Once upon a time, buying a cheap bolt-action rifle meant you got, well, a cheap rifle. The trigger was probably awful, the craftsmanship was questionable, and accuracy would be minute of deer—if you were lucky. Unless you could fork over the cash for a higher-end model from a major brand, you had to live with what you got … which often wasn’t very much. My, how times have changed! There’s a new crop of budget bolt guns that are not only accurate, but also promise minute of angle accuracy. Terrible, heavy triggers are a thing of the past; they have been replaced by lighter, creep-free models that are often user adjustable. Bargain guns don’t have to be beautiful, but they had better perform.
It certainly is a buyer’s market for bolt guns—but which rifle should you choose? Good question. For practical purposes, we’ve capped the MSRP on these “budget” guns at $600, which means street price will likely be lower.
Here are seven of our favorite affordable hunting rifles for 2017.
Remington’s Model 783 offers a button-rifle barrel that is free floated, a one-piece receiver with minimized ejection port and an adjustable CrossFire bladed trigger. The synthetic stock is pillar bedded, and the detachable box magazine holds four rounds in standard calibers and three rounds in magnums. It’s available as a package gun and comes with a pre-mounted and bore-sighted 3-9×40 scope for just $399—a real bargain, even among budget guns. I used this rifle for a cull whitetail and hog hunt in Texas and was very impressed with the accuracy and feel of the gun, which produced MOA groups with Remington ammo.
Mossberg is best known for its hard-working, affordable pump shotguns, but the brand’s Patriot bolt action is quickly gaining a following among big-game hunters. These guns come with a fluted, crowned barrel, a spiral-fluted bolt, scope bases, a detachable box magazine and Mossberg’s adjustable LBA bladed trigger. There are many different configurations, including synthetic, laminate and walnut stocks, and many caliber options, with prices starting at $397. You can also opt for a combo rifle with a pre-mounted Vortex scope package. I dragged a Patriot rifle through the desert mountains of west Texas on an aoudad hunt earlier this year and, in true Mossberg fashion, the rifle shrugged off the elements and performed perfectly.
“Bargain guns don’t have to be beautiful, but they had better perform.”
The Compass comes with a long list of great features: a barrel that is threaded and capped, 5R rifling, a flush-fit, detachable rotary magazine, adjustable position and a three-position safety—all for $399. The bolt knob and forearm design are unique but very functional, and the black synthetic stock is very durable. This rifle utilizes a three-lug bolt that allows for a short (60-degree) bolt lift, and the minimized ejection port adds rigidity and improves accuracy.
This allows T/C to back this rifle with a sub-MOA guarantee. It’s available in 11 calibers that range from .204 Ruger to .300 Winchester Magnum. There’s very little in the world you can’t hunt with this sleek budget gun.
The AB3 looks, feels and shoots like an expensive rifle, but with an MSRP of $599.99 for the composite model, it just squeaks in under the $600 limit. It comes with a smooth-cycling, three-lug bolt with an oversized bolt body and an air-gauged, hand-chambered, free-floated barrel for optimum accuracy. The detachable box magazine is durable and functions flawlessly, and the Inflex recoil pad helps reduce recoil. The safety is positioned on the tang, and there’s a bolt release button that must be depressed to operate the bolt with the safety engaged. A Micro Stalker version with a 22-inch barrel and 13-inch length of pull is available, as well, and there’s a walnut stock model that breaks the $600 MSRP limit (although street prices will likely be under $600). Regardless of the variant you choose, this gun is a solid option. I’ve used it on multiple hunts and have always been very impressed.
Savage has a long history of building accurate budget guns, and the AXIS II is a standout in this field. Every aspect of this rifle is designed for consistency and accuracy, from the hand-straightened bolts to the locknut design that allows for perfect headspacing. The result? An extremely accurate rifle at an affordable price. The AXIS II isn’t the cheapest rifle in Savage’s stable (that would be the closely related AXIS), but for a few dollars more, the AXIS II comes with the brand’s ground-breaking AccuTrigger, which is both safe and precise. In my opinion, it is worth the extra money. Other features include a synthetic stock, carbon-steel barrel, detachable box magazine and a tang-mounted safety. For $485, you can have a Savage AXIS II XP package rifle, which comes with a bore-mounted 3-9×40 scope—a great bargain.
The team at Winchester has done an excellent job balancing production costs and premium features with the XPR. The chrome-moly barrel is button rifled and target crowned, and there’s a barrel nut that allows the barrel and receiver to match square and true with perfect headspacing, greatly improving accuracy potential. There’s a steel recoil lug that is integral to the stock and is keyed into the receiver, along with a nickel Teflon three-lug bolt for a short bolt lift and fluid cycling. There’s a traditional two-position safety with a bolt unlock button that rides behind the bolt handle. The MOA trigger from the Model 70 has found its way into this budget rifle. There are several caliber options that range up to .338 Win Mag. Prices start at $549.99 for the black synthetic full-sized and youth models, and $599 for the Mossy Oak camo models. Regardless of which version you choose, the XPR is simply one of the very best budget guns available today.
“It certainly is a buyer’s market for bolt guns—but which rifle should you choose?”
The American rifle has become a standard among budget guns; it is an affordable, accurate rifle family that has grown to include eight different models. All these guns come with a Marksman Adjustable Trigger, cold hammer-forged barrel, Power Bedding, barrel nut, tang safety, detachable box magazine and much more. The result? A deadly accurate, American-made rifle at a very reasonable price point: just $489 for the base model. There are Compact models, as well as a green-stocked Predator version and a Ranch model, so you have a lot of options. There’s even a Ranch model in .450 Bushmaster that is perfect for states that limit deer hunters to straight-wall cartridges. Regardless of the version you choose, these guns are dependable and accurate. I used one on an Alberta black bear hunt and have tested several versions on the range. I have yet to be disappointed by any of them.
Mossberg knows how to build a tough gun, but it also knows how to build a beautiful rifle. Case in point: the Patriot Revere. The Revere utilizes the same push-feed, dual-lug action as other Patriot rifles and mates the barreled action with a beautiful piece of 2.0-grade European walnut. The stock is further enhanced by the addition of a rosewood forend and maple-accented grip caps.
The look of the rifle is further enhanced by the addition of fine line checkering. At its heart, the Patriot is still a working rifle with the same key features you’d expect: LBA bladed trigger (adjustable between 2 and 7 pounds), scope bases and a detachable box magazine. This great-looking rifle is available in six calibers (.243 Winchester, 6.5 Creedmoor, .270 Winchester, .308 Winchester, .30-06 Springfield and .300 Win Mag) and sells for $823—quite a bargain.
Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in the December 2017 print issue of Gun World Magazine.