Deer hunters today are inundated by a multitude of rifle manufacturers, cartridges, and specifications. The sheer volume of rifle offerings for hunters may become overwhelming when choosing a new gun. Manufacturers like Browning, Ruger, and particularly Savage continue to innovate, impress us with better quality rifles in high-quality deer hunting chamberings. How does one choose a deer hunting rifle?
This list of the top 10 best deer hunting rifles for 2021 will both help to explain what makes a good deer hunting rifle and narrow down your rifle choices to 10 of the actual best, in no particular order.
1. Ruger American Go Wild
The Ruger American Go Wild is a model within the highly effective and cost-efficient Ruger American line.
The Go Wild model of Ruger American still offers a floated barrel, user-adjustable trigger, and excellent price point that all Ruger Americans have. The Go Wild has an upgraded camouflage stock, Cerakote finish, and is offered in eleven chamberings, including the excellent 6.5 PRC (a magnum 6.5).
Like all Ruger Americans, the Go Wild weighs in at seven pounds or less and costs well below $700, with an MSRP of $629. The reliable accuracy of all Ruger Americans at this price point makes the Go Wild very hard to beat, while the 6.5 PRC offers range-extending ballistics. The Go Wild is the first of the Ruger Americans chambered in 6.5 PRC, making this choice the right one for long-range hunting.
The trigger is good, if not great, yet easily replaceable with aftermarket trigger options.
Other chamberings for the Go Wild are the .30-06, .308 Winchester, 6.5 Creedmore, and other quality deer chamberings. You simply cannot go wrong with a Ruger American Go Wild.
2. Savage 110 Ultralight
Savage has been highly innovative over the last few years, and pairing their accurate 110 model rifles with Proof Research Carbon Fiber barrels helped to create an excellent deer rifle.
Already equipped with Savage’s AccuStock and AccuTrigger, the stock of the 110 Ultralight is adjustable for both length of pull and comb height as well as boasting an adjustable trigger. The Proof Research carbon fiber barrel greatly reduces weight without losing accuracy, allowing the rifle to weigh six pounds or less depending upon chambering.
The 110 Ultralight comes in eight different chamberings including .308 Winchester, .270 Winchester, both 6.5 Creedmore, and 6.5 PRC among others. With an MSRP of $1595.00 and a real-world cost of about $1300.00, there is still plenty of value built into this rifle with its quality components.
3. Browning X-Bolt Western Hunter
Browning has long made quality rifles for the hunter, and the X-Bolt Western Hunter is an excellent example of their firearms. Browning is able to produce good in-house stocks keeping the price point of this rifle down with a starting MSRP of $1,069.00. This Browning comes with a composite stock featuring an adjustable comb, removable muzzle brake and is chambered in ten offerings, including the exciting 6.8 Western.
Accuracy is maintained by the free-floated barrel and quality trigger system of the Browning X-Bolts, all while weighing in at seven pounds or less. You cannot go wrong with any of Browning’s X-Bolts, but at this price point, the X-Bolt Western Hunter is a fine choice to take on your next deer hunt.
4. Howa Carbon Stalker
The Howa Carbon Stalker is a rifle I cannot wait to get my hands on. Currently being released in Howa’s mini action chamberings such as .223 or 6.5 Grendel, both short and long action chamberings (nine in all) will also be released in 2021.
The Carbon Stalker offers sub MOA guarantee via its Accublock lug bedding process as well as its two-stage, match grade trigger. Weight in the Carbon Stalker mini actions is a scant 4 pounds 10 ounces, thanks in part to the Custom Carbon Fiber Lightweight stock.
While the short and long action rifles have not yet been unveiled, we are not sure of their exact weights, but expectations are for more of the same lightweight numbers needed for a stalker-style rifle. MSRP has also not yet been released, but the potential for an excellent lightweight rifle exists in the Howa Carbon Stalker.
5. Springfield 2020 Waypoint
The Springfield 2020 Waypoint boasts .75 MOA guarantee and is a rifle system full of options. The Waypoint can be found with either steel or carbon fiber wrapped barrels that are pillar bedded for free floating.
With adjustable Triggertech triggers and carbon fiber stocks, the Waypoint offers the optimum in rifle components. The Waypoint is being offered in four chamberings: the 6mm Creedmore, 6.5 Creedmore, 6.5 PRC, and .308 Winchester, which is light enough (7 pounds 10 ounces in the 6.5 PRC with the carbon fiber wrapped barrel) for backcountry hunts and accurate enough for long-range hunting.
With the carbon fiber barrel, MSRP is $2399.00, while the steel barreled Waypoints start at $1699.00. The 700 dollar difference in MSRP is indicative of the value of the carbon fiber-wrapped barrel. The Springfield 2020 Waypoint is an exciting deer rifle.
6. Tikka T3x Hunter
The Tikka T3x Hunter checks all of the boxes needed to become one of the best deer rifles for 2021. The T3x line all have sub moa guarantees, weigh under seven pounds (6 pounds 9 ounces) without optics, are chambered for 9 popular deer cartridges, and will cost you less than a grand with an $850.00 MSRP. For the T3x Hunter, Tikka improved the stock by making the pistol-grip modular as well as improving the fore-end grip and recoil pad.
The T3x Hunter has a quality, single-stage trigger as well. Overall, this is a slick handling, accurate rifle ready to take on your next hunt.
7. Ruger Hawkeye Long Range Hunter
The Ruger Hawkeye Long Range Hunter is a recent iteration of the Hawkeye line and it is a shooter. Only chambered in 6.5 Creedmore or 6.5 PRC, options are sparse but either cartridge should cover your needs on any deer hunt.
The Hawkey LRH weighs 7.2 pounds before optics with a 22 inch stainless, free-floated barrel, so it may not qualify as ultralight. The stock on the Hawkeye LRH is adjustable for length of pull and boasts a 20 moa Picatinny rail for your optic choice. The Hawkeye LRH reliably feeds and fires accurately from a removable box magazine.
An included muzzle brake will help mitigate recoil as well, making this a user-friendly deer rifle. MSRP on this one is $1279.00.
8. Savage Impulse Big Game
I mentioned Savage’s innovation earlier, and the Impulse Big Game is a prime example of that innovation. The Impulse line is a straight-pull action, meaning you do not have to rotate the bolt to release it. High-pressure ball bearings in the bolt face secure the bolt in battery and release upon the shooter working the bolt handle backward.
The straight pull action offers exceedingly fast follow-up shots. Straight pull action rifles are not new, but they are new to American production rifles. Savage Impulse Big Game offers this action at reasonable prices ($1449.00 MSRP) compared to the high-end European versions that currently exist.
Currently chambered in six deer stopping calibers, the Impulse Big Game still boasts Savage’s AccuStock (in KUIU camo print) and AccuTrigger. A durable and good-looking Cerakote finish has been added, making this a sharp-looking and shooting offering from Savage.
9. Henry Long Ranger
Lever action rifles have been taking deer since they were invented, and Henry has a long history in the lever action game. Today, technological advances in ammunition have increased both performance and safety in all lever action rifles. The Henry Long Ranger is chambered for four popular deer cartridges, including the modern 6.5 Creedmore.
Like Browning’s BLR, and the later Savage 99s, the Henry Long Ranger has a dropbox magazine rather than an additional magazine tube running parallel to the barrel. The Henry Long Ranger is a slick-handling lever gun weighing in at 7 pounds.
Matching timeless technology to today’s ammunition advances makes the Henry Long Ranger an intriguing deer rifle option with an MSRP of $1,138.00.
10. Marlin (Ruger) 336
Speaking of lever-action rifles, the Marlin 336 has been found in deer woods and camps since its creation in 1948 and has taken an uncountable number of deer. With a tubular magazine, the Marlin 336 has become even more deadly with lever action-specific ammunition.
Ruger recently bought the rights to the Marlin line of firearms and has been working on the production of the Marlin 336 with an expected release later in 2021. While we can’t be sure of any changes Ruger has planned or the MSRP of the 336, we can look to the past to prognosticate what we can expect. The original Marlin 336 is a smooth operating, accurate lever gun that Ruger probably will not change to any great degree.
My JM stamped Marlin 336 is chambered in 35 Remington, performs flawlessly and accurately. Ruger has been making the correct decisions regarding production for some time now, and we do not expect anything less in their forthcoming release. Embrace the nostalgia, some rifles just work better than others for deer. The Marlin 336 is as good a lever gun as you will find.
What Makes a Rifle Good for Hunting Deer?
Let’s talk about why the rifles on this list were picked.
First and foremost, any rifle that is intended for ethical hunting must be accurate. Rifle accuracy is dependant upon many factors, including the end shooter’s responsibility to practice with the rifle and ammunition they expect to take into the deer woods.
Beyond shooter responsibility, the components that make a rifle accurate and are found on this list of best deer rifles are the trigger, stock bedding, and ergonomics, barrel, and recoil.
The stock triggers on these rifles are all quality or, if not yet released, are expected to be good triggers with smooth movement and crisp break. Stocks have come a long way from all wood to numerous different composites and materials.
The rifles on this list have stocks made in-house or outsourced from companies that specialize in stocks.
Some of these stocks are end-user adjustable for length of pull and/or comb height. The ability to customize the profile of your deer rifle should not be underappreciated. The more comfortable the shooter is with his or her weapon, the more accurate they tend to be.
Barrel construction is also of consideration. Thicker walled barrels displace heat better and shoot more accurately upon heating up, allowing the hunter to practice longer with fewer cool-down breaks. The downside to this is that though heavy barrels are accurate, they are, well, heavy. If you hunt from a stationary position such as a stand or blind this may not be a concern. However, if you are a spot and stalk hunter, the overall weight of your rifle must be considered.
Speaking of weight, recoil also plays into a shooter’s ability to stay on target, and the heavier the rifle, the less recoil is felt by the shooter. This concept applies to the range as well, where accuracy is built and practiced. If you are recoil sensitive, you are not likely to spend countless hours throwing rounds down range with some of the harder-hitting chamberings offered in deer rifles.
At the range, heavier rifles absorb more of the felt recoil, allowing the hunter to practice longer and better. If you are hiking up and down hills and mountains, however, you would quickly regret choosing a ten-pound rifle.
Of course, actual chamberings in a deer rifle impact the felt recoil more than the weight of your rifle. When choosing a deer cartridge, there are plenty of offerings available.
Consider your recoil tolerance, distance to the target, and the bullet energy needed for your hunt. If you are shooting deer at 50 yards, you likely do not need a 300 Winchester Magnum. If, however, you expect to take deer beyond 300 yards, the 300 WinMag and all of its recoil may be a good choice. The point is to reach energy levels acceptable to ethically take deer while not beating the shooter senseless with recoil.
Keep all of these qualities in mind as you select your next rifle for hunting deer for 2021.