Ask a dozen hunters what their five favorite rifles are and you’ll get a wide range of answers. Understandably, their decisions probably relate more to personal preferences and experiences than to technical considerations.
Simply put, the average hunter hasn’t owned a wide enough variety of makes and models to know the pros and cons of all the rifles available today, let alone past designs. I’m fortunate to shoot a lot of different rifles, more than most guys I know, but I cannot claim to have a very comprehensive base from which to work because there are so many good rifles-past and present.
When I sat down to outline this column, I made a short list of rifles and thought the job was done. Unfortunately, the more I considered all the rifles I’ve shot over the years, the more I realized this wasn’t a simple task. For instance, I’ve probably put more rounds through the lowly .303 Lee Enfield than any other rifle, but that gun wasn’t on my list. The same goes for the Ruger 10/22 and Remington 760 pump. More recently, I’ve shot Thompson/Center Encores in every persuasion from rimfire .22s to the mighty .416 Rigby.
Truth be told, I’ve never owned or even shot a Mauser M98, or any other original Mauser model, and these are landmark guns deserving a place on any “best of” list. As I considered the top rifles of all time, I realized this was my list only- no one else’s. You’ll no doubt disagree with some of my picks- as well as my pros and cons of each design- but everyone’s entitled to their own opinions.
THE FABULOUS FIVE
Winchester Model 70
A Winchester Model 70, in any of its versions, must be included. Granted, the pre-64s are the cream of the crop, but I also enjoy owning some of the more recent models. My first big game rifle was a brand new pre-64 Featherweight that was my pride and joy for decades.
– Reliable, particularly the controlled-round feed versions including the pre-64 rifles.
– Excellent trigger when properly adjusted; simple, stays set.
– Flat-bottom receiver; very rigid.
– Three-position safety is very reliable; locks movement of the firing pin.
– Easy to load and unload.
– Quality-control issues; poor stock design, low-cost accessories, sights.
– Creep adjustment on trigger requires removal of metal (must be done by a gunsmith).
– Noise issues with safety if not properly adjusted and operated.
– Too many hole patterns for mounting scope bases (varying hole spacing and size of bases).
Remington Model 700
The Remington Model 700, which a good friend calls the “Chevy Small-Block” of rifle actions, is one of the most popular guns in history. I prefer the models with a floor-plate; I’m not a fan of the ADL models because I’m never comfortable cranking ammo through the chamber to unload a rifle. I own more Remington Model 700s than any other rifle, and I enjoy shooting and hunting with all of them.
– Cylindrical action is simple, strong and easy to bed.
– Excellent trigger when properly adjusted, but don’t try to set it yourself if you aren’t experienced.
– Fast lock time.
– Quality-control issues; detachable magazines often fail on some models.
– Original trigger didn?t disconnect or lock the firing pin.
– Problems with extractors, bolt stops and bolt handles that break off.
– Loading short-action Model 700s can be difficult.
– Cartridge can slip into bolt lug rail on inside of receiver.
Alot of famous hunters used these rifles on some of the most amazing adventures I read about as a kid. Roy Weatherby’s advertisements did a fine job on this prairie boy because I dreamed and lusted about owning a Weatherby for a long time. When I finally got one I wasn’t disappointed. My first Weatherby (fact is, until recently I owned only two) was chambered in .300 Wthby. Mag., and it was a death-ray out to fairly long distances.
– Cylindrical action is simple, strong and easy to bed.
– Excellent trigger properly adjusted from the factory.
– Unique stock design and profile.
– Reliable, accurate rifles that offer great choice of calibers.
– Action is big and somewhat heavy.
– I always wonder if the rifle?s nine small locking lugs really make contact with lug recesses.
– Short-stroking long-actions can cause a jam, and the shooter must train himself to pull the bolt completely to the rear after each shot.
– Expensive ammunition.
Ruger M77s are my “meat and potatoes” guns because they’re reliable, fairly accurate and available in models to take on a safari or to a prairie dog patch. I’ve owned M77s that shot incredible groups and killed like lightning. One of my favorites was a .338 Win. Mag. that I still regret selling.
– Very reliable action; simple and consistently trouble-free.
– Good safety; excellent placement.
– Simple trigger usually adjusted a bit
heavy, but useable.
– Excellent bolt stop.
– Angled stock bolt makes bedding
– Barrel accuracy issues.
– Limited choice of scope mounts.
The Thompson/Center Icon is a new-comer with a great design, and I was fortunate to be involved in its development. T/C looked at virtually every sporting, target and tactical rifle action available today to learn what works well and, equally importantly, what doesn’t. I’ve shot enough Icons to gain a thorough respect for their accuracy and reliability. After using the Icon on two trips in Africa and several hunts in North America, I believe this rifle will be around for a long time.
– State-of-the-art bolt-action design and topnotch manufacturing.
– Simplest bedding I?ve ever seen in a rifle; it works.
– Very reliable feeding, extraction and ejection of cartridges.
– Extremely easy bolt disassembly.
– Needs to shed a few ounces.
– Ugly butter-knife-style bolt handle that fortunately can be replaced with a choice of ball-style handles.
– Stock bolts could be heavier.
There are many great rifles not mentioned that I would enjoy becoming more familiar with, including Savages, CZs, Sakos, Tikkas, Kimbers, Coopers and the Browning A- and X-Bolts. So many rifles, so little time …