Best Deer Hunting Rifle

Sep 15, 2022 | Rifles

Whether you hunt whitetails in the hardwoods, elk in the mountains, or bears in the Alaskan bush, there’s a deer hunting rifle for you. The landscape you plan to hunt, your hunting tactics, and the game you’re chasing will all play a role in the rifle you choose. But so will personal taste. Your rifle defines in part who you are as a hunter, whether it is a practical beater that lives in your truck for much of the year, a handy lever action, or a pricey long-range hammer. We’ve made that task a little easier by narrowing down the field to the best hunting rifles we’ve tested.

The Best Hunting Rifles

The best deer hunting rifle is a personal choice. What is best for me might not be the best for you. But from every style and price point, we’ve collected a list of the best of the best. No matter what kind of hunter you are, you can find the perfect rifle for you on this list.

  • Best Value: CZ-USA 600 Alpha
  • Best Overall: Nosler 21
  • Most Versatile: Christensen Arms Ridgeline Scout
  • Best Long Range: Proof Tundra
  • Best Bear Rifle: Ruger Guide Gun
  • Best Mountain Rifle: Weatherby Mark V Backcountry 2.0 TI Carbon
  • Best Rimfire: Ruger 10/22 Competition

Best Value Deer Hunting Rifle: CZ-USA 600 ALPHA

Best Value Deer Hunting Rifle: CZ-USA 600 ALPHA

Description

The 600 series from CZ represents a clean break from their previously manufactured actions, and this more modern design is where they’re putting their chips. The 600 Alpha is the economy variation of the 600 and features a short-throw, 3-lug bolt with a round over-sized bolt handle.

The synthetic stock on the 600 Alpha has some flexibility in it but features a very comfortable grip angle and textured soft-rubber inlays for a secure grip in wet conditions. The rifle is configured with some target rifle lines and a slightly heavy barrel but would be perfectly suitable for any hunting—aside from possibly the most extreme mountain backpack hunts. Even then, it’s not terribly heavy.

Key Features

  • Caliber: 6mm Creedmoor
  • Weight: 7 pounds, 10 ounces
  • Stock: Synthetic with rubber textured inlay
  • Barrel: 22 inches, threaded, 5/8-24
  • Trigger: 1 pound, 11 ounces, adjustable

Advantages

  • Simple and sweet adjustable trigger
  • Comfortable stock
  • Great accuracy for price
  • Smooth, 3-lug bolt

Disadvantages

  • CZ has temporarily backed off on the switch-barrel capability

The 600 Alpha uses a detachable box magazine that has to be “rocked” into place, and the safety design is unique as well. It’s a crossbolt safety that runs vertically through the grip behind the bolt—pushing it down places the rifle in “fire” mode.

The barrel of the 600 Alpha is threaded for a suppressor or muzzle device, and in our 2022 gun test, we found it to be exceptionally accurate for a sub-$1000 rifle. Our sample was chambered in 6mm Creedmoor and our average 5-shot group was .814 inches.

Best Overall: NOSLER 21

Best Overall: NOSLER 21

Description

The Nosler 21 is a fantastic deer hunting rifle, and it won our Editor’s Choice award in our 2022 gun test after extensive evaluation. It’s a finely crafted rifle with a carbon fiber synthetic stock, stainless-steel Mack Brothers Evo action, and stainless-steel Shilen No. 3 contour barrel.

At just under 7-pounds, the Nosler 21 is a wonderfully-balanced all-around hunting rifle that can easily be carried anywhere, but not so light that it exhibits the limitations and drawbacks of many ultralight rifles, which can be difficult to shoot accurately.

Key Features

  • Caliber: 6.5 Creedmoor
  • Weight: 6 pounds, 10 ounces
  • Stock: Carbon fiber composite
  • Barrel: 22 inches, threaded, 5/8-24
  • Trigger: 4 pounds, 4 ounces, adjustable

Advantages

  • Great weight and balance
  • Great price for the performance
  • Very accurate
  • Tool-less takedown for field serviceability

Disadvantages

  • Bolt handle could use a drop of thread locker

The carbon fiber stock is reinforced with Aramid, features a 1-inch recoil pad, and aluminum bedding pillars. Fit of the barreled action into the stock is nice and tight. The Mack Brother’s action on this rifle utilizes a two-lug bolt that features tool-less disassembly for cleaning and maintenance in the field.

With the action, adjustable Triggertech trigger, and Shilen barrel, this package delivers excellent accuracy, and out of the hundreds of 5-shot groups we fired in our gun test, this rifle shot the tightest one (0.266 in.). Even tested against more-expensive deer hunting rifles, it was impossible to argue with the results the Nosler 21 produced.

Most Versatile: CHRISTENSEN ARMS RIDGELINE SCOUT

Best Value Deer Hunting Rifle: CZ-USA 600 ALPHA

Description

An ode to the scout rifle concept pioneered by Jeff Cooper, the Christensen Arms Ridgeline Scout is a light and versatile bolt action. It features a black nitride-coated action with a two-lug bolt and skeletonized bolt handle. The carbon-fiber stock is slim with classic lines but includes a section of rail that incorporates a barricade stop at the front of the forend for attaching a bipod. Under the hood, the stock incorporates stainless steel bedding pillars.

The action includes a rail optics mount and over-sized magazine release and is compatible with AICS-pattern magazines—both polymer and steel. It has a 16-inch threaded carbon-fiber barrel that comes with a 3-prong flash suppressor but would make a perfect host for a suppressor.

Key Features

  • Caliber: 6.5 CM
  • Weight: 5 pounds, 14 ounces
  • Stock: Carbon-fiber composite
  • Barrel: 16 inches, carbon-fiber, 5/8-24 threaded
  • Trigger: 2 pounds, 1 ounce, adjustable

Advantages

  • Short, handy, and well-balanced
  • Uses AICS-pattern magazines
  • Suppressor or muzzle-device-ready
  • Great accuracy

Disadvantages

  • Flat trigger shoe doesn’t fit well with grip angle

The Ridgeline Scout is short, but accurate. In our 2022 gun test, it averaged .784-inch 5-shot groups—even better than the 3-shot sub-MOA guarantee. The only thing we weren’t fans of was the fit of the flat trigger shoe with the classic-style sporter grip angle— a curved trigger shoe would be a better choice with the stock’s geometry.

The rifle’s handiness and accuracy make it more-than-ideal for a number of tasks ranging from a ranch rifle to an NRL hunter competition gun, and just about anything in-between. It would be just as at-home in a Midwest deer stand as it would be spot-and-stalk hunting black bears on the beaches of Prince William’s Sound.

Best Long Range: PROOF TUNDRA

Best Long Range: PROOF TUNDRA

Description

Proof’s Tundra is the barrel-maker’s own semi-custom hunting rifle designed to maximize looks and performance in almost every category. It features a carbon-fiber stock with adjustable carbon fiber cheek piece, into which a Proof carbon fiber-wrapped barrel and the Defiance two-lug bolt action are perfectly fit and bedded. Our sample came in a silver-on-black netting-style finish, but a variety of options are available.

The Tundra is a price-be-damned rifle that exhibits excellent craftsmanship and performance. The fit and attention to detail was unmatched among the competition in our 2022 gun test. The combination of the rifle’s features—from the top-loading BDL-style magazine, to the lightweight stock with an adjustable cheek-piece— has resulted in one of the best rifles for long-range hunting you can find.

Key Features

  • Caliber: 6.5 CM
  • Weight: 7 pounds, 2 ounces
  • Stock: Carbon-fiber composite
  • Barrel: 24 inches, threaded, 5/8-24
  • Trigger: 2 pounds, 10 ounces, adjustable

Advantages

  • High-quality materials and fit of all components
  • Adjustable trigger
  • Carbon-fiber adjustable cheek piece
  • Accurate

Disadvantages

  • Expensive

The Tundra comes with a 3-shot, ½ MOA accuracy guarantee, which it easily achieves. During our evaluation its 5-shot groups averaged .683 inches—which was only bested by the two precision competition rifles in the test. The Tundra has excellent balance and is light enough to not be an encumbrance on any hunt.

Best Bear Rifle: RUGER GUIDE GUN

Best Bear Rifle: RUGER GUIDE GUN

Description

Ruger’s Guide Gun—an adaptation of their long-successful M77 action—is one of the best bear rifles out there when it comes to dealing with them at close range. As the name suggests, the idea behind the Guide Gun is as a bear-stopping rifle in tight quarters when it really hits the fan.

The Guide Gun is a simple rifle, essentially a short-barreled M77 that’s designed to be quick, handy, and powerful. The Mauser-style controlled feed action is ultra-dependable and only gets smoother with age and use. It features a fixed (not spring-powered) ejector for reliable ejection that only gets more powerful the harder you stroke the action. The action also features a non-rotating extractor, 3-position safety, and Ruger’s proprietary integral scope bases.

The green laminate wood stock is heavy but designed to withstand the weather and heavy recoil—it features a soft rubber butt pad and optional spacers to change the length-of-pull. The action and barrel are stainless-steel, and the barrel is fitted with a sling swivel stud barrel band and express-style iron sights. The muzzle is threaded, but each caliber is threaded in pitches that aren’t compatible with typical suppressor adapters. The rifle comes with a removable radial muzzle brake, matching-weight thread protector, and smaller thread protector.

Key Features

  • Caliber: .338 Win. Mag.
  • Weight: 8 pounds
  • Stock: Green Laminate Wood
  • Barrel: 20 inches, stainless-steel, threaded, 5/8-18
  • Trigger: 4 pounds, 2 ounces

Advantages

  • 20-inch barrel is handy in the brush
  • Includes muzzle brake and equally-weighted thread protector
  • Mauser-style controlled-feed action and fixed ejector
  • Length-of-pull is adjustable with included stock spacers

Disadvantages

  • Shorter barrel gives up some velocity

I’ve long used the M77 platform for bear backup rifles, and the Guide Gun is the handiest one of them yet. It’s offered in .30/06, .338 Win. Mag., .375 Ruger, and .416 Ruger—all great options. I recently killed a grizzly coming towards me at 15 yards with mine chambered in .338 Win. Mag.

Best Mountain Rifle: WEATHERBY MARK V BACKCOUNTRY 2.0 TI CARBON

Best Mountain Rifle: WEATHERBY MARK V BACKCOUNTRY 2.0 TI CARBON
Description The Mark V Backcountry 2.0 TI Carbon is an update to Weatherby’s original Backcountry series, which focuses on lightening up the famous Mark V action and producing a truly ultralight mountain rifle. For the 2.0, a couple key upgrades are the option for a carbon-fiber barrel and a re-design of the 3D-printed recoil pad (the original would hold a smashed-down shape when the rifle was rested on the recoil pad). The Backcountry 2.0 TI Carbon features the 6-lug Mark V action, which uses 2 rows of 3 lugs for a light, but strong action tailored to Weatherby’s rebated rim cartridges. The titanium action and carbon-fiber barrel help to achieve an impressively low weight of just over 5 pounds with the 24-inch-barreled 6.5 CM we tested. The short bolt throw makes cycling the gun a pleasure, and although titanium actions tend to be sticky, it’s a worthwhile compromise in this case. Key Features
  • Caliber: 6.5 CM
  • Weight: 5 pounds, 2 ounces
  • Stock: Carbon-fiber composite
  • Barrel: 24 inches, carbon-fiber, threaded
  • Trigger: 3 pounds, 4 ounces, adjustable
Advantages
  • Lightweight
  • 24-inch carbon-fiber barrel is accurate and strong
  • Great ergonomics
  • Short bolt throw
Disadvantages
  • Titanium action is a little sticky
  • Fit and finish could be better considering price tag
The full carbon-fiber stock adds rigidity at a minimal weight penalty and although we feel some of the fit and finish could be improved, it has a very comfortable grip and grip angle. Light rifles can be difficult to shoot well, and the ergonomics of this rifle helped. It shot pretty well across a variety of loads in our 2022 gun test, and the average of our best ten 5-shot groups was .824 inches. We did notice that the groups started to open up as the gun warmed up—especially on the fifth shot—but for most mountain hunting situations, it’s that first one or two that really matter.

Best Rimfire: RUGER 10/22 COMPETITION

Best Rimfire: Ruger 10/22 Competition

Description

The Ruger 10/22 has come out in more variations than the IPAs at your local brewery. This iteration is from the Custom Shop and is one of the most refined 10/22s to date.

It takes the classic 10/22 action—the 350 Chevy short block of rimfires—and tricks it out with a series of upgrades to create a high-performance, grown-up .22 LR. And in a nod to all the wrong-handed folks out there, Ruger is offering it in a lefty version as well.

The trigger on my sample is outstanding, breaking at a crisp and consistent 2 pounds 14 ounces. Combined with the hammer-forged barrel, it delivers excellent accuracy at 50 yards. To help with the rifle’s long-range potential, the action is topped with a 30 MOA Picatinny rail for mounting optics.

Being a 10/22, it would be a chore to make the gun not shoot well, and it runs like crazy, digesting every type of .22 LR I stuffed into its 10-round rotary magazines.

The Competition model has an ergonomic mag release integrated into the trigger guard that is easy to manipulate and relatively unobtrusive. The attention to ergonomics extends to the stock which has an adjustable cheek piece that goes up and down and can slide fore and aft with a single throw lever. As handy as that feature is, the hardware is a bit clunky looking and it is the one aesthetic sore spot on the rifle.

Key Features

  • Caliber: .22 LR
  • Weight: 6 lb. 3 oz.
  • Stock: Synthetic with adj. cheek piece
  • Barrel: 16.12 in., threaded ½-28 with muzzle brake
  • Trigger: 2 lb. 14 oz.

Advantages

  • Great trigger
  • Good fit and finish
  • Accurate
  • Utterly reliable

Disadvantages

  • Spendy

Everything else on the 10/22 competition is nicely finished. The barrel is fluted and comes with a racy and effective muzzle brake. The laminate stock has an attractive speckled gray coating that provides a bit of grip. And the fore-end has a beaver-tail-like contour that is comfortable and gives a good purchase.

One thing to know is that if you do opt for the left-handed model, regular right-handed 10/22 magazine won’t work. The lefty rotary mags spool up the other way.

OTHER TOP RIFLES
  • Benelli Lupo Limited Edition
  • Henry Long Ranger Express
  • Browning X-Bolt Mountain Pro
  • Fierce Firearms CT Rival
  • Winchester Model 70 Super Grade
  • Savage Impulse
  • Mossberg Patriot Predator
HOW TO CHOOSE THE BEST HUNTING RIFLE

There are great all-around deer hunting rifles, and there are highly-specialized niche rifles, but there are no one-size-fits-all deer hunting rifle. So to choose the best hunting rifle for you, you must consider several factors including caliber, weight, accuracy, aesthetics, fit, handling, and price. Then compare hwo those factors match with how, where, and what you hunt.

Best Hunting Rifle - Deer Hunting Rifle - Armory Shop 45

Caliber

Many hunters over-think cartridge selection. The truth is that most common medium-to-large calibers are completely adequate for most North American big game when paired with the right bullet. Caliber is still relevant however, and in-general, you want to pick a chambering that’s got adequate power for the distances and game you plan to shoot, but not so powerful that you can’t shoot it comfortably and consistently.

Weight

Deer Hunting rifle weight might mean everything, or it might not mean much at all—it just depends on your situation. If you’re primarily backpack hunting in the mountains, you might want to look for a rifle that weighs less than 7 pounds without an optic. The farther you have to carry your rifle, the more important weight becomes. For an all-around hunting rifle, medium-to-heavy rifles (7 to 9 pounds) have advantages—namely that they are much easier to shoot accurately but they’re still not too heavy to carry through the hills. If you don’t have to carry your rifle far, a heavier rifle on a solid rest can be easier to shoot.

Accuracy

A lot of value is placed on rifle accuracy, and understandably so. It’s one of the key metrics we use to evaluate rifles. But it can be over emphasized as well. While it is comforting to have a rifle that consistently shoots ¾-inch 5-shot groups—and many of the rifles in this list will do just that—most hunting rifles don’t meet that threshold. What matters more is how a rifle performs under real-world conditions, and if you have a rifle that can put a 3-shot group on paper at 200 yards that measures 4-inches from a practical field position, you are good to go.

Accuracy becomes more critical when hunting wide open country, where longer shots are the norm. If your rifle is a 1.5 inch-gun from the bench, you can hunt with it out to 400 yards with complete confidence. Beyond 400 yards, it gets more complicated. Not only is rifle accuracy a paramount concern, but a host of other factors have an outsized influence on where your bullet strikes. Understanding the wind and the exact drop of your bullet, having consistent ammo, and employing good shooting fundamentals are all critical.

Aesthetics, Handling, and Fit

Some hunters don’t care how ugly their rifle is, as long as it functions flawlessly and shoots accurately. Other hunters place a lot of value on nice-looking rifles. Just make sure to pick one that looks good to you—it doesn’t matter what your buddy’s tastes are. More importantly, get one that fits you well. The rifle should come up to your shoulder naturally and function smoothly in your hands. Choose a rifle with a quality finish that will hold up to the weather conditions you’ll be dealing with. Ugly or gorgeous, you want a rifle that will last.

Price

Good guns have never been cheap, but everyone still wants the most bang for their buck. Many hunters find that budget-priced deer hunting rifle ($500 to $600) work just fine for them—and there are some gems out there. But if you have the money, spend it. With higher-end rifles you’re generally getting better quality, better aesthetics, more accuracy, and more features.

WHAT WE THINK

Searching around for the best deer hunting rifle is fun. It’s so fun, in fact, that you’ll probably want to do it many times over the course of your hunting career. So don’t worry too much about finding a rifle that does absolutely everything. Start with a gun that fits your needs now and know that there are other “best hunting rifles” waiting for you as you gain more hunting experience. There are too many great deer hunting rifle out there for you to own just one.

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