The Best Rifle in Every Category: The Ultimate Guide to Your Next Rifle Purchase

Last Updated on October 8, 2020.

Rifles come in all sorts of shapes, sizes, and calibers. Whatever you need to do (except maybe concealed carry), there’s a rifle for that.

But all those shapes and sizes means that you’ve got a lot of rifles to sort through when it’s time to buy. We’ll help you sort all those out.

Most rifles fall into one of two general categories: semi-automatic and bolt-action.

Smith & Wesson M&P 15

Our Best Choice

Smith & Wesson M&P 15

  • Excellent reliability.
  • Chrome lined internals help reduce friction in the action and reduce carbon fouling.
  • Trigger is nice for a mil-spec trigger.

SPOILER—If you just want to get a quality semi-automatic rifle that will do what you need without much fuss, get the Smith & Wesson M&P 15. It’s simple, affordable, and it just works.

If you need a bolt-action rifle, get the Bergara B-14 Series Hunter Bolt-Action Rifle. It’s nothing fancy. But it’s a well-built rifle that puts bullets where you want them.

For those that need something else, we’ve got that. We’ll cover all the best rifles in every category, so you can get a great rifle that meets your needs.

Top Rifle on the Market Today

Best Rifle Reviews: Find the Rifle That Will Do What You Need

Our best overall rifles are up on the stage first. All the best rifles from the other categories will follow.

They’re not listed in order of price this time. But price does figure into our assessment when we choose our favorite rifle in each category.

Let’s check out all these guns.

1. Smith & Wesson M&P 15 - Overall Best Semi-Automatic Rifle

The Smith & Wesson M&P 15 is a very basic AR-15. But it will meet the needs of most users. And it’s affordable.

This is a budget-friendly AR-15. So I see a lot of them at the range where I work. They always run just fine. And they don’t seem to be picky about ammunition. That’s about as much as you can ask from a semi-automatic rifle, in terms of reliability.

Smith & Wesson has also included a few nice touches. Most of the internals (bolt carrier, firing pin, gas key) are chrome lined. And the barrel and chamber are also chromed.

That’s probably why this gun runs so reliably. The chromed parts help reduce friction in the action. And they reduce fouling to help the gun run cleaner.

The trigger is a typical mil-spec trigger. The pull weight is probably around 7 pounds. It’s not a super amazing precision trigger.

But it’ll work for most types of shooting. And you can easily upgrade the trigger, because it’s an AR-15.

The only downside to this model is that it’s also got all the mil-spec furniture and sights. You’ll have to remove the carrying handle if you want to mount an optic.

And the front sight is fixed. So you’d have to replace the gas block if you wanted to get the front sight out of the way.

But, other than that. This is one of the best AR-15s you can get for about $1000 dollars.

Pros

  • Excellent reliability.
  • Chrome lined internals help reduce friction in the action and reduce carbon fouling.
  • Trigger is nice for a mil-spec trigger.
  • Offers excellent value for the money.

Cons

  • Mil-spec trigger is still just a mil-spec trigger, nothing great.
  • All mil-spec furniture and sights.

2. Bergara B-14 Series Hunter Bolt-Action Rifle - Overall Best Bolt-Action Rifle

Bergara is one of the most underrated rifle makers around. They make great rifles. And their guns are always well priced. The Bergara B-14 Series Hunter Bolt-Action Rifle is a solid demonstration of how much performance you get for the money with Bergara rifles.

The Begara barrels are actually really high quality. They use 4140 CrMo steel, which may not mean a lot to the average shooter. But Bergara guarantees less than 1 MOA of precision at 100 yards.

And, in my experience, these rifles deliver on that guarantee. Some people are able to shoot 1 inch groups at 200 and 300 yards with this rifle. There’s no question that this rifle is precise enough for any sort of bolt-action shooting.

Also, the action is remarkably smooth. There are no sticky spots in the action. So it’s easy to run the bolt quickly between shots, which means faster follow-up shots.

The trigger is also exceptional. It’s adjustable from 2.8 to 4.5 pounds. And the trigger has very little travel. The break is super crisp, like snapping tempered chocolate. Then there’s very little overtravel.

It’s easily one of the best bolt-action triggers you can get for the money.

The stock is good. But it’s nothing to write home about.

It’s a standard synthetic stock with a SoftTouch coating. The coating provides secure grip when you’re shooting the gun. But some people might not like the tackiness.

Even though the finish on the stock might not be for everyone, this rifle is good enough to do anything you’d need a bolt action rifle to do. And it’s surprisingly affordable, given the quality.

Pros

  • Excellent precision out of the box. Bergara guarantees 1 MOA groups at 100 yards.
  • Super smooth action.
  • Outstanding trigger that adjusts from 2.8 to 4.5 pounds.
  • SoftTouch coating on the stock provides excellent grip traction.

Cons

  • Plain stock without any raised comb or other creature comforts.
  • Some shooters may find that the SoftTouch coating is TOO grippy.

3. Thompson Center T/CR22 Rifle - Survival Rifle

When most people think of a survival rifle, they often default to something like an AR-15. But smaller, lighter rifles with ammunition that’s easy to carry (and carry a lot of) are better in survival situations. The Thompson Center T/CR22 Rifle meets these requirements much better than an AR-15.

First, this is a .22LR rifle that runs reliably.

The action is very similar to a Ruger 10/22. And this rifle takes 10-round rotary magazines. You’ll still get occasional failures to extract and the occasional failure to feed. But, overall, this rifle is more than reliable enough for anything you need a .22 rifle to do.

Additionally, there’s a last shot bolt hold open, which is an upgrade over a standard 10/22.

But, the nice thing about this model is that it comes with a Magpul polymer stock, a fiber optic front sight, and a picatinny rail.

So it’s light and easy to carry. The sights are easy to pick up quickly for taking quick shots on small game. And you can easily add an optic if you want.

In short, this is an outstanding survival rifle because you’ll be able to carry it. So you’ll have it when you need it. And it’s capable enough to use for small game hunting, which is the main point of a survival rifle.

Additionally, it’s compatible with most Ruger 10/22 accessories. So you can easily trick this rifle out while you’re waiting for the apocalypse.

It’s a tad more expensive than a 10/22. But the reliability and capability of this rifle make it an ideal gun to throw in your bug out back or keep in your truck.

Pros

  • Excellent reliability.
  • Last shot bolt hold open for faster and easier reloading.
  • Built on a Magpul polymer stock to save weight and add weather resistance.
  • Fiber optic front sight with rear peep sight is easy to use for quick shots at small game.
  • Compatible with most Ruger 10/22 accessories.

Cons

  • A bit expensive for a .22LR rifle.

The Winchester Model 70 Featherweight Bolt-Action Rifle has been a staple in the world of hunting rifles for a long time. It’s a proven and trusted design.

As the name suggests, this rifle is fairly light. It weighs in at about 7 pounds, at most. It’s light enough that it won’t give you fits when you need to hike around in the woods.

Additionally, the barrel is free-floated in the stock, to improve the organic precision. And the barrel is mated to a forged steel receiver, which improves the rigidity of the entire platform and further improves the precision.

Lastly, the MOA Trigger is actually very nice. Winchester says it has zero take-upzero creep, and zero overtravel. That’s a bit of an overstatement. But there’s very little take up and overtravel. And there’s no noticeable creep in the trigger break.

Also, the action is remarkably smooth. The bolt slides back easily. Spent casings are super positively ejected. And the bolt feeds fresh rounds without any resistance. All this makes it easy to take quick follow-up shots when you need them.

Even though it looks like a classic rifle, this Winchester rifle has a lot of modern touches that help you get lethal hits every time.

There’s nothing super fancy about this rifle. But it’s a reliable rifle that’s precise and relatively easy to carry around wherever you need to go. For the money, this rifle delivers excellent value for hunters.

Pros

  • Lightweight.
  • Free floated barrel and forged steel receiver give you excellent precision.
  • MOA Trigger makes it easy to break shots without disturbing your point of aim.
  • Action is smooth, reliable, and easy to operate quickly.

Cons

  • Lightweight design can cause a bit more felt recoil.

5. Tikka T3X Bolt-Action Rifle - Rifle for Big Game Hunting

Tikka makes outstanding rifles. The Tikka T3X Lite Bolt-Action Rifle delivers precision and reliability in an exceptionally lightweight package.

This rifle weighs just 6.4 pounds. That’s exceptionally light, especially for a rifle that’s available in magnum chamberings. It’s super easy to carry around. However, the lightweight chassis means that you might feel the recoil just a tad more, especially with high-powered rounds.

Even though it’s light, the barrel is still cold hammer forged. The recoil lug is steel. And the action is super smooth. Tikka guarantees that this rifle will shoot 1 MOA groups at 100 yards, right out of the box.

From what I’ve seen, this rifle makes good on that guarantee. It shoots remarkably tight groups. And the trigger is excellent. There’s almost no take up (it’s just a little wiggle). The break is perfectly crisp. And I’ve never even noticed if there was any overtravel.

As if the quality of the trigger wasn’t enough, the trigger is adjustable from 2 to 4 poundsYou’ll definitely be able to get lethal hits at maximum range with this rifle.

The recoil pad on this rifle is pretty plushIt definitely makes the recoil more comfortable. However, the rest of the stock is pretty standard. There aren’t a lot of creature comforts. No raised comb or vented forend.

But the stock is synthetic. And Tikka offers various grip and forend upgrades to help you dial in the fit. Unfortunately, you have to purchase them separately.

Even so, this is an excellent rifle for the money, especially for hunters who want to shoot a magnum caliber for taking very big game.

Pros

  • Super lightweight.
  • Guaranteed to shoot 1 MOA groups at 100 yards.
  • Excellent trigger that adjusts from 2 to 4 pounds.
  • Recoil pad actually helps ease the recoil.
  • Available in magnum calibers.

Cons

  • Very low weight makes for a bit more felt recoil.
  • Stock inserts must be purchased separately.

6. FN FN15 Sporting Rifle - Rifle for Self-Defense

FN recently won a contract to make rifles for the Department of Defense. And it’s not surprising. Their AR-15 rifles are solid firearms. The FN FN15 Sporting rifle is built with all the core components of an FN military rifle. But it’s got some key improvements that make it a great rifle for anything, including self-defense.

This one has an 18 inch barrel, which is about four inches longer than a standard M4. However, the extra barrel can be an asset if you’re competing or need to take shots in open spaces where you need the extra range. And this rifle is short enough that you could manage it inside your home, if you needed.

The internals are the same as anything FN would use on a mil-spec rifle. So this gun runs reliably. And it’s designed to handle any ammunition

However, the outside is definitely a bit more comfy than a standard issue rifle.

The barrel is capped with a SureFire ProComp muzzle brake that helps reduce felt recoil. And the trigger is a Timney match grade trigger.

Let’s talk about the trigger for a second.

The trigger on this rifle has the feel of a nice precision trigger: very little take upsuper crisp break, and almost no overtravel. But the pull weight is a little heavier than most precision triggers, to make it better for tactical shooting.

Overall, the trigger makes it really easy to get precise shots, even when you’re shooting fast.

Lastly, all the furniture is Magpul (CTR stock and MOE grip). And the handguard is a Samson Evolution rail. The furniture and handguard are fairly standard aftermarket equipment. But they’re comfortable.

This rifle runs a little bit on the pricey side. But it’s pretty much set up to do anything you need, right out of the box. And it will perform really well with zero upgrades.

Pros

  • 18 inch barrel offers good long range performance without sacrificing too much maneuverability.
  • Runs reliably on any ammunition.
  • Comes with a muzzle brake to reduce felt recoil.
  • Timney trigger is amazing and designed for tactical shooting.
  • Simple, but comfortable furniture and handguard.

Cons

  • A bit expensive.

7. Aero Precision M4 Carbine - Rifle for Home Defense

They’re a newer manufacturer. But Aero Precision makes really solid AR-15 components. The Aero Precision M4 Carbine is essentially a military clone rifle made entirely with Aero Precision hardware.

The first achievement of this rifle is that it’s reliable. So far, Aero Precision rifles will run any ammunition you feed them. And they run great, right out of the box.

This model is fitted with a 16 inch barrel, which is ideal for working within the confined spaces of your home. However, if you need more range, the barrel is long enough that you can still shoot out to 400 yards or so.

Everything on this gun is mil-spec. That’s good and bad.

It’s good because the mil-spec gas block gives you a lot of gas. That’s what gives you such good reliability.

However, this also produces a slightly snappier recoil impulse. It’s not unbearable, by any stretch of the imagination. But there are smoother shooting guns on the market.

Also, the front sight post is fixed. So you’ll have to co-witness if you use an optic.

And you’ll have to deal with the mil-spec furniture or upgrade it.

But this rifle is affordable enough that you could easily swap the furniture for something more comfortable (even though the Knights Armament rail is actually pretty nice). Or you could run it as a home defense rifle right out of the box, once you add a rear sight or optic.

Overall, it’s not perfect. But it’s an excellent home defense rifle for the money.

Pros

  • Excellent component quality.
  • Outstanding reliability.
  • Barrel length works well for almost any purpose.
  • Knights Armament RAS is some of the best mil-spec equipment on the market.

Cons

  • Recoil impulse is a tad snappy (for an AR-15).
  • Mil-spec furniture.

8. Sig Sauer MPX - 9mm Carbine

The Sig Sauer MPX has made a really good impression since it was released. It’s reliable. And it has great ergonomics.

First, the controls are AR-15 pattern controls. So the MPX platform will be very familiar if you’re accustomed to running an AR-15, which minimizes the learning curve.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t accept many AR-15 parts. An AR-15 trigger will fit in the MPX. But the MPX bolt tears up AR-15 triggers for some reason. So AR-15 triggers don’t last long in the MPX.

But, this carbine runs very reliably with the factory parts. And it’s not picky about ammunition. Reliability has been an issue with 9mm carbines since they started becoming popular. The MPX seems to have solved that problem.

It’s also got a muzzle brake to reduce the felt recoil. But the recoil is already remarkably smooth. I’m not sure exactly how the recoil system works. But this gun recoils as nicely as an MP5. And that’s saying something.

Additionally, the trigger is surprisingly good. It’s basically a nice AR-15 trigger. So it’s better than an MP5 trigger. And FAR better than something like the Scorpion.

This carbine comes with a picatinny rail for mounting optics and sights. And the stock is collapsible for easier storage and staging.

The handguard is a bit fat. If you like thicker handguards, you’ll like it. But I prefer slimmer handguards. So this one wasn’t tremendously comfortable for me. However, it still does it’s job. And there are plenty of M-LOK attachment points.

Overall, the MPX might be the new reigning champion of 9mm carbines. This is a really nice gun. It shoots smoother than almost any other 9mm carbine on the market (it ties with the MP5). And it’s surprisingly affordable.

Pros

  • Controls are similar to an AR-15.
  • Reliable with any ammunition.
  • Super smooth recoil impulse.
  • Excellent trigger, especially compared to most other 9mm carbines.

Cons

  • Handguard is pretty thick.
  • Magazines are expensive.

9. Tikka T3X TAC A1 Precision Rifle - Long Range Precision Rifle

If you’re a long range competitor or enthusiast, the Tikka T3X TAC A1 Precision Bolt-Action Rifle is easily the best out-of-the-box option for the money. There just aren’t many other rifles that offer such great performance at this price point.

The barrel and all the internal components are the same as the Tikka T3 rifle. The barrel is cold hammer forged. The receiver is steel. And the action is butter smooth.

But this rifle has a few key upgrades over the Tikka T3.

The barrel is fitted with a muzzle brake to reduce the felt recoil. That way you can focus on what you need to do to get the hit.

And the chassis is equipped with AR-15 style furniture to enhance the ergonomics. The stock is adjustable for length of pull and comb height. There’s a pistol grip, rather than a rifle grip. And the forend has M-LOK attachment points.

So you can customize this rifle to fit your body and shooting style. And you can add any accessories or optics you need to see your target and put rounds on it.

Lastly, the trigger on this rifle is better than the standard Tikka T3 trigger. It’s an adjustable 2-stage trigger. You can set the pull weight from 2 to 4 pounds. And the 2-stage design makes it easy to press through the break without moving your point of aim.

Overall, this rifle makes it easy to get hits at maximum range. And, in the world of precision rifles, this one is really affordable.

Pros

  • Excellent precision and an amazingly smooth action.
  • Muzzle brake reduces felt recoil.
  • Accepts AR-15 style furniture and handguards.
  • Included stock is adjustable.
  • 2-stage trigger is amazing for a stock trigger.

Cons

  • Heavy.
  • Really expensive if you don’t need a high-precision rifle.

10. Bergara B-14 HMR Hunting/Match Bolt-Action Rifle - Sniper Rifle (Tactical Precision Rifle)

A sniper rifle is a long range precision rifle. But a sniper rifle needs to be lighter and more streamlined than a benchrest blaster. The Bergara B-14 HMR Hunting/Match Bolt-Action Rifle delivers long range precision in a more portable package than your typical benchrest rifle.

The barrel is 24 inches long. It’s a tad longer than a vanilla tactical bolt-action rifle. But the extra couple inches helps you get more range and better ballistics. So you’ll be able to put rounds on target, even at extreme long ranges that might not be typical for tactical long range shooting.

The barrel is also rifled with Bergara’s proprietary vertically honed button rifling. This produces a remarkably smooth bore. And the honing grain aligns with the bullet for better bullet stability and more precision.

Then the stock free floats the barrel and includes adjustable comb height and adjustable length of pull. The comb is pretty standard. But the length of pull adjusts with spacers.

However, the recoil pad is remarkably thick, almost twice as thick as some other recoil pads. And it really works for easing the recoil and making this rifle comfortable for long shooting sessions and high round counts.

The trigger is also impressive. There’s just a little bit of slack. But the movement is smooth. And the trigger breaks clean at about 3 poundsIt’s a legitimate match-grade trigger.

And the last thing about this rifle: the price. It’s a very affordable rifle, considering what you get.

As for drawbacks, it’s just a little on the heavy side. It weighs 9.25 pounds. Not the heaviest rifle around. But not the lightest, either.

But, even with a little extra weight, this is an incredibly capable rifle that delivers amazing performance for the money.

Pros

  • Excellent barrel that’s guaranteed to shoot 1 MOA groups at 100 yards.
  • Stock is adjustable for length of pull and comb height.
  • Super thick recoil pad.
  • Match-grade trigger set at 3 pounds.
  • Affordable

Cons

  • A bit heavy.

When it comes to .22 rifles, the Ruger 10/22 Synthetic Carbine is easily the best rifle out there. There’s simply no other .22 rifle with as much street cred as the Ruger 10/22.

It’s built on a simple semi-action design that’s easy to disassemble and reassemble. And it’s highly customizable with a ton of aftermarket parts. So you can make this rifle into almost anything you want.

Also, this rifle is about as reliable as they come. It’s still a .22. And you’ll get occasional feed or extraction failures. That’s hard to avoid with a rimfire cartridge.

But the failures are relatively rare. And this rifle isn’t finicky about being clean (but keep your gun clean anyway).

The sights might be a bit too simple for some people’s tastes. The rear sight is a simple v-notch and the front sight is a basic bead.

They’re easy to use. And the bead is easy to acquire quickly for fast shots.

But the sights offer very little adjustment. And they’re not ideal if you prefer a rear peep sight.

Also, the stock has a fairly steep drop from the receiver to the butt. It’s nice because it brings the sights right up in front of your eyes when you shoulder the rifle. However, if you use an optic with a raised mount, the optic might feel a bit too high.

Lastly, the trigger is really nice for a .22 rifle in this price range. There’s very little take up. Almost no overtravel. And it breaks really clean. It’s super easy to get maximum precision from the .22 round with this rifle.

It’s not the most specialized rifle. But, for the money, this is the reigning champion of .22 rifles. And it’s so customizable that you just can’t go wrong.

Pros

  • Easy to strip and reassemble.
  • Tons of customization options.
  • Reliable.
  • Sights are easy to use for quick shots.
  • Trigger is excellent for a .22 rifle.

Cons

  • Sights might be too simple for some shooters’ tastes.
  • Stock design might place the optic too high if you use a raised optic mount.

Hitting the Steel

Whether you’re buying your first rifle or your hundredth, there’s one out there that will perfectly meet your needs. It’s just a matter of knowing exactly what your needs are.

Smith & Wesson M&P 15

If you need a solid semi-automatic rifle, get the Smith & Wesson M&P 15. It’s a reliable semi-automatic rifle that comes at a really reasonable price.

If you need a bolt-action rifle, check out the Bergara B-14 Series Hunter Bolt-Action Rifle. There are very few bolt-action rifles that deliver as much performance per dollar.

And there you have it. The best rifle in every category. Choose the one that does what you need. Then get out and do some shooting.