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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.
Our Best Choice
SPOILER: If you’re not in the mood to sort out hunting rifles, get the Tikka T3X. It’s a guaranteed accurate rifle that hits a mid-range price point.
Top Hunting Rifles on the Market Today
Now, there needs to be a method to the madness when we sort out all these hunting rifles.
Determining the best hunting rifle is a matter of considering both subjective and objective factors. There are hunting rifles 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 hunting rifles designed for very specific hunting niches as well.
Before we start sorting out the hunting rifle options, here are some of the things that you’ll want to consider when you choose your hunting rifle:
What Type of Game Do You Hunt?
This is obviously the biggest factor.
The type of game you hunt dictates which round will work best 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 rifle for. On the other hand, there are only a handful of guns that shoot certain exotic rounds.
It’s best 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 rifle 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 rifle. Go nuts. Get as much long range capability as you want.
Keeping these things in mind will help you get a rifle that works best 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 rifles you should have a look at this year:
The 7 Best Hunting Rifles of 2020
Since caliber is largely dictated by what sort of game you hunt and your specific hunting context, these reviews will focus on the rifles themselves.
Most of these rifles come in multiple calibers, so you can tailor the model to your needs
1. Tikka T3X - Best Overall Hunting Rifle
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 rifles are built to the same standards that Beretta has built their reputation on.
The biggest strength of the Tikka T3X is the versatility.
It’s kind of like the Glock of hunting rifles.
First, the barrel is free floated, and the action is exceptionally rigid. These two factors make this rifle exceptionally accurate. Tikka guarantees 3-shot sub MOA accuracy right out of the box.
Although, the barrel is 20 inches long. It’s fine for typical hunting distances.
However, it’s not quite enough for extreme long range shooting. But, it’s very compact and won’t hold you back when you’re tromping through thick forest.
Additionally, it’s fitted with an adjustable single-stage trigger. You can customize the trigger pull weight from 2 to 4 pounds. That’s perfect for a hunting rifle. Not so light that it’s a safety issue. But, light enough for excellent precision.
The magazine is detachable and comes in 3, 5, or 7 round capacities, depending on the model and caliber.
This model comes chambered in the most common hunting calibers. And, there’s a 6.5 Creedmoor model, which makes an excellent hunting and competition hybrid rifle.
Overall, this rifle is a perfect fit for anyone who wants a one-size-fits-all hunting rifle that comes at a reasonable price point.
2. Savage Arms Trophy Hunter XP - Hunting Rifle Package
Savage Arms has been a legitimate contender in the hunting and precision rifles industry for a long time. Their XP line of rifles is one of the most likely to dethrone some of the incumbent kings of the bolt action rifle kingdom.
The 16/116 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 XP rifle is the trigger. Savage built the XP with their patented AccuTrigger and built in safety.
The AccuTrigger is adjustable. So, you can set the pull weight to whatever you like.
The built in safety ensures that your rifle 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 hiking with their rifle.
This model is fitted with a 22 inch barrel. It’s long enough for most hunting ranges. However, it’s also conveniently compact for hauling around in the woods.
Savage also uses a box magazine with a straight line feed for better reliability.
Lastly, the XP comes with a synthetic stock for low weight and long-term durability. This makes it ideal for hunters who hike to their hunting spots or hunt in rugged terrain. Unfortunately, the stock is not adjustable.
The XP is offered in the most common calibers and even some of the more exotic ones.
Overall, this rifle is an ideal option for anyone who wants to make a single purchase to get a versatile rifle that can serve on hunting trips or at the competition table.
3. Daniel Defense Delta 5 - Hunting Rifle for Customization
The Daniel Defense Delta 5 is built for customization. This rifle is the ultimate user-configurable bolt-action rifle.
First, the barrel is interchangeable without any tools. So, you can customize the barrel length and cartridge without help from a gunsmith. This means you can easily use one rifle for anything you hunt.
The stock is also super configurable. The length of pull and cheek riser can be adjusted for a perfect fit. So, this rifle easily delivers perfect ergonomics for every shooter.
This rifle also sports an amazing trigger. The trigger is an Adjustable Timney Single Stage Elite trigger, that can be adjusted from 1.5 to 4 pounds. This trigger is perfect for hitting any long range shot you need.
Lastly, there are M-LOK attachment points along the forend, and an integrated top rail. So, you can add any attachments or optics you want.
The only hold up with this rifle is the price. It might be one of the most expensive rifles on the market.
However, this is the rifle to get if you want a rifle that’s configurable enough to use in any context.
4. Mossberg Patriot Rifle - Budget Hunting Rifle
The Mossberg Patriot Rifle is an affordable rifle that sports a classic look. But, it offers a lot of performance and features for the price.
Notably, the barrel is excellent. It’s a free floated barrel with a recessed crown to protect the rifling. This delivers excellent accuracy and helps protect your rifle during rough and tumble hikes.
There’s also an adjustable trigger to help you make the most of the high quality barrel. You can set the trigger at the pull weight that suits your fancy. So, you can be the best shooter behind this rifle.
This rifle is also equipped with weaver style optic rails. Weaver mounts make it easy to mount an optic.
All you need to do is add your favorite optic, set the trigger pull weight, and this rifle is ready for the hunt.
Lastly, the stock is classic walnut. It’s a great look for a hunting rifle. Unfortunately, the stock offers no adjustability.
But, for the price, this hunting rifle is hard to beat. It delivers impressive performance for a fraction of the price of some competing rifles.
5. Winchester Model 70 Featherweight - Lightweight Hunting Rifle
Winchester is one of the great American firearms makers. They’ve been making rifles and ammunition for over 100 years.
The Winchester Model 70 Featherweight has been one of their flagship rifles 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 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, the standard model is fitted with a 22 inch barrel. This is plenty for the majority of hunting contexts. And, it’s compact enough that it won’t snag when you’re crashing through the brush.
The barrel is also part of the “featherweight” claim. The barrel has a slimmer profile to reduce the weight. The best 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.
The only downside is that Winchester has narrowed the available calibers to just 22-250. It’s a capable round for deer and similar size game. But, if you want to hunt heavier animals, you may need a heavier rifle.
But, if you hunt deer or other common medium-size game, this is a great deer hunting rifle for keeping your kit light.
6. Browning X-Bolt Composite Stalker - Long Range Hunting Rifle
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 Composite Stalker fits the mold of a standard hunting rifle. But, it has a lot more long range capabilities than most stock hunting rifles.
First, the barrel is bedded and free floated for accurate shots to as far as any hunter would need or want to shoot. Additionally, this rifle is fitted with a 26 inch barrel.
And, this model comes chambered in most standard hunting cartridges, and the more powerful cartridges for long range and big game hunting. So, you can use this rifle to hunt any animal, in any terrain.
The trigger can be adjusted from 3 to 5 pounds. And, there’s no take up before a crisp break, and minimal overtravel. Although the trigger may not go as light as some shooters would like, it’s still an excellent trigger, suitable for hunting or competition.
The X-Bolt also has a short throw action that keeps your hand away from the scope when you cycle the bolt. If you shoot your hunting rifle in competitions, you’ll appreciate how quick and easy the bolt is.
Even with all the features for accuracy, this is still a very light rifle. It’s built with a synthetic stock and weighs in at 6.25 pounds. This is nice if you hike a lot when you hunt.
Unfortunately, the stock isn’t adjustable. So, this isn’t totally a precision rifle.
However, this could easily be your go-to rifle if you want a hunting rifle that can hold its own on the long-range competition tables.
7. Ruger American Go Wild - Hunting Rifle for Big Game
The Ruger American Go Wild is built like all Ruger firearms: like a tank. And, like a tank, it packs the performance and the punch for big game hunting.
First, it comes chambered in 300 Winchester Magnum and 6.5 Creedmoor, two respectable cartridges for big game hunting. And, the standard barrel in these calibers is 24 inches long. That’s enough to hit large animals at long range.
The barrel is free floated. And, this rifle comes with a muzzle brake to take the sting out of the recoil. That means excellent accuracy and comfortable shooting.
For even more precision, this rifle is equipped with Ruger’s adjustable Marksman Trigger. You can set the pull weight nice and low. And, you get a crisp break with no creep and almost zero overtravel. So, this rifle does everything possible to help you nail each shot.
The bolt has a 70 degree throw. It’s enough to keep your from knocking your knuckles on your scope. But, it doesn’t leave a ton of room. There are rifles that offer lower throws.
Lastly, this rifle comes in camouflage. It’s fine for hunting. However, not everyone likes camo. So, the aesthetics certainly aren’t universal.
Overall, this rifle offers the performance and power for big game hunting, and it’s reasonably priced.
At the end of the day, the hunting rifle industry has gotten diverse enough that once you find a rifle you like, you’ll usually be able to find it in the most viable caliber for your type of hunting.
If you’d rather not make compromises, get the Tikka T3X. It’s a high quality hunting rifle that’s guaranteed to deliver 3-shot, sub MOA accuracy right out of the box.
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!
Other Reviews and Buying Guides
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AR 15 (view here)
Assault (view here)
Long Range (view here)
James Miller is a defensive firearms coach, certified through the ICE Training Company. He teaches Intuitive Defensive Shooting fundamentals and tactics to shooters of all skill levels. He lives, writes, and skis in Reno, Nevada.