There is nothing in the firearm world quite as personal as the deer rifle. There are almost more calibers, makes, models and optics than you can count.
From Grandpa’s model 94 that has seen faithful use for decades in the Appalachians or Maine North Woods, to the Ruger 77 Hawkeye carried by the black tail hunter on Alaska’s Seward Peninsula. From the classic Remington 700, to Savage’s model 11. This article is about what are, in my humble opinion, the best deer rifles you can own or purchase right now. But like the deer rifle that every hunter owns, every hunter has an opinion.
1. Remington 700: With more than 8 million in circulation, to say the 700 is prolific is a bit of an understatement. The rifle is accurate, very accurate. In fact, the 700 action is used by the US military as the base for most of their sniper rifle platforms. Personally, I like the 700 chambered in either .308 or 270 for deer. But I won’t thumb my nose at a 700 chambered in the venerable .30-06. The rifle comes in several trims and options, with my choice being the BDL for stouter cartridges, while the CDL is much lighter and does fine with smaller chamberings.
2. Savage Model 11: I like the model 11. And what’s not to like? Cheaper than the 700, and just as accurate. The Savage AccuTrigger contributes much to the rifle’s accuracy. In fact, just about every other hunting rifle manufacturer has copied the trigger, and many rifles today feature a similar trigger group. The Savage 11 has been one of my favorites for the past few years. With a synthetic stock and a good optic, this is a platform that is unbeatable. I use a Model 11 in .243 for white tails as well as coyote.
3. Ruger 77: The 77 is one of the most solid rifles available to big game hunters. This is another accurate, reliable and stout rifle. The 77 has a bit more craftsmanship and a higher build quality than most Remington 700s and the Savage 11. The 77 has a higher price tag than many other guns, but it is worth the cost. There is nothing as sweet as a .308 chambered 77 topped off with a Leupold optic; such a rifle will put any deer species in the freezer, from white tail to elk.
4. Marlin 336: The 336 is the second-most common lever gun, after the Winchester 94. Chambered in either .30-30 or .35 Remington, the 336 is seen slung over the shoulders of hunters, from the Pacific Northwest to the pine plantations of Georgia and Alabama. The 336 has solid action, and with its side ejection, allows for the mounting of a scope on top. In 2008, Remington bought out Marlin, and the quality of the 336 went downhill until around 2013, when it started to improve again. If you are going to buy a used 336, buy one that was built before 2008.
5. Winchester 94: The iconic lever action from Winchester has been around since, you guessed it, 1894. Like the 336, the model 94 is mostly found chambered in the .30-30 cartridge. All pre-1982 model 94s are top ejection, making the mounting of a side-mounted scope one of your only options. From 1982 onward it was built in a way that allows users to mount a scope on top of the rifle.
Overall I like both the 94 and 336, with perhaps an edge toward the 336 in .30-30 because of its receiver and the prevalence of .30-30.
Semi-Autos and Pump Rifles
I only included two in this section. Both models are from Remington, and both are great firearms.
6. Remington 7400 and 750: Two slightly different models, with the 7400 being produced from the early 1980s until 2006, and the 750 being produced thereafter. The 7400/750 are great rifles for hunters who need to have second shot available fast. You can mount an optic, but the rifle does fine without, especially for shots out to 200 yards.
7. Remington 7600/760: The legendary Larry Benoit and his sons took large trophy bucks mainly using pump action Remington rifles. The 7600/760 provide a reliable repeating rifle, built on a solid platform. These rifles are ideal for the still hunter tracking and stalking bucks over rough terrain. More reliable than a semi-auto, and much faster than a bolt action, this is a great rifle platform.
For a pump or semi-auto, I like a .270 or a .30-06 chambering.
That’s my list. What would you add or delete? Share your suggestions in the section below: