Five of the Best Deer Hunting Rifles

   09.29.20

Five of the Best Deer Hunting Rifles

We all know that it doesn’t actually take much to kill a whitetail deer. These animals aren’t known for legendary toughness, but they sure are fun to hunt and even better to eat. While we can all agree about hunting deer, saying that one deer rifle is the best, or that brand X is better than brand Z is a sure fire way to start a good old-fashioned argument. But it sure is fun, isn’t it? It’s like arguing over which truck brand is better, when we all know it’s Toyota. (See? You’re mad at me already.) I’m going to throw five rifles at you that I think are some of the best deer hunting rifles going. Is this the end-all, be-all list? Nope. There’s not many rifles out there that aren’t good for killing deer. What I’d like you to do is comment below and tell me YOUR favorite deer rifle and what makes it special to you. (Hint: You just may wind up in a future story on here.) Here’s five of the best deer hunting rifles, in my opinion.

Winchester Model 70

Model 70
I topped my Model 70 with a Trijicon scope and it has been my go-to rifle for years.

The Model 70 is my personal pick for best deer rifle because, like most of you, it has sentimental meaning to me. I inherited my first deer gun, a Model 70 in 30.06 from my father. My mother and uncle bought it for him as a gift and after he passed, it came to me. I shot my first deer with that gun and can remember every moment of it. I have since added another in 7mm Rem Mag that has become my go-to, do-all rifle. I topped it with a Trijicon Accupoint 4-16×50 scope.

The Model 70 was first introduced in 1936 and quickly became known as the “rifleman’s rifle.” In 1964, Winchester modified the action, taking the Model 70 from a control round feed, to a push round feed. The original action was Mauser-based, and the push-round feed was developed to keep costs down, so Winchester could compete with the new Remington 700. There’s a big divide with Model 70 fans between pre- and post ‘64 actions. When it comes right down to it, though, most wind up like me. I like both just as well. The newest Model 70s are made by the Belgian firm, FN Herstal, the same company that also owns Browning. These new rifles are great and every bit a Model 70. I just can’t afford one.

Ruger M77

M77 Mark II
The Ruger M77 Mark II was a terrific, lightweight rifle.
Photo: Rock Island Auctions

My uncle got me interested in the Ruger M77. He had one in 7mm Rem Mag that he carried all over Alaska. Many blacktail deer fell to that rifle, along with a bunch of whitetails across North America. He picked up his rifle in the mid-1970s and used it up until a few years ago when an accident damaged the stock and barrel. He had it redone by a friend and now says it’s too pretty to take into the bush. He bought a newer one in .300 Win Mag to replace it. I had one in 270 years ago and it was a killer. Some punk stole it out of my truck, though.

Busted up buck
You have to love bucks with character.

The M77 debuted in 1968 and over the years came chambered for 25+ cartridges. These rifles were very sturdy and reliable, with a variant of the Mauser action that was popular with shooters coming back from the wars in Europe. The rifle was known for the angled action screw that tightly bedded the action against the stock. The M77 Standard was the original rifle, followed by the upgraded M77 Mark II. In 2006, the rifle became known as the Hawkeye with a new stock design and a new trigger system. (you can thank Savage for rifles having great triggers these days.) The 77 moniker was dropped for a time, before coming back with rimfire and pistol calibers. It is still one of the best deer hunting rifles out there.

Winchester Model 94 (and other lever actions)

I’m kind of lumping all the Winchester lever guns here under the banner of the 94, but the 94 is a great rifle. I don’t think we can accurately say how many deer have fallen to the 94 and it’s kin, but it’s fair to say that it’s more than the other rifles out there by far. I’ve shot quite a few over the years at the range. My favorite is oddly enough, my mother-in-law’s rifle. It has a smooth action and let’s face it, the low recoil of a 30-30 round makes them fun to shoot.

Henry .44 mag
I’ve grown very fond of the Henry Big Boy lately.

Back when I was in high school, my best friend hunted with a Marlin 336 lever-action and that was a great rifle, too. Marlin makes great firearms and over the years, I have shot several. The 1895 series in .45-70 is serious fun and a great gun as well. I have high hopes that Ruger will continue with the traditions that have made Marlin one of the best deer rifles out there.

My latest lever rifle is a Henry Big Boy X Model in .44 mag. It has been so much fun to shoot and I have a stand that is perfect for a .44, so there are high hopes on my end that I’ll be adding this one to my list of best deer rifles. Henry’s rifles are made in the US, too.

Remington Model 700

The Model 700
The Remington Model 700 has, for the most part, been a terrific rifle for decades. Photo: Shutterstock/Allred

Now, I’m going to start out by saying that when I talk about the Remington 700, I’m not referring to anything made recently. All I can say about the newer firearms from them is that, well, if you were working for a company that was going bankrupt and you knew you were losing your job, how much heart and soul would you put in your work? It’s a shame, too, because everyone I know and met with Remington are great folks. I had a Remington Model 700 VTR in .308 that was a terrific rifle. Normally, I don’t like the way 700s feel in my hands and on my shoulder. But that VTR was a great gun.

Model 700
Who’s ready for deer season?

The Model 700 had a great reputation since being introduced in 1962 as the culmination of the success built by the models 721 and 722, which came out in 1948. The 700’s action became the basis of the military sniper rifle, and has been known for durability and smooth movement. Of course, the rifle took a serious hit from 2006 to 2014, when it was found that the rifle could be made to accidentally discharge. The publication I was working with tried successfully to replicate the issue. It was bad news for the company and was part of the issues that lead to the recent dismantling of Remington.

Remington Model 7600

Benoit Bucks
The Remington Model 7600 and the books that made it famous.

Anyone who hunts in the Northeast probably hunts with Remington 7600. That is the quintessential NE deer rifle. I knew several guys growing up that used them, but it wasn’t until I worked with Bryce Towsley on a new edition of his book, Big Bucks the Benoit Way, years ago that I really got into the Remington 7600. If you’ve read this book, and if you enjoy deer hunting and great writing – you need too, then you’ll find yourself wanting one.

The 7600 is the current version of the 760, and Sportsman 76, that started production in 1952. These guns have the legendary reliability associated with the 870 shotgun, with a fast pump-action system that can give you a quick follow-up shot if needed.

Lead image: Shutterstock/Oehlenschlager

What is your go-to rifle for deer hunting? What do you feel are the best deer hunting rifles? Let’s hear from you!

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