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At Outdoor Life, we appreciate top-end gear and innovation, but we also appreciate value and a good bargain—especially when it comes to budget hunting rifles. Hunting gear is expensive, and flagship model rifles like the Tikka T3X, Weatherby Mark V, Browning X-bolt,  and Nosler M21 will range in price from $800 to $2,000—and that’s without a scope. Although more-expensive rifles typically have appreciable value and quality, it’s bang-for-the-buck that resonates with many hunters. Knowing this, we put the following budget hunting rifles to the test.

My First Budget Hunting Rifle

Budget hunting rifles, affordable hunting rifles, or whatever you want to call them, have really come into their own in the past 20 years. The first one I recall reading about was the Remington Model 710. Economical materials and manufacturing allowed Remington to make and sell a bolt-action big-game rifle with a bore-sighted Bushnell scope for around $350—a fraction of the price of a Model 700 at the time.

The Model 710 was originally introduced in .270 Win. and .30/06, and reviews spoke of good accuracy and great value. I remember this vividly because in the summer of 2001 I was 15, and the image of that rifle in the turnstile at the local Wal-Mart played on repeat in my head. I had a summer job roguing seed potato fields for about seven bucks-an-hour and I’d made up my mind to buy that rifle. I opted for the .30/06, and despite all its ugliness, that rifle bought itself a special place in my heart.

Objectively, the 710 is an underwhelming rifle. One of its original trademarks was an aluminum receiver into which was fitted a nylon sleeve that acted as a bearing surface for the 3-lug bolt. They said that nylon sleeve would never wear out, and boy were they right—it’s as sticky as ever! In cold weather, the bolt feels like it’s been dipped in molasses.

Caribou taken with Remington Model 710
Even after 20 years, the author’s original budget hunting rifle—a Remington Model 710—is still effective. Tyler Freel

My Model 710 always has had respectable accuracy, and I even used it with some success on coyotes with accelerator rounds I handloaded on a Lee Classic Loader. The following year, it came to Alaska with me, and it’s taken moose, bears, caribou, and several Dall sheep. Just for grins, I shot a caribou with it last October.

I’ve been a budget hunting rifle guy from the beginning, and many of them are perfectly capable hunting rifles in the right hands. After 20 years, budget hunting rifles have come a long way, and we think they deserve some attention too. So, here’s the skinny on four of the most popular budget hunting rifles on the market today.

Testing Budget Hunting Rifles

Despite their low price tags, I expected these rifles to be rugged, durable, dependable, and accurate. In testing these four rifles, I didn’t cut them any slack. I applied the same accuracy and handling testing protocol that we use in our annual gun test—The Best Rifles of 2022.

Each of the rifles in the test retails between $389 and $549. I fitted them with scopes that would keep their total price under $1,000. All four rifles are chambered in .308 Win. I found a variety of .308 factory ammunition, and it’s an easy-shooting, inherently accurate cartridge that any hunter in North America can use.

For accuracy testing, I fired 5-shot groups through each rifle at 100 yards. In practice, 5-shot groups show much more about a rifle’s true accuracy potential than 3-shot-groups. I carefully fired each group in a continuous 5-shot string, but I let barrels cool completely between groups. This took several trips to the range, and I cleaned each rifle bore after approximately 5 groups.

In all, I recorded 13 5-shot groups for each rifle. To represent the accuracy that the rifle is capable of, I took the average of the best 5 groups. I also noted the overall average accuracy for each rifle across all ammunition tested. I shot a variety of loads and bullet weights in this test, including ammo from Federal Premium, Winchester, Hornady, Norma, Lapua, and Barnes. I tried a spread of loads in each rifle, hoping to reveal the potential of each rifle’s accuracy with factory ammunition.

In addition to accuracy testing, I fired each rifle from various field positions and distances at steel targets. I wanted to determine each rifle’s weaknesses and strengths. Although I don’t have a Scrambler course to utilize for testing, I worked on position building, handling, and timed shooting. I took note of characteristics that made each rifle easier or more difficult to shoot and handle.

Accuracy of Budget Hunting Rifles

There is a lot of misinformation out there regarding the accuracy of hunting rifles—especially budget hunting rifles. It’s common to see hunters boasting about the accuracy of their rifles, and claims of sub-inch, half-inch, and quarter-inch guns are thrown around like beads at Mardi Gras. Few rifles can produce that level of accuracy consistently, and it is beyond the capability of any budget rifle to do so.

5-shot group from Savage Axis
A good 5-shot group from the Savage Axis using Federal Premium 175-grain Terminal Ascent. Tyler Freel

If I’ve learned anything in the process of testing many different rifles, it’s that a single screamer group means nothing, and that a large sample size is necessary to get a sense of a rifle’s accuracy. Call your rifle whatever you want, but when you’re shopping for a budget hunting rifle, keep your expectations realistic. Every rifle in this test averaged less than 1.5 inches with their best five 5-shot groups, and that’s excellent for rifles of this price.

Through this testing I’ve learned that if you buy a budget hunting rifle, it may be capable of fine accuracy—and almost certainly capable of good accuracy. The work will be in finding what ammunition the rifle shoots best. That may mean pushing through some frustration and buying a lot of different types of ammunition.

Mossberg Patriot Predator Cerakote/Strata Camo

Tyler Freel

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Award: Editor’s Choice

Average Group Size: 2.178 inches

Average of Best 5 Groups: 1.442 inches

Mossberg Patriot Predator Specs

  • Caliber: .308 Win.
  • Capacity: 5+1, detachable double-stack magazine
  •  Action: 2-lug bolt, fluted
  • Stock: Synthetic, Strata camo
  • Weight: 6 pounds, 8 ounces
  • Trigger: Adjustable, 2 pounds, 14 ounces (measured)
  • Barrel: 22 inches, 1:10 twist, fluted, Cerakote finish
  • Length: 42.25 inches
  • Optics: Single-piece rail installed
  • Price: $490

Pros

  • Great finish and aesthetics
  • Smoothest-bolt function in the test
  • Threaded muzzle
  • 5-round magazine can be top-loaded when installed

Cons

  • Magazine construction could be more robust

Optic Used: Maven CRS.1 3-12×40

Bang for the Buck

The hands-down choice for the all-around best budget hunting rifle of this test was the Mossberg Patriot Predator. The specific model I evaluated features a Strata camo synthetic stock and an earthy olive-colored Cerakote finish on the bolt, barrel, and receiver. More than just looks, this rifle is feature-rich, well-finished, and somehow can be had for less than $500.

This Patriot Predator stands out first because of its looks. I don’t put much weight in camo patterns, but the camo stock on the rifle is good-looking, stiff, and wouldn’t be out-of-place on a more-expensive rifle. The Cerakote finish on the barrel, receiver and bolt is appealing to the eye as well. The coating also gives the rifle much better weather protection than the average economy rifle’s finish.

The rifle comes with a one-piece optics rail installed and features a fluted barrel that bumps up in diameter at the muzzle where it’s threaded in 5/8-24 to accept a muzzle brake or suppressor. The threads come covered with a matching-color Cerakoted knurled thread protector.

Top-loading the patriot predator's magazine
The detachable magazine of the Patriot Predator holds 5 rounds of .308 and can be top-loaded while seated in the rifle. Tyler Freel

The two-lug bolt is similar to the Remington Model 700’s bolt and is all steel. Some budget hunting rifles use plastic shrouds to cover the rear of the bolt. The bolt features shallow spiral fluting to reduce the bearing surface within the receiver. The grooves of the flutes are Cerakoted, but the bearing surface of the bolt isn’t. The bolt throw is 90 degrees, and the bolt has a slightly oversized handle for ease of operation.

The Patriot Predator has a Remington-style 2-position safety alongside the rear of the bolt and sports a user-adjustable Lightning Bolt trigger—mine came set at 2 pounds, 14 ounces. It can be adjusted with a flat-bit driver after removing the stock. The rifle has a magazine sleeve/spacer that fits between the stock and action, and the large recoil lug nestles into the stock just forward of the front action screw.

Another reason that the Patriot Predator is our pick in this group is its magazine. It holds five rounds of .308 and sits flush with the bottom of the stock. A benefit to this design is that the magazine can be loaded from the top while it’s in the gun. As extra insurance on a remote trip, a hunter could even put a piece of tape to hold the magazine in the gun and just load from the top if that’s what they prefer.

 Although the Patriot Predator’s box magazine doesn’t feel as durable as the injection-molded mags that some other budget rifles use, it’s still the most user-friendly design. The sidewalls of the magazine are thin and flexible. The only real hazard for the magazine would be getting stepped on if dropped.

Handling and Shooting the Mossberg Patriot Predator

The Patriot Predator has excellent handling characteristics for a budget hunting rifle. The stock is fast-handling and comfortable. It has a straight-top comb, but with a Monte Carlo-looking cheek rest that aids with consistent head position. The grip angle and dimensions of the stock make it comfortable to hold, and the soft recoil pad tames down what kick the .308 does give. Many budget stocks have flimsy fore-ends and sound loud and hollow at the butt—this one doesn’t.

Loading the magazine of the Patriot Predator is smooth and easy—both in and out of the gun, and the bolt is the smoothest-cycling of all the rifles in the test. The trigger weight and adjustability are good, but it’s got a bit of a rough creep just before it breaks. Feeding and extraction were issue-free, but I did notice that the extractor tends to whip the cases back around so that the case necks impact the rear portion of the receiver—something that dings the finish.

Adjustable "Lightning Bolt" trigger on the Mossberg Patriot Predator
The Lightning Bolt trigger on the Patriot Predator is adjustable with a flat bit driver. Tyler Freel

This rifle ranked third in accuracy, but the margins were thin. With its best five groups averaging 1.442 inches, the Patriot Predator is a very capable hunting rifle at any reasonable .308 range. This rifle generally seemed to favor the Federal Premium 175-grain Terminal Ascent and Barnes 168-grain TTSX loads, but nothing was an exceptional standout for accuracy.

The Patriot Predator is comfortable to shoot, slick to operate, and really hits outside its weight-class for a budget hunting rifle. It wouldn’t be out-of-place were it grouped with rifles that are a few hundred dollars more expensive.

Ruger American Standard Model

Tyler Freel

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Award: Most Accurate

Average Group Size: 1.720 inches

Average of Best 5 Groups: 1.122 inches

Ruger American Specs

  • Caliber: .308 Win.
  • Capacity: 4+1, detachable double-stack magazine
  •  Action: 3-lug bolt
  • Stock: Black synthetic
  • Weight: 6 pounds, 2 ounces
  • Trigger: Adjustable, 3 pounds, 15 ounces (measured)
  • Barrel: 22 inches, alloy steel, 1:10 RH twist
  • Length: 42 inches
  • Optics: Single-piece rail installed
  • Price: $469

Pros

  • Bedding pillars/recoil lugs
  • Smooth bolt operation
  • One-piece optics rail
  • Adjustable trigger

Cons

  • Tool marks and rough finish work on bolt and barrel

Optic Used: Leupold VX Freedom 4-12×40 CDS

Built for Accuracy

The Ruger American is one of the most popular budget hunting rifles for a reason. Ruger has a reputation for producing dependable firearms, and the American is often lauded for its accuracy. The Ruger American has been in production since 2012 and shows no signs of slowing down.

Ruger’s American hunting rifle was designed to be both economical and accurate. In fact, many characteristics of the Ruger Precision Rifle were taken from the American. Aside from some platform-specific alterations, the large-diameter bolt and basic design of the receiver are identical.

Much of this budget hunting rifle’s accuracy is likely a result of what’s under the hood. Some of the external finish work is a little rough—tool marks are visible on parts of the bolt, and the external machining of the barrel has a flaw or two. However, things like that don’t affect its accuracy. The Ruger has a trigger that can be set between 3 and 5 pounds. The trigger is easily adjustable with an Allen key when the receiver is removed from the stock.

The recoil lug design is unique in that there is no recoil lug on the receiver. Instead, two V-block recoil lugs are embedded in the stock and act as bedding pillars. The action is secured to these lugs with two Allen screws set to between 60 and 80 foot-pounds of torque. With the action securely fastened to these blocks, the barrel is completely free-floated.

V-block bedding of the Ruger American
V-blocks in the stock of the Ruger American act as bedding pillars and aid with accuracy. Tyler Freel

Handling and Shooting the Ruger American

Along with its accuracy, the Ruger American has good ergonomics and handling characteristics. The bolt has a 70-degree throw, and dual cocking cams to help smooth out the bolt lift. Operation isn’t butter-smooth, but it’s easy to work the bolt quickly from the shoulder. Early models of the Ruger American had a reputation for magazine and feeding issues, but the polymer double-stack magazine in mine only gave me issues with only one type of ammo—Lapua 150-grain Mega. The short and somewhat squat bullet profile would periodically hang up when trying to chamber.

The Ruger’s stock won’t win any beauty contests, but its ergonomics aren’t bad. It’s relatively slender and handles easily. It features a textured horizontal groove along the top of the fore-end that make it very comfortable to hang onto. The fore-end is flexible, but not so flexible that the weight of the rifle on a bipod would cause the barrel to contact the stock. The grip is comfortable and at a good angle for clean trigger breaks and easy access to the rifle’s tang safety.

This budget hunting rifle had the best accuracy of the four models tested. Although many people claim that their American is a half-inch-gun, that’s an unrealistic claim. I have no doubt that with the right handload, it may be able shoot half-inch groups occasionally with 3-shot groups, but it will not average that with 5-shot groups.

This rifle distinctly fired better 3-shot groups than 5-shot groups, and with more than 50 percent of the groups I fired, I could see the first 3 shots well enough to measure their spread separately. It printed several 3-shot groups under an inch, but none hit the half-inch mark. After the first three shots, the groups would consistently spread out.

Unrealistic expectations shouldn’t sour your thoughts on the accuracy the rifle is truly capable of—which is remarkable for the price. Averaging 1.122 inches across the best 5 groups with factory ammo is fantastic. The American printed good groups with a several types of ammo, but the single most consistent accuracy was with Federal Non-Typical Whitetail 150-grain soft points, at an average of 1.32 inches. What really should be lauded is that the rifle shoots a wide variety of ammunition well. Budget hunting rifles can be capable of good accuracy, but you’ve often got to burn through a lot of ammunition to find what it likes. There’s a lot of value in a rifle that can shoot a variety of ammo well.

Savage Axis

Tyler Freel

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Average Group Size: 1.902 inches

Average of Best 5 Groups: 1.421 inches

Savage Axis Specs

  • Caliber: .308 Win.
  • Capacity: 4+1, detachable double-stack magazine
  •  Action: 2-lug bolt
  • Stock: Black synthetic
  • Weight: 6 pounds, 5 ounces
  • Trigger: 5 pounds, 15 ounces (measured)
  • Barrel: 22 inches, carbon steel, 1:10 RH twist
  • Length: 42.5 inches
  • Optics: Drilled and tapped receiver
  • Price: $382

Pros

  • Accurate
  • Affordable
  • Slender stock with comfortable grip angle
  • Left-handed models available

Cons

  • Non-adjustable trigger is very heavy
  • Had some issues ejecting spent cases

Optic Used: Vortex Diamondback 3.5-10×50

Nuts and Bolts of the Savage Axis

The Savage Axis was the most affordable rifle in this lineup, and I bought mine—a left-handed model—for just under $400 here in Fairbanks, Alaska. I’m not a lefty, but that’s what I could find. The Axis does a great job at representing what a budget hunting rifle should be. It’s very affordable and remarkably accurate for the price. The quality of materials and handling of the Axis are way beyond that of my old Remington 710—for not much more than I paid for the 710 over 20 years ago.

The Axis is popular, and more affordable than Savage’s flagship Model 110 series. It uses similar steel detachable magazines as some M110’s but has a tubular receiver with an ejection port. The 22-inch barrel is threaded into the receiver and held in-place with a barrel nut. Under the hood, the Axis is fitted with a simple trigger and doesn’t have a recoil lug. Instead, there is a notch on the bottom-front of the receiver that nestles onto a recoil lug tab that’s embedded into the stock.

The rifle has a jointed two-lug bolt that features forward lugs that rotate 90 degrees to lock up, and stationary lugs immediately behind them that stay in the receiver raceway. Behind that is a spring washer, followed by the rest of the bolt body.

The stock on the Axis is my least favorite of the test group, but Savage has made some improvements to their synthetic stocks in recent years. The Axis’s stock is slender with modern lines, and a comfortable grip. It shoulders and functions well, but the fore-end is more flexible than I like. I can slide a dollar bill with some resistance between the barrel and fore-end, but the inletting is uneven—a typical trait of these stocks.

The receiver of this budget hunting rifle comes drilled and tapped for scope bases but doesn’t include any. You’ll want to make sure to get the correct bases. Even on the short action model, simple Savage-pattern bases like the Weaver No. 46 will fit on the rifle but are too far apart for mounting scopes like the Vortex Diamondback 3.5-10×50 or the Leupold VX Freedom 4-12X40. I used Warne Vapor 2-piece bases.

the Savage Axis has widely-spaced scope base mounts
The scope-base mounting holes on the Savage Axis are far apart, make sure to get bases that will close the distance. Tyler Freel

Handling and Shooting the Savage Axis

Since I could only find a left-handed model of the Savage Axis in .308, I was somewhat limited in fully evaluating its handling and ergonomics—although I gained an appreciation for what southpaws deal with in a field of right-handed rifles.

Handling the rifle right-handed, I found the rifle to be nimble and point well. I like the angle of the grip and how it allows my finger to rest on the trigger. The grip is also long enough that when rested atop the tang, my thumb isn’t crowding the bolt—something that results in a jammed thumb when I’m not careful.

The action of the Savage Axis is a bit sticky. The bolt moves back and forth smoothly when pulled straight, but the last few degrees of bolt lift give a significant bit of resistance—even when the bolt doesn’t need re-cocking. It’s very noticeable to a right-handed shooter trying to operate the bolt and is enough to make the rifle clumsy to operate in that manner. If you’re putting any torque on the handle, the bolt feels sticky when you pull it back.

Throughout shooting, I noticed that the rifle periodically failed to eject. It extracted the spent cases from the chamber reliably, but they sometimes wouldn’t eject. It seemed that when hitting the rearward limit of bolt travel, the cases would slip the extractor and the ejector would simply spring them forward—keeping them inside the receiver. I tried working the bolt slow and fast and saw the same results. Perhaps, a true lefty wouldn’t encounter the issue, but no matter how I pulled the bolt handle, it seemed to happen.

The Savage Axis shot very well—second only to the Ruger American in accuracy. The trigger on the Axis is a limiting factor for the rifle’s accuracy—especially for novice shooters. It’s narrow with rough edges, and—at nearly 6 pounds—very heavy. The trigger’s geometry and creep make it feel heavier on the finger than it measures. If the rifle had an adjustable trigger like Savage’s Accutrigger, I think results may be slightly better.

An interesting note about the Axis’s accuracy is that it didn’t seem to favor any particular ammunition. It did print some good groups with most loads and was relatively consistent. Despite what some might tell you about their Axis being a sub-minute or even half-minute rifle, it’s probably not. I recorded only one sub-inch group, but the Axis had the most consistent accuracy overall. It’s overall average group size and average of the top-five groups only differed by .481 inches.

Winchester XPR

Tyler Freel

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Average Group Size: 2.234 inches

Average of Best 5 Groups: 1.483 inches

Winchester XPR Specs

  • Caliber: .308 Win.
  • Capacity: 3+1, detachable single-stack magazine
  •  Action: 3-lug bolt
  • Stock: Black synthetic
  • Weight: 6 pounds, 12 ounces
  • Trigger: 4 pounds, 1 ounce (measured)
  • Barrel: 22 inches, steel, Perma-Cote finish
  • Length: 42 inches
  • Optics: Drilled and tapped receiver
  • Price: $549

Pros

  • Short bolt throw
  • Good accuracy
  • Stiff, durable stock
  • Crisp-breaking trigger

Cons

  • Magazine isn’t flush and only holds 3 rounds

Optic Used: Vortex Diamondback 3.5-10×50

A Working Man’s Workhorse

Of all the budget hunting rifles, the Winchester XPR is one that I’ve had the most experience with. I shot my first whitetail with an XPR chambered in .300 WSM, and I’ve got one in 6.5 CM that has killed 7 Dall rams and north of a dozen caribou. In fact, the farthest shot I’ve made on a Dall ram was with that rifle at 465 yards. I can say with confidence that the XPR is one of the highest quality budget hunting rifles that I’ve used.

The XPR is built around a 3-lug bolt that is very similar in appearance to the Ruger American’s bolt—but the bolt body is longer and larger in diameter. The 3-lug bolt allows for a short 60-degree throw that’s quick and crisp. The bolt is nicely finished with an absence of tool marks that you’ll see on some other budget hunting rifles. The rear of the bolt is covered with a polymer shroud that jiggles around even when the bolt is in battery, but functionally, it makes no difference. Around the bolt is a thick-walled tubular steel receiver.

The XPR is fed by a single-stack polymer magazine that protrudes slightly from the stock when fully seated. If there’s a downside to the XPR, it’s ammunition capacity. The .308 model only holds three rounds in the magazine while other models hold four or five. The magazines are easy to load and function very well—I can’t recall ever having a stoppage with the XPR.

3-lug bolts of the Ruger American and Winchester XPR
The similar-looking 3-lug bolts of the Ruger American and Winchester XPR allow a short bolt throw and fast operation. Tyler Freel

The barrel and receiver of the XPR have a matte black finish, but it’s a weather-resistant coating rather than a traditional blued finish. The butt of the synthetic stock can be loud when scraping against brush, but overall, the stock is very durable with a rigid fore-end, good grip texturing, and a nice recoil pad.

The safety on the XPR sits along the starboard side of the bolt’s rear shroud. The safety is a little gritty and loud, but a nice feature of the XPR is a small button forward of the safety that allows the shooter to open the bolt while the safety is engaged. The Winchester XPR is the only rifle in this set that has a bolt-locking safety—and that can be very handy when carrying the rifle in your pack or any time the bolt might be inadvertently opened. It’s also nice to have the option of overriding it when necessary.

Handling and Shooting the Winchester XPR

The XPR isn’t an exceptionally light budget hunting rifle, but its rigid stock aids with crisp handling, and the rifle is well-balanced. The trigger of the XPR has virtually no travel—or overtravel after the break. The relatively wide and rounded surface of the trigger allow for great finger contact and a smooth pull. It’s the cleanest-breaking trigger in this test group.

A good characteristic of the XPR is that the balance, short bolt throw, and smooth operation make it great for quick follow-up shots. The XPR is stunted a bit by its lower magazine capacity, but it’s the only rifle in this test that you can freely drop cartridges into the receiver and chamber them smoothly.

The single-stack magazine’s follower acts as a Bob Sled, aligning the cartridge with the bore. Other rifles in this test group aren’t as friendly for single loading. They require you to snap the round into place from the top or manually feed the bullet tip into the chamber before closing the bolt.

Dall Ram taken with Winchester XPR
The author with one of 7 Dall rams that his XPR in 6.5 CM has killed. Frank Schultz

Read Next: The Ruger Mark IV Tactical: A Tactical Twist on a Classic .22 Pistol

I didn’t experience any functional hiccups while shooting the XPR, and it was a strong performer in field position and handling drills. In the group, it’s the fastest-cycling rifle and ejects cases with authority. Bolt operation isn’t as smooth as the Mossberg, but the shorter throw gives it an edge in speed.

Over the years, I’ve found the XPR’s to be generally accurate and dependable in inclement weather and sub-zero conditions. The XPR I tested in .308 shot Norma’s 168-grain Golden Target BTHP load the best, averaging 1.326 inches, and its overall average was certainly hurt by a couple loads that it really didn’t like. With the best 5 groups averaging under minute-and-a-half, it’s safe to say that this is a perfectly capable budget hunting rifle.