Get accurate big-game rifles without breaking the bank.
By Phil Massaro
Shopping for a big-game rifle—especially your first big game rifle—can be a daunting task. There are many different choices in action style, in stock material, in design and so forth. There are good, fanciful rifles that come with an incredibly large price tag and equally impressive pedigrees and appointments, and then there are those rifles that represent some of the best values on the market. Not all expensive rifles are great and not all inexpensive are good, but with a bit of research you will absolutely find some affordable rifles that will give a lifetime of performance.
I ask my big-game rifles to be accurate enough for any shooting situation I’d be comfortable in, rugged enough to follow me into the some of the most desolate places on earth. In short, I need a tool that is constantly dependable. Among those rifles meet that criteria, giving a great balance of affordability and reliability, these are five of my favorite choices.
Savage rifles have long represented one of the best values on the market and the company provides a number of options and features on its rifles that are well above their price point. Button-rifled barrels, the famous Savage floating bolt-head, thread-in headspacing and the user-adjustable Accu-Trigger are some of the features on this bolt-action hunting rifle. Having been to the Savage factory, I can tell you each and every barrel is also hand-straightened by qualified technicians, a most uncommon attention to detail.
With a detachable magazine and an ergonomic composite stock, the Axis II XP gets another boost in value with a factory-mounted and bore-sighted Bushnell Banner 3-9x40mm rifle scope, for a complete, ready-for-the-range-and-field package. It is offered in classic, useful cartridges like the .270 Winchester, .30-’06 Springfield, .308 Winchester and 7mm-08 Remington, as well as some of the newer, hipper cartridges like the 6.5 Creedmoor and .280 Ackley Improved. With the Savage Axis II XP, you get a whole lot of rifle without breaking the bank. (MSRP $495)
Mossberg has a hit with its Patriot rifle series, a diverse lineup with plenty of options. I like the simple and traditional Patriot Walnut model. With a matte-blued finish on the metal and a walnut stock, the Patriot Walnut gives the user a traditional big-game rifle for minimal investment. A handsome fluted barrel is nicely complemented with a recessed crown that helps maintain accuracy by avoiding dings and dents. A spiral-fluted bolt gives an attractive look. Mossberg’s Lightning Bolt Action trigger is user-adjustable from seven pounds down to two, and though the barrel is devoid of iron sights, Weaver bases are included. A detachable magazine allows for easy loading and unloading, and Mossberg offers both standard calibers like the .30-’06 Springfield, .308 Winchester and .25-’06 Remington, as well as magnum calibers like the popular 7mm Remington Magnum, .300 Winchester Magnum and even the powerful .338 Winchester Magnum for those who have a trip to Alaska in mind. (MSRP $559)
Winchester has been an iconic brand in the firearms industry for over 150 years, yet it continues to push the envelope of firearms design. The Winchester XPR boasts an excellent design, and the rifle is both wonderfully accurate and packed with desirable features. To name a few, there are the black polymer stock, detachable magazine, Winchester’s MOA trigger, a strong, three-lug bolt face, nickel Teflon-coated bolt, non-reflective matte blue metal finish and the Inflex Technology recoil pad total to provide excellent value. Winchester included some nice little features, too, like a textured area on the pistol grip and fore-end for a positive grip in any weather, as well as a red cocking indicator, letting the user know when the rifle is cocked. Drilled and tapped for scope mounts, the Winchester XPR is available in a wide selection of calibers, from the classic .30-’06, 7mm-08 and .308 to the 7mm Remington Magnum and .300 Winchester Magnum and the trio of .270, .300 and .325 Winchester Short Magnum cartridges.
All the XPRs I've shot have been very accurate—giving sub-MOA groupings—and have functioned flawlessly. And while Winchester’s famous Pre-’64 Model 70 had the well-deserved title of “The Rifleman’s Rifle,” the XPR will give a lifetime of service at a bit more than half the price of its predecessor. (MSRP $549.99)
The Howa 1500 push-feed action has garnered a reputation for rock-solid performance, and the Howa rifles centered around that action are renowned for their accuracy. Howa has offered the 1500 barreled action, set in the excellent Hogue Overmolded stock, at a very attractive price. The Hogue stock has a rigid fiberglass skeleton covered in a synthetic rubber, giving the weatherproof attributes of a synthetic stock but with a grip you’ll never let go of. The stock is quiet, rugged and mates up perfectly to the receiver.
With a H.A.C.T. two-stage trigger and a three-position safety, the Howa Hogue Rifle comes with a black or green stock and choice of blued or gray Cerakoted metalwork. The Howa Hogue rifle uses a fixed magazine and hinged floorplate, as well as a three-position safety located at the rear right of the receiver. Smooth cycling, the Howa Hogue is the type of rifle that is equally at home in the hands of a new hunter or a seasoned veteran. Offered in a wide selection of long and short-action chamberings from .223 Remington and 6.5 Creedmoor to .30-’06 Springfield, 7mm Remington Magnum and .300 Winchester Magnum. (MSRP $529-$539)
The Ruger name has always been synonymous with value, and the Ruger American adheres to that lineage, engineered from the ground up to be an affordable package that delivers the goods. Having probably taken more game animals with a Ruger rifle than all the others combined, it’s fair to say I’m a fan.
With the Ruger Marksman Adjustable trigger, a cold hammer-forged barrel and ergonomic synthetic stock, the Ruger American gives the hunter on a budget an awful lot to be happy about. Ruger’s patented Power Bedding properly seats the receiver in the stock while simultaneously free-floating the barrel, something that certainly enhances accuracy. No need to be a doubting Thomas about that, for Ruger offers a 1-MOA accuracy guarantee.
A detachable polymer magazine delivers cartridges to the one piece, three-lug bolt, which has a 70-degree bolt throw that permits lower mounting of a rifle scope and that results in more comfortable shooting. The rifle is of course drilled and tapped for a scope, there’s a two-position tang safety, and the Ruger American is topped with a 22-inch blued steel barrel—long enough for good velocity on the plains yet short enough for the evergreen thickets of the Northeast’s forests. Available in proven calibers like .243 Winchester, 7mm-08 Remington, .308 Winchester and .30-’06 Springfield. (MSRP $489)
Head to your favorite gun shop and pull one of these affordable rifles to your shoulder; I’d be willing to wager that you’ll be surprised by how good they feel. The savings can be spent on finding the wild corners of the world with your rifle.
About the Author: Philip Massaro is a freelance writer whose passions include big-game hunting and ballistics. He has appeared on numerous outdoor television programs and authored books on hunting and ballistics.