When answering the question as to the 10 best deer rifles, a major part of the answer to that question is what, where, and how are you considering any specific rifle for the task at hand?
Deer rifles are basically classed into two major groups, those rifles that will be used in open country as in mountains or open plains states, and those that are going to see all their use in timber states like Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan.
There was a time in my life when I lived in the state of Minnesota and hunted almost all the time in the central and northern part of the state. Heavy brush, black willow swamps, and heavy timber greeted me every day in the field.
Once a year I would pack up my gear and hunt the Wyoming Rocky Mountains for mule deer. The point here is that I needed a flexible rifle that could do the work of both open country and timber style deer hunting. I should add that my age I have hunted whitetail deer for almost 70 years to date, I shot my first deer at age nine with a captured WW II German Mauser chambered in 8 mm.
For the most part, I have stayed with bolt action rifles all my life, with the exception of one lever action, two single-shot high wall rifle designs, and one lone autoloader. As such my first choice in a deer rifle has to be the Winchester Model 70 Featherweight, chambered in 30-06 Springfield.
Best Deer Rifles
1. Winchester Model 70 30-06
My original Model 70 Featherweight dates back to pre-1964, these were the “riflemen’s rifle”, as stated by the NRA at the time. I bought the rifle in 30-06 because it was right at the end of the Korean war and ammo was in a good supply, and also very cheap.
My second rifle came much later and as built today by Browning Arms. It is another great Model 70, but this time chambered in 22-250 Remington as a coyote rifle.
Choosing the second Model 70 was because the first one has ( still have it ) served me very well over almost 65 years to date.
The model 70 Winchester is a Mauser style bolt action rifle that makes use of a long extractor, push feed bolt action and carries a hinged magazine release versus a blind magazine well.
The rifles today can be obtained in several variants, but the one I like is just a walnut stocked, and checkered with a pistol grip control style.
The two rifles are factory drilled and tapped for scope bases and rings. And as such, I have used 3×9 Leupold 40 mm Gold Ring scopes and Weaver mounts on both of my rifles.
The scopes have changed around on the varmint rifle but the 30-06 has never been removed, and the zero has also never been reset. I mean never. The rifle shoots where you aim and always has.
As chambered in 30-06 Springfield the rifle works out well in both brush country and the wide-open western USA. With a chambering from a 180 through 200 gain bullet, as used in the deep swamps of Minnesota far north to 150 grain high BC flat shooting bullets in the western states, this rifle has earned its keep as a lifetime field tool in my book. Pick your bullet and pick your hunting situation. It is all just that easy with the “06” in hand.
When selecting a cartridge to use in a deer rifle, remember that these are not 1000 yard game takers, but rather at best 99% of your shooting will be at 200 yards or much less.
In general, all the rifles I will cover here can be operational and very effective when chambered in 30-06 Springfield, or 308 Winchester. Both cartridges are outstanding deer slayers regardless of range and field application undertaken.
2. Browning X Bolt Hunter
On to still another bolt action we have the Browning X Bolt rifle.
These rifles are offered in again several types regarding stock, barrel length, and a vast array of cartridge types. Some models are built in selected cartridge types, while the baseline rifle as offered in the “Hunter” series is offered in about everything that shoots.
Here the 308 and 30-06 are both offered and again a good choice if you are hunting both bush and open country. Browing offers the rifle in a sheep rifle variant, but if you are a deer hunter and not intending to get into the guided type of high country hunting, keep to the budget and stay with the Browning Hunter.
As I shoot this rifle in its predecessor, the Browning A-Bolt I can say that these rifles carry a very smooth action that has been hand-worked at Browning before they go out the door. Wood quality is outstanding in those models.
The Hunter carries the “Feather” trigger system set at a hunting weight the 3.5 pounds, all the core parts of the action are chrome and polished to a high luster. This makes the action move as a unit when functioned for chambering a round, regarding extracting a spent case. Accuracy with these rifles can be expected to shoot ¾ MOA, to ½ MOA at 100 yards. Well above general deer rifle accuracy to be sure.
3. Browning BLR
With a shift to the lever action rifle, I have selected the Browning BLR as a very solid example of a lever gun that chambers everything in deer rifle cartridges, being it is offered in different action lengths.
These rifles are not only offered in those different action lengths but also as takedown rifles for packing into high country on a horse or backpack.
Using state-of-the-art technology in the cam functioned lever design the rifles are fast, able to take on magnum cartridges with ease, and will hold up when the weather goes to pieces or a horse rolls on the rifle scabbard.
Barrels are button rifled and chrome lined. Stocks are American walnut and real checkering on the forend grip and pistol grip sections.
Want a weathered fighter? The rifle is also offered in pure stainless steel as well.
4. Winchester Model 94
As a second lever-action rifle offering a turn to the Winchester Model 94 is more than appropriate at this time.
Here is the rifle that won the American West, but best used at closer range in timber country or around the ranch house on dinner walking through the creek bottom behind the place every now and again.
The Winchester Model 94 as chambered in 30-30 Winchester has dropped more deer across, the American landscape than any other rifle or combination of rifles. It is the all American rifle that has worked for a living. Lightweight, short barrel, and fast lever action make this a classic game getting hunting rifle.
Scopes can be mounted on them by way of a special side mount offered by Lyman, and they work because I use the system on my “94”.
When selecting the Winchester Model 94 keep in mind that there are a number of knockoffs on the market. Rifles with Winchester stamped on the barrel and dated at or around 1964 are very valuable.
Today the Winchester Model 94 is built as a standard factory offering through Browning Arms. These rifles are very high-grade rifles. However, be aware of some rifles built that are called “94” but built under different manufactures.
The Winchester Model 94 is side ( right ) loading, uses the 170 grain round nosed 30 caliber, 30-30 cartridge. It has a straight pistol grip stock, and tube magazine the length of the barrel. Some other variants are also available from time to time. But this rifle is the old school gold standard in lever-action rifles.
The price range is between $1000-$2000 depending on new or old model builds and date/condition.
5. Browning BAR
As part of my selection of best deer rifles, I have decided to run the Browning BAR or Browning Automatic Rifle” at you the reader.
This is the only one of two autoloading rifles I will list here as others start to move into the black rifle military side of the fence, while many hunters use the black rifles ( AR 10 ) it is not part of the classic standard in deer rifles, therefore not to be considered as part of this review at all.
The Browning BAR is an autoloader chambered in just about anything you want to shoot.
My choice is the 30-06 once again, and with that in areas of the world that allow autoloading rifles, and there are many that do not, the Browning is a classic favorite. With the “06” you can take on any deer anyplace that they walk the earth. The range is good, accuracy is outstanding, and workmanship is beyond good.
Browning is as seemingly noted by my enthusiasm is a number one product across the board in my opinion.
6. Benelli R1
A second autoloading rifle but this time as offered by the folks at Benelli is the Model R1 rifle.
This riles is not like the previous one written here in that it is made up in a more modern looking design but still retains the same sporing classic high power rifle style in many ways.
The Benelli R1 retains a self regulating gas system and a three-locking lug bolt. Buyers can select a nice high-grade walnut stock or a composite material as well.
This rifle is offered in a wide range of popular big game cartridge types, as usual, the 30-06 is right at the top of the list.
Shooting this rifle is met by a feel for nice balance, lightweight, and quality construction. $1000 for most models.
7. Winchester XPR
The Winchester XPR is a rifle I shoot here for test and evaluation. I have taken several good bucks with the rifle chambered in 6.5 Creedmoor and I have found the rifle to be tough in the field, very accurate even at ultra long range ( long kill 540 yards ), and equipped with a great trigger, and also balance as applied to its polymer stock setup.
The bolt on this rifle is oversized and a bit massive but the receiver locks down like a bank vault and I have found it to function very fast and smooth if and when required.
I can say for a fact that this rifle as written here is responsible for the longest shot I have ever made on a whitetail deer.
Scoped with an advanced Leopold MK 7 and a darn good spotter, the rifle simply shot extremely well out beyond 500 plus yards on a running buck and took him down.
This rifle is bargain priced. I believe it to be a very good buy for the money spent.
8. Ruger Hawkeye Hunter
The Ruger Hawkeye is based on the Ruger M-77 action. And because of that, I have two of them in my field rifle inventory at Ballistics research & development. One is chambered in 6.5 Creedmoor and the second rifle is a 300 win Mag.
The Hawkeye is based on the long extractor Mauser action built and designed by Ruger many years ago.
The action is time proven and as such it has always been a solid market item for Ruger firearms. Stocked in laminated or solid wood the fit is good, the action is smooth and the rifle is set up for Weaver-style rails or locked bass and ring regarding a scope setup.
The price range from $939.00 – $1,300 depending on the exact model selected. There are eleven of them offered.
9. Ruger No. 1
As a second rifle but this time a complete turn away from the others, it is head toward the area of the single-shot rifle.
Here the Ruger No.1 single-shot high power comes to the forefront. This rifle is weather fighter stainless steel or blued and walnut stocked.
The falling block type action design is bank vault tough, I shoot the rifle in a 7mm Remington Magnum chambering. Using the under lever action, the rifle is a single loading only design and hunters that are sure of their shot only need apply here.
I lost the buck of a lifetime with this rifle, but I took my elk and buffalo with the same rifle which evened the deal out a bit. I like the single shot as it is sporting, and the rifle puts all a shooter’s skill to the test. One try and good by is the general rule if you miss.
10. Uberti Model 1885 Courteney
As a final rifle in my list of great deer rifles, I have selected a brand new entry single-shot design.
This rifle is the Uberti Model 1885 Courteney and it is an African original rifle that has been built in the 1800 for hunters in England that wanted a lower priced rifle for African hunting versus the high priced double rifles of the day. Its chambered for a 45-70, and is also on our list as one of the best 45-70 government rifles on the market.
This rifle is offered in an outstanding metal worked blued steel, walnut stocked with a master fit and a falling block action on a high wall receiver.
Sights can be straight away open sights or a small weaver style rail can be added for a scope sighting system.
This rifle is carbine length, light, and fast handling. The rifle is built as a stalking whitetail rifle for timber hunting, but I have mounted a 4X12 glass sight on mine for use this fall out in Western South Dakota.
This rifle is only chambered in the classic cartridge of the day, the British 303 Enfield. This round is military in origin, and when zeroed to 200 yards dead on the rifle is effective to all acceptable deer shooting distances. I have zeroed my rifle with both Federal and Hornady 150 grain bullets, and I have been shooting it on steel targets to 500 yards, and back to almost point blank ranges off hand for practice.
Also, the rifle has been already in the field against summer mountain rock chucks with great success regarding long range chuck hunting. This will be the first choice field rifle this fall when deer season opens, and it’s time to fill the freezer full of winter meat. (1), (2)
For more reading see our guide to what do you hunt deer with.
- Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife, Living with wildlife: Deer. Retrieved from https://wdfw.wa.gov/species-habitats/living/species-facts/deer
- NPR, Book Explores History Of The American Rifle. Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=98578531
I have been writing firearms and outdoor material for over 50 years to date. I have hunted across the world, including Russia, and a great deal of time professional hunting in Australia. I currently live in the American West and hunt all across the Black Hills of South Dakota and the Big Horn Mountains. I have specialized much of my work as a load developer in shotguns and rifles. I have run a small company that builds suppressor barrels of my design and load tests for writing purposes and consulting. My commercial names include Ballistics Research & Development / Metro Gun Systems TM.
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