In Part One of this series of the 10 Best Deer Rifles, we mentioned the handy brush guns including the Winchester '94, the Marlin 336, the Savage 99, the classic Springfield 1903, and the durable SKS. Now let's look at the rest of the story...
In 1936, Winchester developed what many have called "The Rifleman's Rifle." This bolt-action beauty was the benchmark for a sporting rifle. Based on lessons learned making military rifles in WWI, the company borrowed what worked and gave it a twist to make a firearm that was accurate, and even more reliable than a service-grade weapon. They were so popular that the Marines bought commercial off the shelf models, added scopes, and issued them to their snipers from Guadalcanal through Vietnam. The most famous sniper shot every, Carlos Hathcock's through-the-lens-of-the-enemy-sniper's-scope hit, was made with a Model 70. If it's good enough for the good Gunny Hathcock, it's good enough for the average deer hunter. Available in everything from .22 Hornet to 470 Capstick, there is a flavor out there for anyone.
The 1956-designed Savage bolt-gun was the company's answer to the Winchester model 70 and it was heard loud and clear. Often seen for a long time as the entry-level bolt-action, it has been a best seller and continues in production to this day.
Starting in 1962, Remington issued a challenge to the rest of the firearms community to beat its latest design of bolt-action rifle. Produced in short-action, long action, and standard-action, there are an overwhelming number of variations to the Remington 700. You can get anything from a 6-pound .17HMR to a 10-pound Safari-grade .458WM rifle and they will both be the same fundamental firearm. Some 5-million model 700s have left the assembly lines and they are crowd pleasers. They have found such a huge following that the US Army has used versions of the 700 for its sniper rifle platform for the last 25-years. Southeastern deer hunters prefer this gun in medium sized chamberings such as .243Winchester for swamp deer, while mule deer snipers choose .300Win rounds and larger.
Ruger got into the deer rifle game late but came in swinging. In direct competition with the Winchester 70, Savage 110, and Remington 700, Ruger made a modernized Mauser action (sound familiar?) with their own twist. Adding an angled action screw that drew the action down made it more stable and imparted additional inherent accuracy. A redesigned bolt and trigger gave a faster lock time. These rifles are gaining slow but steady traction among deerstalkers coast to coast.
While Eugene Stoner and associates came up with a plastic-stocked space age rifle in the 1960s, everyone else was still trying to reinvent the Mauser. This short, light, and capable semi-auto could be packed by even the smallest adult and shot accurately. With the gun having a modular design, the upper receiver including the barrel, the user in the field can swap bolt, and follower out. Chamberings include .22, .223 (5.56 x 45mm), 6.8 SPC, .308, .450 Bushmaster and others, usually just a five minute changeover away. Today these firearms aren't just for military and police use anymore and are some of the most popular hunting and target rifles on the market. They are, in the verbiage of the NSSF, the modern sporting rifle.
Of course, our ten best list isn't the do all/be all and there were several rifles that were tied for 11th place such as the Ruger Ranch Rifle and Browning BAR. Bottom line is that while any of the above are strong choices for those pesky acorn eaters, the best deer gun is the one that puts meat in the freezer, no matter what list its on.