If you’re looking for a deer rifle, the good news is there are a lot of very good choices today. Whether you hunt in the wide open Western plains or the dense piney woods of Texas, there’s a gun to fit your needs.
But when it comes right down to it, there are only a handful of rifles that can truly be classified as great. In this competitive market, a gun doesn’t become legendary overnight. It takes many years and many deer to earn a reputation like that, which is why these 10 rifles have earned a place in the heart and the homes of America’s deer hunting masses. Here’s a list of the best deer rifles ever made.
The BAR has been available in a wide variety of configurations for years, and the ability to deliver fast follow-ups makes this one of the favorite deer rifles of our time. Over the years there have been a wide variety of configurations in different calibers and barrel lengths. The gas operating system is reliable, and the BAR is very accurate.
When telescopic sights became the rage, the 336 became a serious threat to the Winchester 94’s lever gun domination, and it was available in both the .30-30 and the .35 Remington, two versatile lever-gun loads that could tackle almost anything in North America. The Marlin 336 was extremely reliable, too, and hunters passed their rifles down to younger generations and created a whole new generation of 336 fans.
The 336 is still in production, and the introduction of the .308 and .338 Marlin Express cartridges, as well as the ability to load pointed ammo into tubular magazines (thanks to Hornady’s LeveRevolution line), only serve to make the 336 an even better option for deer hunters. It’s short, light, fast, and accurate. What’s not to love?
It’s easy to mount a scope on this rifle, and they’re light enough to carry all day. For fast follow-up shots, there’s nothing better. In one form or another, the Model 740 line has been in constant production since it came on the market because hunters have always wanted them.
The Model 700 has a twin opposed locking lug bolt design with a small extractor and plunger-type ejector, which has been copied by a host of other makers over the years, but none have reached the status of the 700. It’s a favorite action for custom rifle builders, and many long-range law enforcement and military bolt guns incorporate Model 700 actions.
The Model 700’s biggest fan base, however, is hunters. It is a highly accurate, reasonably priced, all-American rifle that has earned a place on the list of the best deer guns ever.
A lot of deer hunters bought the No. 1, however, and Bill Ruger’s design has developed something of a cult following. The No. 1’s action was designed based upon Farquharson falling block design, and Ruger’s action was slick, smooth, beautiful, and darn near bulletproof. And, as any No. 1 fan will tell you, one shot is enough if you make it count.
Significant changes came in 1966, when a plunger-style ejector was added and detachable box magazines were incorporated. In 1988, Savage nearly closed its doors, but the strength of the 110 and the money generated by the sales of that gun helped keep the company afloat.
Savage 110 rifles have always been cheap, no-frills guns that shot extremely well, and hunters have purchased lots and lots of these guns. One of Savage’s biggest breakthroughs, however, came as a result of a campaign by the company to improve trigger design in 2003.
The resulting AccuTrigger was revolutionary, and since its introduction, every major rifle company has been forced to provide a crisp, clean, light trigger on their factory guns to stay relevant. Innovative, accurate, and reasonably priced, the Savage 110 has earned a top spot on our list of the best deer guns ever.
In addition, these two features allowed for a faster lock time and the use of pointed, spritzer-type bullets. It was available in a number of fabulous deer cartridges like the .250/3000, .300 Savage, .308 Winchester and others, and it was fast to operate, as well as reliable and accurate.
The Springfield 1903, chambered in .30-06, became the big game rifle against which all other guns at the time were measured. With over 1.3 million rifles in production, the M1903 has become a model for the American bolt action.
It was the offspring of the popular and well-designed Model 54, and it had many features hunters wanted, including a controlled-round action, blade ejector, three-position safety, and a crisp trigger.
The original Model 70s were great shooting guns, and they were chambered in just about every significant hunting cartridge during their lifespan. The flat-bottom receiver design is secure and the original Model 70s had good barrels.
Deer hunters loved the design when it was introduced, and there are still a lot of hunters who wouldn’t consider hunting with anything else. In 2006 it looked as though the Model 70 might disappear as we knew it, but the rifle resurfaced, and the guns being built today are superb.
But nostalgia is not the only quality that makes the 94 a great deer gun—it's also light, easy to carry, and it points naturally. It is one of the quickest guns to shoot off-hand, and it is perfect for tight cover. The 1894 remains one of the few pre-20th century firearm designs that is both viable and popular among modern hunters today.