May 11th, 2017 by asjstaff

Despite the continuing impact of inflation, you can still find some excellent hunting rifles that won’t break the bank.

STORY AND PHOTOS BY MIKE DICKERSON 

Progress and the march of time can be very hard on the wallet, especially when it comes to hunting rifles. Consider, if you will, the classic Big Three of American hunting rifles. According to a 2004 gun-value reference in my collection, you could at that time buy a new Remington 700 BDL rifle for about $500, and the ADL model went for even less. A new Ruger Model 77 All-Weather rifle could also be found for less than $500, and the same could be said for a Winchester Model 70 Black Shadow.

In testing, the Mossberg Patriot in .25-06 Rem. produced sub-minute-of-angle best groups with five factory loads.

Today, the latest incarnations of these flagship models of American hunting rifles all have a suggested retail price of close to $1,000. In little more than a decade, these iconic American rifles have essentially doubled in price.

Not everyone can afford to lay out that kind of change for a hunting rifle. The Even fewer can afford semicustom or custom rifles, and if you have to ask the price of, say, a fine European double rifle, you may want to be sitting down when you hear the answer.

Of course, gun makers are well aware of this economic reality and have scrambled in recent years to produce more affordable guns for the masses. Many of these guns won’t win any beauty contests. Some may be described as downright ugly. Actions may be less than silky smooth, and stocks may bend in a stiff breeze. They’re often described rather euphemistically as “budget-friendly” or “entry-level” rifles. These are, of course, handy phrases when you’re trying to avoid using the word “cheap.”

Another look at Mossberg’s Patriot shows why it is one of the most feature-rich and aesthetically pleasing offerings among budget-priced hunting rifles.

Have the manufacturers cut corners on these guns? You bet they have, but they had to in order to make the guns less expensive to produce and offer them at what are, by today’s standards, crazy-cheap prices.
TODAY, VIRTUALLY EVERY MAJOR mass-manufacturer of hunting rifles has added an inexpensive rifle to their product lineup. While some have derisively called this a race to the bottom, I don’t exactly see it that way. Sure, I’m fond of guns that have richly figured walnut stocks, elegantly engraved receivers, and fit and finish reflective of old world craftsmanship, but those guns won’t smack deer into the freezer any more effectively than most of today’s more affordable rifles. Advances in manufacturing processes and materials now enable gun makers to offer inexpensive rifles that resist the elements, work reliably and shoot tight groups – and that’s all many buyers, especially first-time buyers, are looking for in a hunting rifle.

Browning’s affordable AB3 rifle offers features like a button-rifled barrel, Inflex recoil pad, tang safety and bolt unlock button. (BROWNING)

Here’s a quick roundup of some of the more popular inexpensive rifles currently on dealers’ shelves. Since there must, I suppose, be rules to the game, I’ll limit this discussion to rifles that you can buy at a real-world price of $500 or less.

Remington’s entry in the bargain hunting rifle category is the Model 783, which has a free-floated, button-rifled barrel and pillar bedding. (REMINGTON)

Consider, for example, the Thompson Center Venture rifle, with which I’ve had a fair amount of experience. These rifles feature a free-floated barrel with 5R rifling and pillar-bedded action. I used the Venture Compact model chambered in .308 Win. on a memorable Texas deer hunt, dropping two whitetail bucks and two does with four shots guns over two days of hunting. Several other outdoor writers did the same. I didn’t subject that rifle to accuracy testing, but I did test an identical gun chambered in .22-250 Rem. Five of six factory loads shot sub-minute-of-angle best groups, easily living up the rifle’s MOA accuracy guarantee. I was impressed enough that I bought a Venture Predator rifle, chambered in .204 Ruger, and it regularly shoots half-inch groups with its preferred load. That’s more than can be said of many more expensive rifles. You can find the Venture for less than $500, but if that’s too rich for your blood, you can look for the no-frills TC Compass rifle for less than $400.

The TC Venture is one of the author’s top choices in bargain-priced hunting rifles.

Another $500 rifle I’ve had some experience with is the Winchester XPR rifle. The one I tested, chambered in .30-06 Springfield, put six different factory loads into groups averaging 1.3 inches, but that’s only part of the story. It dropped a 165-grain Federal load with Nosler Ballistic Tip bullets into average groups of 0.58 inch and a best group of just 0.31 inch. This gun is quite similar to the Browning AB3 rifle. Both have decent triggers, a boltunlock button, 60-degree bolt lift and detachable box magazines. Both are offered in a variety of configurations and calibers, and if you shop around, you can find either one on sale for about $500.

One of the most aesthetically pleasing and feature-rich offerings among the bargain-priced rifles is the Mossberg Patriot. This rifle’s lines are very much in a classic configuration, and you can get it with stocks that are walnut, laminate, black synthetic or synthetic Kryptek Highlander camo. Standard features include drop-box magazines, fluted barrels with recessed crowns, a spiral-fluted bolt and adjustable trigger system. I tested one in .25-06 Rem., and five different factory loads turned in sub-MOA best groups. Surprisingly, I’ve seen the basic black synthetic model retail for less than $300.

 

The Winchester XPR rifle in .30-06 shot tight groups for the author using a Federal Premium 165-grain load with Nosler Ballistic Tip bullets.

ANOTHER POPULAR ENTRY in the value-priced category is the Ruger American Rifle. I haven’t tested one yet, but have just received the Predator model, chambered in – wonder of wonders – 6mm Creedmoor. I plan to give this one a thorough workout as soon as I can obtain enough ammo to put it through its paces. Available in several configurations, this rifle has an adjustable trigger, cold hammer-forged barrel and a tang safety. It utilizes an integral bedding block system to free-float the barrel and has a removable rotary magazine. The one-piece bolt has three locking lugs and a 70-degree throw to allow ample room for mounting scopes on the bases supplied with the rifle.

According to Big Green, also known as Remington, the bargain-priced Remington 783 is “not dressed to impress, it’s dressed for work.” With a MSRP of $399, the 783 has freefloated, button-rifled barrels mated to receivers that are pillar-bedded to a high-nylon-content synthetic stock. The rifle is equipped with an adjustable trigger and, notably, detachable steel magazines. The bolt has two locking lugs and a 90-degree lift.

The author reports that the Winchester XPR rifle has a decent trigger, 60-degree bolt lift and detachable box magazine.

The main thing going for the Savage Axis rifle is the fact that it is, well, a Savage. That usually means you can expect good out-of-the-box accuracy. With an MSRP of around $368 and a real-world price of around $330 for the basic model with a black synthetic stock, you’ll get a rifle that uses the classic Savage locknut approach to set headspace set to minimum. This has always driven some purists mildly nuts, but it significantly contributes to the accuracy Savage rifles are known for. Barrels on the Axis are button-rifled. The two locking-lug bolt is unusual in that it uses a floating bolt head design, which theoretically also contributes to accuracy. Detachable box magazines are part metal, part plastic, with metal feed lips. Triggers on the Axis models I’ve seen aren’t overly impressive, but at a cost of about $450, you can step up to the Axis II rifle and get the Savage Accutrigger and a Weaver Kaspa 3-9×40 scope.

The Ruger American Rifle has quickly become one of the most popular of the economy hunting rifles. (RUGER)

Savage rifles, including the budget-friendly Axis and Axis II (shown) models, are known for their outof-the-box accuracy. (SAVAGE)

These rifles and others like them may not be your firearms cup of tea, but taken as a group, they fill an important gap in the marketplace. They give people who might not
otherwise be able to afford a decent rifle an affordable entry point into hunting. If we’re going to preserve our cherished hunting traditions in this country, we’re going to need their participation – and their votes – in the years ahead. That’s worth thinking about the next time you bypass the bargain-rifle section of your local gun store. ASJ

The author used a Thompson Center Venture Compact rifle to take two whitetail bucks and two does with four shots over a two-day hunt in Texas.

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