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An Introduction to the Best Hunting Rifles

Choosing a hunting rifle shouldn’t be all that difficult, but with so many choices and so many calibers, it can seem a daunting challenge. Of the hundreds and thousands of guns produced over the years in the hunting rifle category, perhaps ten spring to mind as candidates for the perfect hunting weapon. Part one of this article will highlight five of the best hunting rifles available. Part two of this article will highlight five more of these excellent hunting weapons. Also, look for in-depth reviews on each of the weapons highlighted in coming articles.

The act of hunting is about as deeply personal as an event can be; it goes without saying that a hunter’s bond with their gun likely extends far beyond simply a tool with which they gather food. It’s not uncommon to see the family’s rifle treated with the utmost of respect, even receiving more care than the kids at times. When a hunter has to trust their life and the sustenance of their family to their hunting weapon, it leads to an extraordinary friendship between man (or woman) and their gun.

Modern hunters tend to have whole arsenals of guns for hunting, and just about every animal has a perfect caliber with which they can be dispatched easily and which does not overdo it. There are several different types of actions, some favoring certain styles of hunting more than others. We will cover all different action types and pick ten different calibers, each focusing on hunting a specific animal.

Action Types

In this article we’re introducing three bolt-action weapons, one falling-block weapon, and one lever-action repeating rifle. A brief explanation of each of the actions is probably in order.

The bolt action: The bolt action is an action manually actuated (loading and removing the cartridges) by the hunter. Most often an internal magazine holds two to five cartridges in a position to feed directly – tension from the magazine pushes a cartridge up so that it is held in place in the magazine. From an open bolt position (meaning the bolt is not locked and is fully moved to its rearward position), the carrier notch on the breech face of the bolt comes in contact with the rim of the cartridge, and the forward motion feeds the cartridge into the chamber as the bolt is rotated and locked into place in its forward position. The extractor seats itself on the interior lip of the cartridge. After the round is fired, the bolt is then manually drawn back again to its open position, this time still clutching the fired round in its extractor as it moves back into its full open position. An ejector is positioned opposite the extractor to push on another part of the cartridge rim, pushing the cartridge towards the outside of the gun.

The falling block: The falling-block action, one of the oldest actions in existence, also uses an all-manual action. A small lever is pulled down from the trigger housing area, which releases a breechblock that acts as the breech face holding a cartridge in place when one is loaded in the chamber. The user then facilitates the action by loading a cartridge into the open chamber manually, then repositioning the small lever back into its place around the trigger area. This forces the breechblock to lock the cartridge into the chamber and readies the gun for action. An extraction/ejection process occurs upon re-releasing the small lever around the trigger. In the oldest models the cartridge had to be removed manually, though in most modern falling-block actions the cartridge is automatically displaced as a result of mechanical parts.

The lever action: The lever action, while possibly not the first repeater (it’s debatable between the lever action and the Colt revolving action), is certainly the long-standing favorite, the more accurate, and the more durable of the repeating-action rifles. Popularized in the old West as the fast-shooting and accurate rifle with myriad purposes, the lever-action repeating rifle has been around in the mainstream since at least the early 1890s. The action uses a series of mechanical connections to perform several steps to a loading and reloading process in one fluid motion. After cartridges are loaded into the rifle magazine (usually a round tube magazine underneath the barrel) the lever is swung forward from its resting position into an open position roughly 65° from the bore line. As the lever is pulled down, a cartridge is removed in the process and placed onto “fingers” within the action that will eventually lift the cartridge into the barrel ramp. At the exact same time, a bolt and carrier are moved towards the rear of the gun, opening up space for the cartridge to be loaded into the breach. As the lever is closed into its normal resting position, the cartridge is manipulated up into the ramp area of the chamber while simultaneously the carrier and bolt push its rim on the bolt’s front breech face into the chamber. A final seating of the round is achieved by securing the lever into its full quarter lock position. The gun is now ready to fire.

Now that we have discussed the three types of actions that will be featured today, it’s time to introduce the guns. Each of these weapons is an excellent choice, provides a proven value, and is specifically suited for a particular cartridge and a particular animal.

The first five guns:

  • the Remington 700
  • the Browning A-bolt
  • the Winchester 70
  • the Ruger falling block
  • the Marlin lever action big bore

*Important note: undoubtedly each gun connoisseur will have their own thoughts either supporting or disagreeing with the author’s. The goal isn’t to spark a debate, but rather to showcase an excellent weapon and an excellent cartridge so that a hunter can determine if those guns or those cartridges make sense in their personal plans. The purpose of the article set is not to highlight strengths or weaknesses or compare the guns relative to each other. Certainly each of these manufacturers makes many different types of weapons; each perhaps makes an excellent contender in each different style listed here. The goal is to highlight the popular weapons of our time used for hunting. Also remember that this is simply an introduction to these weapons; in-depth reviews will come in the following weeks.

The Remington 700

The Remington 700 has been continuously made since 1962 and remains largely unchanged. It is a bolt-action rifle with a three-to-five-round detachable or fixed box magazine. It is currently made in calibers between and including .17 Remington and .458 Winchester Magnum.

The Browning A-Bolt

A rifle made continuously since 1984, it uses a non-rotating bolt design and holds three to five rounds in a magazine that is either detachable or fixed. It is made in all mainstream calibers and several specialty calibers.

The Winchester 70

The Winchester 70 has been produced almost continually since 1936, with only a few years not producing a model. It also uses a three-to-five-round magazine with detachable or fixed boxes and is made in a wide variety of mainstream and fringe/specialty cartridges.

The Ruger Falling Block

Introduced in the 1960s, this single-shot rifle is made in a wide variety of calibers, with an aim at long-range hunting accuracy.

The Marlin Lever-Action Repeating Rifle

Introduced as a redesign in 1936, the model 336 (one of several lever actions available in the brand) retains many of its classic design cues and is one of the more popular lever actions of all time. It is chambered in substantial rounds such as .30-30 Winchester and .35 Remington, as well as .44 Magnum and .357 Magnum (for non-336 lever-action variants), and it features a tube magazine.

These rifles are all popular styles or specific versions of weapons; they are all capable designs, workhorse hunting companions, and well made and finished. In the following articles, we will discuss a specific hunting rifle design, a specific caliber, and an animal it is well suited to. Remember, it’s not a hard and fast definitive list; rather, it is a good look at a variety of hunting oriented topics that fit well together. In the end, the rifle, caliber, and animal you hunt are always going to be a personal choice or dictated by an uncontrollable set of variables. A list like this will only really serve as a good introduction to the different attributes of the content. Check back over the next few weeks as we dive into the specifics of each of these great rifles. Enjoy!

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