Deer Rifles Part 1
- By John Rippin
- 15 Comments
- Last updated: 24/11/2016
I have been looking around at what deer rifles you can get for less than a thousand pounds and to be honest I don’t think there has been a better time for finding an accurate ‘minute or better’ rifle in the price range, and in a couple of cases you can do it for half that. So cutting to the chase let’s kick off at the top of my list with the Tikka T3.
Bottom line - this is the best value Euro rifle available. The twin locking lug bolt with only a 70° lift is slick, the trigger more than acceptable and straight out of the box I have yet to find a more consistently accurate rifle. The T3 lite or lite stainless are great tools for around the £700 mark, if you can though I would go for the stainless laminated available at a hair under a grand £995 it has all the great talents of the other two but the stock is more attractive, stiffer and just as environmentally stable being laminate. The single stack magazines are glass-reinforced composite and feed well. Scope mounting is no problem either; you have Tikka’s dedicated Optilock mounts or a Weaver-style rail on the predrilled and tapped receiver. At the top end under a grand I can’t see how you can do better, in fact in accuracy stakes you only start to get close around the Hyem SR21 at nearly double the money.
Browning has really got their act together with their X-Bolt! The 3-lug bolt has a 60° lift angle for smooth operation. The lines are sleek and add in a proper, detachable rotary magazine, tang-mounted safety and bases and at around £800 you get an awful lot for your money. Though a fan of synthetic stocks, even the wood on this particular rifle is very well finished. The name derives from the unique four bolts per base on the scope mounts and provides a very secure fixing. The barrel, as with the wood-stocked Tikka, is free floating and as if all this were not enough the rifles are all glass beaded at the factory. I have seen a couple of these rifles shoot phenomenal groups with hand loads but even with reasonable factory fodder they are a good consistent minute of angle machine. The synthetic stocks have a rubberised feel and all in all they are worth careful consideration.
REMINGTON 700 SPS
The Remington 700 needs no introduction, but sloppy production and quality control turned me away from them about 10-years ago. That was then and by all accounts the later rifles are back to where they should be in terms of quality. The only problem has been the price and quite frankly the rifle is not in the same league as some of the European models it has been edging close to. I would never pay over a grand for a 700, having said this they do still have a reasonable variants at good money in the form of the 700 SPS stainless at around the £650-£750 mark. The Remington 700 was always the ‘go to’ gun for accuracy and while there are other makes now as consistent or maybe slightly more so, the sheer availability of aftermarket gear, scores of scope mounting options and robust manufacture, still make this a strong contender. As I write this, Remington have launched a new rifle - the 783 - touted to come in cheaper than the 700; I’m looking forward to seeing if Remington have found a new ace in their hand.
The Steyr ProHunter is a modern design that shows some useful features With a hammer-forged barrel and 6-lug bolt it shows a 3-positionm, tang-mounted safety and detachable magazine system, which can be modified with a larger capacity unit. The stock is synthetic and though tough and strong the first versions were noted for their very flexible forends. To a degree Steyr have rectified this with later modifications in this area. Like most modern rifles they come in a wide range of models and finishes with the ProHunter fitting in to the under £1000 category easily.
For those of you who fancy a rather more classic looking rifle, the value and barrel quality of the CZ550 has been well documented. Built on a Mauser 98 clone action they are robust and unlikely to let you down. Prices are in the region of £600. In this group of rifles the CZ stands out for its controlled round feed and claw extractor prized for its reliability on dangerous game rifles. Some see them as a bit agricultural and old fashioned, which is probably their downfall in the UK market. But like the M98 they have sprung from a tough and solid if rather pedestrian design.
RUGER M77 HAWKEYE ALL-WEATHER (MAIN PIC)
Just scraping in at £1060 is the latest and third incarnation of Ruger’s long-lived M77 series – the M77 Hawkeye. Ruger took as their inspiration the Mauser 98 and replicated the basic action with an investment-cast receiver, though improved the design a bit with dedicated scope rings that lock directly into the top of the bridges. They also re-thought the safety with a 3-position lever, rear right. The bolt remains true with the large, external extractor claw and a blade-type ejector. Feed is from a floor plate magazine that loads through the top. The Hawkeye offers a better trigger, which was always a criticism on the Mk II version along with subtle design changes on the stock, which is available in walnut, synthetics and laminate, given the model. The All-Weather is right for us with a matte all-stainless finish and black synthetic stock. Nice gun but maybe a little pricey for what it is!
THE 500 CLUB
There are loads of these and they all look roughly the same and retail between £400-£550 (hence the rather flippant title), but if all you want is a capable tool some of these Wal-Mart specials can more than get the job done. I have to say that in the main these guns are butt ugly and probably designed that way not to compete with the manufactures premium lines… I hasten to add this is supposition on my part.
This design is a basic twin locking lug design with a reasonable trigger that has been passed around under several names. Despite stiff competition, the manufacturer Howa of Japan now produce the rifle under their own name and have in my opinion taken the ground occupied by the Remington 700 in the early years as the ‘go to’ rifle for accuracy at a great price, anywhere from £485. Similar to the Remington, there is also now a great range of aftermarket options which underpin buying this rifle as you can easily upgrade various elements as your desire/ budget allows. Truly, a great, versatile and accurate rifle with many options; available in long or short action you won’t be lugging extra weight or length if you chose one of the short action calibres so popular in the UK.
This rifle is simply ‘butt ugly’ or should that be ‘ugly butt!’… sorry Savage but I feel like designing you a stock for free just so I don’t have to see it advertised in public! What is so frustrating is the fact that they have done really well with the mechanics and engineering of the rifles, so it must have taken some serious effort to make such a cockup of the simplest part of the whole package. Does it shoot? Oh yes, very well and in fairness this is the only reason I’m drawing attention to it, its talent is significant enough in this regard for me to forgive the rest and look upon it as a damn good tool. They are available from around £450. The later model is the Axis the earlier is the Edge, the name was changed due to a trade mark infringement I believe.
Predecessor of the X bolt, the A-Bolt offers great value for money. The factory-bedded, 3-lug bolt action was and still is innovative with a hinged floor plate and detachable internal magazine that clips to it. The action is also compact and tailored to long and short action calibres, something that is rare with the new gun designs at this £500 price point (Howa and Marlin being the exception). Despite its good points the A-Bolt is a quirky design with its odd magazine system and bolt handle shape and has never been that popular in the UK, which is a pity as it will do the job very well!
WINCHESTER MODEL 70
One of the oldest American sporting bolt-actions the Winchester Model 70 is a legend in the USA. Based unashamedly on the Mauser M98 the major difference is the 3-position safety rear right of the action. The design is top-loading with a hinged floor plate magazine. At one stage the rifle was discontinued but has been resurrected and morphed into a number of models standard, lightweight, varmint and long range hunting. With options on stocks from nasty plastic, to walnut, laminate and even decent modern synthetics with bedding blocks. In the UK it has never got the recognition it deserves, but with basic models going for around £500 they will do out of the box but are also a blank canvas for improvement.
Probably the best looking budget hunter that you can pick up for around £400, and before you think ‘is it worth it’, I’ve watched this rifle print 2.5-3”, 5-shot groups at 300 yards. Yes it is probably the most basic incarnation of the rationalised Mauser 98 action but to my relief they have not tried to reinvent the wheel with this gun, just build it better and to a price point that you can’t fault. If it is this inexpensive here in the UK they must be giving them away with milk bottle tops in the US! This rifle is simply a great opportunity to buy a better scope when putting together a working tool for deer; something that in the long run you will appreciate far more when the light gets poor and the chances are few and far between.
THE RUGER AMERICAN
The latest of my 500 club to hit our shores from the US, the Ruger American, as with all the others it’s one action length in all calibres with a synthetic stock and built to a price; however the accuracy reports on the rifle have been good, some of them recording ½” groups at 100 yards with factory ammo. The bolt has a three lug lock up with a 70 degree lift and the bolt body is full diameter (same diameter as the outside of the bolt lugs) making it smooth and consistent. Other good features are the tang-mounted safety, fully floating barrel and detachable magazine. The stock is very reminiscent of the Savage Axis as is the new trigger. This is no M77 and in some ways better as it addresses modern needs. List price is a rather expensive £639, but I have seen the rifle for £495 but expect to pay around £500-550.
Also from the Sportsman is that great US name Weatherby. In fact the model we are looking at is made by Howa and though cosmetics differs slightly the action and basic build, are the same. So much so that stocks and bottom metal are interchangeable. The Vanguard offers a basic but solid synthetic stock and is a good rifle, though has never proved that popular in the UK. It’s funny that some brands just do not take off like others. However, well worth a look.
This is by no means an exhaustive list but represents the rifles that stand out in my estimation with in the £1000 price bracket. Yes you could pay for more refinement, but looking at the deer rifle as a tool in its simplest form, to repeatedly put a bullet down range accurately enough to humanely kill a deer at reasonable distances, there is little justification to spend more. However I’ll try and find some so we can have a look at those rifles next month!
Please note all contacts are for the trade importers only, who you can ring for full details – models, calibre etc. and the address of your nearest stocking gun shop. All prices are what you would expect to pay at a gun shop.