The Gun Test: 24 Best New Rifles and Shotguns of the Year
Our shooting editor spent the summer banging away with 24 new rifles and shotguns. When the dust settled, these were the top picks
The Best Rifles of 2020
Editor’s Choice: SIG Cross, $1,780
This new gun from SIG is the real deal. It’s not just a bolt-action thrown into a chassis with AR-15 dimensions. The Cross has attained the elusive goal of being a portable mountain rifle (8.5 pounds scoped), with a hefty dose of battlefield DNA thrown into the mix. The stock adjusts every which way for a custom fit, and it folds down so the rifle can be carried in a pack. The three-lug action is snappy and quick. It runs great from the shoulder and is crazy accurate. With few exceptions, this 6.5 Creedmoor was a one-hole gun, shooting nearly all types of ammo in tiny clusters to the same point of impact.
The tight tolerances on the mag well helped it feed flawlessly from the 5-round P-Mag it came with, and were in keeping with the rifle’s feel of rugged reliability.
Great Buy: Tikka T3x Lite Roughtech, $1,100
The latest from Tikka is a textbook example of a solid, well-thought-out rig that does everything a hunting rifle should do. It is a smooth-running bolt gun with great balance, so it’s lively and fast-handling. The single-stack 3-round magazine loads easily and feeds ammo into the action perfectly every time. You can also throw a single round into the action and it will never fail to chamber, something a shocking number of rifles struggle with.
In addition to its fine ergonomics, the rifle is accurate. Ours, chambered in 6.5 Creed, shot sub-MOA groups.
The rifle is also a handsome devil. The deep flutes on the bolt, the quality of the finish on the stock, and the bluing on the barrel give it visual appeal, which adds to the value of this $1,000-plus gun and puts it in the top spot for this year’s Great Buy award.
Gun buyers and gunmakers both have a fascination with lightweight rifles that extends well beyond the actual need for a sub-6- or 7-pound firearm. Even hunters who never encounter vertical terrain love the feel of shouldering a wispy rifle built with carbon fiber, light alloys, and slender barrels, and they are willing to pay a premium to own one.
But making a good featherweight rifle is a tricky thing. Though actions constructed with aluminum and titanium can weigh less, they have a hard time running as smoothly and reliably as a rifle made from plain, old-fashioned steel. And even when steel is used, if a lot of material has been cut away, accuracy and performance can suffer.
If you actually plan to do a mountain hunt or just have your heart set on owning a mountain gun, however, there were some standouts in this year’s test.
The Seekins Havak Element ($2,795) nails the mountain rifle concept nearly perfectly. A carbon-fiber stock with a generous—for some, oversize—palm swell and waffle texture provides excellent grip, while the deeply fluted barrel (which comes threaded with a muzzle protector) and aluminum receiver bring the rifle in at 5 pounds 9 ounces. Ours was chambered in 6.5 PRC, which is as ideal a mountain caliber as you’ll find. An integral bubble level in the scope rail is a nice extra.
Weatherby’s Backcountry ($2,499), with Cerakoted steel metalwork and a carbon-fiber stock, is another excellent mountain rifle. The six-lug Mark V action is reliable and fast-cycling, and coupled with a crisp Triggertech trigger, gives the shooter plenty of control and positive feedback. The skinny barrel heats up quickly, so it’s best to keep groups to three shots. Accuracy in our 6.5 Creedmoor sample was good, but the groups opened as the rifle heated up. Empty, the Backcountry weighs just 5 pounds 6 ounces.
The stock is sleek and has an excellent 3D-printed recoil pad that soaks up plenty of recoil (a radial muzzle brake at the other end does the rest of the job). But the stock would benefit from some extra texture for a more secure grip.
Proof Research’s new Elevation MTR ($3,199) is a bit heavier—7 pounds on the button—but it puts that weight to good use. The two-lug action was the slickest in the category, and the most accurate. It comes with a more substantial stock (though made of carbon fiber, like the barrel) that has a geometry closer to a tactical/competition rifle than a typical hunting stock. The grip is vertical, and the broad fore-end is shaped to snugly accommodate a Harris bipod. This gives the rifle a very sure feel in hand, providing ample control from various shooting positions. The rifle also offers the ability to swap barrels and chamberings, if that’s your thing.
It feeds from single-stack AICS magazines and comes with a 5-round P-Mag.
We also tested the Christensen Arms Ridgeline Titanium ($2,495) and the Bergara Premier Mountain 2.o ($2,150). Both are just above 6 pounds, so they hit the mark there. The Ridgeline was accurate, but the titanium action struggled to feed smoothly. The Bergara isn’t a bad example of the type, but it would benefit from additional refinement of its fit and finish.
No rifle can be all things to all people, but that isn’t going to stop the Sako S2o ($1,800) from trying. This hyper-modular rifle can be reconfigured and customized through a lengthy list of available add-ons. It has two basic modes—a hunting rifle with a narrow fore-end and thumbhole buttstock, and a precision rifle with a beefier, flat-bottomed fore-end and tactical/competition buttstock with a vertical grip and adjustable cheekpiece. But even these can be mixed and matched since the stocks and fore-ends are separately swappable.
Common to both configurations is a three-lug action fed by a detachable single-stack magazine, an integral Picatinny rail, a user-adjustable trigger, and a fluted barrel that is threaded at the muzzle. As with all Sakos, the action cycles and feeds with flawless assurance, and the ergonomics of the rifle are outstanding.
For most of my trigger pulling, I had the rifle in “precision” mode. The optional thumb rest that attaches to the competition stock is a great addition, and the presence of M-Lok slots along the fore-end adds to the S20′s utility. Other available accessories are bag riders for the stock, a barricade block, and a folding monopod for the buttstock.
The Benelli Lupo ($1,699), a bolt-action rifle from the Italian company best known for its high-end shotguns, won this year’s Billie Eilish award for its unique looks. Like the Sako, it too is a three-lug design, but with a couple of interesting innovations thrown into the mix. The bolt is machined with a narrow midsection, giving it an hourglass figure. That helps the cartridges in the detachable box magazine sit higher for easier feeding and improved reliability.
The double-stack magazine has a spacer that protects each column of rounds and sits flush with the stock for easy one-handed carry.
The trigger adjusts down to around 2.5 pounds. That, along with the easy-to-use tang safety and smart stock geometry (which itself can adjust for length of pull and other dimensions), make the Lupo a handy, natural pointer, which easily shot sub-MOA groups.
Right now it is only offered in .30/06, but Benelli says it will be adding .270 Win., .243 Win., 6.5 Creedmoor, .308 Win., and .300 Win. Mag. in 2021.
For hunters craving a classic rifle built to state-of-the-art standards, the Anschutz 1782 ($2,795) is worth considering. It comes stocked in traditional-looking walnut with checkering on either side of the fore-end and grip. It can be had in either an American Classic configuration or with a European hogback geometry, which is the one I chose in 6.5 Creed.
Like all rifles from the German gunmaker, the 1782 is mechanically just about perfect. The bolt glides smoothly in the receiver, the two-stage trigger is marvelous, the ergonomics of the stock geometry are spot-on, and touches like being able to adjust the position of the trigger for reach hearken to Anschutz’s Gold Medal–winning competition guns.
The detachable box magazine required more effort to seat into the mag well than it should have, which is the only criticism I have.
The bluing on the 22.8-inch barrel is lovely, and the threaded muzzle is a good feature. Though hefty at 8 pounds 9 ounces, the 1782 still balances well and handles deftly.
Read Next: The Best New Hunting Rifles of 2020
Shooter’s Grab Bag
Not all of this year’s rifles fit under a tidy theme, which is good news since it speaks to the variety of 2020′s offerings.
The Ruger Hawkeye Long-Range Target ($1,279) is built around the venerable M77 and shows that, even today, a Mauser-style extractor and fixed ejector are still relevant.
The Long-Range Target in 6.5 PRC comes with a heavy-contour 26-inch barrel, and the rifle’s weight (11 pounds 1 ounce) dampens recoil and makes for pleasant shooting. The rifle was able to sustain its accuracy even during long shot strings where the barrel got hot enough to cook pancakes.
Winchester’s XPR Renegade Long Range SR ($1,069) is another rifle built for going the distance. It’s a beefy fellow, with a Grayboe stock that features a wide fore-end, dual swivel studs up front, a near-vertical pistol grip, and an underhook.
The three-lug action runs smoothly and feeds great from the single-stack 3-round magazine. It’s comfortable to shoot, but its accuracy, while adequate, didn’t blow our hair back.
For sentimental types, the Marlin Anniversary Edition in .444 Marlin ($1,899) is sure to tug at the heartstrings. It is a beautifully executed rifle with nice engraving; a 24-inch half-octagon, half-round barrel; and a Skinner ladder sight that celebrates the company’s 150th year in business. The iron sights are deadly on steel plates at 100 yards, and it would be a shame if whoever gets their hands on one doesn’t take it deer hunting.
Henry’s new X Model lever-action in .45/70 ($970) has a loading gate on the side of the receiver, which is new for the company, as well a loading port on the tubular magazine. Another interesting feature is the section of Picatinny rail under the fore-end for mounting a light or other accessory. It’s a rugged rifle at a reasonable price.
We have a new caliber this year, too, thanks to Nosler. The company has introduced the 27 Nosler in its M48 line. I’ve been shooting the 27 in a Long-Range Carbon ($3,190) since last fall. It’s a powerhouse, propelling the new 165-grain Long Range Accubond at 3150 fps. Its accuracy is good, the recoil is stout, and it’s a flat-shooting SOB.
The Kelbly name is synonymous with accuracy. Its actions have been a mainstay in the benchrest game and other demanding shooting sports. The Koda ($2,499) is its first production rifle for the hunting market. It’s a hefty rifle at 8 pounds 2 ounces, and, no surprise, it shot very well. There were some feeding issues with single-fed rounds jamming in the action, but once the company gets those kinks worked out, it’ll be a winner.
Last, but certainly not least, the Bergara B-14R ($1,150) is a delightful .22 LR trainer. It has a heavy barrel and is fed from a 10-round magazine with standard AICS dimensions. With quality ammo, it shoots very accurately, and I had a blast using it on spinners and KYL targets placed at 75 yards. It runs perfectly and is the most fun for the money of any new gun this year.
The Best Shotguns of 2020
Editor’s Choice: Beretta 694 Sporting $4,500 • beretta.com
Any new Beretta shotgun, particularly a competition over/under, is going to be placed under a microscope once shooters get their hands on it. Despite that level of scrutiny, Beretta can breathe easy knowing it created a winner with the new 694 Sporting.
There are too many refinements in the 694 to detail here, but the abbreviated list includes: an improved stock geometry, with a lengthened pistol grip and a more pronounced palm swell; a lower-profile opening latch and receiver design, giving the shooter a better field of view; an adjustable trigger; and an adjustable fore-end iron opening system.
The 694 Sporting, however, is greater than the sum of these parts. It is a beautifully balanced shotgun that swings with authority and handled the recoil of 1 1⁄8-ounce sporting clays loads with ease.
The understated metalwork has just the right amount of flash, the wood is lovely, and the overall attention to detail makes this an heirloom-quality firearm.
Great Buy: CZ Upland Ultralight All-Terrain $890 • cz-usa.com
Over the years, CZ has earned a number of awards in our annual gun test, so it was not surprising that the company came away with another Great Buy trophy for this interesting bird gun. The OD green Cerakote on the metal makes it visually distinctive and augments the shotgun’s go-anywhere, do-anything vibe.
At just 5 pounds 14 ounces, this 20-gauge hits the mark for a shotgun meant to be carried all day across the uplands. What really impressed us, however, was how the gun swung and shot. It wasn’t whippy or difficult to control, which can happen with lightweight guns.
For a bird hunter on a budget, this All-Terrain is a solid choice.
Two of the most interesting introductions in the shotgun world this year are a pair of high-performance autoloaders.
The Renegauge ($1,449) is a whole new product category for Savage Arms. It is a rugged scattergun targeted at serious waterfowlers and turkey hunters who otherwise would be looking at high-end semis from Benelli, Beretta, Browning, and Remington.
It is gas operated and incorporates a pair of valves, tucked on either side of the barrel at the tip of the fore-end, that regulate the amount of gas going to the piston that cycles the action. It’s tuned so light target loads can cycle the bolt using all the gas they generate. The valves are designed so that with heavier loads, they vent excess gas out of the system.
This self-regulating feature accomplishes several things. It keeps the bolt cycling at a consistent speed, which reduces wear on the action and mitigates felt recoil. I have to say that, in this regard, it works well. The Renegauge is a notably soft shooter. This system also benefits the speed of the action. It’s very fast, and I never felt I was able to outrun the gun when trying to empty the 4-round magazine as quickly as possible.
Ergonomically, the Renegauge has some smart features. Easy-to-swap cheekpieces, length-of-pull spacers, and weights allow the shooter to customize its dimensions and balance.
The oversize charging handle and bolt release, generously sized trigger guard, and smooth loading gate are all well thought out.
The cross-bolt safety at the rear of the trigger guard is a little out of date, the receiver isn’t drilled and tapped for an optic, and the tip of the fore-end looks like the designers quit before finishing the job. But other than these shortcomings, the Renegauge makes an impressive debut.
Right out of the box, the Mossberg 94o JM Pro ($1,015) is competition-ready for 3-Gun. All the mods that shooters used to have to make have been taken care of: oversize charging handle and bolt release; 9+1 capacity extended mag tube; high-visibility fiber-optic front sight; and beveled magazine well for fast reloads.
The action has been modified as well to run more reliably than the older 930s. Mossberg says it no longer needs to be cleaned as frequently, which I believe. I ran the snot out of this gun to the tune of several hundred rounds and never once oiled or wiped it down. It chugged along without a hitch.
The gun comes with a Briley choke set, spacers to adjust the length of pull, and gold-accented elements that give it some visual appeal.
The large tang-mounted safety is fast and positive. All in all, the 940 points quickly and is pretty nimble for a gun of this type.
I ran it through a lot of drills that involved reloads on the clock, quick target transitions, and even standard skeet targets. It handled all of them competently. The design of the loading gate, in particular, caught my eye because it never snagged my thumb while stuffing shells two and four at a time into the magazine.
As a turnkey option for someone getting into 3-Gun, the 940 JM Pro is a great value. I’d be hard pressed to think of another gun that delivers the same performance for the price.
Shooters in the market for an over/under shotgun won’t hesitate to dig deep into their wallets for a new double, so to those readers I present this trio as good options to blow your kids’ inheritance.
The Browning Citori Gran Lightning ($3,329) is the latest in the seemingly endless line of Citori shotguns. Fans of these Brownings are deeply loyal to the platform, and they’ll have good reason to be excited for this newest iteration.
The monobloc receiver features three panels of engraving that cover nearly all the metalwork except for the radiuses between the sides and the bottom.
Ours was a 28-gauge with 28-inch barrels and a rounded grip, a great combo for both targets and birds. Other gauges and barrel lengths, as well as a pistol-grip stock, are also available.
At just under 7 pounds, the shotgun is easy to carry across the uplands, and you can shoot multiple rounds of skeet or clays without getting beat up. The gun swings and tracks very well, and we really liked the narrow width of the fore-end, which contributed to the gun’s fast-handling feel.
Caesar Guerini knows how to engrave production shotguns like no other company, and that skill is on full display with the Invictus III Sporting ($8,695). The beautifully sculpted receiver is deeply engraved with flowing scrollwork and figures of eagle heads, a griffin, and grotesques, which are inlaid with gold. Couple this with the silky luster of the hand-oiled walnut blank and fine borderless checkering complete with a traditional teardrop, and you have an absolute stunner of a shotgun to admire.
It shoots well too. The Invictus III has 34-inch barrels with fixed Mod and IM chokes. The barrels are beautifully struck, without a wave or ripple to be seen either down the bore or along their sides.
The crisp trigger, which is adjustable for reach, and deep pistol grip provide excellent control. To our surprise, we found the recoil of the 7 pound 15 ounce gun a bit harsh with heavier clays loads, but the balance of the gun and its smooth, even swing are nothing short of superb.
Benelli has added the 828U Sport ($4,399) to its over/under line this year. In keeping with Benelli’s aesthetic, the 828U Sport is a modern-looking gun, with a carbon-fiber rib, matte black metalwork, no side ribs, laser-cut fish-scale checkering, and a skeletonized recoil pad that also accepts small weighted inserts to tune its balance.
Like other guns meant for competition, it also allows the user to move the trigger along its base to adjust for reach. It tips the scales at 7 pounds 15 ounces, putting it in the sweet spot for a lighter clays gun, but the progressive dampening recoil pad helps with felt recoil.
This is a very capable sporting clays gun that can do double duty for hunting birds. The only disappointment was the lackluster finish on the wood, which should be better on a gun of this price.