February 22, 2018
Igniting a debate with a fellow deer rifle enthusiast is easy. All you need to do is claim your gun is a better choice than his or hers. The one reply you're sure not to hear is, "I agree."
Regardless of our firearms choices, we seem to feel obligated to defend them. Same with ammo, bows, broadheads, camo or anything else we use in deer hunting. But anyone who's stalked the whitetail woods knows all sorts of products can help fill a tag. Walk into any camp and you'll see a range of gear in use. It's also that way if you read many of the success stories in the pages of this magazine. A lot of stuff can help you put a whitetail carcass into the cooler.
Some deer guns we use for reasons other than quality or functionality. Maybe they're hand-me-downs whose sentimental value trumps their performance. Others we use mainly because they were all we could afford at the time they were bought, and they've always done a serviceable job. Still other guns are just "different" and thus appeal to hunters who like to stand out from the crowd. (This mindset likely also explains the fascination with certain wildcat cartridges and broadhead designs.)
Whether due to an issue with an existing gun, a need to outfit a new hunter in the family or just to scratch the seasonal itch, now's the time of year many deer hunters go shopping for new rifles. Some know exactly what they want, and why. For others, the answer is murkier. But for all, the goal theoretically is simple: to find the sweet spot in performance vs. price.
The hottest sellers these days are modern sporting rifles, many of them ringing the cash register at north of $1,000 even before adding optics or other accessories. These rifles tend to be quite accurate and fun to shoot. Then again, they're not always the handiest when slinking through a thicket or climbing a steep ridge. For the deer hunter seeking accuracy with less bulk and weight and for less coin, there are also many solid rifles of more traditional design.
Mossberg, Thompson/Center, Ruger, Winchester, Remington, Marlin and Savage, among others, offer bolt actions with street prices at or below $500. All shoot well — some even guaranteeing 1-inch (MOA) or tighter groups with factory loads, in fact. They're available in many deer cartridges, and their synthetic stocks can stand up to any briar patch.
We're also seeing bargains within brands widely viewed as more prestigious. For instance, Sauer (pronounced "Zower") and Weatherby are selling bolt guns — the 100 Classic XT and Vanguard Synthetic, respectively — that cost less than most MSRs but are extremely accurate and rugged.
These elite gunmakers didn't build their reputations on "budget" guns, but much of the same engineering and craftsmanship found in their high-end models also is seen in these more affordable versions. Part of the difference in price is because of the use of synthetic stocks instead of their usual nice wood. You can pocket that savings on the stock or perhaps roll it into a better scope. For deer hunting, I'd prefer a synthetic stock even if the price were identical.
When shooting a whitetail, confidence is always a factor. An older rifle you know still performs well isn't to be dismissed lightly. But right now there are some major bargains to be had within the category. Given these value-packed options, an upgrade might make sense. Then, when you shoot your first buck with that new rig, you can wear out your buddies telling them how you just made the smartest gun choice of all . . . and even had some folding money left over.
J.P. Saure & Sohn
100 Classic XT
Germany's oldest gun company, whose roots trace back to 1751, is best known for high-end hunting rifles. But many features of Sauer's top models also are found in the 100 Classic XT, which has an MSRP of just $699 U.S.
Available in a dozen cartridges from .222 Rem. to .300 Win. Mag., this rifle has a hammer-forged, fully bedded barrel, smooth bolt, adjustable single-stage trigger, 3-position safety and 60-degree bolt throw for quick follow-up shots. If you crave European quality without breaking the bank, give this one a close look.
Sig Sauer Whiskey5 2.4-12x56mm; SFP; 30mm; LevelPlex