Key Point: The best hunting rifles are a combination of firepower, portability and affordability.
Hunting, more than other countries in the Western world, lingers in America’s DNA. While the number of hunters in Europe and the rest of the industrialized world has declined with the rise of cities, hunting is still a major sport in the United States. Hunting is particularly popular in rural and suburban areas and large, stable populations of game, including deer, moose, and wild pigs are liberally distributed across North America.
For many in rural areas hunting rifles are tools not only for sport but for procuring a supply of meat. The best hunting rifles are a combination of firepower, portability and affordability. Hunting rifles must be as reliable as possible to ensure they’re ready when a fleeting opportunity for a shot arises, and to put down dangerous game such as pigs that will readily turn and attack hunters.
The Weatherby Company was founded in 1945 by Roy Weatherby, and quickly came to be known as the West Coast purveyor of bolt action hunting rifles. In the 1960s, Weatherby partnered with Howa Machinery Company Limited of Aichi, Japan for the production of the new Weatherby Vanguard rifle. The Vanguard was meant to be a more affordable alternative to Weatherby’s Mark V series rifle, which the company marketed as an exclusive, high-end rifle. The less expensive Vanguards thus became more ingrained with mainstream hunting America than the rest of Weatherby’s product line.
Howa manufactures the Vanguard’s action and barrel, and the rifle typically minute of angle—or better—accuracy out of the box with match ammunition. The action is an unusual, but effective mixture of a standard Mauser-type action and M16-style claw extractor. Vanguards are available in sixteen different calibers from the .223 Remington suitable for varmints to the .375 Holland & Holland.
The Browning BAR hunting rifle is actually based on the Browning BAR of World War II fame. The wartime BAR was invented by prolific firearms inventor John Moses Browning and introduced in 1918. Fully automatic and firing the powerful .30-06 cartridge, the BAR was the M249 squad automatic weapon of its time, serving the U.S. army in both the Pacific and European theaters.
The BAR sporting rifle is an adaption of the wartime rifle, modified to run semi-automatic only. The sporting BAR also feeds from a 3–4 round internal detachable magazine, and is available in typical rifle calibers for mid-sized game, including .243, .308 and 7mm. A Safari version of the rifle is available in .338 Winchester Magnum for taking down large game. Lightweight with mild recoil, even the .338 BAR weighs just eight pounds three ounces—a mere pound more than a Browning bolt action rifle in the same caliber.
Remington Model 700
Quite possibly the most popular long gun of the twentieth century, the Remington 700 has dominated the bolt action hunting market since its release in 1962. Remington sold more than five million Model 700s between 1962 and today, in more than 900 variants.
The Model 700 is a “push feed” action, meaning the bolt pushes the round into the breech, where the bolt is safeguarded by the company’s famous “three rings of steel”: one ring of steel surrounding the bolt, a second ring formed by the butt of the barrel, and a third ring formed by the forward receiver ring. The result, Remington says, is an extraordinarily safe action that won’t blow up in the user’s face. It also results in a extremely strong, consistent action lending itself to a high level of accuracy.
In the 1980s the Model 700 adapted into the U.S. army’s M-24 Sniper Weapon System, and in 2010 the army began upgrading those rifles to the new M2010 Enhanced Sniper Rifle standard. The conversion involved converting a .308 long action rifle to .300 Winchester Magnum, and the fact that the army saw no issues with converting a used .308 action to the more powerful .300 WM is a testimony to the strength of the 700’s receiver. The Model 700 is also a popular platform for civilian precision rifle shooters looking for an accurate, easily customizable rifle.
Ruger American Rifle
Ruger introduced the American series of medium bolt action rifles in 2011. The American rifles are a triumph of mass production: a strong, safe action rifle that is both lightweight and accurate. The rifles are feature packed, including cold hammer forged barrels, lightweight synthetic stocks, an integral bedding block and free floated barrel, and a user adjustable trigger. The American rifle is available in calibers ranging from .223 Remington to .30-06 Springfield.
The American series rifles are very affordable, with a street price often under $400. The combination of features and the attractive price tag has prompted some gun writers to describe the rifle as the Remington Model 700 for the twenty-first century. A strong aftermarket selection of parts is available for the American Rifle for shooters interested in building an entry-level long range precision rifle.
Winchester Model 70
A contemporary of the Model 700, the Model 70 is known as “The Rifleman’s Rifle” and produced by the world famous Winchester Repeating Arms Company. Winchester made it is name during the ninteenth century with a series of famous lever action rifles and carbines, including the Winchester Model 1873 (“The Rifle That Won The West”) and Model 1894.
First produced in 1935, the Model 70 borrowed the elements from Mauser’s bolt action rifle design, particularly the claw extractor and controlled round feed. A lightweight rifle with a handsome walnut stock and diamond checkering, the Model 70’s popularity exploded after World War II, when a booming economy fueled a resurgent interest in the shooting sports. In the past eighty years, Winchester has offered the Model 70 in virtually every rifle caliber ever made, introducing the new 6.5mm Creedmoor caliber for 2018.
In 1999 the Model 70 was named “Bolt-Action Rifle of the Century” in 1999 by Shooting Times magazine. A simple, strong bolt action design, the Model 70 could easily see production for another 100 years.
Kyle Mizokami is a defense and national security writer based in San Francisco who has appeared in the Diplomat, Foreign Policy, War is Boring and the Daily Beast. In 2009 he cofounded the defense and security blog Japan Security Watch. You can follow him on Twitter: @KyleMizokami. This piece was first featured in early 2019 and is being republished due to reader's interest.