Every year, more than 10 million Americans head into the woods, fields, mountains, and swamps to hunt wild game. While hunting looks different depending on your location and the game you’re pursuing, one of the best hunting rifles on the market will help increase your odds of putting meat on the family dinner table or taking that trophy buck you’ve been ogling on trail cams for the past three years — or both.
Modern hunters are lucky enough to have thousands of rifles in a seemingly endless number of calibers, cartridges, and models, but they aren’t all created equal.
Every gun on this list has earned legendary hunting status, but they didn’t get those reputations overnight. Most of these rifles have won them from successful hunt after successful hunt, season after season, sometimes spanning generations.
Whether you’re after whitetails, hogs, or Western big game, there’s definitely something on this list to help you put meat in the freezer and maybe even keep your local taxidermist in business.
Here are just a handful of what we consider to be the best hunting rifles you can buy today.
No One-Size-Fits-All Hunting Rifle
American hunters are diverse critters, and hunting certainly isn’t a one-size-fits-all pursuit. Some hunters hike far off-grid to peg Western big game, sometimes across acres of open country. Others hunt thick hardwoods, jumping giant whitetails out of heavily brambled beds. Some love a spot-and-stalk approach, while others prefer to drive a four-wheeler to a box blind for an all-day sit.
With so much diversity, crowning a single rifle king of them all is impossible.
The perfect rifle for pegging a wall-hanger buck in the thick swamps of Mississippi will fall short at dropping long-range speed goats across the open Badlands.
If you’re hunting in thick cover, you may need to make quick, on-the-fly shots. A carbine allows more maneuverability. Traditional lever action rifles are most at home in dense woods and make terrific “brush guns.”
If most of your shots stretch across open farmland or flat prairie grass, you’ll want to swap out your carbine for a long-barreled, flat-shooting rifle topped with a high-power optic to help you make those tough, long-distance shots.
And if you’re after something big and burly or might bump a bear on your hunt, you’ll want a rifle that can send a heavyweight projectile with enough oomph to stop large and dangerous game dead in their tracks.
Keeping It Legal
Before you set your heart on any hunting rifle, no matter how sick it looks on the showroom floor, check your local hunting regulations. Many states (and some areas within those states) heavily restrict the types of firearms and cartridges you can use to hunt certain animals.
Some states have strict minimum caliber requirements for big game. Others only allow deer hunting with straight-walled cartridges (such as the .350 Legend).
Some areas don’t allow centerfire rifles for hunting at all. To ensure you’re following all the rules and will evade the wrath of the local game warden, read through recent hunting regulations for the area you intend to hunt before you lace up your hunting boots.
Best Hunting Rifles Still On the Market
While this definitely isn’t an exhaustive list, we’ve included a little something for everyone, no matter what your hunting style looks like.
Although lever action rifles, such as the legendary Winchester Model 1894, are likely to conjure up images of Wild West cowboys, they are also fabulous hunting rifles. The Winchester 94 has an imposing hunting résumé.
Some sources claim this lever action hero has put more meat on family tables than any other gun in history. Since there weren’t a lot of fact-checkers keeping tabs on deer numbers before the 20th century, it’s impossible to know whether or not this is fake news. But having shot my fair share of whitetails with a hand-me-down 94, I’d say there’s plenty of veracity to the claim.
The Winchester 94 was the first rifle chambered for the renowned .30-30 cartridge, a pretty stellar cartridge for deer-size game at close- to medium-range. These bad boys are also super-lightweight, highly maneuverable, fast, and easy to shoot, even offhand. It is the closest thing to perfect you’ll get when it comes to a good brush gun.
Winchester stopped rolling these classics off the assembly line in 2006. But after many broken hearts and probably tons of hate mail, the company finally came to its senses.
In 2011, Winchester once again started producing these epic firearms, and today, hunters can get a factory-fresh 94 in .30-30, .25-35, .32 Win Special, and .450 Marlin.
Although Winchester 94 shooters were once limited to blunt-nose soft points, thanks to the rifle’s tubular magazine, Hornady’s LEVERevolution has helped bring lever action ballistics into the modern age.
Although Winchester beat Marlin to the lever action punch by quite a few years, Marlin made some significant improvements on an already ultra-reliable design. Marlin’s Model 1889 was the first to have a flat-top, side-eject receiver, which made it a whole helluva lot easier to mount a modern scope. It also prevents dirt and debris from clogging up the innards of your rifle.
Marlin first introduced the Model 336 in 1948, which became an instant favorite for deer hunters across the country. Like the Winchester 94, the Marlin 336 is super-reliable, lightweight, easy to swing, affordable, and downright accurate.
Plus, it’s all the rage to modernize and tactify these classic lever guns. Thanks to companies such as Mad Pig Customs, Midwest Industries, and Chisel Machining, there are about as many accessories for the Marlin 336 as there are for Barbie dolls.
Marlin rifles earned a bit of a bad rap after Remington took over the company in 2007. Under the Remington umbrella, quality eroded before production finally shut down after “Big Green” went bankrupt in 2018.
“A lot of the corporate culture that Remington brought to the [Marlin] brand stifled development and originality in the name of efficiency,” Steve Tyliszczak, owner of Mad Pig Customs, told Free Range American.
Fortunately, Ruger acquired the brand in 2020, and the company has been slowly reintroducing Marlins’ classic rifles, with major approval from Marlin fans everywhere.
“One of my favorite things about the new Ruger Marlins is that they are continuing to make improvements on already proven designs, and most of them are inside stuff you’re never going to see,” Tyliszczak said. “The new parts are just so much better than what they were making even last year. They’ve made little design tweaks here and there. They’re not just resting on their laurels, and that’s really awesome to see.”
Marlin reintroduced the 336 in March 2023, and it has everything that made us fall in love with the original, but with more reliability built in. Right now, it’s only available in .30-30 Winchester, but rumors are circulating that we might see the Model 336 in more powerful big game cartridges in the near future.
The Savage 110 is the U.S.’s oldest continuously manufactured bolt-action. Its design is still basically the same as when it first hit the market in 1963. Because, as Grandpa used to say, “If it ain’t broke, there’s no need to fix it.”
Although the action is still pretty much the same as it was on Grandpa’s old Savage 110, there is one improvement modern hunters should be doing backflips over — the adjustable AccuTrigger. Added to the design in 2003, this refreshingly good trigger allows shooters to quickly and easily adjust pull weight from 1 1/2 pounds to 6 pounds. On top of that sweet adjustability, Savage’s two-stage trigger is also crisp, clean, and breaks like a glass rod.
The Savage 110 won serious popularity with hunters not only because it is crazy accurate, but because it is also insanely affordable. Just don’t be fooled by the cost of this workhorse-of-a-rifle. Even though it’s pretty cheap in the price tag department, it is one of the best-quality factory-built hunting rifles still in production.
Savage has a ton of specialized Model 100s for everything from varmints to big game hunting, with variations chambered in pretty much everything from .223 to .450 Bushmaster.
Dubbed the “Rifleman’s Rifle,” the Winchester Model 70 debuted in 1936, and has since become one of the most iconic hunting rifles of all time. Sure, there was a brief stint in Winchester’s history during which quality was compromised for profit, which is why you’ll hear old-timers speak wistfully of “pre-64” Model 70s.
Thankfully, Winchester came to its senses and turned things around. Changes had a lot to do with the company being bought out by the Herstal Group and its FN factories. And while we can lament Winchester production being sent overseas, FN knows its shit when it comes to firearms manufacturing.
Modern Model 70s, made in the U.S. but assembled in Portugal, will shoot circles around anything produced between 1964 and 1989. They come in various colors and calibers, from traditional walnut stocks, blued barrels, and a trad .243 chambering to lightweight synthetic stocks, Cerakote camo finishes, and modern 6.5 PRC chambering.
German Mauser rifles devastated Allied troops in both World Wars and continue to devastate North American game animals.
Although Mauser didn’t invent the bolt action rifle, the company did improve on the earliest designs. Mauser’s original bolt guns were super-heavy, which helped them stand up to rough use in battle. It also helped absorb recoil and allowed soldiers to shoot more accurately.
The cost of the Mauser 18 may be slightly higher than competing models, but German engineering has never been cheap. Introduced in 2018, the Mauser 18 is the company’s “economy class” bolt action. The company has somehow managed to maintain its penchant for accuracy in a lighter, sportier format.
Factory-fresh Mauser 18s are available chambered for all the most popular hunting cartridges, including .243 Win, .270 Win, 6.5 Creedmoor, .308 Win, .30-06 Springfield, and 7mm Rem Mag.
Founded in 1945, Weatherby has long been a favorite brand of big game hunters. Always on the cutting edge of firearms design, Weatherby pushed the envelope by developing some of the earliest high-velocity cartridges. The company was also one of the first to pop lightweight polymer stocks on their rifles, a dream come true for backcountry hunters.
The Mark V is probably the company’s best. It was their first bolt-action, engineered to handle the high-velocity cartridges that made the Weatherby name famous.
This bolt action beast boasts sub-MOA shot groups straight out of the box. The Mark V lineup comes in a multitude of standard and magnum configurations, and every single one comes with a match-grade trigger, a standard Monte Carlo synthetic stock, and a rock-solid action.
These are competition-grade rifles — only they’re built to withstand the rough demands of rugged, backcountry hunts.
The Mark V Backcountry Carbon 2.0 is definitely worth serious consideration if your hunting adventures take you miles from the nearest blacktop. It features a tough titanium action, the lightest carbon-fiber stock on the market, and a tensioned carbon-fiber barrel. This thing has a meager 5.3 starting weight, but its low mass doesn’t compromise the gun’s accuracy. Weatherby backs this one with a sub-MOA guarantee, even from a cold barrel.
With an MSRP that stretches beyond the $3,000 mark for some models, this is by no means a cheap rifle. But this level of accuracy, reliability, and performance comes with a price tag — and in this case, it’s worth every penny.
The Ruger American is an all-American firearm from an all-American company. Ruger rolls out more firearms each year than any other company in the United States, and while quantity rarely means quality, in this case, it totally does. For years, Ruger’s slogan was “rugged and reliable,” which may be a hunting rifle’s two most essential qualities.
Ruger firearms also have a reputation for having an affordable price point, but they aren’t the bad kind of “cheap.” Ruger uses innovative manufacturing methods to keep costs down, but that doesn’t mean they are sacrificing performance. The American is insanely good at putting meat on the table.
The key to the American’s performance and accuracy is the three-lug bolt and V-block bedding. Available in several different configurations and chambered in everything from .223 to .450 Bushmaster, an American can drop any game animal in North America and beyond.
The Browning BAR (which stands for Browning Automatic Rifle — gun-naming dudes aren’t exactly known for their creative naming skills) busted onto the gun scene in 1967. Although it bears the Browning name, this one wasn’t designed by the legendary John Moses Browning but by a fourth-generation Browning, Bruce Warren.
Although hunters often shirk semi-automatic rifles because they have a reputation for being heavy, unreliable, and less accurate than bolt-actions, the BAR MK III doesn’t fit the stereotype.
The MK III builds on the successful and popular original BAR design, which set the bar for semi-automatic hunting rifles. It has a sleek but traditional look that will turn heads at the skinning shed.
It is available in chamberings of popular whitetail cartridges from .243 Win to .300 Win Mag, and in a variety of configurations and barrel lengths. It’s also practically priced for the working man, with an MSRP starting at around $1,400.
Browning also makes a fantastic lever gun, which is perfect for lever action aficionados like me. One of the best short- to medium-range hunting rifles known to man, the BLR’s heavy-duty rack-and-pinion design is rumored to run smoother than a Winchester 94. This lever rifle is also easy to scope and has a detachable box magazine, which is not only faster to load than the traditional tube but also lets you safely run modern ballistic tip ammo.
Engineered by gun-designing rock star Eugene Stoner, the Armalite AR-10 is the AR-15’s less-popular but harder-hitting big brother. If you love the AR-15 (and who doesn’t?), you will love this one even more. It’s just as easy to customize and accessorize, only this one shoots .308 Winchester from a detachable box magazine, which certainly has enough power to drop monster bucks, massive hogs, and even bull moose with good shot placement.
The AR-10 is well-balanced, fast-shooting, reliable, durable, and just plain fun to shoot. It also has a tacti-cool look you can’t get from a walnut-stocked bolt action.
Loaded with features ideal for both hunters and long-range shooters, the SIG Cross is a modern, skeletonized, tactical dream. Introduced in 2020, this modular bolt action is a relative newcomer to the hunting scene, and while it hasn’t had enough time to earn the legendary status some of the other rifles on this list enjoy, it is well on its way to earning its own epochal glory.
This gun is light and compact, and is built on an aluminum action with an AR-style interchangeable barrel. The folding stock minimizes the rifle’s footprint, so it can easily fit inside a pack if you need to hoof all your gear miles from the truck. It also comes with a threaded barrel, so you can easily add a standard suppressor.