What qualities make up a perfect elk hunting rifle? First it has to be durable and light enough to carry into the backcountry. But at the same time, it has to be able to handle large calibers (without pummeling you with recoil) and shoot accurately at long distances. Also it should be well balanced and handle quickly enough to snap off-hand shots incase you bust a bull in the timber. Oh, and It wouldn’t hurt if the gun also looked good and came at an affordable price.
So in other words, we need a cheap gun that is nearly indestructible, ultra-light weight, is a tack driver out to say, 400 yards, packs enough punch to tip over an 800-pound animal and it has to look good while doing it. Does such a gun exist? Maybe not, but these 20 rifles get pretty damn close.
Check out our list of the 20 best elk rifles and let the debate begin.
1. Browning BLR Lightweight
Among the most versatile in the Browning BLR Lightweight series, the ’81 model is a rack-and-pinion, lever-action, carbine-length rifle that comes with an aluminum alloy stock, rotary bolt locking system, 20-inch barrel and a detachable four-round box magazine that drops free when the release is pressed. It is available with a straight-grip or a curved pistol-grip, and there is a take-down version for easy transportation and shipping that has earned broad accolades. The short-action and long-action model ’81s can chamber a variety of hard-hitting calibers, including 270 WSM, 300 WM, 308 W, 30-06, 358 W and 450 Marlin.
At about 7 3/4 pounds and 40-inches long with scope and mount, the ’81 not only packs a punch, but it is relatively easy to carry in the field. Its short barrel makes it ideal for shooting from a tree stand, ground blind and in the timber. The easy-loading magazine allows for fast follow-up shots. Its $900 manufacturer’s suggested retail price makes it a mid-range gun in terms of cost, but its durability and flexibility make it a good investment.
2. Kimber Model 84M Classic
The standard 84M Classic is a conventional bolt-action mountain rifle. But at the same time, it’s a new breed of mass-produced ultra-light, centerfire hunting rifle that gives the impression that it is semi-customized to suit the individual shooter. It is chambered in short-action .243 Win., .7mm-08 Rem. and the .308 Win., including .338 Federal, with a 5-round magazine. It features an adjustable trigger set to release at 3.5-4 pounds. Its overall length is 41 1/4 inches with a 22-inch light contour barrel. With scope and mount, it weighs 7 pounds and comes in a traditional matte-blued steel, walnut stock.
Good bet on a long backcountry hunt, where its light weight, short barrel-length, steady balance and easy loading make it a superior bolt-action rifle. Since elk hunters tend to carry their rifles much more than actually shoot them, the light weight and short barrel are critical assets. Its light frame and contour barrel means you can expect some recoil and it’s not a good fit for the inexperienced or undersized shooter. But for veteran hunters, its adjustable trigger is one of the reasons why this hard-hitting ultralight has earned a reputation for accuracy. Its suggested retail price of $1,225 keeps it within the mid-range of affordable rifles.
Click here for a review on the Kimber Model 84M Classic
3. Ruger No. 1-S Medium Sporter
This is the medium weight version of the Ruger No. 1 falling block, single-shot rifle fitted with a heavier contour barrel for bigger bore cartridges. The 1-S is chambered for only two cartridges: the 9.3x74R and .45-70. These are two classic cartridges that haven’t outlived their usefulness. It features a simple, two position, sliding, shotgun-style tang safety and a traditional walnut stock. It is 38 1/4-inches long with a 22-inch barrel and weighs about 9 pounds when fitted with quarter-rib integral scope mounts.
A very good stalking rifle, the 1-S’s short falling block action and flat receiver make it comfortable to carry by hand or slung over the shoulder, though it’s a little heavy for long hikes. As a single-cartridge rifle, it can be carried unloaded and made ready for action quickly. While it is marginally heavier than many other rifles on this list, it handles quickly and the weight helps maintain balance when shooting. Its suggested retail price of $1,250 makes it an affordable investment.
4. Marlin Model 338 MXLR
This is the lever-action “accuracy” version of the Marlin 336 chambered for the new .338 Marlin Express cartridge. It is a 42 1/2-inch long-range rifle with a 24-inch stainless steel barrel, fluted bolt, Ballard rifling, side cartridge ejection port, a hammer block safety, trigger guard plate, 5-round magazine, and semi-buckhorn iron sights. It weighs about 8 pounds when fitted with a scope and its laminated hardwood stock incorporates a deluxe recoil pad.
It’s good in timber and brush with excellent long-range accuracy, yet brings less recoil than most similar rifles. Its stainless steel frame gives it better balance than standard blued-steel lever action rifles, but its accuracy and flat trajectory make it resemble a bolt-action rifle. In experienced hands, the 338 MXLR is suitable for carrying, and for quick-loading follow-up shots, but novices may find its length, weight and loading process difficult to handle. Its $930 suggested retail price makes it an affordable mid-range elk rifle.
5. Remington Model 673 Guide Rifle
At 8 1/2 pounds (with scope) and 41 3/16 inches long, this bolt action centerfire rifle is moderate in heft and length, but its .350 Magnum cartridge capacity, adjustable iron sights, ventilated 22-inch rib barrel, and two-tone laminated wood stock make it as distinctive as it is versatile. Introduced in 2003 and discontinued in 2004, the 673 was built on the classic Model 600 rifle and based on the Model Seven action. While it has been replaced by Remington with the Model Seven CDL with a 20-inch barrel, this rifle remains a resale mainstay. It can also be chambered in 6.5mm Rem. Mag, .308 Win., and .300 Rem. SAUM.
Good for still-hunting, the 673 is light enough and short enough to tote fairly easily, yet still sturdy enough for balanced shooting. Its recoil can impede accuracy, but that is offset by a soft, smooth trigger. One distinctive disadvantage is it’s probably one of the slowest-shooting bolt action rifles on this list.
6. Ruger Compact Magnum
Looking for a tough, hard-hitting rifle with a short barrel? The M77 Compact, with it’s 20-inch barrel dressed in .300 RCM and .338 RCM, is it. It weighs 6.75 pounds without a scope and comes in either a synthetic or American walnut stock. It features the Hawkeye rifle’s standard LC6 trigger, a Mauser-type extractor and a three-position safety.
The .300 and .338 Ruger Compact Magnums are based on a shortened .375 Ruger case and they’re more than enough medicine for elk. The gun was designed specifically to be easy to carry and handle quickly. Like all Rugers, it’s made in America. One downfall is that this gun isn’t for the recoil-sensitive shooter.
7. .444 Marlin
A big bore version of the Marlin 336 chambered for the .444 Marlin cartridge, this lever rifle features a blued steel barreled action, 22-inch barrel with Ballard rifling, 5-shot tubular magazine and walnut stock. It weighs about 8 pounds with a scope, and measures 40 1/2 inches in overall length. A crossbolt safety at the rear of the receiver, and its traditional “1/4 cock” hammer position, prevent accidental discharges.
Its flat receiver, moderate weight, and 22-inch barrel makes the .444 Marlin an excellent stalking rifle that can be carried over distances with little difficulty. It is sturdy enough to provide a good platform for unsupported shots but is limited to relatively short-ranged shots — most recommend not going beyond 100 yards. Its suggested retail price of $650 makes this an affordable and effective elk-hunting rifle.
8. Ruger No. 1B Standard
A falling block, single-shot rifle, the Ruger No. 1B Standard has a 26-inch barrel in a 42 1/4-inch frame. It weighs about 9 1/4 pounds complete with a scope and features a simple, two position, sliding safety is mounted on the tang. Can chamber a wide array of calibers including .270 Winchester, 7mm Rem. Mag, .30-06, .308 Win, .300 Win. Mag, .300 Win. Mag. and .338 Win. Mag.
It’s definitely not lightweight, but it handles and travels well for a 9-pounder. Its flat receiver means it is easy to load and use in a hurry. Its weight and long barrel make for a steady shot and absorbs recoil. Suggested retail price, $1,150.
Read a full review of the Ruger No. 1
9. Remington Model 798 Standard
A bolt-action Mauser 98 patterned rifle, the 798 Standard features full-length extractor for controlled feed, receiver mounted ejector, adjustable trigger, hinged magazine floorplate and all steel construction. It has a 24-inch barrel without iron sights in a 42 1/4-inch frame that weighs more than 9 pounds with a scope and brown laminated hardwood stock. Calibers range from .270 Win., 7mm Rem. Mag., .308 Win., .30-06, and .300 Win. Magnum.
Good rifle if you’re not going to be hiking deep into the backcountry. Its heft and stock handles recoil well. The bolt knob is easy to manipulate and operate quickly. An all-around good hunting rifle for a wide range of game, especially elk. Suggested retail price, $1,000.
Click here for a review of the Remington Model 798 Standard
10. Winchester M70 Super Grade
A revised and reintroduced reincarnation of one of the world’s most revered bolt-action hunting rifles, the M70 Super Grade features an improved MOA trigger mechanism, controlled feed, fixed extractor, pistol grip stock, while retaining its classic Mauser action with two front locking lugs and a 90-degree bolt lift. Chambered for .30-06 loads, it weighs more than 9 pounds with scope and mount, and a 24-inch barrel in a 44 1/2-inch frame.
Its weight makes it an accurate-shooting rifle ideal for longer shots and you won’t have to worry about getting knocked over by recoil, yet it isn’t ridiculously heavy. The new MOA trigger is adjustable and the M70 Super Grade’s receiver makes loading cartridges quick and easy. Suggested retail price, $1,050.
11. Weatherby Mark V Deluxe
This bolt-action rifle has the long-established reputation as “the world’s strongest bolt action” because of its one-piece bolt with 9 locking lugs. It has two position safety locks that close in the “safe” position to prevent inadvertent opening of the action in the field. It weighs about 9 1/2 pounds with a scope and has an 26-inch barrel with an overall length of 46 5/8 inches. It can handle calibers from .257 to .460.
The Mark V Deluxe’s accuracy, weight and flat-shooting cartridge make it ideal for long shots in elk country. Also, it has a Maximum Point Blank Range of 320 yards. The grip’s slender wrist and the forearm’s three dimension taper provide steady balance. It’s action is fast, smooth and quiet. Suggested retail price, $1,775.
12. Weatherby Vanguard Deluxe
This bolt-action rifle incorporates many of the features included in the Weatherby Mark V Deluxe, but at a far more economical price. It has a large loading port and a hinged magazine floor plate with a new two-stage Match Quality Target Trigger, which has an auxiliary sear for a “creep free” consistent let-off and pre-set sear engagement at .008-.012. The trigger is adjustable for weight of pull down to 2.5 pounds.
The gun weighs about 9 pounds with scope, with a 24-inch barrel sans iron sights, on a 44 1/2-inch frame. It is available in .257 Weatherby Magnum, .270 Winchester, .300 Winchester Magnum, .300 Weatherby Magnum and .30-06 Springfield calibers.
Heavy and moderately long, the Vanguard Deluxe is so well-balance that it feels smaller and lighter than it is. It is easy to load and unload and at a suggested retail price of $970 it’s a great investment.
13. Browning A-Bolt Composite Stalker
This bolt gun comes in a variety of long and short action calibers, but it’s best-suited for elk in .338 Win mag. It features a matte finished barreled action, and a black synthetic straight stock with a grip made of fiberglass graphite composite. It also has a black rubber butt pad, and factory installed sling swivel studs. Some models are available in left hand and the BOSS is available on some calibers. Without scope, it weighs 7.3 pounds with a 26-inch barrel in a 46 1/2-inch frame.
The most economical of all A-Bolt models, The Browning A-Bolt Composite Stalker lives true to its name, it’s an excellent rifle when you’re on the move. The A-Bolt has long been a favorite for riflemen across the country, and at the suggested retail price of $820, it is an outstanding value.
14. Browning Bar MK. II Safari Grade .338
This gun is the Cadillac on the list: big, heavy, classy and smooth. It’s a gas-operated autoloader and comes with a multi-lug rotary bolt, crossbolt safety and a detachable box three-cartridge magazine that can be attached to its swing open floorplate. It comes with many features: A steel, blued finish, scroll engraving receiver that is drilled and tapped for scope mounts; a blued finish, hammer-forged barrel; gloss finish walnut stock with rounded forearm, sling swivel studs, recoil pad, BOSS and BOSS-CR option. It weighs 9.6 pounds with scope, and measures 45 inches with a 24-inch BOSS equipped barrel. Of course, the .338 Win. Mag. is a favored elk cartridge.
Its autoloading action makes it one of the fastest shooting guns on this list. It is very accurate from a solid rest, but its weight makes it less suitable for long-distance excursions. Suggest retail price, $1,230.
15. Winchester 1885 High Wall
Essentially the same falling stock, single-shot rifle as the Browning 1885 High Wall with a few modifications, such as a Pachmayr Decelerator recoil pad and satin stock finish (the rifle was originally designed by John Browning during the end of the buffalo hunting era).
This gun is meant for the elk hunter who has a special respect for history, if not necessarily practicality. It offers a self-cocking rebounding hammer, user adjustable trigger (from approximately 3.5-5 lbs.), ejector, polished and blued barreled action, and select walnut, straight grip stock and Schnabel forearm. Since its reintroduction under the Winchester name, the 1885 High Wall has been offered in various elk calibers — .30-06 Springfield, .270, 7mm, .300 and .325 WSM.
An outstanding rifle from a rest, but the long, heavy rifle is not an asset in timber or when stalking. It is extremely accurate, but has a limited maximum point-blank range of 190 yards. It’s also probably the slowest of the rifles on this list for a repeat shot. Suggested retail price, $1,340.
16. Benelli R1 Comfortech
This semi-automatic rifle features Benelli’s proprietary ComforTech® “recoil dampening” polymer stock with a piston-driven system that softens, or “mellows,” the kick of a .338 Win Mag. Its receiver is drilled and tapped for scope mount; picatinny rail is included. It has a three-cartridge capacity and weighs 7.3 pounds without scope and mount with a 24-inch barrel in a 46-inch frame. It is also available in .30-06 and .300 Win. Mag. calibers.
It’s lightweight, durable, quick-loading and provides excellent long-range accuracy, but its biggest asset is how it smoothly absorbs recoil while allowing the shooter to stay on target. Suggested retail price, $1,000.
Click here to read a review on the Benelli R1
17. Remington Model 700
Remington Model 700 Remington
The best selling bolt action hunting rifle in history, the Remington 700 is an elk slayer in .270 Win., .30-06, 7mm Rem. Mag. and 300 Win. Mag. Like all the new 700s, the Model 700 CDL comes with a X-Mark Pro trigger, which can be adjusted external and comes from the factory with an average pull weight of a dainty 3.5 pounds with 2 pounds range of adjustment. In one of its most popular calibers, .30-06 Springfield, the gun weighs 7.5 pounds and comes with a 24-inch barrel.
This is a classic elk rifle that comes with a reasonable price tag of about $800. The 700 became such a well-liked gun by earning a reputation as a accurate, dependable shooter. Remington still claims that is the most “accurate out-of-the-box rifle.”
18. Winchester Model 70 Classic
This bolt-action rifle is no longer called the ‘Sporter’ as it was when it was introduced in 2006. It is built on a conventional Mauser pattern bolt action with two front locking lugs and a 90 degree bolt lift. Features controlled feed and fixed extractor. It weighs 8.75 pounds with scope and has a 26-inch barrel in a 46 3/4-inch frame. It’s lethal in .338 Win. Mag.
The M70 is well proportioned and easy to shoulder. It is well-suited for shooting from a rest or in stands, but its long barrel could pose difficulties in timber. The controlled feed and fixed extractor make unloading relatively easy. Suggested retail price, $860.
Click here for more on the Winchester Model 70
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19. Savage Arms Model 111FCNS .30-06
This bolt-action rifle features Savage’s proprietary AccuTrigger OEM trigger and AccuStock bedding systems, break-through advancements on the basic hunting rifle. AccuStock is pillar bedded in an injection-molded synthetic stock that dramatically reduces movement and enhances accuracy. It is a 6.9-pound rifle without scope and sights with a detachable 4-round magazine and a 22-inch barrel in a 42 3/4-inch long frame.
Among the most accurate of hunting rifles, its .30-06 caliber capacity gives it plenty of punch for elk. It relative light-weight means it is handy, while proving suitable for still-hunting or stalking in timber or in the open. This gun is no beauty queen but the $675 price tag makes it a bargain.
20. Cooper Arms M52 Classic 338-06
Cooper Arms is a fairly young company. It started in 1990, but it has already made a name for itself as a maker of good craftsmanship and accuracy. A wide range of features are incorporated in Cooper’s M52 Classic, an 8 1/4-pound rifle with a 26-inch barrel, including a 3-front locking lug bolt action magazine fed repeater, three-round magazine, machined from solid bar stock, retractable tab ejector machined from solid bar, multi-point Pachmayr, and French walnut stock.
It has all the accuracy and fine features expected from a custom manufacturer. Also, it’s a damn good looking gun. Its suggested retail price is a little heavy at $1,650.
Click here for a review on the Cooper Arms M52