Best Rifles of 2023

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Updated Sep 13, 2023 1:51 PM

The way we see it, if you’ve got space in your gun cabinet and some extra cash, it’s time to buy a new rifle. Or a new gun cabinet and then a new rifle. We can’t help you with the extra-cash part, but we did just spend weeks testing the best rifles of 2023 to help you decide which new gun you should fill that empty space with.

Our crop of 2023 test rifles range in price from dirt cheap to damn and ouch! As a group, they’re suited for a wide range of hunting styles. And, building on a growing trend, they come in a dizzying array of shapes and forms. There was a time when hunting rifles looked like hunting rifles—and nothing like target rifles. But that’s all changed, and mostly for the better. First because you have more options now, and second because it means many of today’s hunting rifles take advantage of key innovations found on top target guns. If there’s a downside to this trend, it’s that it makes your job of deciding which new rifle to buy harder. But that’s what we’re here for.

Our testing team included F&S editor-at-large Matthew Every, F&S shooting editor, Richard Mann, and West Virginia game warden and former SWAT officer Will McGuire. We applied all that we’ve learned while shooting and hunting over the years to evaluate these 10 rifles, and we determined to test and score them fairly, and comment about them honestly, to help you decide which one you could trust this hunting season.

The Best Rifles of 2023

The Rest of the Best Rifles for 2023

How We Test for The Best Rifles

Test-panel member Matt Every shoots on rifle from the prone position
F&S editor-at-large Matt Every test fires the new Nosler Model 21 Carbon Chassis Hunter from prone. Sabastian “Bat” Mann
photo of the best rifles of 2023 testing procedures
Clockwise from top left: F&S shooting editor Richard Mann records group sizes; our test panel evaluates the Wilson Combat NULA Model 20; McGuire takes his turn at the running-deer target, which has an 8-inch Thompson Target hidden on the back side; 10 shots in the black with the new Marlin 336 Classic.

The first thing we did when each rifle arrived was give it a once-over to familiarize ourselves with its features and controls. Then we mounted a Leupold VX-3HD 4.5-14X40 CDS-ZL scope, sighted the rifle in, and tested for precision by shooting from a bench. We fired multiple five-shot groups at 100 yards with a variety of ammunition, chronographing every shot fired. Next, each evaluator evaluated the rifle by shooting drills pertinent to how the gun would likely be used. These drills included rapid fire; shooting from field positions, tree stands, and box blinds; working with a sling while carrying and shooting; and shooting at a moving deer target. Much of the shooting with the rifles that had threaded muzzles was done with a suppressor. Once satisfied a rifle has been thoroughly scrutinized, we discussed its flaws and merits and then individually scored each rifle in secret. Finally, we totaled the scores and awarded the winners.

How We Score The Best Rifles

testers study targets and tally scores for one of the best rifles
We shot all the rifles for precision from a bench rest at 100 yards. After the shooting, we tallied the groups and averaged for scores. Sabastian “Bat” Mann

We scored each rifle in five categories worth 20 points each. The rifles were not pitted against each other; they were evaluated individually, because there’s no way to reasonably compare a lever-action 44 Magnum to a bolt-action 6.5 Creedmoor. Also, each evaluator was allotted one extra “personal favorite” point to give to the rifle they thought most deserving. The evaluated categories included:

  • Shooting Precision (20 points): What size five-shot, 100-yard groups can the rifle be expected to deliver from the bench?
  • Shooter Interface (20 points): Was the stock comfortable, was it easy to interact with the trigger, was the action easy to operate, was the comb height correct, and how did the rifle carry and handle in the field?
  • Reliability (20 points): Did the rifle work? Did it feed reliably and function as intended? Were there any stoppages, failures, or quirks?
  • Workmanship (20 points): How was the stock-to-metal fit, were there visible tool marks? Was the finish consistent and attractive, and was the overall design consistent with the rifle’s intended purpose?
  • Price (20 points): Money always matters. But just because a rifle is cheap or expensive does not mean the price is good or bad. We evaluated each rifle for its overall value—that is, its bang for your bucks.
photo of a test-panel member firing a rifle from a ladder-style tree stand
Mann fires the Franchi Momentum All-Terrain Elite rifle from ladder stand.
Field & Stream testers discuss the qualities of one of the best rifles
Mann and Every discuss the features of the Bergara B14 Squared Crest. Sabastian “Bat” Mann

The Best Rifles of 2023, Reviews and Recommendations

Best Overal Rifle: Wilson Combat NULA Model 20

Best Overall Rifle

Best Rifles

Why it Made the Cut: In 1985 New Ultra Light Arms (NULA) set a standard for lightweight, bolt-action hunting rifles that’s yet to be eclipsed. In 2022, Wilson Combat purchased NULA, and they’re now carrying on that tradition with the Model 20.

Total Score: 96.03

Key Features

  • Length: 39.38 inches
  • Weight: 5.17 pounds
  • Barrel: 20 inches, 1-in-8 twist
  • Action: Bolt, two-lug
  • Trigger: Timney Elite Hunter, adjustable
  • Capacity: 4+1
  • Finish: Armorlube DLC (action) Armor-Tuff (barrel) Hard Anodized (bottom metal)
  • Stock: AG Composites with Kodiak Rouge (tested), Canyon Rouge, or Charcoal grey finish
  • Chamberings: 243 Winchester, 6.5 Creedmoor (tested), 308 Winchester, 358 Winchester
  • Price: $3,295

Pros

  • Very Precise Shooting
  • Smooth Action
  • Incredibly Light
  • Perfectly balanced
  • Safety locks bolt

Cons

  • Expensive
  • Limited Chamberings

Test Panel Notes

  • “The only reason not to buy this rifle is that your kids will probably fight over it after you’re gone.” —Matthew Every
  • “Far and above the best ultralight rifle available. If you’re a less-is-more kind of rifleman, you’ll not find more in a smaller/lighter package.” —Will McGuire
  • “Pound for pound, it’s probably the most accurate rifle currently manufactured.” —Richard Mann
test-panel member shoot offhand with the Wilson Combat NULA rifle
McGuire shoots offhand with the NULA Model 20. Sabastian “Bat” Mann

This rifle weighs 5 pounds, it’ll shoot through a donut hole at 100 yards, and it feels as lithe and nimble as a samurai’s katana. The cylindrical action is no larger than it has to be, and it’s supported in a carbon fiber AG Composites stock. The Wilson Combat button-rifled barrel is free-floated and threaded at 5/8×24, and it comes with a thread protector. An incredibly light-hinged floor plate is standard and provides easy unloading for the four rounds the magazine box contains. According to Wilson, each rifle is guaranteed to deliver sub-MOA precision and ships with a set of one-piece Talley scope rings that weigh 2 ounces.

The rifle is also fitted with an adjustable Timney Elite Hunter trigger that incorporates a two-position safety that locks the bolt handle down when in the “safe” position. The trigger broke as crisp as a cold winter morning, and the bolt lock keeps the bolt handle from getting snagged when walking through brush. Weightlessness is the hallmark of this rifle, but when you pick it up, you instantly feel the impeccable balance that allows you to handle it and shoot it from field positions accurately. Its best five-shot group was fired with Hornady’s 143-grain Precision Hunter ELD-X load, and it measured 0.57-inch.

With the NULA Model 20, Wilson Combat is poised to continue the legacy of New Ultra Light Arms, and with a few tweaks like the threaded muzzle, oversized and grooved bolt handle, and the hinged floor plate, they’ve refined the design to better appeal to the modern rifle shooter. Evaluator Will McGuire gave this rifle his personal favorite point. I want one, too, but I want it in 308 or 358 Winchester… Decisions, decisions.

Best Value Rifle: Browning X-Bolt Speed SPR OVIX 

Best Value Rifle

Best Rifles

Why it Made the Cut: This rifle looks good, is reasonably light, functioned flawlessly, and is not tyrannically expensive. It’s not cheap exactly, but if you buy this rifle and you’ll know that you’re getting your money’s worth.

Total Score: 92.46

Key Features

  • Length: 38.5 inches
  • Weight: 6.16 pounds
  • Barrel: 18 inches, 1-in-7 twist, threaded at 5/8×24, comes with brake and thread protector
  • Action: Bolt, three-lug, 60°
  • Trigger: Browning Feather Trigger, 3.2 pounds (as tested)
  • Capacity: 4+1, detachable magazine
  • Finish: Cerakote
  • Stock: Synthetic composite, with Browning Ovix Camo
  • Chambering: 204 Ruger, 223 Remington, 22-250 Remington, 6.5 Creedmoor (tested), 308 Winchester, 6.5 PRC, 6.8 Western, 7mm PRC, 7mm Remington Magnum, 28 Nosler, 300 Winchester Magnum, 300 PRC
  • Price: $1,429

Pros

  • Safety locks bolt
  • Comfortable to shoot
  • Very attractive
  • 100% reliable
  • Lots of cartridges to choose from

Cons

  • Slightly butt heavy
  • Could have delivered more precision

Test Panel Notes

  • “I would feel just as confident hunting with this rifle in the woods as I would in open terrain where shots might be a bit longer.” —M.E.
  • “Short, light, and accurate. A pleasure to carry and very stylishly designed.” —W.M.
  • “Not too heavy, not too expensive, perfectly reliable, and accurate enough.” —R.M.
a test-panel member shoots the Browning rifle from a box blind
McGuire fires the X-Bolt Speed SPR OVIX from a box blind.

It might seem odd we’re awarding a $1,400 rifle the best value award, but there’s one thing you need to keep in mind. The best value does not mean “cheapest.” What it means is that you’re getting a hell of a lot of gun for the money you spend. What was wrong with this rifle? Not much really. Had it been fitted with a higher quality stock and shot a tad better, it would have given the Wilson Combat a run for the Best Overall award.

Operation of the 60°-throw bolt was flawless and smooth. The four-round detachable magazine fit flush in the stock, and it was easy to load, easy to insert, and easy to remove. It comes with an intuitive two-position tang safety that locks the bolt when in the “safe” position. (There’s a button on the bolt handle that unlocks it for loading or unloading on safe.) The stock was lean and trim with a cool-looking camo pattern and the trigger crisp, braking at 3.2 pounds. The rifle is drilled and tapped for scope bases but uses the peculiar, 4-screw, Browning pattern. For the test, we used Browning lightweight rings.

Overall, for the five loads we tested, the 100-yard group average for this rifle was 1.33 inches. That’s not great, but the Federal 135-grain Berger Hybrid Hunter load averaged 0.94 inches. All the evaluators liked the way this rifle felt and handled, and we all shot it well. It only weighs 6.1 pounds and is only 38.5 inches long, which makes it a dream to carry and not too long to work well inside a compact shoot house or blind. It does come with a radial port muzzle break that did a good job of lessening recoil, but the tradeoff is hellacious noise. We ditched the brake—it might be appreciated in some of the magnum chamberings, but in 6.5 Creedmoor it was pointless.

Coolest Rifle of the Test: Marlin 336 Classic

Coolest Rifle of the Test

photo of the new Ruger-Made Marlin 336 Classic lever action rifle

Why it Made the Cut: The new Ruger-owned Marlin has done it again. This great American-classic, lever-action rifle is as fun to shoot as it is easy to look at.

Total Score: 91.10

Key Features

  • Length: 38.5 inches
  • Weight: 7.21 pounds
  • Barrel: 20 inches, 1 in 12 twist
  • Action: Lever action
  • Trigger: 4.5 pounds w/ magazine
  • Capacity: 6+1
  • Finish: Polished blued steel
  • Stock: American black walnut
  • Chambering: (tested)
  • Price: $1,239

Pros

  • Excellent workmanship
  • Nice wood
  • Smooth action

Cons

Test Panel Notes

  • “This is an heirloom-quality rifle that anyone in the family can shoot. The new 336 makes it easy to understand why hunters have used this for over 80 years.” —M.E.
  • “Just like the old 336, this new Marlin will continue to put meat on the pole well into the future.” —W.M.
  • “Refined and reintroduced, one of America’s greatest hunting rifles is proudly living on.” —R.M.
test-panel member fires the new Ruger-made Marlin 336
Cycling the slick new Model 336 Classic on the range.

When Remington went bankrupt in 2020, Marlin Firearms was caught in the collapse. Shortly after, Ruger purchased Marlin and reintroduced several 45-70 lever guns. But the Marlin Model 336 has always been the company’s flagship rifle, and the demand for its reintroduction was high. This year it’s finally back and available in America’s classic lever-gun chambering, the 30-30 Winchester. (Rumor has it, a 35 Remington and/or a 360 Buckhammer might be in the works.)

The craftsmanship used on this 336 is better than I’ve seen on Marlins under Remington’s ownership in 2013. Fit and finish were exceptional, the bluing superb, and the action was butter smooth. The rifle retains the cross-bolt safety that many do not like, but it unquestionably makes unloading the rifle safer. It’s also fitted with an adjustable buckhorn rear sight and a hooded brass bead front sight. These are the traditional sights for this rifle, but all of the testers would have preferred XS or Skinner aperture sights as at least an option. Regardless, we shot this rifle more than any other rifle in the test, mostly because it was the most fun to shoot. We used it to hammer the running deer target and to whack steel plates out to 100 yards.

This rifle shot its best five-shot group at 100 yards with Remington 150-grain Core-Lokt using the Leupold VX-3HD 4.5-14X40 CDS-ZL riflescope. It measured 1.67 inches , and overall, the rifle averaged 2.24 inches for all groups fired. However, after the precision testing, we removed the riflescope and did all the other shooting with the factory open sights. Editor-at-large Mathew Every gave it his personal favorite point, partly because it was very attractive, partly because he enjoyed shooting it so much, but maybe mostly because he secretly wishes he was a cowboy. Regardless, if you like a 30-30 lever-action and want a new one, you can’t go wrong with the Marlin 336. In my opinion, it has always been and remains the best 30-30 lever-action rifle ever made.

Best Rifle for a Beginner: Savage Stevens Model 334 Walnut

Best Rifle for a Beginner

photo of the new Savage Stevens Model 334 bolt-action

Why it Made the Cut: Affordable bolt-action hunting rifles are nothing new. What is new is one with a nice-looking wood stock that works every time.

Total Score: 87.75

Key Features

  • Length: 41.25 inches
  • Weight: 7.24 pounds w/ magazine
  • Barrel: 20 inches
  • Action: Bolt, three-lug, 60°
  • Trigger: 5.75-pounds (as tested)
  • Finish: Matte blue
  • Stock: Turkish walnut (Synthetic stock optional $389.00)
  • Chambering: 243 Winchester, 6.5 Creedmoor, 308 Winchester (tested)
  • Price: $489

Pros

  • Attractive stock
  • Smooth action
  • 60° bolt throw

Cons

  • A bit clunky in look and feel
  • Limited capacity

Test Panel Notes

  • “This is an straightforward rifle that any new deer hunter could have success with.” —M.E.
  • “With this rifle, you probably won’t be the talk of deer camp—until you come in with your buck.” —W.M.
  • “You might not brag about this rifle, but you can trust it, and it’s flying under the inflation radar.” —R.M.

The Savage Stevens Model 334 Walnut is not the best bolt-action rifle ever made. But it is an ideal entry-level rifle for the new hunter. It’ll give them the traditional feel of a walnut stock and blued steel, it’ll deliver enough precision for shooting at distances a new hunter should not exceed, and it works. It works every time you pull the trigger and every time you cycle the bolt. It’s also affordable enough to allow for the purchase of a dependable riflescope and for enough ammunition for a new hunter to develop their shooting skills.

The Savage Stevens Model 334 is made in Turkey, and the action, with its 60° bolt throw, has an integral recoil lug. It’s fitted with a 20-inch, button-rifled, carbon-steel barrel with an 11° target crown. The action is drilled and tapped for scope bases on the Savage M110 footprint, and it comes with a steel MIL-STD 1913 Picatinny rail already installed. It has a polymer, three-round detachable magazine that was easy to load, insert, and remove, and it functioned flawlessly throughout the test. One of the features we really liked was the three-position slide-switch style safety that locked the bolt in the “safe” position. This is a commonsense feature missing from many bolt-action hunting rifles costing 10 times as much or more.

We tested the Stevens Model 334 with four loads, and while it was not a tack driver—with one group even spreading to 2.48 inches—its overall average was less than two inches. Its best group, fired with the Browning Long Range load, measured less than an inch. This is not a long-range rifle by any stretch, but it has plenty of precision to handle most of the shots on big game that most hunters should be attempting. The checkering was crisp, the rifle felt comfortable on the shoulder, and it never failed to function.

5: Most Versatile Rifle: Franchi Momentum All-Terrain Elite

Most Versatile Rifle

photo of the new Franchi Momentum All-Terrain Elite

Why it Made the Cut

This is not a Scout Rifle, but it’s as much a Scout Rifle as any of the commercial rifles that carry the “scout” name today. What it unquestionably is, is one of the best factory general-purpose rifles currently offered.

Total Score: 88.83

Key Features

  • Length: 40.0 inches
  • Weight: 7.3 pounds w/ magazine
  • Barrel: 18-inch, 1 in 11 twist
  • Action: Bolt, three-lug, 60°
  • Trigger: Relia Trigger, adjustable, single stage
  • Capacity: 10+1, detachable AISC magazine
  • Finish: Midnight Bronze Cerakote (action & barrel) Chrome (bolt)
  • Stock: Synthetic TrueTimber Strata
  • Chambering: 223 Remington, 308 Winchester (tested) 5.56 and 7.62 NATO compatible
  • Price: $1,449

Pros

  • Back up open sights
  • Versatile optics rail
  • Multiple sling attachment points
  • M-Lok compatible

Cons

  • Only available in 223 Remington and 308 Winchester
  • Heavy

Test Panel Notes

  • “If you could only buy one bolt-action rifle for all of your needs, this one is hard to beat.” —M.E.
  • “Very well configured for general-purpose shooting.” —R.M.

Franchi advertises this as an “All Terrain” rifle. I’m not really sure what that means, but they also say it’s for everyday use, and I think that comes closer to describing its intended use. It’s loaded with features that most typical hunting rifles do not have. These include backup sights, six QD swivel attachment points, three M-Lok rails in the forend, a stepped belly of the stock for sandbag/hand support, and a 10-round detachable magazine. There are also accessories available for purchase from Franchi like recoil pads of various thicknesses, replaceable stock combs in three heights, and a standard Picatinny scope rail.

The rifle is also fitted with a longer-than-normal optics rail that gives you options for mounting a traditional riflescope, a scout scope, or a red dot sight. Additionally, it has two sets of back-up open sights. The first are fold-up sights that include an aperture rear that’s adjustable for windage and an AR-style front sight that’s adjustable for elevation. These were adjusted dead on at 50 yards right out of the box. If you fold these sights down, there’s a notch rear sight and a small blade front sight that are integral. They might be considered as some sort of battlesight, but they’re not independently adjustable and placed the bullet about five inches low at 25 yards.

The rifle functioned exquisitely, and the overall average for the four loads we tested at 100 yards was 1.47 inches. Its best group was fired with Browning’s 165-grain Long Range load and measured 0.895-inch. The rifle’s stock seems a bit chunky and had a rattle, and the survivability of what appeared to be a dipped camo finish is questionable. However, if you want one rifle for hunting big game, feral hog eradication, predator calling, and maybe for defending your home from the zombie hoards, this is the gun. I did not want to like it but couldn’t help but respect its versatility, so I gave it my personal favorite point.

6: Bergara B14 Squared Crest

Bergara B-14 Squared Crest

photo of the new Bergara B14 Squared Crest rifle

Why it Made the Cut: This rifle exemplifies the current hunting rifle trend of melding a traditional bolt action with a rifle that’s long-range competition compatible.

Total Score: 90.85

Key Features

  • Length: 41.25 to 42.02 inches
  • Weight: 7.34 pounds, w/ magazine
  • Barrel: 20 inches, fluted, 1 in 8 twist, with muzzle brake and thread protector
  • Action: Bolt, two-lug
  • Trigger: 2.0 pounds (as tested)
  • Capacity: 5+1
  • Finish: Cerakote sniper grey
  • Stock: Carbon fiber with a carbon spine
  • Chambering: 6.5 Creedmoor (tested), 6.5 PRC, 308 Winchester, 300 Winchester Magnum
  • Price: $1,999

Pros

  • Smooth action
  • Precise shooter

Cons

  • Safety doesn’t lock bolt
  • Missing an adjustable comb and rail interface for bipod or tripod attachment

Test Panel Notes

  • “The carbon-fiber-stocked, target-style hunting rifle is becoming somewhat of a standard, and Bergara’s version is solid.” —M.E.
  • “Short, light, accurate, and stylish. A great trigger and a smooth action.” —W.M.
  • “A good shooting, mid-weight Bergara B14 that hunters with long-range aspirations can appreciate.” —R.M.

If you’ll notice, there were less than three points separating the second and eighth-place rifles in this test. Figuratively, we were splitting hairs. It was hard to find anything wrong with the Bergara Squared Crest rifle, it’s best five-shot group was less than an inch and was fired with the Hornady 143-grain Precision Hunter load. Overall, the rifle averaged 1.21 inches for all groups fired and two of the four loads averaged less than an inch. The rifle also functioned without fail, and it has a new stock configuration that includes a carbon-fiber spine that substantially improves rigidity and toughness.

All the rifles in Bergara’s B14 series are well respected. The Squared Crest is built in the style of rifle that many new-millennium hunters are drawn to. With a stock similar to what’s found on sniper/long-range competition rifles and its detachable AICS magazine, it’s suitable for matches like NRL Hunter. However, its thinner barrel and lighter weight make it appealing to hunters who want to hike in deep and extend their reach.

The Squared Crest sort of bridges the gap between Bergara’s traditional hunting Ridge and Hunter B14 rifles and their B14 HMR, which is configured more for competition. It comes with an adjustable length of pull, but we felt that priced at $800 more than the B14 HMR, it should have included an adjustable comb as well. This would have greatly improved the shooter interface. We did appreciate the four quick detach sling swivel points but felt a short rail section would be better than the traditional dual sling swivel studs on the forend. The rifle is also advertised at 6.9 pounds but our test sample in 6.5 Creedmoor weighed 7.34 pounds.

7: Stag Arms Stag 15 Pursuit

Stag Arms Stag 15 Pursuit

photo of Stag Arms Stag 15 Pursuit rifle

Why it Made the Cut: The first dedicated hunting rifle from Stag Arms, this AR15 is offered in two big-game cartridges and is available in right or left-hand configurations.

Total Score: 90.76

Key Features

  • Length: 35.0 to 38.5 inches
  • Weight: 7.48 pounds w/ magazine
  • Barrel: 18 inches, 1-in-8 twist, threaded 5/8×24, with VG6 Gamma Brake
  • Action: Semi-auto, gas impingement, (rifle length)
  • Trigger: Timney Two-Stage Trigger
  • Capacity: 5+1 detachable magazine
  • Finish: Cerakote midnight bronze
  • Stock: Magpul CTR Stock w/ leather check rest
  • Chambering: 6.5 Grendel (tested), 350 Legend
  • Price: $1,599

Pros

  • Available in left or right hand
  • Great trigger
  • Leather-wrapped comb
  • Length of pull adjustable on the fly

Cons

  • Full-length handguard adds unneeded weight
  • Muzzle brake difficult to remove

Test Panel Notes

  • “The Pursuit is not just an AR painted in a hunting color. It has the kinds of features AR shooters like, configured in a way hunters will appreciate too.” —M.E.
  • “Sized right and reliable, this is an AR15 for any hunter, whether they’re left- or right-handed.” —R.M.

Some hunters just can’t warm to the AR15. Not because it’s a political football, or because it’s a semi-automatic, but mostly because its tactical appearance and feel is off-putting to the traditionalist. The new Pursuit line of ARs from Stag might change your mind. They come in a neutral midnight bronze color, the adjustable Magpul stock has a leather-wrapped comb, and the Stag 15 version is chambered for hunting cartridges like the 6.5 Grendel and 350 Legend. Rifles in the Pursuit series also come standard with a Timney two-stage trigger. The one on our test rifle broke icicle crisp at 3.5 pounds.

The AR15 platform was designed for right-handed shooters, but Stag Arms offers all their Pursuit rifles in a right or left-hand configuration. And, the left-handed rifles are mirror images of the right-hand versions—not just built to eject to the left side. The charging handle is also ambidextrous, which simplifies loading and unloading. And the rifles are outfitted with a 16.5-inch M-Lok compatible handguard that had an integral top rail with 42 slots. This allows you to outfit a Pursuit with any optical and/or open-sight configuration you like, including night vision adapters.

We only had two 6.5 Grendel loads to test in the Stag Pursuit. The best group fired was with the Barnes 115-grain TAC X BT load and it measured 1.32 inches. Overall, for all the five-shot groups fired, the rifle averaged 1.66 inches, which is about average for most across-the-counter AR15-style rifles. This rifle was put together well and gave the impression of quality. It also functioned flawlessly. Hammering six accurate hits into the running deer target was as easy as poking a finger in your buddy’s eye when he asks you why you’re hunting with an AR15. Stag Arms also offers a Stag 10 version of the Pursuit which is available in 6.5 Creedmoor or 308 Winchester.

8: Nosler Model 21 Carbon Chassis Hunter

Nosler Model 21 Carbon Chassis Hunter

the new Nosler Model 21 Carbon Chassis Hunter

Why it Made the Cut: Nosler has taken the chassis rifle concept and streamlined it for the big-game hunter.

Total Score: 90.70

Key Features

  • Length: 43.0 inches
  • Weight: 6.55 pounds
  • Barrel: 24 inches,
  • Action: Bolt, two-lug
  • Trigger: Trigger Tech Primary Trigger (2.0 pounds as tested)
  • Capacity: 5+1 (4+1 in 6.5 PRC)
  • Finish: Cerakote
  • Stock: Magnesium chassis, with carbon fiber handguard and collapsible carbon fiber butt stock.
  • Chambering: 6.5 Creedmoor (tested), 6.5 PRC, 28 Nosler, 300 Winchester Magnum
  • Price: $5,395

Pros

  • Lightweight
  • Long barrel for maximum velocity
  • Extreme precision

Cons

  • Expensive as hell
  • Not ideally suited for snap shooting

Test Panel Notes

  • “This rifle is put together like a Swiss watch. Sure, it’s expensive, but you get what you pay for, and Nosler has delivered.” —M.E.
  • “If you have a once-in-a-lifetime tag to fill and a tough shot, this is the rifle for the job.” —W.M.
  • “Too expensive for your average hillbilly like me, but accurate enough for anyone.” —R.M.

Last year Nosler’s Model 21 rifle was selected as the Editor’s Pick of the Field & Stream Rifle Test. This year Nosler’s newest rifle did not achieve that distinction, partly because it is so frigging expensive, but also partly because it is more of a niche rifle for backcountry hunters who want to take long shots. But that does not mean this is not a great rifle, because it is, especially if that’s your idea of hunting.

Built around the excellent Model 21 action, the Nosler Carbon Chassis hunter is available chambered for four proven big-game cartridges and is fitted with either a 24- or 26-inch carbon-fiber-wrapped barrel to extract all the velocity they have to offer. The barreled action rests in a V-block chassis, which is fitted with an ultra-light carbon fiber forend that has an integral ARCA rail, and a folding carbon fiber butt stock that can be adjusted for length of pull. The chassis also has a carbon fiber pistol grip, which while very comfortable for precision engagements, is not ideally suited for snap shooting or quick shots from the off-hand position. This rifle is best at home on a bipod or thrown over a backpack, when you need to reach across a canyon to whack a big mule deer buck.

We tested three loads in this rifle. The Federal Fusion load delivered the best group of 0.53-inch and averaged only 0.64-inch for all groups fired. The Hornady ELD-X Precision Hunter load also averaged less than an inch. However, the rifle did not like the 120-grain Barnes TTSX load, and this opened the overall average up to 1.02 inches. The trigger was excellent, the rifle was easy to carry in hand, and to carry by sling because of the four QD swivel attachment points. We gave it excellent marks in every category except price. If a lightweight, tack-driving, backcountry rifle is what you want, you’ll be hard-pressed to find something better. But neither your wallet nor your spouse will like you very much when you come home with it. The critters you’re shooting at won’t like it either.

9: Marlin 1894 Classic

Marlin 1894 Classic

The new Ruger-made Marlin 1894 lever gun

Why it Made the Cut: Much like with the Marlin 336, the reintroduction of the Marlin 1894 is noteworthy, and it offers those in straight-wall cartridge states a viable option in a lever-action rifle.

Total Score: 89.93

Key Features

  • Length: 37.75 inches
  • Weight: 6.29 pounds
  • Barrel: 20.25 inches, cold hammer forged alloy steel w/ 1-in-20 twist,
  • Action: Lever
  • Trigger: 4.0 to 4.75 pounds (as tested)
  • Finish: Satin blue
  • Stock: American black walnut
  • Chambering: 44 Remington Magnum
  • Price: $1,239

Pros

  • Excellent fit and finish
  • Easy to load
  • Trim forend
  • Nicely balanced

Cons

  • Inconsistent trigger
  • Rudimentary sights

Test Panel Notes

  • “Ruger/Marlin could have cut corners to make this rifle a little cheaper, but they didn’t. If I was in the market for a revolver-cartridge lever-gun, I wouldn’t look anywhere else.” —M.E.
  • “When things get western in the woods, I can think of no better medicine than a fast shooting lever gun like this one in 44 Magnum.” —W.M.
  • “As a hunter, protector, or both, this rifle will allow you to express your inner cowboy. —R.M.

Since just before the beginning of the 20th Century, the lever-action rifle has been America’s rifle. This paradigm began to shift at the beginning of the 21st Century as the AR15 pushed the lever gun to the side and assumed that title. But the lever-action rifle has not died or passed into obsolescence, partly because it is still a viable and dependable general-purpose rifle—and partly because everyone has a little cowboy in them. The Marlin 1894, with its compatibility with revolver cartridges, has always made it a favorite. With its reintroduction, Marlin has made a lot of shooters happy.

This rifle is well put together. The wood-to-metal fit is very well executed, and the metal finish and bluing take you back to a time before plastic stocks and heartless chemical coatings existed. The butt stock on the 1894 has a straight grip and it is capped off with a thin, brown recoil pad. The pad is probably not necessary, but unlike the old plastic butt plates Marlin used, it keeps the rifle from sliding across the floor when you lean it in the corner behind the door. The action was very smooth. It cycled and fired 44 Special ammunition perfectly, but we did experience some sticky extraction with the hottest 44 Magnum loads. The receiver is drilled and tapped for scope mounts and is compatible with aftermarket XS or Skinner-style aperture sights.

From the bench, the 1894 was not a tack driver. But 44 Magnum lever guns never have been. With the five loads tested, it averaged 3.17 inches, and with a riflescope attached, its best groups were right at 2.5 inches with the now discontinued 240-grain load from Sig Sauer and the relatively new 270-grain Federal HammerDown load. The trigger pull was crisp but a bit inconsistent; it varied in pull weight from 4.0 to 4.75 pounds. However, for snap-shooting deer, this rifle will excel. On our running deer target, it was as deadly as a double shot of Jägermeister. Those who hunt deer in the timber, feral hogs over bait, want a compact rifle for trailing bear hounds, or a rifle for bear defense will be more than pleased with the 1894 Marlin.

10: Savage Impulse Mountain Hunter

Savage Impulse Mountain Hunter

photo of the new Savage Impulse Mountain Hunter rifle

Why it Made the Cut: Its innovative design should appeal to big-game hunters. It’s also chambered in a good assortment of trusted big-game cartridges.

Total Score: 79.90

Key Features

  • Length: 44.75 inches (adjustable)
  • Weight: 7.19 pounds
  • Barrel: 22 inches, Proof Research carbon fiber wrapped stainless steel, threaded at 5/8×24, muzzle brake and thread protector, w/ 1-in-10 twist
  • Action: Impulse, straight pull, ball bearing lock-up
  • Trigger: AccuTrigger, (3.25 pounds as tested)
  • Capacity: 4+1, Detachable magazine
  • Finish: Anodized black
  • Stock: Synthetic AccuStock
  • Chambering: 6.5 Creedmoor, 6.5 PRC, 270 Winchester, 7mm Remington Magnum, 7mm PRC, 28 Nosler, 308 Winchester (tested), 300 Winchester Magnum, 300 Winchester Short Magnum
  • Price: $2,437

Pros

  • Very precise shooting
  • Lightest Impulse yet
  • 20 MOA scope rail integral to the action

Cons

  • Inconsistent/unreliable action operation
  • Extremely difficult to remove the muzzle brake

Test Panel Notes

  • “While I am not a fan of this action, this version of the Impulse is the best I’ve seen. Previous versions were too heavy, in my opinion, but this one carries lighter and is very accurate.” —M.E.
  • “It’s nickel-splitting accurate, but Savage needs to refine this action or forget it.” R.M.

This is the second year we’ve included a Savage Impulse in our rifle test, and just like last year we were somewhat underwhelmed. But the rifle does has some very good qualities, so let’s start there. Out of the box, the Impulse Mountain Hunter comes with Savage’s great user-adjustable AccuTrigger and their AccuStock, which is also user adjustable in length-of-pull and comb height. Both contribute greatly to shooter interface. The carbon-fiber-wrapped stainless steel barrel from Proof Research is also a nice touch. The rifle shot great and averaged 1.08 inches with the four loads tested. Its best five-shot group, which was fired with the 165-grain Browning Long Range load, measured only 0.607-inch. One of the rifle’s nicest features is that the bolt handle can be moved to the left side, which means the rifle is ambidextrous.

Now for the not-so-good. We had to heat the muzzle brake and use a pipe wrench to get it off the barrel so we could run a suppressor. More important, we had issues with action operation when we stepped away from the bench and began running it like a hunter would. Sometimes it would not open, especially when it got hot. Sometimes it would not fully close, particularly during fast cycling. But when it worked it was fast. On the moving deer target, we could get four shots off. (Interestingly, we did the same with two other standard bolt action rifles.) Maybe there’s a learning curve associated with this rifle. There shouldn’t be, and if there is we missed the memo. Also, it’s advertised as a “mountain” rifle, so you’d expect it to weigh less. All of that said, it’s a unique rifle that’s based on a proven concept, but it needs refinement.

Riflescopes, Accessories & Ammunition

photo of F&S rifle test accessories including scope and ammo

You cannot test rifles without optics, ammunition, and targets. Every rifle in our test was outfitted with the excellent Leupold VX-3HD 4.5-14X40 CDS-ZL riflescope, and in most cases mounted in Leupold rings. Thompson Target provided all the targets for the precision testing and field shooting. Barnes, Browning, Buffalo Bore, Federal, Hornady, Remington, and Winchester, provided lots of ammunition in various bullet weights and styles.

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The Best Rifles of 2022

In case you missed last year’s test, here were our picks for 2022—and just about all of these rifles are still made, still great, and still available.

The Rest of the Best Rifles of 2022

Best Rifles of 2022, Reviews and Recommendations

Big Game Hunting Gear photo

Why It Made the Cut: The ideal hunting rifle should balance between the hands, deliver sub-MOA precision, and weigh less than the average house cat. It should also be slim, trim, and rugged. This perfectly describes the Nosler Model 21, which stood out from the pack among the best rifles of 2023.

Key Features

  • Score: 94.56 points
  • Length: 41.65 inches
  • Weight: 6.8 pounds
  • Barrel: 22-inch
  • Action: 4340 Chrome Moly Steel
  • Trigger: Trigger Tech (adjustable)
  • Finish: Cerakote & Nitride
  • Stock: McMillan Hunters Edge Sporter Stock
  • Chambering: 6.5 Creedmoor (tested)
  • Price: $2,795

Pros

  • Excellent balance
  • Dime-splitting accuracy
  • Great craftsmanship

Cons

  • Expensive
  • Limited non-Nosler chamberings

Test Panel Notes

  • “A virtually flawless rifle. It balances well and stays on target off-hand because it has enough weight up front.” —Dave Hurteau
  • “Excellent fit and finish. I’d be proud to own this rifle.” —Matthew Every
  • “This is one of the top five rifles I’ve ever tested.”—Richard Mann

Since 1948, Nosler has established a trusted reputation with hunters by delivering some of the best game bullets made. For some time now, they’ve been building rifles, and the Model 21 is their newest offering. The heart of the Model 21 is a two-lug action made from 4340 chrome moly steel. It features an M16 style extractor and a plunger style ejector, with a spiral-fluted, Nitride-coated bolt, and a threaded bolt handle. The bolt can be disassembled without tools.

The Model 21’s barrel is threaded, and the barreled action is bedded in a McMillan Hunters Edge Sporter Stock made of carbon fiber. The stock is shaped well and is slim and trim in hand. In my opinion, it feels much better than it looks; its black base dotted with white spots gives the appearance it lives in the bottom of a pigeon’s cage. However, beauty is found in many ways, and it’s hard to say a perfectly-balanced, less-than-7-pound rifle, that will consistently put bullet after bullet into sub-MOA groups, is not gorgeous.

This rifle had an air of excellence that you could smell as soon as you picked it up. Not only did it outscore all the hunting rifles, but it also outscored all the rifles tested. We felt the Model 21 was put together the best, it was the second most precise shooting hunting rifle, and it outperformed them all on the practical shooting exercise. However, you must pay to play with all this wonderfulness; the Model 21 was the second most expensive of all the rifles. Maybe the thing we liked about it the least was that out of the 12 available chamberings, only six were for non-Nosler cartridges. I also wish the safety locked the bolt.

Big Game Hunting Gear photo

Why It Made the Cut: With everything you need in a precision rifle that comes in a package that’s light enough to carry all day on the hunt, the Bergara Premier MG Lite is an excellent crossover option.

Key Features

  • Score: 91.55 points
  • Length: 43-45 inches
  • Weight: 6.8 pounds
  • Barrel: 22-inch or (24-inch in 300 Win. Mag.) CURE carbon barrel
  • Action: Bergara Premier
  • Trigger: Trigger Tech (adjustable)
  • Finish: Cerakote
  • Stock: XLR magnesium chassis w/ folding stock
  • Chambering: 6.5 Creedmoor (tested)
  • Price: $3300

Pros

  • Accurate
  • Lightweight
  • Versatile

Cons

  • Only four chamberings available
  • Expensive

Test Panel Notes

  • “I wouldn’t hesitate to take this rifle hunting, and it would be perfect for field-shooting matches like NRL Hunter.” M.E.
  • “If you’re a traditionalist, you won’t like this rifle…until you shoot it.” R.M.

If long-range precision is the game, your rifle needs to put bullets close together on target. This rifle, though only the fourth most precise shooting rifle tested, averaged 0.80-inch with the five loads we shot through it. That’s more than enough precision to win a match or heart-shoot a mule deer. And this duality is exactly what sets this rifle apart. Though it’s configured to perform as a long-range precision rifle, it’s light and handy enough for hunting on the back 40 or in the backcountry.

Built on a lightweight magnesium chassis with full M-Lok compatibility, this rifle accepts AICS-style magazines, has a folding stock with an adjustable cheek piece, full-length ARCA-rail forend, and a vertical AR-style grip. Combined with the carbon-fiber-wrapped barrel, you end up with a lightweight and packable, tack-driving rifle. A TriggerTech trigger serves as the go-switch and a suppressor-ready threaded muzzle comes with a muzzle brake. For optics mounting, the receiver is compatible with a Remington 700—8×40 screws—scope base, and the chassis even features a built-in bubble level.

From a user interface perspective, the Bergara Premier MG Lite outperformed both of the other precision rifles during our practical shooting test, and we felt the quality of construction was top-notch. Pound-for-pound, it was the second most accurate rifle we tested, and it delivered the second smallest individual group out of the entire test with 140-grain Nosler Match ammo. Maybe best suited to the precision shooter who wants to hunt, it could also be a hunting rifle that wants to, and is capable of, competing at distance. Though this is not a rifle that’ll warm your heart like granddad’s Winchester Model 70, it will outshoot it.

Big Game Hunting Gear photo

Why It Made the Cut: There will always be a place for a well-made, reliable, and accurate, rifle that can be had for less than a single paycheck. The Mauser M18 not only meets those requisites, but it does so with a fair bit of grace.

Key Features

  • Score: 90.40 points
  • Length: 42 inches
  • Weight: 6.4 pounds
  • Barrel: 22-inch Cold hammer forged German carbon steel
  • Action: 60° Bolt-action
  • Trigger: Adjustable (2.25 to 4.25 pounds)
  • Stock: Tan and black synthetic
  • Chambering: .308 Winchester (tested)
  • Price: $850

Pros

  • 60° bolt lift
  • Three-position safety
  • Adjustable stock

Cons

Test Panel Notes

  • “An affordable rifle that does not scream ‘cheap.’” —D.H.
  • “A rifle I’d have the utmost confidence in just about anywhere.” —M.E.
  • “This is a lot of rifle for the money.” —R.M.

If there is one name that stands tall in the world of rifles, it’s Mauser. The Model 98 Mauser is not only legendary, its deeds and performance rise to mythical levels. The new M18 Mauser is not a Model 98, but it proved to be a very fine rifle. The only similarity the M18 has to the original M98 is that it comes in only one action length. The M18 is offered in nine chamberings, from .223 Remington to .300 Winchester Magnum, but with all these rifles the action size is the same. And the action is a bit different from the old 98. It features a three-lug bolt with a 60° lift, and an oversized bolt handle. It is very swift and smooth to operate, and it feeds from a detachable, five-round magazine.

The action, which is outfitted with a threaded, cold-hammer-forged, 22-inch barrel (24-inch for magnum cartridges) rests in a very attractive, tan-colored synthetic stock that has soft inserts at the grip and forend. The lines are classic, and the drop is neutral, which allows for a good cheek weld. The stock also has a unique storage compartment in the rear for a small cleaning kit or first aid items. The trigger is adjustable, and the three-position safety that locks the bolt is a nice touch.

The Savannah comes with a sub-MOA precision guarantee. We tested five loads in this rifle and overall, it failed to meet this level of precision with three of the five. But every rifle will have several loads it does not like. The M18’s best group average was with the Nosler Ballistic Tip load, which came in at 0.69-inch. For me, recoil for a .308 seemed a bit stiff but everyone agreed this rifle balanced nicely.

Big Game Hunting Gear photo

Why It Made the Cut: Hunters wanting a rifle capable of precision at distance, for hunting, recreation, or even competition, will be hard-pressed to find a better option near this price point. From a precision standpoint, this rifle outshot every hunting gun in our test of the best rifles of 2023.

Key Features

  • Score: 91.01 points
  • Length: 38.25 inches
  • Weight: 8.9 pounds
  • Barrel: 18-inch Carbon steel
  • Action: Carbon steel
  • Trigger: Savage AccuTrigger
  • Finish: Cerakote
  • Stock: Magpul black synthetic
  • Chambering: 6.5 Creedmoor (tested)
  • Price: $1045

Pros

  • Fantastic precision
  • Adjustable trigger
  • Adjustable stock

Cons

  • Only available in 6.5 Creedmoor and .308 Winchester
  • Heavy

Test Panel Notes

  • “Cycles a little rough, but this rifle really shoots.” —D.H.
  • “A great option for someone who wants a rifle to hunt and shoot matches with.” —M.E.
  • “This is a fantastically good-shooting and affordable rifle that crosses over between hunting and long-range shooting.” —R.M.

Regardless of your opinion of what long-range is, and of what distance is too far to shoot a big game animal, hunters are looking for rifles that will let them reach out. One of the things that’s needed for any type of distance shooting is precision, and that’s where this rifle delivered. Every five-shot group fired with this rifle measured less than an inch—the best coming from 143-grain Hornady ELD Match. This is not surprising for Savage rifles; they have a reputation for accuracy. What is surprising is that even at almost 9 pounds, this rifle scored third best in the pound-for-pound accuracy category.

It’s built on the classic Savage 110 action, but it’s tricked out with a bunch of goodies. It has a factory-blueprinted action available in right or left hand, a threaded muzzle, a tactical bolt knob, and it comes with a 20-MOA scope rail and feeds from AICS pattern magazines. It also comes with a Magpul stock that’s adjustable for length of pull and comb height with M-Lok compatibility on the forend.

On the downside, the rifle is a bit heavy for general-purpose hunting. With a suitable long-range riflescope, you’re looking at more than 10 pounds. The rifle also has sort of a weird hunting/tactical vibe; it gives the impression that it doesn’t know what kind of rifle it wants to be. However, that’s also part of the rifle’s strength. It shoots well enough to thrive in long-range competition and in the field.

Big Game Hunting Gear photo

Why It Made the Cut: If only accurate rifles are interesting, then this rifle is attention-grabbing. Its affordability and futuristic look only add to its appeal.

Key Features

  • Score: 88.20 points
  • Length: 44.25 inches
  • Weight: 7.1 pounds
  • Barrel: 24-inch cold hammer forged barrel
  • Action: 60° bolt-action
  • Trigger: Adjustable (2.0 to 4.0 pounds)
  • Finish: Cerakote
  • Stock: Synthetic with camo finish
  • Chambering: 6.5 Creedmoor (tested)
  • Price: $899

Pros

  • Good trigger
  • Accurate
  • Smooth bolt operation

Cons

  • Three-round detachable magazine
  • Only four chamberings

Test Panel Notes

  • “Good trigger, fit and finish is fine, but I don’t like the location of the magazine release.” —D.H.
  • “I like how fast and smooth the bolt is to operate.” —M.E.
  • “A bit futuristic looking, but it’s a solid performer for the price.” —R.M.

Of all the rifles tested, this rifle was the second least expensive. Even though it didn’t get high marks for quality of construction, and it felt a bit odd in the hand, on the practical shooting drill, it performed well. It also turned in a sub-MOA average group size. On the plus side, this rifle has a light contour barrel that’s free-floated, an adjustable trigger, comes with a threaded muzzle and a muzzle brake, and a one-piece scope rail. The bolt is massive and has three locking lugs, but it’s lightning fast and cycles smoothly.

The uniquely-shaped stock, which has integrated sling attachments, is available in a variety of camo finishes, and the TSA pad seemed to do a good job limiting felt recoil. The rifle also comes with a MOA precision guarantee, which it met. The downside is the detachable magazine which only holds three cartridges. Because it’s a single-stack magazine it probably helps with the smooth feeding and keeps the rifle stock trim at the balance point, but it limits capacity even with the small diameter .350 Legend offering. Higher capacity magazines are available.

The rifle’s balance seemed a bit off and the lack of a conventional forward sling swivel would make adding a quality bipod difficult. Even though this was no one’s favorite rifle, we all shot it very well from the bench and off-hand. Its price, pound-for-pound precision score, and its performance on the practical shooting drill placed it fifth overall.

Big Game Hunting Gear photo

Why It Made the Cut: Long-range precision rifles tend to be expensive. Relatively speaking, this one is not. It also outshot every gun we fired in our best of the best rifles of 2023. The largest group it fired measured less than ¾ of an inch.

Key Features

  • Price: 86.76 points
  • Length: 46 inches
  • Weight: 9 pounds, 14 ounces
  • Barrel: 26-inch Stainless fluted
  • Action: Browning X-Bolt
  • Trigger: Target DLX adjustable
  • Finish: Matte blue
  • Stock: Black composite
  • Chambering: 6.5 Creedmoor (tested)
  • Price: $1730 

Pros

  • Excellent precision
  • Flawless function

Cons

  • Size
  • Only available in three cartridges

Test Panel Notes

  • “The bottom line is, this rifle shoots great. It may not have the bells and whistles of other precision rifles, but it is a solid setup for anybody looking for a sub-$2,000 long-range rifle.” —M.E.
  • “Browning continues to prove that extreme precision can be had affordably.” —R.M.

The average price for the rifles we tested was $1823. The Browning X-Bolt Target Max came in at $93 under this average and still managed to outshoot every other rifle in our test. Nothing else came close. This rifle also has a lot of features those looking to perform at distance demand. It has a stiffer receiver than common X-Bolt rifles, a Recoil Hawg muzzle brake, an adjustable trigger, a comfortable vertical grip, and an easily adjustable comb. The butt stock’s flat bottom meshes well with a rear bag, and in addition to sling swivel studs, there’s an accessory rail on the forend for a bipod or tripod.

Unless you’re hunting from a shooting house, this rifle is a bit large and heavy to carry in the field. Also, without a chassis-style stock, ARCA rail, and M-Lok compatibility, it lost some points to the other two precision rifles in our test. It’s also only available in 6mm Creedmoor, 6.5mm Creedmoor, and .308 Winchester. Though we could nit-pick its configuration and features as they relate to the long-range game, what we couldn’t do was find anything about this rifle that did not perform. It shot great, functioned perfectly, and was a pleasure to shoot.

MARLIN 1895 TRAPPER

Why It Made the Cut: If a compact and powerful repeating rifle is what you want, this rife is what you need. It handles like a quarter horse, shoots like a bolt-gun, and is hits hard.

Key Features

  • Score: 85.07 points
  • Length: 34.25 inches
  • Weight: 7.1 pounds
  • Barrel: 16.10 inch, Cold Hammer Forged Stainless Steel
  • Action: CNC machined from 416 stainless steel forgings
  • Trigger: Stock
  • Finish: Satin Stainless Steel
  • Stock: Black Laminate Hardwood
  • Chambering: .45-70 Government
  • Price: $1349

Pros

Cons

  • Expensive for a lever gun
  • A handful with heavy loads

Test Panel Notes

  • “Just what it should be.” —D.H.
  • “This rifle makes me excited to see what Ruger keeps doing with Marlin.” —M.E.
  • “Of all the lever guns that Marlin makes or has ever made, this one is my favorite.” —R.M.

Lever action lovers felt their hearts sink in 2020 when Remington closed the doors at Marlin. However, when Ruger purchased Marlin we found hope, and so far, that hope has been rewarded with three great lever guns. The 1895 Trapper, the newest of the trio, is a compact lever gun with a muted stainless steel finish and a dark, subdued stock. This rifle is put together as well if not better than any Marlin we’ve seen.

For testing, we mounted a fixed Leupold 2.5X riflescope and fired all the groups with this rifle at 50 yards as opposed to 100. At that distance, most groups hovered around the 1-inch mark, but a few were half that size. Out of the box, the Trapper is drilled for a scope base but comes with a Skinner aperture rear sight and a white-striped post front sight. This is a great combination for fast-action, short-range shooting, but we switched out the rear sight for a Skinner sight and base that let us mount the Leupold scope above the aperture sight. On the practical hunting drill, the Trapper performed third-best of all the rifles tested.

The rifle is well balanced and handles like a dream. However, with full power .47-70 loads, the recoil will get your attention and the muzzle blast will get everyone else’s. If you can handle the kick, this rifle will handle anything you want to shoot with it. It was smooth to operate and functioned without fail. We’d like to see it ship with the scope-base Skinner aperture sight to aid with scope mounting. One thing to remember with the .45-70, given the varying power levels of ammunition, you’ll have to re-zero the factory sights as you switch between loads.

CHRISTENSEN ARMS RIDGELINE SCOUT

Why It Made the Cut: This rifle is worth considering if weight is your primary concern. It wasn’t feather light, but any rifle weighing less than 6 pounds that will deliver sub-MOA groups deserves recognition.

Key Features

  • Score: 80.49 points
  • Length: 37.5 inches 
  • Weight: 5.9 pounds
  • Barrel: 16-inch, 416R Stainless Steel Carbon Fiber Wrapped
  • Action: Christensen Arms Precision Machined
  • Trigger: Trigger Tech Flat Shoe Trigger
  • Finish: Black Nitride
  • Stock: Christensen Arms Carbon Fiber Composite
  • Chambering: .223 Remington (tested)
  • Price: $2199 

Pros

  • Lightweight
  • Second best overall pound-for-pound accuracy
  • Well made

Cons

  • Expensive
  • Limited chamberings
  • Poor balance

Test Panel Notes

  • “Really well made.” —D.H.
  • “Feels good in the hand, but is a little light in the front. Still, it would fit right in on a pick-up truck gun rack.” —M.E.
  • “Very handy and easy to carry, but not a true Scout Rifle.” —R.M.

It seems like everyone these days wants to use the term “scout rifle” to describe a handy, carbine-sized, centerfire rifle. Jeff Cooper defined what a Scout Rifle is years ago, and the Christensen Arms Ridgeline Scout is not a Scout Rifle. However, it is a very compact and lightweight bolt-action rifle, and most of the loads we tested in this rifle turned in 5-shot groups smaller than an inch. As you would expect, given its maker and price, the rifle is also put together well with quality components.

This Ridgeline Scout features a scope-mounting rail, and there is another rail under the forend for attaching accessories such as a bipod or a front swivel mount. (Oddly, the rifle comes only with a rear sling-swivel mount and none for the front.) The accessory rail also has a barricade stop. This might be helpful on the range, but its practicality afield is questionable. The same could be said of the flash hider. The 16-inch barrel is carbon-fiber wrapped and threaded, so you can ditch the flash suppressor for a sound suppressor, which would be an excellent idea. The added weight of a suppressor would help offset the rifle’s poor balance. We found the rifle was quick to the shoulder, and fast to cycle with the oversized bolt handle, but it was a bit butt-heavy for precise off-hand shooting.

Available chamberings are limited to three AR15 cartridges and two short-action cartridges, but all have the appropriate twist rates for high BC bullets. Out of the three weights of bullets we tried, the Ridgeline Scout liked Federal 62-grain American Eagle that shot a .579-inch group. The test rifle was chambered for the .223 Remington, so we could not make a practical assessment on recoil. However, we did like that it was compatible with AICS-pattern detachable magazines.

Savage Impulse Precision

Savage Impulse Elite

Why It Made the Cut: This rifle is well configured for long-range precision shooting. It would also be a great companion rifle to a standard Savage Impulse used for hunting.

Key Features

  • Score: 78.57 points
  • Length: 48.75 inches
  • Weight: 13.7 pounds
  • Barrel: 26-inch stainless steel
  • Action: Savage Impulse
  • Trigger: 1.5 to 4-pound AccuTrigger
  • Finish: Matte
  • Stock: ACC Chassis
  • Chambering: 6.5 Creedmoor (tested)
  • Price: $2500

Pros

  • Adjustability
  • Available chamberings

Cons

Test Panel Notes

  • “Difficult to balance on a barricade. The action takes a bit of getting used to.” —M.E.
  • “This rifle left me thinking, Why? —R.M.

This rifle left us a bit confused and somewhat underwhelmed. Among the best rifles of 2023 that we tested, this one was the second most expensive precision rifle we tested and the third most expensive rifle overall. However, from a precision standpoint, it delivered the ninth best performance averaging only 1.18-inches for all loads tested. MOA precision is not bad until you consider that the standard hunting rifles we tested cost and weighed half as much but shot better.

On the plus side, during our practical shooting drill, the rifle performed well, though we did struggle a bit with its balance. It has all the features those wanting to reach into the next county want. The stock is adjustable for length of pull and comb height, it has a comfortable vertical grip with an adjustable 1.5- to 4-pound AccuTrigger, the ACC chassis accepts AICS magazines, and its long forend has an integral ARCA rail with plenty of M-Lok compatibility. Additionally, the bolt handle is ambidextrous. The rifle is also chambered for seven long-range-suitable cartridges, including the .338 Lapua.

We did not like the trigger. Out of the box—which is how we tested every rifle’s trigger—it seemed to be set at the highest pull weight. We also were a bit perplexed as to why Savage would offer the straight pull Impulse action on a precision rifle. It’s already a tough sell to American shooters who have never liked the concept, and it takes some getting used to. But if you have a standard Savage Impulse as a hunting rifle, and you like the action, then this rifle could make sense.

Howa Carbon Elevate

Howa Carbon Elevate

Why It Made the Cut: This rifle features an incredibly reliable action with an ultra-light stock. It’s no doubt in the running for the lightest, most affordable, bolt-action big game rifle on the market.

Key Features

  • Score: 78.29 points
  • Length: 44 inches
  • Weight: 4 pounds, 13 ounces
  • Barrel: Threaded, 24-inch Carbon fiber wrapped (tested)
  • Action: HOWA 1500
  • Trigger: H.A.C. T. Two Stage, with 3 position safety
  • Finish: Matte blue
  • Stock: Stocky’s Carbon Fiber w/Kryptek Altitude camo finish
  • Chambering: .308 Winchester (tested)
  • Price: $1566

Pros

  • Well-designed action
  • Incredibly light

Cons

  • Flimsy stock with flaky finish
  • Only offered in four chamberings

Test Panel Notes

  • “Finish is bad—I could scratch the paint off with a fingernail.” —D.H.
  • “So light you almost don’t know it’s there, and it’s affordable for the space-age materials it’s made from.” —M.E.
  • “I liked everything about this rifle but the stock.” —R.M.

The Japanese-made Howa action is in fact very well designed. It features a two-lug bolt, a plunger ejector, a Sako-style extractor, and the three-position safety locks the bolt in the safe position. This is the action that the Nosler Model 21 is based upon. For what it’s worth, HOWA also manufactures the Weatherby Vanguard action. Though HOWA offers this action in many chamberings, their Carbon Elevate rifle is only available in four: 6.5 Grendel, 6.5 Creedmoor, 6.5 PRC, and .308 Winchester. There are two primary differences in these four offerings. The Grendel has a 20-inch barrel and feeds from a detachable box magazine. The other three have 24-inch barrels and an internal magazine.

Howa rifles typically shoot well. This one did not. It averaged 1.43 inches for all loads tested. We did notice the threaded muzzle cap tended to unthread during shooting. This can change barrel harmonics, so we removed it and watched our groups tighten slightly. The best shooting load out of this rifle was 150-grain Nosler Ballistic Tip, which came in at 1.07-inches. Though the rifle balanced well, recoil seemed a bit exaggerated.

What we did not like about the Carbon Elevate was the stock. Though the barreled action is from Japan, the stock is made from an American company called Stocky’s. It weighs only 21 ounces and alone it retails for $600.00. We felt it was a bit flimsy and found the camo wrap to be substandard—it almost started flaking away in a few areas. However, this rifle is incredibly lightweight; at 4 pounds,13 ounces it was the lightest rifle we tested. It was even a full pound lighter than the diminutive Christensen Ridgeline Scout.


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