It’s incredibly frustrating looking at a rack of rifles on the shelf in an outdoors store. You have to pick a rifle without ever shooting it or even testing the accuracy, and there are no returns. Good news for you is that I bought just about all of the popular hunting rifles under $700, exhaustively tested them, and I’m going to give you an unbiased look at the results in this blog post.
Why You Can Trust This Review
- I spent hundreds of hours testing all 11 of these rifles hands-on
- I bought all of the rifles with my own money so I can give a truly unbiased opinion
- I shot two buckets full of ammunition to test the rifles for accuracy, feeding, and durability
- My third grade teacher once told me I was “neat” and gave me a scratch-and-sniff sticker
Overall Best: CVA Cascade
- Excellent accuracy from a Bergara barrel
- Cerakote finish is durable and looks good
- Rigid stock
- Threaded barrel
- Excellent fit and finish
- Good trigger
- Not too heavy, but not the lightest
- Feeding overall is reliable, but single-feeding is imperfect when the gun is tilted at an angle
After hundreds of hours of testing, I can confidently say that the best rifle under $700 for hunting is the CVA Cascade. Frankly, I can’t imagine how they can produce a rifle with so many features for this price.
The standout feature of the CVA Cascade is accuracy. I have tested a few CVA Cascades and found all of them to shoot reliably sub-moa. While just about every rifles promises sub-moa accuracy these days, I’ve found that promise to be more hopeful than reliable from many of the competitors.
On top of a rifle that is accurate and feeds well, the fit and finish of the gun is excellent for the price point. The barrel and action have a durable Cerakote finish to make it impervious to rain and the elements. The stock is quite rigid and has a good feel to it–rather than some of the competitor’s stocks that just feel like cheap plastic. Plus, it has a threaded muzzle, and a trigger that’s crisp and breaks at 2 lbs, 8oz even before you adjust it.
If you’re not familiar with CVA, they are best known for their muzzleloading rifles; however, they are owned by Bergara and are manufactured in the same facilities as Bergara rifles in Spain. Since CVA is their smaller brand, they tend to stuff more features in the CVA-branded rifles and still include the same quality barrels and manufacturing precision.
The CVA Cascade uses a proprietary action, so it isn’t compatible with aftermarket Remington 700 stocks, but it is compatible with Remington 700 triggers. If you want to upgrade the stock at some point, you might consider Boyd’s At-One, which makes a great replacement. As far as I know, there aren’t any prefit barrels being made for the CVA Cascade.
My #2 Pick: Mauser M18 Savanna
- 3-position safety allows the bolt to be retracted while staying in safe
- Stock design is a good mix of traditional and a more foreward-leaning grip
- Storage space in butt-stock is great for stockpiling Swedish Fish during your hunt
- Threaded barrel
- Good trigger
- Stock feels plasticy and gets scratched pretty easily
- Weak plastic trigger guard
Mauser is a German company generally considered to be a high-end rifle manufacturer from the same company as Blaser, which makes rifles costing many times more than their low-cost offering, the M18.
The rifle features an action that feels smooth and feeds cartridges reliably from the magazine, but struggles to single-feed when a cartridge is just set in the open receiver. It has a 3-position safety which some shooters prefer because the gun can be placed on safe while retracting the bolt.
Fit and finish on the M18 was imperfect. Straight out of the box, my bolt looked like it’d been through two world wars already with a finish that was streaky and worn. The stock has decent geometry for long-range shooting due to the forward-leaning grip and flattish forend, but the stock is easily dinged up and scratched.
While fit-and-finish is imperfect, it’s still an impressive gun just like it’s twin. That’s right, if you thought there was another gun on the market that looks very similar to the M18, you’d be correct. The Mauser M18 is essentially the same gun as the Sauer 100. While each offers a slightly different set of features to attract buyers with different preferences, the barreled actions appear to be about identical.
Jim’s Quick Take on Every Rifle in This Test: The Summary
- CVA Cascade – A+: This rifle gets the Backfire award for the best rifle under $700. It’s accurate, has a great fit and finish, and has quality parts like a good trigger and threaded muzzle.
- Bergara B14 Hunter – B+: Made by the same company as the CVA, it’s an excellent gun, but doesn’t come with a threaded muzzle, which most shooters today want. It’s also a little heavier.
- Franchi Momentum – B: An excellent action, but my rifle hasn’t produced excellent accuracy which could be due to its chambering. Overall, looks like a good gun, but I would like to test one in a different chambering before I could recommend it.
- Howa 1500 Hogue – A-: Excellent accuracy, but the Hogue stock feels like a giant high bouncy ball. It doesn’t have a threaded muzzle, and is one of the heaviest rifles in this category.
- Mauser M18 – A: My #2 pick. It’s reliable, decently accurate, and has an approachable hybrid stock design.
- Mossberg Patriot – F: I have tested two Mossberg Patriot rifles and both were extremely inaccurate–among the worst that I’ve ever tested. Other reviewers have had better luck with accuracy, but how could I recommend a rifle where the TWO copies I own were both inaccurate?
- Ruger American Go Wild – B: This upgraded version of the Ruger American has Cerakote, a nice paint job, and an upgraded magazine. The better magazine improves feeding, but the action still causes feeding errors which is the weak point of the gun that otherwise is great.
- Ruger American Standard – C: All Ruger Americans I’ve tested have produced good accuracy. This standard version is a basic rifle that does the job, but feeding on the Ruger Americans is their achilles heel.
- Sauer 100 Atacama – A: This rifle is the twin of the Mauser M18 and both are made by the same parent company. It’s a good rifle and if the features of this seem more appealing to you than the M18, then it’s a buy.
- Savage Axis II – C: I’ve owned a couple Savage Axis rifles and both of them had durability issues due to the inadequate bluing process they do on the barrel, or possibly the steel they choose. Either way, my barrels have had rust on them.
- Tikka T3x Lite – Disqualified: Unfortunately, this rifle is just a little bit over $700 so it doesn’t quite work in this test. I absolutely love the Tikkas, but most versions of the T3x Lite don’t have threaded muzzles unless you get their much more expensive Roughtech or Veil versions. For many shooters today, that’s a deal-breaker.
- Weatherby Vanguard Synthetic – A-: The Weatherby uses an excellent barreled action that is essentially the same as the Howa 1500. In my testing, it’s been extremely accurate, but it doesn’t come with a threaded muzzle and is one of the heaviest rifles in this category.
- Winchester XPR – C: The XPR has some cool features like a 3-position safety and a good action, but the stock feels like cheap Tupperware in comparison to the other rifles in the category. The rough seams on the stock cut into your cheek as you shoot, and overall it just feels cheap. It’s functional, but not my favorite rifle in the category.
That’s just my quick take on each of these rifles, but now let’s dive into each test and discuss how the rifles performed in each key area.
Test #1: The Feeding Gauntlet
|RIFLE MODEL||FEEDING ERRORS|
|Mossberg Patriot||0 Errors|
|Bergara B14 Hunter||1 Error single feeding, flawless from the magazine|
|CVA Cascade||2 Errors when single feeding, flawless from the magazine|
|Winchester XPR||9 Errors. Feeding from magazine and single feeding is an issue|
|Ruger American Go Wild||3 Errors, all from single feeding|
|Mauser M18||3 Errors, all from single feeding|
|Franchi Momentum||1 Error|
|Ruger American||5 Errors, can’t single feed and magazine causes errors as well|
Best in this Test: Mossberg Patriot
Worst: Ruger American and Winchester XPR
I’m surprised how many firearms reviews never even mention feeding. Feeding is the rifle’s ability to load a cartridge from the magazine to the chamber, and then to extract the brass after a shot.
It’s incredibly frustrating to hunt with a rifle that doesn’t feed flawlessly. More than a few times, I’ve seen game animals lost simply because the hunter had trouble with cartridges feeding from the magazine to the chamber.
I ran each rifle through Backfire’s feeding gauntlet. That’s where we load the magazine multiple times and see how many errors there are in loading 15 cartridges. With each magazine, the position of the rifle is changed, which is where I often find feeding issues when the rifle is tipped a certain way. Then, I single-feed 5 cartridges at different angles to make sure it feeds 100%.
The Ruger American models both struggled with feeding. The Ruger American Standard has an older rotary magazine that has many problems. The Ruger American Go Wild edition is a significant upgrade to the magazine, but single feeding is problematic on both Ruger models. The Winchester XPR also struggled.
Test #2: Trigger Quality
Best in this Test: Franchi Momentum
Worst in this Test: Ruger American & Go Wild
I was impressed by how well the triggers in these rifles performed. I expected to find more creep in the triggers and heavy trigger pulls.
As much as I love the Ruger American, I have to admit that the trigger is not good. When I ran this same test 3 years ago, I considered it to be a decent trigger. By today’s standards, though, it is definitely at the bottom of the pack as competition has improved. The trigger has a lot of creep and feels like it has sand in it. In contrast, the other triggers have nice clear walls and break evenly without stuttering.
All of the triggers in the test have adjustable triggers, but here’s how they were set coming from the factory in our rifles.
|RIFLE MODEL||FACTORY TRIGGER PULL WEIGHT|
|Ruger American||3lbs 15oz|
|Mauser M18||3lbs 8oz|
|Mossberg Patriot||2lbs 6oz|
|Franchi Momentum||2lbs 6oz|
|Ruger American Go Wild||3lbs 9oz|
|Winchester XPR||4lbs 1oz|
|CVA Cascade||2lbs 8oz|
|Bergara B14 Hunter||3lbs 2oz|
Test #3: Price
All of the rifles in this test are under $700, but some of them offer even lower prices. At the time of writing, here are the ballpark prices I’m seeing available for these rifles.
|RIFLE MODEL||BALLPARK PRICE (In the USA)|
|Ruger American Go Wild||$629|
|Bergara B14 Hunter||$699|
Test #4: Chambering Options
Best in the Test: Winchester
Worst in the Test: Franchi
I know many shooters are tired of going to the gun store only to see racks of 6.5 Creedmoors and .308’s. Those are great cartridges, but many of the manufacturers have trimmed down their offerings so there aren’t many options. I want to make sure we’re giving credit to the few manufacturers who offer their rifles in many different cartridges.
I’m disappointed that the Franchi Momentum is only available in four chambering options. There is a Franchi Momentum Elite, and a Franchi Momentum Varmint which do have some other options, but both of those models are above $700.
|RIFLE MODEL||CHAMBERING OPTIONS|
|Ruger American Go Wild||12|
|Bergara B14 Hunter||9|
|Weatherby Vanguard Synthetic||16|
|Savage Axis II||10|
Test #5: Weight
Best in the Test: Mossberg and Savage
Worst in the Test: Howa and Weatherby
Most hunters prefer a lightweight rifles. For the backcountry hunter, a lightweight rifle is essential. However, there are accuracy advantages to having heavier rifles since they sit flatter on a rest, and generally have heavier contoured barrels that are resistant to heating up, and more full-featured stocks.
I will note that the Weatherby Vanguard, which is a twin of the Howa 1500, wasn’t included in some of the tests in this review simply because I didn’t have one on hand at the time. I’ve owned and reviewed one in the past and they shoot exceptionally well, but because it was so heavy, I eventually sold it.
|RIFLE MODEL||WEIGHT (lbs)|
|Ruger American Go Wild||6.6|
|Bergara B14 Hunter||7.1|
|Weatherby Vanguard Synthetic||7.5|
|Savage Axis II||6.5|
Test #6: Accuracy
Best: Ruger, Mauser, CVA, Bergara
Worst: Mossberg Patriot
My top picks for the most accurate hunting rifles in the test would be: the Bergara B14 Hunter, CVA Cascade, Ruger American, Ruger American Go Wild, Savage Axis II, and the Mauser M18. After putting a tremendous amount of ammo through those guns, I can confidently say that all 7 of them are reliably 1 MOA rifles.
I achieved similar accuracy results with all of those rifles previously mentioned, but if I had to pick one rifle to recommend for someone who wants extreme accuracy, I’d point them to the CVA Cascade. The CVA is made in the same factory as the Bergaras, which are well-known for accuracy; however, the CVA also offers a 14-day return guarantee to the store, so if you did get one and weren’t happy with the accuracy, you wouldn’t have wasted your money. That’s impressive.
The only rifle that failed this test is the Mossberg Patriot. I purchased a Mossberg Patriot and it was shooting very large groups–often of 6″ or more at 100 yards. I sent the rifle back to Mossberg and they confirmed it was having issues and replaced the barrel. The rifle they sent back to me ALSO shot very poorly with large groups. I then got a second copy of a Mossberg Patriot in .308 Winchester to test, and it also cannot shoot a 1 MOA group reliably.
I have had decent, but not notably good, results with the Franchi Momentum and Winchester XPR. However, while I can’t confirm their accuracy, I also can’t fault them because the Franchi is chambered in 350 Legend and the Winchester in 6.8 Western, and the only ammo I could find in both cases was Winchester ammo, which I haven’t had good results with. Consequently, I couldn’t blame the issues on the rifles without being able to test different loads. Both shoot well, but sometimes the groups are larger than I’d like to see.
Test #7: Threaded Muzzles
Even a few years ago, most hunting rifles sold didn’t have a threaded muzzle. Few people had suppressor or muzzle brakes. Today, things have changed. Nearly every hunting rifle I see has some type of muzzle device.
For a hunter, it’s important to be able to see where your bullet hits after shooting. That can be tough while a rifle is recoiling unless there’s a brake or a suppressor, which can cut that recoil about 35-45%.
Three rifles in this test, unfortunately, do not usually come with threaded muzzles: the Bergara B14 Hunter, the Weatherby Vanguard Synthetic, and the Howa 1500 Hogue. All of the other rifles are threaded 5/8×24.