Rifles

Top 10 Hunting Rifles

The editors of American Rifleman have taken on the daunting task of defining the top hunting rifles.

3/12/2013

What is it about a hunting rifle that evokes such strong emotions? For many of us, our prized rifle—be it the quintessential lever-gun, a sleek turn-bolt or even a slick self-loader—ceases to be a tool, instead becoming a journey that defines us. First, there is the long and contemplative search, one often so exhausting it leads to both elation for the acquisition, and remorse for the end of the search. In that, finding a hunting rifle mirrors the range of emotions most of us feel when using it for its ultimate purpose, the killing of our quarry. And like the connection we earn for the game we chase, that emotional attachment to the rifle is hard-won, earned through countless hours at the range, mind-numbing hours at the bench, and if we’re lucky, through decades of hard use in rough country—from the hot, humid bottomland swamps of the south, to the blustery North woods, to the wide-open plains, to the nearly inaccessible, foreboding mountains of the West. To truly win our hearts, that rifle must take everything we can dish out at it, yet deliver when called upon without fail.

So any list that attempts to rank the greatest hunting rifles of all time is at best an exercise in futility. For if one hunter spends a lifetime using one rifle, how can another man tell him any other gun is greater? Nevertheless, we’ve taken on the daunting task of making such lists. And our criteria is pretty strict, as we’ve taken into account innovation, effectiveness, production numbers, impact on the sport of hunting and influence on future designs. Then we argued with much enthusiasm, voted individually, and averaged up the votes. And while we can’t claim the results definitively name the 10 greatest hunting rifles of all time, it does illuminate what kind of hunters we are, and where our interests lie. But more than anything, I hope this list will spark another round of debate on just what it is that defines a great hunting rifle.

Because it’s the singular greatness of that design that so often becomes a definition of one’s self. The Remington Model 700 hunter becomes a Remington man, green to his very core, while a Winchester Model 70 man is equally red, a Winchester man to the bone. So the hunter becomes a part of something bigger, choosing a side in the endless debate over who is better. It’s Ford vs. Chevy, Republican vs. Democrat or Red Sox vs. Yankees. It’s that fundamental characteristic that we’ve both earned and inherited as a free people. In short, it’s a uniquely American endeavor. With that, let the debate rage on forever. —Chad Adams

No. 1—Winchester Model 70
Winchester’s 1925 introduction of the Model 54 bolt-action rifle correctly anticipated the shooting public’s demand for a rifle suited for all manner of sporting tasks from target shooting to big-game hunting. Until then, most bolt-actions used for hunting were little more than sporterized military rifles: the Springfield ’03, Model 1917 Enfield or Mauser 98. With the Model 54, Winchester offered consumers a rifle that was much trimmer and more attractive than battlefield bolt guns and that had a hinged floorplate assembly to boot.

And while the Model 54 was not perfect—it had a stamped steel triggerguard—it formed the basis for what many consider the greatest field sporting rifle of all time: the Model 70. Introduced in 1936, what would become known as the “Rifleman’s Rifle” gave sportsmen all the features they required—right out of the box. With the Model 70 there was no need to drill and tap the receiver for scope bases, and there was no need to alter the bolt handle or safety to accommodate scope mounting. Its coned breech sped cycling, protected bullet tips and helped give it a fast, slick-feeling action. Most of all, its Mauser-type claw extractor provided true controlled-round feeding.

A myriad of chamberings and configurations followed through the pre- and post-war years. But antiquated manufacturing methods meant that, by the 1960s, the Model 70 was practically a semi-custom gun requiring inordinate amounts of hand fitting. It simply wasn’t a profitable proposition. When Winchester economized the Model 70 in 1964 by making it a push-feed design and giving it impressed checkering, shooters cried foul. It would take until the advent of the Classic “pre-’64”-style Model 70 nearly 30 years later to simmer them down. The Classic was made in New Haven, Conn., just as Winchester guns had been for more than 140 years, but this time on modern CNC equipment. Most important, the Classic returned the claw extractor, true cut checkering and a remarkably good grade of walnut for the time.

The 2006 closure of the old facility and the news that the Model 70 would once again be made by Winchester parent company Fabrique Nationale—this time at the latter’s Columbia, S.C., M16 and machine gun plant—reassured loyal Model 70 shooters that their favorite rifle had not ridden off into the sunset for good. The newest Model 70 is, once again, ready right out of the box for the biggest adventures the shooting sports have to offer. —Brian C. Sheetz

Top 10 Hunting Rifles Winchester Model 70

No. 2—Winchester Model 1894
Designed by the legendary John Moses Browning, the Model 1894 lever-action rifle was the first American hunting rifle designed specifically for cartridges containing smokeless powder. Offered initially in .38-55 and .32-40 Win., the 1894 was first paired with a new smokeless cartridge in 1895 that would become almost synonymous with the rifle—the .30-30 Win. While not as slick in operation as the ’92, the stronger rear-locking ’94 could chamber rifle—as opposed to pistol—cartridges. It has been made in so many variants—carbines, rifles, trappers, saddle ring carbines, muskets, factory engraved, fancy sporting, plain-Jane Sears Roebuck models, etc.—that space precludes listing them all. In addition to those already mentioned, ’94 chamberings have included .219 Zipper, .25-35 Win., .307 Win., .32 Win. Spl, .348 Win., .356 Win., .357 Mag., 7x30 Waters, .375 Win., .44 Mag., .444 Marlin, .45 Colt and .450 Marlin.

It may have come too late to have “won the West,” but it became one of the greatest “woods” guns of all time, and the ’94 staked a claim in the hearts and minds of American shooters and hunters. It became an American classic and icon—one that suspended production with the close of U.S. Repeating Arms in 2006. How strong is its appeal? By 1993, around 1 million ’94 commemoratives alone had been produced—and that number has risen dramatically since. That’s in addition to an estimated 7 million or so regular-production guns. Now that’s appeal. —Mark A. Keefe, IV

 

No. 3—The American Longrifle
Known by many names—the Pennsylvania, Shenandoah or Kentucky—the American longrifle is by any name arguably the most important firearm in the history of America. From the French and Indian Wars, through the American Revolution, and to the Frontier period up until the rise of more modern percussion systems, the American longrifle was the most accurate, long-range rifle the world had ever seen. It rightly belongs on both our top 10 lists, but it was a hunting rifle first. In the hands of Daniel Morgan’s riflemen, the gun put fear into the hearts of the Redcoats. Later, when the British returned for another go with the fledgling Yanks, in the hands of Kentucky volunteers led by Gen. Andrew Jackson, the American longrifle helped deliver America’s most significant military victory at the Battle of New Orleans. With patterns so individual that historians can determine the region in which an arm was built, the American longrifle emerged as the height of its particular form. Featuring a long, octagonal barrel, often exquisite wood and brass furniture, form followed function, resulting in a work of art capable of lethal accuracy past 200 yards. For nearly a century the American longrifle was all things to a people who had undertaken the most daunting of tasks—creating a new world. It put food on the table, while protecting the family in a hostile frontier. And when called upon, it fought to win independence, and then again to protect that freedom. In short, the American longrifle exemplifies the very epitome of the Second Amendment. For when the framers wrote that fundamental bedrock to America society, it was—at least in part—the American longrifle that had armed “a well-regulated militia,” striking down tyranny, giving birth to democracy and forever establishing freedom on American shores. —Chad Adams

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17 Responses to Top 10 Hunting Rifles

nate wrote:
July 10, 2014

I would put the Remington at #10. It should be in the top 10 just based on amount of rifles sold, but it is an inherently cheaply built production gun. The savage action, while still a push feed, is much better than remington

Greg wrote:
September 04, 2013

I think it was a pretty good list though I'd put the rem 700 way down. Probably the worst design of the lot. The Mauser should be up there with the mod 70. And the ruger 77 is probably the best designed ba rifle ever. Though workmanship in layer yrs leaves room for improvement.

TenMileHunter wrote:
April 23, 2013

Totally shocked Ruger M77 was not in top 10. IMHO a better rifle than most.

Ian Morrison wrote:
April 19, 2013

I seem to find the lack of the very straight shooting and dependable and accurate Husqvarna Hi-Power in the mix. I know that I lost mine in a fire and over 60 years of use before so with it still being a tack-driver with open sights even with a scope. I certainly believe that it deserves mention for it's own merit specially during war time production at that!

jerome R valenti wrote:
April 07, 2013

I will someday own a Mannlicher Schoenauer. They seem to elude me. Another greater than any mentioned is the Model 99 Savage. Still one of my top 10.

jerome R valenti wrote:
April 07, 2013

I have owned several model 94 Winchesters and love the nostalgia[;] but my Marlin 336 wins hands down.

jerome r valenti wrote:
April 07, 2013

I too would choose the Remington Model 700 as my first choice,maybe a Sako or a model 70 Win as 2nd choice

Mike Piekarski wrote:
April 04, 2013

In my opinion, the Ruger R77 Bolt action Rifle should merit at least an honorable mention. I prefer the original "Round Top Magnum" version, with the adjustable trigger, and top tang safety (incidently Elmer Keith did too). I've included a photo of my R77 chambered in 7mm Remington Magnum. I've also included a photo of a target shot at 100 yards showing a .421" center to center 3 shot group. I've shot numerous sub minute of angle 3 and 4 shot "hunting groups" with this rifle using various hand loads. I prefer a bolt action rifle with control round feed for dangerous game but the old push feed R77 is perfectly funtional for non dangerous game.

Donald Weller wrote:
March 29, 2013

I think that the Remington 700 should have been #1

Bentley wrote:
March 28, 2013

Why does everyone leave out the Blaser R93 and R8?

Bill Burnett wrote:
March 26, 2013

I have a Norweigan Mosin-Nagant 7.62x54 and a 1500 Howa HBar .308 each of which will shoot with any rifle I've ever owned including my Ruger 77s, BAR, Winchesters and Mausers. My point being that I feel it impossible to pick the best 10 Rifles or Handguns since every person has their likes and dislikes which will prejudice their selections. I am glad that you didn't select the high dollar elitest rifles which are nothing more than status symbols much like Rolex watches.

seth wrote:
March 26, 2013

the savage model 99 should be on any top 10 list

Art wrote:
March 20, 2013

Not even a mention of the Savage 1899,it is truely inovative,along with its cartridges,not just another copycat bolt gun.

Bill Kauffman wrote:
March 14, 2013

Even thought the Win 70 is one fine rifle, I prefer the Rem 700. Your second choice, for me would be the Win 70 and yes third the old 94.

Tom wrote:
March 13, 2013

A good list. I would have put the Savage Model 99 in there and given the Marlin 336 honoable mention.

walter moore wrote:
March 12, 2013

what about the Mosin Nagant,,it out shoots most or your list,,

Colt wrote:
March 12, 2013

Great list but Id put the m700 atop the list. unless you taking into account some of the problems over the years with safeties and what not. In all I still the the 700 is the greatest rifle of any kind every made. (in history). I do love my 70 though. not to take anything away from it. I also think the Tikka should be on this list. I dont own one but ive shot my buddies T3 and it was truly awesome.