It can be tough to watch all the individual reviews of rifles that I do on Youtube and get a sense for where each rifle stacks up on the “Jim Scale”, so in this post, I’ll give it to you straight. After reviewing and owning over 40 bolt-action hunting rifles, here are are the best of the best.
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If a close friend asked me what hunting rifle to buy at each price point, these would be my recommendations:
- Under $500 – CVA Cascade Blued. It has a nice Bergara barrel on it so you can expect excellent accuracy, it feeds reliably, and is built solidly for the price point.
- Under $600 – CVA Cascade CRKT. This is the same rifle as the CVA Cascade recommended for under $500, but this version has a Cerakoted action and barrel for more durability in the elements, and comes in a nice camo pattern. It’s a worthwhile upgrade.
- Around $850 – Bergara B14 Ridge is exceptional with a great barrel and action, paired with a very rigid stock. The only drawback is it’s a little hefty for mountain hunts. The Tikka T3x is lighter, but doesn’t have a threaded muzzle, which is a travesty at this price point.
- Under $1,000 – Howa Carbon Stalker is a very lightweight rifle due to its carbon fiber stock, which is impressive for this price point. It comes with the same barreled action as the Weatherby Vanguard.
- Under $1,600 – If you’re looking for a rifle chambered in a short action, I’d get a Springfield 2020 Waypoint with a steel barrel or the Sig Cross. If you want more cartridge options, hold out a few months for the Bergara B14 Squared Crest to start hitting stores (probably around March 2023).
- Around $2,300 – Fierce Rogue. I think it just barely edges out the carbon-barreled version of the 2020 Waypoint.
If you don’t want to read this entire post, jump to the section for rifles in your budget.
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You have my general answer, but below I’ll provide more detail and reasoning for those selections, as well as some rifles not to pick.
Hunting Rifles Under $500: Be Careful to Avoid the Junk!
I have purchased about 12 different rifles in the sub-$500 price point over the last 3 years to test out for this review. In this price range, manufacturers use very loose tolerances and have very poor quality control, so I’m careful what I recommend.
Let’s weed out a few rifles I DON’T recommend first.
- Don’t get a Mossberg Patriot. I own two and the accuracy is embarrassingly bad on both. I showed this on my Youtube channel.
- Don’t get a Savage Axis II. My friend took one on a hunt. The barrel was COVERED in rust after one night of rain, and the included scope filled up with water immediately and ruined his hunt. The bluing they do on their metal is simply not sufficient for durability.
- Don’t get a Remington 783. I bought one that was horrific. Tolerances on the action were the worst I’ve ever seen, accuracy was bad, and build quality was awful. Rem Arms has now taken over the Remington brand, and I’ll wait a year or so before I dare try a Remington again.
- Don’t get a Thompson Center Compass if you still see one on a store shelf. Terrible all around.
So, if those ones should be avoided, what rifles SHOULD hunters consider? In my mind, there are only two good options in the sub-$500 price point: (1) The CVA Cascade, and (2) The Ruger American and preferably the Predator version.
The CVA Cascade is an exceptional rifle for the price. It uses the same barrel as the more expensive Bergara B14 rifles, because they are both owned by the same parent company and come out of the same factories in Spain.
The reason I like the CVA Cascade over the Ruger American is because it has a much more rigid stock, a better action, and it still comes with a quality barrel.
The sub-$500 version of the CVA Cascade comes with just blued steel. It’s decent, but if you can possibly squeeze another $100 into your budget to get a version with Cerakote, get the CRKT version as it’ll be more durable in the woods.
The Ruger American
Ruger Americans are fantastic. I’ve never shot one that couldn’t achieve a 1″ group at 100 yards. My personal Ruger American shoots 0.8″ groups consistently.
However, Ruger American rifles are not perfect. In fact, I did a whole video showing the limitations of the Ruger American.
The reason I put the CVA Cascade above the Ruger American is: (1) It has a better action with more reliable feeding, (2) Its stock is more rigid, (3) It doesn’t have a super loud safety like the Ruger American, which I found to be tricky to hunt with.
If you’re going to buy a Ruger American, know there are dozens of different configurations available. If you just go in the store, they almost never seem to have any good chambering options. So I’d recommend just paying for it online. Then you can go pick up in your local store in just a couple days and do the government paperwork and walk away with it.
I recommend getting this Ruger American Predator in 6.5 Creedmoor if you’ll be hunting deer-sized game (or smaller than deer), want to have tons of inexpensive ammo options, and if you’ll also be using it for target shooting. There’s also the option of ordering that rifle with a Vortex Crossfire II scope on it. It’s a good quality scope for shooting out to 300 yards but doesn’t have adjustable turrets so if you’ll want to do some long-distance shooting, order it without a scope.
If you want to hunt larger game like elk, then I’d recommend getting the same rifle in .30-06 Springfield. The ammo is inexpensive and widely available, the recoil in manageable for most shooters, and the cartridge is unquestionably capable of taking elk cleanly. Here’s a link to that rifle in .30-06.
Unfortunately, I can’t weigh in on the Sauer 100 yet because I haven’t tried it. We have a complete post on the best rifles under $400 right here.
Hunting Rifles Under $850: Three great options, 3 okay options, one bad option
There are quality inexpensive rifles being made, but if you step up into the $500-$1,000 price range, almost every option will shoot accurately and have more consistent quality control.
Overall, I think the best three rifles under $1,000 are the Tikka T3X Lite, the Bergara B-14 Ridge, and the Weatherby Vanguard. So how do you choose between them? I personally prefer the Bergara B-14 Ridge, but they are all good options.
Tikka T3X Lite
- PRO: Lightweight
- PRO: Usually comes with a low-maintenance stainless barrel
- PRO: Superb action smoothness
- PRO: Accurate
- CON: Stock doesn’t handle recoil well
- CON: Most configurations don’t include a threaded barrel
Bergara B-14 Ridge
- PRO: Stock design and butt pad are well-suited to heavy-hitting cartridges
- PRO: Accurate
- PRO: Remington 700 action is easy to get upgraded parts for
- CON: Heavy barrel contour and action add weight
- CON: The rifle looks a little plain in its design. It’s not at all ugly
- PRO: Very rigid stock
- PRO: Cerakoted barrel reduces maintenance
- PRO: Accurate
- CON: Sometimes hard to find the chambering you want since they tend to favor their own overbore Weatherby cartridges
- CON: Most configurations don’t include a threaded barrel
Tikka T3X Lite
I’ve been a little coy about recommending one specific rifle in this price range because it’s a tight race. However, I’ll simply leave this anecdote. A friend texted me last week and said he had a $750 budget for a first hunting rifle and asked me what he should buy. I stewed over it for a minute but he made me answer, and I said to go with the Tikka T3x Lite.
The Tikka T3X Lite comes with an absolutely fantastic action. The Tikka action is by far the best in this price point because it cycles ammo perfectly, has a silky smooth bolt slide and is manufactured to a high tolerance so every last one I pick up feels just as good as the one next to it. The action quality, as well as the barrel, produces a very accurate rifle.
There is one drawback to the Tikka T3x Lite. It doesn’t handle recoil well because of the stock design. In our testing, we had all of the guns chambered alike, but as soon as any of the reviewers shot the Tikka after shooting the other rifles, they all commented that the recoil felt heavier. The stock is not very rigid, the butt pad is too stiff, and the stock geometry is only acceptable.
So in general, pick the Tikka T3X Lite if you want a lightweight rifle with a fantastic action, and you’re going to be shooting cartridges lighter than a 7mm Rem Mag or .30-06.
Bergara B-14 Ridge
There really isn’t much to complain about on a Bergara B-14. The rifles are accurate, reliable, and built well. However, they really don’t get enough attention from hunters–mostly because they make few attempts to really stand out from the other rifles on the shelf.
They look standard, don’t include fluting on the (rather beefy) bolt or the (rather beefy) barrel, the action and barrel are just blued, the trigger is fine but not outstanding, the action is quite smooth but not as smooth as a Tikka.
Don’t get me wrong. I like the Bergara B-14 ridge. Actually, I like it a lot. It’s one of the best 3 out of 8 rifles we tested in this price range. It’s just tough to get excited about because it has no single stand-out feature. It just does everything reasonably well. It’s like the girl you almost dated because you were such good friends and got along with great, but just never could fall in love with.
People harp on me for recommending the Weatherby Vanguard because it’s essentially the same thing as a Howa 1500, but costs more money. Sure, it’s the same action and barrel, but it’s dressed up completely differently, and I think it changes the gun significantly.
The Weatherby Vanguard comes in several different editions. The one I tested was in Badlands camo, and is probably the most common edition I see on store shelves. The stock feels like it is created of a very tough polymer. It feels almost as rigid as concrete, and that’s a good thing.
The also Cerakote the barrel which lowers the need for oiling the metals on your gun, and protects it in rainy or otherwise wet conditions.
In our testing, the Weatherby Vanguard shot the most accurately, although the difference between it, the Bergara and the Tikka was so small that I doubt we could call it statistically significant.
The Vanguard does come in quite a few cartridges, but retail stores will only give them so many spots on the shelves, and since Weatherby is always pushing its own cartridges, it’s common to not find the chambering you’re looking for without special ordering it.
Best Bolt-Action Hunting Rifles Under $1,600
One might think that in this price range, you’d have a multitude of choices, but in my opinion, there are really only three hunting rifles I’d consider. (1) The Springfield 2020 Waypoint with a steel barrel, (2) You could wait a few months for the new Bergara B14 Squared Crest to come out, or (3) Get a Sig Cross.
|Springfield 2020 Waypoint (Steel)||Bergara B14 Squared Crest||Sig Sauer Cross|
|Around $1,599||Around $1,799||Around $1,599|
|7.2 lbs||6.8 lbs||6.8 lbs|
|Guaranteed accuracy of 3/4 MOA. I verified it with factory ammo||Guaranteed 1 MOA accuracy, but probably beats that||Guaranteed 1 MOA. Mine shoots 1/2 MOA with handloads|
|Available in: 6 Creedmoor, 6.5 Creedmoor, 6.5 PRC, .308 Win||Available in: 6.5 Creedmoor, 6.5 PRC, .308 Win, 300 Win Mag||Available in: 6.5 Creedmoor, .308 Win, 277 Sig Fury.|
|Stock: AG Composites Alpine Hunter. High comb, rigid, modern stock lines. I love it.||Stock: A carbon version of Bergara’s excellent HMR stock. Looks great.||An innovative modern design with folding buttstock, pistol grip. I’m in love.|
|Order it online at Sportsman’s||Coming soon (Announced January 2023)||Order it online at Sportsman’s|
|See my review on Youtube||See my review on Youtube||See my review on Youtube|
Why I Picked These Three Rifles Over the Competition
- Tikka T3x Veil Wideland – I love Tikka, but I wish they would improve their feature lineup. The standard Tikka T3x would win my recommendation in the $850 price point if they’d just thread the muzzle. In this pricier $1,200 configuration, it still has no carbon fiber, no real upgrade to the stock. It just gets a paint job, threaded muzzle, and cerakote. It’s not quite competitive in this price point. For just $300 more, the three I recommended above would be a HUGE improvement in rifle.
- Bergara B14 Wilderness Ridge Carbon – This is a compelling offering and definitely one to consider, but I don’t think the stock design can compete with the Cross or Waypoint that only costs a little more.
- Savage 110 Ultralite – I gave this rifle high marks when I reviewed it on Youtube. Just getting a Proof Research barrel is a major selling point. However, the action doesn’t feed 100% reliably, the stock feels like cheap plastic, and the mag and magwell are too flimsy. I think since this rifle was released, better options have come out.
- Browning XBolt Speed SR – Oh, Browning. They make great actions. They make good barrels. Their guns look cool. The manufacturing quality is great. However, they use proprietary scope rings to annoy customers. They refuse to thread the muzzle on rifles in a standard 5/8 x 24 (except for this SR version). They put heavy lawyer triggers in their rifles. There are just a few things that drive me nuts about Brownings. Many gunsmiths can’t even work on them because of the weird metric threading. I feel like Browning could easily dominate this price point if they’d listen to their customers. The “Speed SR” version of the XBolt is the only one I’d consider, and it’s fantastic, but doesn’t give me any compelling reason to choose it over the other options.
- Sako S20 – The Sako S20 is fantastic. It comes with either a precision stock or, what I prefer, a thumbole stock. One problem. It tips the scales at 8.6 lbs, which just isn’t competitive with the other rifles in this price point. Many european manufacturers struggle to understand the American hunter, and this is an obvious example of it.
Overall, if you forced me to pick a winner in this category, I’d probably give it to the Springfield 2020 Waypoint. The stock is among the best I have ever used, it’s reasonably lightweight, excellent on accuracy, and the manufacturing quality is reliable.
The Sig Cross: Amazing design after some early quality control issues
The Sig Cross is the rifle that I have consistently used more than any other hunting rifle in my gun vault. It’s short, compact, lightweight, sinfully accurate with my handloads, feeds 100%, and adjustable so it fits me perfectly.
However, as I’ve owned the Sig Cross for almost a year now, I’m surprised by how frequently it’s the gun I reach for in the safe. In fact, I frequently find myself out shooting with a Sig Cross even when I have much more expensive guns that I could be choosing. It has become one of my favorite guns.
I like the Sig Cross because it’s lightweight, easily adjustable to fit me or my kids, very accurate, and the short barrel and folding stock make it easily packable for hunts. I’ve fallen in love. Highly recommended.
Best Premium Bolt-Action Hunting Rifles (Over $2,000)
If I were buying a new hunting rifle today and I could drop $2,300, I’d pick the Fierce Rogue with a steel action. They do have a more expensive option for a titanium action that is even lighter, but I feel the titanium actions just aren’t as smooth in the hand.
Fierce Rogue Pros
- Obscenely lightweight. It’d make a Backstreet Boy jealous. Weighs under 6 lbs.
- Excellent 3/4 MOA accuracy with Hornady Precision Hunter ammo
- 1-3lbs Bix ‘n Andy Trigger
- Carbon stock and carbon-wrapped barrel
- QD Flush cups and picatinny embedded in the stock
- Available in all the most popular chamberings for custom rifles (including 7 PRC)
Fierce Rogue Cons
- I personally would have preferred that they went with a more modern vertical grip
- I wish there were an arca rail on the bottom of the forend for connecting to a tripod
In the video below, I review the Fierce Rogue and show what I like/dislike about the Fierce Rogue.
The other option is the Springfield 2020 Waypoint. It and the Fierce Rogue are tight competitors. The only problem with a Springfield 2020 Waypoint is they don’t offer it in enough chamberings.
I don’t say that lightly. I’m well aware that there is stiff competition in the “semi-custom rifle” category. The Bergara Mountain 2.0, Kimber Mountain Ascent, Bergara Premier, Browning X-Bolt Pro, Seekins Havac, Weatherby Mark V, Fierce Edge, Christensen Ridgeline, and others are all rifles I’m familiar with. Still, it’s the 2020 Waypoint in my opinion. Watch my full review of the Springfield 2020 Waypoint.
Having said that, in this price range, a lot of the decision is matching the rifle to your unique circumstances and preferences. So, here are my quick thoughts on some of the competition for the best premium factory rifle under $2,500.
Christensen Ridgeline – So many people have asked me to review one, and I just can’t justify spending $2,000 on one because I’ve heard so many reports of inconsistent manufacturing quality. Some people get a good one, others get a lemon. So if I review it and love my copy, I’d be convincing people to buy one and they very likely may not have the same experience. Christensen needs to improve its quality control in my opinion. Plus, it uses an old-school sporter stock that just isn’t what today’s long-range shooter is looking for.
Christensen MPR – The MPR looks fantastic, but I do feel like it’s a little bit of lipstick on a pig. I found accuracy to be okay but not great, feeding was okay but not great, and the design was usable, but not really “modern.” Watch my review of the MPR here.
Browning X-Bolt Pro – I like the X-Bolt Pro. I owned one in .28 Nosler and it was a very poor choice for that heavy-recoiling of a cartridge. It’s a good option for light cartridges, but the light weight and stock design don’t make for a good match on heavy cartridges. Also, I think the X-Bolt Pro just isn’t bringing enough to the table for doubling the price over a regular X-Bolt. In today’s market, it needs a more modern stock design, carbon barrel, and premium trigger to be worth the price they are asking. Watch my review here.
Kimber Mountain Ascent Subalpine – I just don’t like the Kimber Mountain Ascent. I owned one and sold it. The controlled-round feed action is great. People say it’s the most consistent action, but I only sort of agree. I think in theory controlled feed is better, but they also generally don’t feed well (or at all) if you try to feed by dropping one in, rather than mag feeding. Also, it works great if you quickly manhandle the action. If you go slow while trying to be quiet in a hunting situation, it may not feed right. Also, the very aged sporter stock design doesn’t lend itself well to shooting long range–especially in such a light rifle. It’s not for me. Watch my review here.
Fierce Rival – I really like my Fierce Rival chambered in 6.5 PRC. Of all the rifles I own, if you just said “Grab a rifle and go hunting” without any more specifics of where I’d be hunting or what I’d be hunting, I’d grab that rifle. Fierce rifles are accurate, built well, look great, come with good triggers, and feed perfectly. Watch my review here.
Fierce Reaper – I just love it so much. I seriously am not sure how you can improve on it. Excellent in every way… but it’s expensive.
Weatherby Mark V – Weatherby makes a fantastic rifle. Every Weatherby I’ve ever shot has been exceptionally accurate and well-built. I rarely hear manufacturing quality concerns about Weatherby rifles. Really, the only thing that keeps me from owning more of them is that I can rarely find them in the chamberings I want. Their ammo is INSANELY expensive, so I wouldn’t invest in a Weatherby chambering. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend a Weatherby if you find one in a cartridge you like, or if you don’t mind shooting Weatherby’s overbore cartridges.
There are so many other options to consider, but hopefully, that gives you a solid starting place if you’re looking for a premium hunting rifle.
I’m holding my breath for the comments section on this post. I know there will be a lot of hate because I’ve been very frank about my opinions, but I test so many rifles that I just wanted one single post that I keep up to date where I can just say it how I see it without any politically correct crap.