Best Hunting Rifle Under $400: A Hands-On Test

We reviewed the Thompson Center Compass, Ruger American, Savage Axis, Remington 783, and Mossberg Patriot to see what the best inexpensive hunting rifle is.

We spent hundreds of dollars to buy all of the guns listed above, we went out to the desert and tested them for a hundred hours to be able to give you an unbiased review. After shooting hundreds of rounds and doing in-depth testing for over 100 hours, this is our order of which is the best and worst gun at this price point.

Keep scrolling to see how you can get the best bang for your buck. Learn more about how we decided to review these guns, how they each tested against each other when shot at 100 yards, and also which guns are just more aesthetically pleasing than the others.

5. Mossberg Patriot

Working from worst to best, our list starts with the Mossberg Patriot.

After pulling it out of the box, it seemed like it was going to be our number one pick. So, it truly makes me sad that this gun isn’t our favorite, as it is gorgeous.

We purchased the wood stock, which is actually quite useful on this gun. It does also come in a synthetic version, though, if that is the look you prefer. It even features a nice recoil padding that actually does something and the spiral fluting on the bolt is just gorgeous.

Aesthetically speaking, it’s a very nice gun, but it’s also just very well built and solid all around.

The magazine especially works very well on this particular gun, which is not guaranteed with a lot of rifles out there. While the magazine is plastic, it’s a dream to pop in and out with ease.

That being said, our experience shooting, and then reviewing how accurately it shot, we found that the median group was 4.785″ at 100 yards. This was after trying, really trying everything, including changing the cheap scope out for a better one, torquing everything down to the perfect torque rating, trying a different rail, and cleaning it until I got a white patch.

While we did watch several other reviews of this same gun on other channels and found them to review it as shooting perfectly, we just can’t recommend it the same way they did. It simply just did not shoot accurately for us and accuracy is everything.

While we do blame it on just being this particular copy, we can’t endorse this gun, as there isn’t a refund policy for crappy copies of guns at your local Cabela’s or Bass Pro Shop.

Because of just how horribly this gun performed, we have to place it as last on this list, despite the fact it is a very aesthetically pleasing rifle, and the magazine was a dream to use. Seeing as we can’t fix it or sell it to anyone with good conscience, we deem this exact gun to pretty much be a waste of $350.

Such a bummer.

4. Thompson Center Compass

The TC Compass is overall not a bad gun. There are some weird things on it that you need to watch out for, though. That includes an annoying bolt release, which you have to hold halfway down to get it out. The safety is a little funky, too, though that is sometimes preferred by some people when it comes to being extra careful.

The recoil pad was also just too firm making it inefficient. But to be fair, this is something that most of the guns on this list had wrong with them. And overall, the stock is just, simply put, really cheesy,

That being said, the model we bought was only $250 as it didn’t come with a scope. That was actually to our benefit, as we then had the option (and the resources) to go buy a better scope than would have come with it.

While adjustable (though a bit of a pain,) the out-of-the-box trigger pull was a little crazy, compared to the other guns on this list:

Box Trigger Pulls

  • 2.5lbs – Mossberg Patriot
  • 4lbs – Remington 783
  • 4lbs – Savage Axis
  • 4.5lbs – Ruger American
  • 5.5lbs – TC Compass

Our median of the three best group shots was 1.3485″ making a pretty solid gun to shoot with in terms of accuracy at 100 yards.

That being said, the magazine was our least favorite. It was extremely easy to not be able to put it in all the way, and we had a lot of difficulty with it in our test run, which is never fun.

Overall, the TC Compass came in fourth for quite a few very good reasons. The trigger pull was the worst on this list, the shooting accuracy wasn’t the best, by far, and the bolt and safety were simply just annoying to use.

Remington Model 783

Out of the box, we really wanted to hate this gun. For a composite stock, it feels like a cheap plastic bb gun stock. They even used plastic sling studs AND the recoil pad… it is so cheaply made and way too firm to provide any kind of relief.

It’s not my first choice, but I’m overall happy with it and it works well enough.

We also want to point out that the bolt is difficult to use and catches pretty easily. It was so bad, in fact, we couldn’t get the bolt out when using our Winchester ammo.

The Remington 783 did come scoped, but the eye relief was only about 1″ away from our foreheads. 2 3/4″ was the average amount of eye relief on the other scopes, so we were hesitant to shoot this gun with this scope. So, our recommendation for anyone wanting to buy this gun is to buy it, but don’t use the scope that comes with it (or just buy one without it.)

While there are quite a few negatives about the body of this gun, we have to say that this gun is actually a really solid shooter. The trigger was one of my personal favorites and the crossfire trigger is excellent for this price point.

Median Size of Best Groups @ 100 Yards

Remington 7831.243″
Thompson Center Compass1.3485″
Mossberg Patriot4.785″

While a pretty good gun, the build quality is just sub-par. While the Remington 783 would not be our first choice, we weren’t disappointed with its shooting capabilities, which is why we chose to put in third.

Just remember to not buy the scope. It’ll save you money and you probably won’t use it even if you have it.

Savage Axis

To put it simply, the Savage Axis is a very solid, unremarkable gun. The build quality is fine (better than others but at the same time, not the best.)

The trigger doesn’t come with the Accu-trigger, which really hurts it at this price point. But the safety is solid and easy to use. There is a tight spot on the bolt, but it feels deliberate. The recoil pad was a point of discussion, as it gave a sharper push because of how much thinner it was compared to the other pads. While we prefer as much padding as possible to help cushion the blow, the top 25% of the pad wasn’t available, as they opted for a more geometric look.

When it came to testing this gun out, it did shoot relatively well, and handled like a dream.

Median Size of Best Groups @ 100 Yards

Savage Axis1.035″
Remington 7831.243″
TC Compass1.3485″
Mossberg Patriot4.785″

Overall, the Savage Axis is a solid choice. Personally, I purchased this gun for one of my sons, and I don’t regret that purchase, as it’s a really solid choice for a rifle under $400.

Ruger American

Our number one pick for hunting rifles under $350 is the Ruger American.

While pretty unremarkable at first glance, the stock is extremely nice and solid. The magazine goes in great, the bolt is pretty easy to use, and the safety makes sense. A great addition to this safety was that the F for fire was painted red, so it added a little visualization which is always an added benefit when it comes to safety.

The Median Size of Best Groups @ 100 Yards

Ruger American0.8995″
Savage Axis1.035″
Remington 7831.243″
TC Compass1.3485″
Mossberg Patriot4.785″

Overall, we were really confident that this gun was going to perform, and perform well, every time without any problems. That was really impressive coming from such an affordable gun,

Overall Review

The tests made with these guns were made by humans, so the basic human error should be accounted for.

We did try our absolute best to get as good of a reading of each gun as possible though. To accomplish that, we tried different loads, we tried using different ammo, we tried out different scopes, and we adjusted certain things in an attempt to reduce the number of factors that would give an undue advantage to one or more of the guns.

With each gun, after taking it out of the box we bore-sighted them and then we shot through to get them sighted in. We put, pretty much, an entire box of ammo through each one, took them back home to clean them out, and only then did we take them out for the accuracy test. Both Ricky and I shot multiple groups with two different types of ammo. That is where the numbers listed in this review come from.

So while there is human error that needs to be accounted for, which is a certainty when even just using a gun in everyday life, we really did take our time to reduce the chances of our being mistaken about the accuracy of each gun.

Here again we have the trigger pulls:

Mossberg Patriot2.5lbs
Remington 7834lbs
Savage Axis4lbs
Ruger American4.5lbs
TC Compass5.5lbs

That being said, we can’t endorse that you make your decision and spend your hard-earned money based on one copy test of each of these guns. Copies can vary greatly, as proven by our experience with the Mossberg Patriot, which seems to be extremely different than copies other people have reviewed.

But this article, and our YouTube video, is a fantastic way of educating yourself on the basics of each rifle, and how experienced gun owners feel about the different aspects of each machine. For example, with the TC Compass, it won’t matter just how good the barrel and the crown are, if you have a 5.5lbs trigger, you’re probably not going to be able to shoot it that well.

We hope this helps you narrow down your choices and get the best bang for your money here.

Watch This Article On YouTube

If you want to see our test shots, see what each of the guns looks like, and watch me refuse to get scoped by the Remington 783 click on the YouTube video below!