Choosing the perfect hunting rifle is a more complex process than people give it credit for. Indeed, there was a time when there were far fewer hunting rifles to choose from. So the simplicity was inevitable.
But there are far more options now. We’re here to sort them out.
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If you’re busy, here’s the juice: the Tikka T3 is the top all-around hunting rifle right now.
Top Models on the Market
Now, to sort out all these models, there needs to be a method to the madness.
Determining the ultimate hunting rifle is a matter of considering both subjective and objective factors. There are hunting models that work for a wide variety of hunting contexts.
One of those might be great for you.
But, you might have some unique hunting circumstances to consider. Fortunately, there are also hunting firearms designed for very specific hunting niches as well.
Before we start sorting out the hunting options, here are some of the things that you’ll want to consider when you choose your hunting weapon of choice:
What Type of Game Do You Hunt?
This is obviously the biggest factor.
The type of game you hunt dictates which round will work right for you, what kind of optic you’ll need, and even how long the barrel should be.
If you hunt medium size game, like deer, most of the standard hunting rounds will work just fine for you. .243, .270, and .308 are some of the most popular rounds for medium game hunters.
Ballistics are important. But remember to consider some of the less tangible characteristics of a round.
Have a look at things like:
- Cost per round. Buying rounds in bulk gets you the prices on ammo. However, if you can’t afford to buy ammunition in bulk or don’t need that many rounds, your budget should factor into your round selection.
- Availability. Ideally, you’ll never need to pick up ammo at the last minute. Realistically, it happens. So using a round that’s usually in stock at any sporting goods store can save you a lot of inconvenience.
- Rifle selection. There are some rounds that every manufacturer makes a firearm for. On the other hand, there are only a handful of guns that shoot certain exotic rounds.
It’s wise not to get too attached to a certain round. You’ll have a hard time if you insist on using a certain round and get a firearm that’s not comfortable for you. So, try reverse engineering the solution.
Find a model of rifle that feels good for you, and buy it in a caliber that’s adequate for your hunting needs.
Where Do You Hunt?
This often gets overlooked when people are choosing their hunting rifle.
But, if you hunt in particularly remote areas or rugged terrain, you may want to skew your decision away from bigger, heavier firearms.
So, if you’re going to be hauling your gun around in rough areas, it might be worth looking at hunting rifles with these features:
- Fluted barrel. A fluted barrel primarily reduces weight. However, the fluting also helps the barrel cool faster, though this isn’t much of an issue on hunting rifles.
- Synthetic stock. Synthetic stocks are lighter than wood stocks. A quality wood stock can last for decades. However, synthetic stocks are less susceptible to the elements and can hold up longer than wood stocks.
If you hunt in wet climates or expose your firearm to the weather a lot, a synthetic stock will probably be the perfect option for you. Fortunately, synthetic stocks are almost the norm for hunting firearms these days.
Obviously, you want your firearm to be adequate for what you hunt first and foremost, but getting a firearm that will be comfortable for trekking around in the woods shouldn’t be ignored.
How Do You Hunt?
This factor will also help you choose your optic.
If you hunt on foot, you may not need a rifle that’s designed to shoot 1000 yards. That’s a long way to walk to pick up your kill. You can probably save yourself some money and get a more affordable optic or a tad shorter barrel.
On the other hand, if you use an ATV and have more mobility, being able to shoot further will increase your chances of getting a kill because you won’t be limited by your firearm. Go nuts. Get as much long range capability as you want.
Keeping these things in mind will help you get a firearm that works right for your hunting situation.
As always these things still matter, especially with hunting rifles:
- Accuracy. The two things that are most important here are the barrel and the trigger.
- Durability. This mostly comes down to the stock material and the finish on the metal components.
- Feel. This is the subjective one here. Ergonomics are important when it comes to achieving long range accuracy.
With all that covered, here are the hunting options you should have a look at this year:
Top Hunting Rifles of 2018
Since caliber is a largely dictated by what sort of game you hunt and your specific hunting context, these reviews will focus on the firearms themselves. Most of these models come in multiple calibers, so you can tailor it to your needs.
Tikka is actually a subsidiary of Beretta. Beretta has been making outstanding firearms for a really long time and has even held some military contracts. Tikka products are built to the same standards that Beretta has built their reputation on.
The biggest strength of the Tikka T3 is the versatility.
It’s kind of like the Glock of hunting rifles.
The T3 is designed primarily for accuracy and durability. The barrel is free floating and the action is exceptionally rigid.
Standard models come with a 22 inch barrel, which is plenty for typical hunting ranges. There are also compact models that come with 20 inch barrels for those who hunt at shorter ranges or need a firearm that won’t snag so much while they’re hiking around in the woods.
The T3 comes in models with a fluted barrel for hunters looking to keep the weight down.
Additionally, it’s fitted with an adjustable single-stage trigger so you can customize the trigger pull weight from 2 to 4 pounds. The trigger pull length is also adjustable on certain models.
It comes in both synthetic and wood models, so you can prioritize weight over aesthetics if you need to.
The magazine is detachable and comes in 3, 5, or 7 round capacities, depending on the model and caliber.
Additionally, Tikka offers the T3 in tactical models as well. The tactical models come options like adjustable stocks and pistol grips to add some versatility for those who might want to use their hunting rifle for tactical long range competitions as well.
There’s also a T3 in just about every caliber. Tikka has even started producing the T3 in 6.5 Creedmoor. So you can get one for every shooting context, even the most accuracy intensive shooting sports.
Savage Arms has been a legitimate contender in the hunting and precision rifles industry for a long time. Their XP line of products is one of the most likely to dethrone some of the incumbent kings of the bolt action rifle kingdom.
The Savage Arms Trophy Hunter XP comes with some added value: it’s packaged with the Nikon 3-9x40 BDC Reticle Scope.
The scope is more than a sales gimmick that you’ll just need to replace. The Nikon scope is a legitimate hunting and competition optic.
The most notable feature of the Hunter XP is the trigger. Savage built the Hunter XP with their patented AccuTrigger and built in safety.
The AccuTrigger is adjustable, so you can set the pull weight as low as you like. The built in safety ensures that your firearm is still drop safe even when you set the trigger to the lowest possible pull weight.
This is super handy for hunters who need extreme long range accuracy, without compromising the safety of hauling their rifle around in the wild.
Continuing to cater to the long range crowd, Savage also went with a 24 inch barrel for the standard models. This is more than enough for the most common hunting ranges and even long range competition.
Savage also uses a box magazine with a straight line feed for better reliability.
Lastly, the XP comes with a synthetic stock for light weight and long term durability. So it’s an excellent choice for hard core hunters who hike a lot and get out not matter what the weather is like.
The XP is offered in the most common calibers and even some of the more exotic ones. It’s an excellent option for hunters who want a firearm that can be taken from the field to the competition table.
The Remington 700 is a legend in the bolt action rifle industry. It was the precision firearm used by the military for decades.
It’s recently been edged out by a more modern firearm. But it’s still an amazing platform for shooters who want to use some aftermarket parts to make a more personalized rifle.
However, the standard model 700 is nothing to scoff at.
The standard hunting model comes with a 24 inch barrel, which provides more than enough long range capability for hunting and even a little long range competition shooting.
Additionally, there are also tactical models that come with barrels as short as 16.5 inch, just in case you want to try your hand at some fast paced bolt action shooting.
The most common 700 models come with a synthetic stock. Wood models are available, but the modern 700 rifle is built on a synthetic stock.
In terms of the internals like the trigger and bolt, the 700 is about average. The trigger is pretty crisp and the bolt is fairly smooth. The stock pieces are perfectly adequate for hunting.
You can get out and get some game with a 700 straight out of the box.
But the real strength of the Remington 700 is how customizable it is and how many aftermarket parts are available.
Also, even though the original Remington 700 was chambered in .308, the line has been expanded to cover most rifle calibers.
So, no matter what your preferences and needs are, you can create a 700 rifle that’s perfect for you.
The 700 comes in at a rather reasonable price point as well. It’s just one more reason why it is a great platform to start on if you’re doing a custom build.
Remington makes products for every price point. The Remington 783 is Remington’s price point hunting rifle. Even though it’s affordable, it’s still a solid firearm.
The most obvious feature of the 783 is that it comes with a scope.
However, unlike some firearm and scope packages, its scope is not a great scope. You’ll most likely want to swap it out at some point. It’s possible to get the 783 without the packaged scope, however the options for standalone 783 firearms are limited.
The 783 is built with the quality you’d expect from Remington, though.
It comes with a synthetic stock, to keep the weight down for hunters who tend to travel on foot.
The standard barrel length is 22 inches, which is great for hunting at 300 to 600 yards. It’s enough for light competition, but you might want to check out one of the 24 inch models if you’re looking for performance at really long ranges.
Remington ships it with 3 or 4 round magazines, depending on the caliber. The magazine is detachable. But there are models with fixed magazines for those who live in places where detachable magazines aren’t legal.
It comes in the most common calibers. But if you’re looking for an exotic caliber, you’ll need to check out some other firearms.
Overall, the 783 is definitely the ultimate hunting rifle for the money right now. It’s a great starter package for shooters just getting into hunting. But you’ll find that you keep using it even after you’ve outgrown it.
Winchester is one of the great American firearms makers. They’ve been making firearms and ammunition for over 100 years.
The Winchester Model 70 Featherweight has been one of their flagship models for decades. The design is so good that they actually haven’t changed it a whole lot over the years.
As you might have guessed from the name, the Model 70 is a nice light hunting rifle. Both the wood stock and synthetic stock variants come in at 6.5 pounds. So it won’t hurt to hike around with this gun.
The second big selling point of the Model 70 is the trigger. Winchester built the Model 70 with their M.O.A. trigger system. The trigger has no take up, no creep, and no overtravel. In short, the trigger is designed for absolute precision, which makes the Model 70 excellent for hunters who often shoot at long ranges or hunt small game.
In terms of precision, its standard model is fitted with a 22 inch barrel. Those who want to squeeze even more range out of their guns can check out the 24 inch models. If you need more mobility, grab a 20 inch model.
The barrel is also part of the “featherweight” claim. The barrel has a slimmer profile to reduce the weight. The greatest part is that the lighter barrel doesn’t come at the cost of accuracy.
It uses Controlled Round Feeding for enhanced reliability. This also makes the action very smooth.
Lastly, it comes in the most common rifle calibers. However, it’s a hunting focused rifle, so Winchester hasn’t released models chambered in the calibers that are popular in the long range competition circuit.
As such, this model is ideal for serious hunters who only use their firearm for hunting or those who only recreationally compete.
Browning is a legend in the firearms industry. They have a long history of making firearms for the U.S. military, and their civilian guns reflect their obsession with quality.
The Browning X-Bolt Hells Canyon is a hunting model with a lot of outstanding long range features.
First, the barrel is bedded and free floated for accurate shots to as far as any hunter would need or want to shoot. Browning makes X-Bolt variants with 22, 23, and 26 inch barrels. So you can get an X-Bolt Hells Canyon for extra long range, or dial it back for more portability.
One thing that the X-Bolt has over other alternatives is the muzzle brake. The muzzle brake helps reduce the felt recoil, which makes the X-Bolt ideal for shooters who want to shoot a more powerful round.
Browning fitted the X-Bolt with their Feather Trigger for more precision. The trigger has no take up and very minimal overtravel. The accuracy features make the X-Bolt ideal for small game hunting or hunters who want to shoot their hunting rifle in competitions.
The X-Bolt also has a short action that keeps your hand away from the scope when you cycle the bolt. If you shoot your firearm in competitions, you’ll appreciate how quick and easy the bolt is.
Then, the magazine is detachable. Depending on the caliber, you’ll get either 3 or 4 rounds in the magazine. The magazine is rotary. However, the round feeds in line with the chamber to improve reliability.
Even with all the features for accuracy, the X-Bolt is still a very light firearm. It’s built with a synthetic stock and weighs in at 6.25 pounds. This is nice if you hunt on foot.
Lastly, the X-Bolt comes in all the major calibers and some of the long range competition calibers.
When taken together, all these features make the X-Bolt an outstanding long range hunting rifle. If you’re looking for a hunting and competition crossover firearm, the X-Bolt might be the one.
Weatherby is one of the pioneers of magnum rifle rounds. Many of the most powerful rifle rounds on the market were created by Weatherby.
The Weatherby Mark V is designed to handle the high pressures generated by powerful rounds. So the Mark V is an outstanding option for big game hunters who need one of those powerful cartridges.
The Mark V is also designed for accuracy at the long ranges that powerful rounds are capable of. The barrel is free floating and comes in 26 and 28 inch lengths.
Additionally, the Mark V is equipped with Weatherby’s LXX trigger. The pull weight is adjustable. The LXX trigger also does away with the things that cause accuracy issues like take up and overtravel.
Weatherby built the Mark V with a fluted bolt and a low angle action. The fluted bolt reduces the weight and reduces heat buildup in the action. The low angle action keeps your hand away from your scope when you cycle the bolt.
Weatherby also builds their firearm with a proprietary recoil pad to help ease the pain of shooting magnum rounds.
There are Mark V models with both wood and synthetic stocks. However, both models come in at around 8 pounds. This isn’t the lightest firearm around.
It comes in a variety of calibers. However, it only comes in high power chamberings. Since the caliber is so high, the magazine only holds 3 rounds.
So it’s good for big game hunters and long range shooters. Small game and even medium game hunters will want to consider something that takes a more common round.
The cost of it is also a bit intimidating. So this rifle is meant for serious big game hunters who really need a large caliber round, or long range shooters who are interested in the range of magnum rounds.
At the end of the day, the hunting rifle industry has gotten diverse enough that once you find a firearm you like, you’ll usually be able to find it in the most viable caliber for your type of hunting.
If you’d like to shorten the decision making process, get the Tikka T3. It’s a very affordable model that comes in just about any caliber you might want.
Now that you’ve got an idea of what to look for, there are only two things left to do:
- Get yourself a rifle.
- Go hunting.
So get out and get to it!