolt is an accurate, dependable, and capable hunting rifle—and the Mountain Pro is the most-optimized version yet.

Pros

  • Lightweight
  • Well-balanced
  • Muzzle brake and thread protector included
  • Short bolt-throw for quick, smooth cycling

Cons

  • Good, but not stellar accuracy for the price

Product Description 

The X-bolt has firmly established itself as a go-to platform for Browning—and for good reason. The rifles are consistently good-shooters, reasonably lightweight, well-balanced, and dependable. The Mountain Pro is the latest iteration of this platform, and one of the best.

Optimized for mountain hunting, the new Mountain Pro features a fluted steel barrel, bolt, and bolt handle, a foam-filled carbon-fiber stock, and bronze or tungsten-colored cerakote finish on all parts. It’s of course built on the smooth-running short-throw X-bolt action that’s fed from a detachable rotary magazine.

Freel with trophy aoudad
Tyler Freel with West Texas aoudad and X-Bolt Mountain Pro Tungsten. John Whipple

The Stock on the Mountain Pro is light and tough, with a nicely contoured grip swell and comfortable grip angle. It’s an easy rifle to shoot and has great balance for carrying up the mountain one-handed. It has an intuitive tang safety and a generally good trigger. Compared to many popular titanium actions, the steel X-bolt action is slick and fast with its short throw.

Accuracy of the X-bolt’s is generally good, and in my testing at temperatures of -10 to -20 degrees, my Mountain Pro averaged 1.18-inch 5-shot groups with Browning’s Long Range Pro 175-grain Tipped Game King load. The accuracy didn’t wow me, but I wasn’t disappointed either. In November of 2021, I placed 3 shots in a group the size of a baseball at 420 yards on a West Texas aoudad. —T.F.

Fierce Firearms CT Rival

Fierce Firearms

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Key Features 

  • Caliber: .300 Win. Mag.
  • Weight: 6.2 pounds
  • Stock: Carbon-fiber, vertical grip
  • Barrel: Carbon-fiber, threaded with muzzle brake
  • Trigger: 1 pound, 11 ounces, adjustable

Why It Made the Cut

The Fierce CT Rival is a heavy-hitter when it comes to lightweight, accurate, long-range hunting rifles.

Pros

  • Titanium action and carbon-fiber barrel and stock cut weight
  • Vertical grip and raised comb aid in long-range ergonomics
  • Bix’n Andy’s Dakota Adjustable trigger
  • 1/2 MOA accuracy guarantee (3-shot)

Cons

  • Rifle is so light it’s more prone to user input than heavier guns

Product Description

The CT Rival from Fierce Firearms is designed to be what hunters want in a lightweight long-range custom rifle—but without the full custom price tag. The heart of the rifle is Fierce’s Rival Titanium action, which features a two-lug bolt that’s coated to smooth out the stickiness that’s common with titanium actions. It also has a skeletonized bolt handle and a slightly hollowed-out bolt knob that’s machined for a secure grip.

The carbon-fiber stock of the CT Rival is light and strong, and the fat vertical grip is contoured as to give an almost perfect finger placement on the slightly curved trigger shoe and the raised comb allows for a precise cheek weld. The stock has an inlaid section of rail on the fore-end for mounting a bipod, Q.D. sling cups on the front and back, and is finished with a Limbsaver recoil pad.

The 24-inch .300 Win. Mag. barrel on my sample is threaded and topped with a Fierce muzzle brake that’s hand-tight and secured with thread-matching set screws. It’s easily removable to use a suppressor or install a thread protector.

Quality (and accuracy) for the money is the selling point for the CT Rival, and it seems to have it all. Fit and finish is great, and the rifle flat-out shoots. Fierce has a 1/2-M.O.A. 3-shot accuracy guarantee with recommended ammunition. Shooting Barnes Vor-Tx 180-grain TTSX loads, which Fierce recommends, my hits that standard, averaging .846-inch 5-shot groups, and .615 inches with a handload using Hornady 212-grain ELD-X bullets. Read our full review of the Fierce CT Rival Here —T.F.

Winchester Model 70 Super Grade

Winchester Guns

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Key Features

  • Caliber: .30/06
  • Weight: 8 pounds, 2 ounces
  • Stock: AAAA Maple
  • Barrel: 24 inches, high gloss
  • Trigger: 2 pounds, 9 ounces

Why It Made the Cut

The “Rifleman’s Rifle” in its modern Super Grade iteration combines classic features and vintage looks with modern conveniences.  

Pros

  • Beautiful maple stock
  • Pre-64 style action, controlled feed
  • Runs smoothly, quickly
  • Points and handles nicely

Cons

  • Hefty rifle for carrying
  • Mediocre accuracy

We cannot all claim a mint, pre-64 Winchester Model 70 as our deer hunting rifle, but with the modern Super Grade you can get close. First let’s discuss the stock, because it immediately catches your eye. The AAAA grade stock is carved of red maple (though some sugar maples make the grade, too) harvested from the Appalachian Mountains. Each log is inspected and purchased individually by Tech Woods USA. The stock blank is heat treated, graded, certified, and then sent to the Winchester factory in Portugal where they machine, checker, finish, and then bed the stocks onto the rifles. There’s also a walnut version of the stock, which looks just as nice.

The rifle has a controlled-feed action similar to the style on those coveted pre-64 Winchesters. Though it’s not identical.  For example, the bolt handle and the bolt body are two pieces not one single part. Winchester collectors could pick at the new rifle with small quibbles like this, but for hunters none of this really matters in the field. The modern Winchester Super Grade does have a classic three-position safety.  

snowy day deer
The Winchester Model 70 Super Grade and a whitetail doe taken on a snowy afternoon. Alex Robinson

What does matter is that the rifle points and handles wonderfully. It comes to my shoulder quickly and naturally and is easy to shoot offhand. This has become my go-to whitetail deer hunting rifle, so handling is a priority. It weighs 8 pounds but does not feel that heavy in hand. The trigger is excellent for a deer rifle, at a crisp 2 pounds, 9 ounces. As for accuracy, with a variety of standard deer hunting loads my five-shot groups range from a little over an inch to 1.75 inches on the upper end. This is not excellent accuracy for a modern rifle, but it’s more than adequate for Northwoods deer hunting. Plus, for all the looks and features built into this rifle, it’s surprisingly affordable and makes a strong case for new wood-stocked deer hunting rifles—A.R.

Savage Impulse

Savage

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Key Features

  • Caliber: 6.5 Creedmoor
  • Weight: 8.8 pounds
  • Stock: Synthetic, with adjustable length of pull and comb height
  • Barrel: 22 in., fluted and threaded ⅝-24
  • Trigger: 3 lb. 1 oz., user-adjustable AccuTrigger

Why It Made the Cut

This innovative American-made rifle is an affordable straight-pull bolt gun. 

Pros 

  • Ambidextrous
  • Accurate
  • Affordable for the type

Cons

  • A bit heavy

Product Description

The Savage Impulse was one of the unexpected delights of 2021. I don’t think many people had “American-made straight-pull bolt-action” on their bingo cards, let alone one that wouldn’t break the bank. 

To their credit, Savage got the platform correct out of the gate. Pulling off an all-new design is no easy feat, yet the Impulse functioned and performed extremely well. 

I have one in 6.5 Creedmoor that I’ve hunted with and have shot extensively, and after several hundred rounds it is still humming along.

Mine is a solidly sub-MOA rifle, turning in good groups with several different types of ammo and I used it to good effect on a very nice Texas aoudad

John Snow with an Auodad
John B. Snow with an aoudad taken with the Savage Impulse. John B. Snow

The Impulse is available in several different trims. Mine is the Big Game, decked out in KUIU’s Verde pattern. There’s also the Hog Hunter, which has a shorter barrel, the Predator, which comes with a 10-round detachable box magazine, and the Elite Precision, which was introduced this year, and is built on an MDT chassis stock. 

If you’re a 6.5 Creedmoor hater, fret not. The Impulse is available in a variety cartridges, including .22/250 Rem., .243 Win., 6 Creedmoor, .308 Win., .30/06,  .300 WSM, .300 Win. Mag., .300 PRC., and .338 Lapua. —J.B.S

Mossberg Patriot Predator

Mossberg

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Key Features

  • Caliber: 6.5 Creedmoor
  • Weight: 6 lb. 8 oz.
  • Stock: Synthetic
  • Barrel: 22 in. threaded ⅝-24
  • Trigger: User adjustable

Why It Made the Cut 

The Mossberg Patriot Predator is one of the best values in a big-game hunting rifle. 

Pros

  • Affordable
  • Tough
  • Accurate

Cons

  • Fit and finish in line with price point

Product Description 

I’ve hunted with Mossberg Patriots from Mexico to Alaska and plenty of points in between—mostly in the Predator configuration, which is my favorite among Mossberg’s offerings. It is a rugged, go-anywhere, hunt-anything rifle that delivers a lot of performance at an excellent price.

The initial Patriot Predators were available in 6.5 Creedmoor, .243 Win., and .308 Win. But since its introduction, the Predator line has expanded to include short-barrel thumpers in .450 Bushmaster, the stuff of prairie dog nightmares—the .22/250 Rem.—and the 6.5 PRC. 

John Snow with a Coues Deer
John B. Snow with a Sonoran Coues deer taken with a Mossberg Patriot Predator. John B. Snow

In terms of features, it has the basics you need and little else. The barrels are threaded for muzzle devices. The action comes topped with a Picatinny rail. And it uses a lightweight and easy-to-load detachable box magazine that helps the rifle feed flawlessly. 

The two-lug action is pretty smooth, and the Predator’s slightly oversized bolt handle makes running the rifle that much easier. 

In terms of aesthetic touches, the barrel has some fluting as does the bolt. But this rifle isn’t about winning beauty contests. Instead, it is a gun you wouldn’t mind hauling around in your truck while at the same time being a tool you can count on during a high-stakes big-game hunt. —J.B.S

Allterra Arms Mountain Shadow Steel

Key Features

  • Caliber: 6.5 PRC
  • Weight: 6 lb. 12 oz.
  • Stock: Carbon fiber
  • Barrel: 22 in. sporter, threaded ⅝-24
  • Trigger: 2 lb. 8 oz. TriggerTech Primary adjustable

Why It Made the Cut 

This High-end rifle with custom features delivers high-end performance.

Pros

  • Exceptional accuracy
  • Great fit and finish
  • Excellent customer service

Cons

  • Expensive

Product Description

Allterra Arms is a relatively new company based out of Boise, Idaho. The company’s goal is simple—to build the finest bolt-action rifle money can buy and to make sure that the rifle lives up to their high standards.

Lofty words, but the craftsmen at Allterra Arms have the skills to back it up. They make five different rifles currently, but each of them is highly customizable depending on the customer’s preference and budget. 

I went with the Mountain Shadow Steel. Like all Allterra rifles it is based on their C2 action, which is milled to incorporate an integral recoil lug and makes extensive uses of EDM machining to precisely cut the receiver, which they say holds .0005 in. (half a thousandth of an inch) tolerance.

That level of persnickety engineering is maintained throughout all steps in the rifle’s build. As a result, Allterra has a 3-shot .25-inch group guarantee with the handloads they develop for your rifle and a 3-shot .5-inch guarantee with quality factory ammo. 

My rifle, decked out in a very cool, and slighty trippy, swirling green, white, and gray pattern on its stock, hits that standard without any issues. 

With its 22-inch barrel, the rifle is handy to wield and can accommodate a suppressor without becoming cumbersome to haul about. I got mine chambered in 6.5 PRC, but you can choose from a long list of cartridges should you want to add one of these premium rifles to your collection. —J.B.S

How to Choose the Best Hunting Rifle

There are great all-around hunting rifles, and there are highly-specialized niche rifles, but there are no one-size-fits-all hunting rifles. So to choose the best hunting rifle for you, you must consider several factors including caliber, weight, accuracy, aesthetics, fit, handling, and price. Then compare hwo those factors match with how, where, and what you hunt.

Caliber

Many hunters over-think cartridge selection. The truth is that most common medium-to-large calibers are completely adequate for most North American big game when paired with the right bullet. Caliber is still relevant however, and in-general, you want to pick a chambering that’s got adequate power for the distances and game you plan to shoot, but not so powerful that you can’t shoot it comfortably and consistently.

Weight

Hunting rifle weight might mean everything, or it might not mean much at all—it just depends on your situation. If you’re primarily backpack hunting in the mountains, you might want to look for a rifle that weighs less than 7 pounds without an optic. The farther you have to carry your rifle, the more important weight becomes. For an all-around hunting rifle, medium-to-heavy rifles (7 to 9 pounds) have advantages—namely that they are much easier to shoot accurately but they’re still not too heavy to carry through the hills. If you don’t have to carry your rifle far, a heavier rifle on a solid rest can be easier to shoot.

Accuracy

A lot of value is placed on rifle accuracy, and understandably so. It’s one of the key metrics we use to evaluate rifles. But it can be over emphasized as well. While it is comforting to have a rifle that consistently shoots  ¾-inch 5-shot groups—and many of the rifles in this list will do just that—most hunting rifles don’t meet that threshold. What matters more is how a rifle performs under real-world conditions, and if you have a rifle that can put a 3-shot group on paper at 200 yards that measures 4-inches from a practical field position, you are good to go. 

Accuracy becomes more critical when hunting wide open country, where longer shots are the norm. If your rifle is a 1.5 inch-gun from the bench, you can hunt with it out to 400 yards with complete confidence. Beyond 400 yards, it gets more complicated. Not only is rifle accuracy a paramount concern, but a host of other factors have an outsized influence on where your bullet strikes. Understanding the wind and the exact drop of your bullet, having consistent ammo, and employing good shooting fundamentals are all critical. 

Aesthetics, Handling, and Fit

Some hunters don’t care how ugly their rifle is, as long as it functions flawlessly and shoots accurately. Other hunters place a lot of value on nice-looking rifles. Just make sure to pick one that looks good to you—it doesn’t matter what your buddy’s tastes are. More importantly, get one that fits you well. The rifle should come up to your shoulder naturally and function smoothly in your hands. Choose a rifle with a quality finish that will hold up to the weather conditions you’ll be dealing with. Ugly or gorgeous, you want a rifle that will last.

Price

Good guns have never been cheap, but everyone still wants the most bang for their buck. Many hunters find that budget-priced hunting rifles ($500 to $600) work just fine for them—and there are some gems out there. But if you have the money, spend it. With higher-end rifles you’re generally getting better quality, better aesthetics, more accuracy, and more features.

FAQs

Q: How much does a hunting rifle cost?

Hunting rifles can cost anywhere from $500 to $8,000 or more. New hunters will want to focus on the lower end of that scale, but don’t go too cheap. There are a ton of great rifles in the $500 to $1000 price range. Our best value rifle of the year, the CZ Alpha, costs $749.

Q: What should I look for in a hunting rifle?

The most important quality in a hunting rifle is that it functions as intended in your hands and is built to withstand the rigors of your hunting style. This means that the action should run smoothly from your shoulder and all the controls, like the safety and magazine release, should be easy and intuitive to manipulate. The rifle should be easy to load and unload, whether it has an internal magazine or a detachable box magazine.

The trigger should have a crisp, consistent break that is no more than 3 pounds for a bolt gun and 6 pounds for a lever action. The stock and metalwork should have a durable finish that can withstand the elements.

Q: What should I know before buying a hunting rifle?

Don’t get too hung up on accuracy. There’s a lot of talk about sub-MOA hunting rifles on the internet. Much of that is fueled by a desire to boast and exaggerate. In reality, most affordable hunting rifles with standard hunting ammunition will not average sub-MOA groups, especially in the hands of a newer hunter. If you’re able to print 2-inch groups with your hunting rifle and factory hunting ammo, you’re doing just fine. Work on improving your marksmanship before chasing accuracy with a credit card.

Final Thoughts

Searching around for the best hunting rifle is fun. It’s so fun, in fact, that you’ll probably want to do it many times over the course of your hunting career. So don’t worry too much about finding a rifle that does absolutely everything. Start with a gun that fits your needs now and know that there are other “best hunting rifles” waiting for you as you gain more hunting experience. There are too many great hunting rifles out there for you to own just one.