Choosing a Deer and Hog Rifle by Randy Rowley


Rarely does a month go by that I do not receive a call from a friend who inquires as to what brand, action, caliber, etc. rifle should he purchase for hunting Texas deer and hogs.  To adequately answer his questions, I will make a few inquiries of my own.

One of the questions that I always ask is: “How much recoil can you comfortably handle?”  The handling of recoil is closely linked to accuracy.  Self-preservation, common sense, muscle, and bone all dictate recoil tolerance.  A simple gauge for knowing that you are experiencing too much recoil is how your shooting shoulder feels after a box of shells.  If your shoulder hurts when you bring the gun to your shoulder (before you have fired) then you are shooting too much gun, shell, or both.  A man bothered by recoil can easily develop a flinch that is devastating to accuracy.  As men, it is easy for us to get caught up in the macho “biggest is best” syndrome.  It is supposedly not macho to only shoot a .243.  However, the Christian Sportsman should realize that pride comes before a fall and that bigger is not always better.

Shooters should be aware that there are numerous ways to cut down on recoil other than choosing a smaller caliber.  Semi-automatic (gas-operated) rifles have worked marvels in spreading the felt recoil over a longer time.  The recoil is thus more of a push that a jolt.  Also, recoil pads, padded vests, ported barrels, and lighter loads all contribute to reductions in recoil.

A related question is “Will anyone else use the gun?”  A 220-pound man may be able to handle the recoil of a .300 Weatherby, however, it is doubtful that his 110-pound wife would want to handle anything more than the recoil of a .243.  In this scenario, a compromise is in order (or separate guns).

I also ask, “What actions are you familiar with/like?”  A man who has only shot semi-autos all his life will have a difficult time getting used to a pump.  Bolt actions and single shots have reputations as the most accurate actions.  However, they are slow for making follow-up shots.  Pumps and semi-autos are fast but are generally not as accurate (especially when making follow-up shots).  Lever actions are also fast, but they are difficult to get used to and are limited in their caliber selections to slower, less accurate rounds (except for the Browning BLR with its box magazine and Savage 1899 with its internal magazine).

The last questions that I ask are “How much are you willing to spend and are you wanting new or used?”  The answers to these questions can severely limit the types of rifles available to the shooter.  A man who is limited to $700.00 yet desires a Weatherby Mark V should consider the used gun market.  However, just as with cars, there are some real lemons out there in the used gun market.  A potential used gun buyer would do well to have a knowledgeable friend who can diagnose potential problems go used gun shopping with him.

As you can gather by these questions there are multiple factors in choosing a rifle.  These factors make for dozens of possibilities for choosing a rifle.  Ranking the best hunting rifles is about as easy as ranking the best restaurants – it’s darn near impossible.  What makes it so difficult is that what’s best for one man is often unacceptable for another.  One hunter may be completely comfortable with a World War I era Enfield handed down from his grandfather, where another wouldn’t touch the thing.  Another hunter may be completely happy with the limitations of a .30-30 brush gun, while his buddy thinks that his Ruger No. 3 single-shot carbine in .45-70 Govt. hung the moon.  To make this task a little easier, I will limit my recommendations to rifles that excel in the type of hunting situations that most FCS members face.  Most of us hunt in blinds, tripods or tree stands over feeders or trails.  We can look forward to shots of no more than 200 yards.  We rarely are going to have the opportunity for a follow-up shot and we often are confronted with heavy brush.  We also don’t want to spend a fortune to buy a rifle.  So, without further ado, I recommend the following rifles that are presently available on the web and at gun shops:

Bolt Actions

Browning A-Bolt

One thing I’ll say about Browning is that I would be happy to own any Browning, sight unseen (except for their old-style Auto 5 shotgun with its ugly humpback receiver).  Where so many of its competitors are sacrificing quality to keep prices reasonable, Browning just continues to plug along making outstandingly crafted and well-designed firearms.  All Browning’s used to be manufactured in Belgium (Europeans have for generations been recognized as the masters of long gun crafting); however, in 1972, they built a plant in Japan to take advantage of cheaper Japanese labor.  Japanese Brownings are considered to be inferior to Belgium Brownings by most sellers, usually drawing 25% – 33% less for the same gun on the used gun market.  The only difference that I can see; however, is darker wood on the “Made in Japan” models.  Supposedly their rifles manufactured in Japan have inferior steel, fit, and finish, but it’s not noticeable to the naked eye.  I wonder if the Japanese Brownings are regarded as inferior due to the racial prejudices of some gun sellers instead of for technical reasons.  The A-Bolt is offered in the same caliber choices and options as its competitors.  They, along with Winchester, also have as an option called the Ballistic Optimizing Shooting System (BOSS).  The system is part muzzle brake and part accuracy tuner.  It gives the shooter the ability to switch to lighter or heavier bullets and then only adjust the BOSS, instead of re-sighting in.  The A-Bolt’s bolt has three locking lugs, which makes it stronger than most of its competitors.  It also has a better trigger than most of its competitors.  It is also gunsmith adjustable.  It comes with a box magazine that is attached to the floor plate.  It swings out for easy unloading.  I bought an A-bolt in March of 2003 in .30-06 caliber with the BOSS system.  The muzzle brake feature enables it to kick less than my Remington .25-06!  I absolutely loved it but decided that I didn’t need two bolt action rifles, so I sold it to my son.  Their starting price is around $550.00.

Charles Daly Field Grade Mauser

Charles Daly is best known for its inexpensive to moderately priced shotguns.  Mass production has never been their focus and thus, many hunters had not heard of them.  In 2003, however, their shotguns and rifles started to show up at Wally World.  This arrangement was a boon for both companies.  Charles Daly got a lot more exposure and Wal-Mart had shotguns and rifles for those who wanted inexpensive long guns.  Unfortunately, most Wal-marts are no longer selling guns.  Charles Daly rifles are built in Yugoslavia with Mauser actions and gunsmith adjustable triggers.  They start at around $375.00.

CZ-USA 550 American

CZ-USA is an importer of firearms made by Ceska Zbrojovka in the Czech Republic.  Their rifles used to made only along European lines (maybe because they’re based in Europe?) but with the fall of the U.S.S.R., they started a line of rifles that the average American hunter can identify with.  The 550 American feature hammer-forged carbon steel barrels, the tried and true Mauser actions, fixed and detachable box magazines, gunsmith adjustable triggers, walnut stocks, and blued steel finishes.  They come in a wide range of calibers.  They start at around $450.00.

Howa Model 1500

The Howa Model 1500 is a Japanese-made bolt action rifle marketed in this country by Interarms of Virginia.  There is a Lighting version (synthetic) and a Hunter version (walnut).  In non-magnum calibers, it features a 22-inch barrel, a synthetic stock with a raised cheekpiece, and an internal 5-shot magazine with a hinged floor plate.  They feature one-piece forged receivers and bolts for extra strength and hammer-forged barrels.  They also have a fully enclosed bolt shroud, cocking indicator, three gas ports for added safety, and fully adjustable triggers.  They are available in six standard and three magnum calibers from .223 Remington to .338 Winchester Magnum.  They have a controlled feed bolt and a three-position safety.  They start at around $425.00.  Howa makes the current Weatherby Vanguard.

Remington Model 700

Most of my friends know that I have shot a Model 700 in .25-06 for as long as I’ve been an FCS member.  What few know is that I have owned that gun since 1976.  It was my very first deer rifle, given to me by my dad, at the age of 16.  I have never had a lick of trouble out of it.  Equipped with a decent scope it has brought home a lot of venison and bacon.  The rap sheet on the Model 700 is impressive.  Introduced in 1962, this American made rifle is offered in around 18 calibers – everything from .222 Remington to .458 Winchester Magnum.  There are several grades to choose from.  ADL is the basic grade and the Classic is the fanciest.  Options include stainless steel, synthetic stocks, box magazines, and left-handed actions.  However, despite all these features, what the Model 700 is known for is fantastic out of the box accuracy.  It’s one knock is its trigger is a bit stiff, although it is gunsmith adjustable.  The Model 700 won nine out of ten NRA rifle competitions from 1986 through 1996.  Many sniper rifles use the Model 700 action.  They start at around $400.00.  ‘Nuff said.

Ruger Model 77

The Model 77, introduced in 1968, has the same type of Mauser action as the “pre-64” Winchester Model 70.  However, Ruger included enough original refinements to have their rifle considered as unique and not a copy.  Of interest is the tang mounted shotgun type safety on their Mark I.  This safety was replaced with a three-position horizontal swing style on the Mark II.  Ruger makes both short and long actions.  The Model 77, like all Ruger’s, is made in America.  It is offered in a large variety of calibers and variations.  You won’t be able to get gold inlay or fancy metal engraving with a Ruger.  What you’ll get is a stylish, dependable, and quality firearm.  Its one drawback is its trigger is stiff, but a gunsmith can adjust it.   They start at around $400.00.

Sako 75/Tikka T3

Sako has long been a legend for high quality and expensive rifles that are out of the reach of most hunters.  However, in 1989 they consolidated under one roof with Tikka, a well-respected producer of affordable rifles.  These two Finnish companies started making rifles in 1921 and 1918 respectively.  In 2000 they were purchased by Beretta Holdings.  Sako/Tikka are known for cold hammer-forged free-floating barrels and excellent adjustable triggers.  Tikkas are built with the very same machinery and workers that produce the Sako Model 75 (that starts at $900.00).  The T3 has a two-lug bolt as opposed to the Model 75 three-lug.  The T3 also uses lesser quality (i.e. less expensive) wood.  They come with a detachable box magazine.  Tikka T3’s start at around $450.00, which is half of what a Model 75 costs.  Do not make the mistake that because it’s half the cost it’s half as good.  The Model 75 does have a stronger bolt and prettier wood, but will that really put more venison in the freezer?

Savage 10GXP3/110GXP3/11G/111G and Stevens 200

Savage/Stevens is an American company that specializes in inexpensive firearms.  Instead of a walnut stock, you get hardwood that has been walnut finished.  Their bluing isn’t as good as their more expensive competitors, nor is their wood to metal fit.  Their trigger is also stiff, except for models that come with a trigger that can be adjusted safely by the shooter, called the Accutrigger.  Although Savage’s rifles have basic finishes they have a reputation for accuracy.  Paul Wilson owns one in .243 that he describes as a nail driver.  He let me borrow it once and I hit a nubbin buck (that I thought was a doe) exactly where I aimed.  Both models come with a detachable box magazine.  The 111G starts at only around $300.00!  The Stevens 200 is essentially a Savage 11G without the Accutrigger.

Weatherby Vanguard

Weatherby has a reputation for very tough hunting rifles.  Weatherby is best known for its Mark V rifles that are chambered only in Weatherby magnums.  Weatherby took popular cartridges and improved them.  For example, they improved the .300 Winchester magnum and called the resulting cartridge the .300 Weatherby magnum.  Vanguards are made in Japan by Howa.  They share most of the same quality as its bruiser of a cousin but with “regular” and non-Weatherby magnum calibers.  They feature one-piece forged receivers and bolts for extra strength.  They also have a fully enclosed bolt shroud, cocking indicator, three gas ports for added safety, and fully adjustable triggers.  They have a push-feed bolt.  Weatherby guarantees the Vanguard’s accuracy.  Each one ships with a factory shot target.  Best of all their starting price is only around $375.00.

Winchester Model 70

The Model 70 has a reputation as “The Rifleman’s Rifle.”  It also has a reputation for variable quality.  Introduced in 1937 and made in America, it won the hearts of American riflemen as the first truly sporting bolt action rifle since World War I.  However, in 1964, Winchester made a major mistake.  To cut costs they drastically changed the Mauser style action.  They also downgraded the wood and used pressure checkering instead of blade cut.  The result was a rough/homely-looking rifle, compared with the “pre-64” version.  For nearly 30 years, Winchester stuck with and tried to improve the “post-64” design.  Finally, in 1990 they gave in to customer demand and issued the Model 70 Classic with the Mauser claw.  They also reintroduced other features that were on the pre-64.  The Model 70 is offered in as many calibers and variations as the Remington Model 700.  I particularly like the looks and feel of the Featherweight.  One great innovation was the BOSS System (Winchester and Browning are owned by the Herstal Group, which also owns FN).  The only drawback to the Model 70 is it has a stiff trigger.  In 2006 the Model 70 was discontinued, but Winchester has resurrected it.  Their starting price is around $375.00.

Single Shots

Ruger No.1

I am hesitant to recommend a single shot rifle because a quick follow up shot is sometimes needed and that puts single shots at a severe disadvantage.  But that begs the question, is it better to have a so-so accurate semi-automatic, pump, or lever action with quick second shot capability or a very accurate single shot that makes the need for a second shot irrelevant?  The Ruger No.1 was introduced in 1966.  It is a quality, heavy-duty (8 lb.) firearm with a falling block action with a Farquharson type lever.  The shell ejects automatically when the rifle breech is opened.  It is available in a wide range of calibers including .243, .270 Win, .30-06, and several magnum calibers.  Make no mistake; this gun is no cheapo, break-down, kid’s first gun like a single shot shotgun or an H&R single-shot rifle.  It has all the quality features that we expect from a good bolt action – it just simply fires one shot at a time.  They start at around $525.00.

Thompson/Center Encore

The Encore can deliver “minute of angle” accuracy right out of the box.  It’s available in tradition (wood and blue steel), stainless steel, and composite stock models.  It features a break-open design for fast and easy loading and it boasts easily interchangeable barrels as well.  With its classic Monte Carlo stock, the rifle mounts instantly with the scope aligned at eye level.  The Encore rifle is chambered in many popular cartridges, including some of the most potent.  But the greatest thing about the Encore is it is easy to change their barrels (ala the Contender) via a removable barrel/frame hinge pin.  Thus, you can put on a .30-06 for deer season and then put on a .22-250 for predators (you’ll have to re-sight it in of course but it sure beats having to buy two rifles).  They start at around $525.00.

Lever Actions

Browning BLR

The Browning Lever-action Rifle (BLR) is a totally modern level action design that bears little resemblance to Browning’s famous traditional lever-action designs.  Introduced in 1969, it features a box-style magazine and is chambered in both short and long actions.  This allows the use of spitzer (pointed) bullets instead of round nose.  This enables you to get high-performance chamberings in a lever-action!  It, along with its BAR brother, and the Benelli R1 semi-auto, are the only non-bolt action/single-shot firearms that are chambered in magnum cartridges!  It has stronger loading and extraction capabilities than the old-style lever guns.  It features front locking lugs on the bolt rather than the cam locking that other lever actions feature.  Originally introduced with a European style stock, the current BLR Lightning has a pistol grip stock.  It’s pricier than the Savage 1899, of course.  As for quality, the gun is a Browning.  If I ever own another lever action, this baby will be it.  Their starting price is around $550.00.


Browning BAR

The Browning Autoloading Rifle (BAR) was introduced in 1968.  It has a reputation for being the most accurate semi-automatic rifle on the market.  It should be no surprise; after all, it’s a Browning.  The BAR’s accuracy is attributed to its unusually good trigger and the fact that it (like most Browning’s) is a bit heavy.  With its gas-operated action, it can handle the pressure from the .338 Winchester Magnum!  It also comes in .243, .270, .308, .30-06, 7mm Remington Magnum. and .300 Win. Magnum!  The bolt release lever was redesigned in 1993 along with the gas system.  The BOSS system was added in 1994, which lessens recoil still further.  It also has a detachable box magazine and a bolt with seven front locking lugs.  The only drawback is the fact that it’s more expensive than its Remington competitor.  They start at around $575.00.

Remington Model 7500/7400

The Remington Model 7500/7400 comes from a long line of distinguished autoloaders.  Introduced as the Model 740 in 1955, it has sleek, shotgun-style lines with a two-piece stock and a shotgun style trigger.  It is chambered in .243, .270, .280, .308, and .30-06 and comes with a detachable box magazine.  I bought a Model 7400 chambered in .30-06 in 2005 and it’s every bit as accurate as my Remington Model 700 bolt action.  Derrich Pollock also owned a model 742 (the Model 7400’s predecessor) and it is just as accurate as mine.  The major differences between the Remington and the Browning are the Remington lacks magnum offerings, it’s lower price and quality, and its trigger is stiff (and there is nothing that you can do about it).  Their starting price is around $450.00.


Remington Model 7600

The Remington Model 7600 was introduced in 1952 as the Model 760.  It is the only pump-action centerfire available on the market today.  It, like its brother the Model 7400, is offered in long action chamberings.  It has a very strong action and a detachable box magazine.  The slide action is independently suspended, making the barrel basically free-floating.  My son, Ryan, owned a model 760 (the Model 7600’s predecessor) in .270.  We liked it a lot and both shot boars with it before he traded it in on a M1 Garand.  A friend also owned a Model 760.  He shot a pump shotgun and liked also having a pump rifle (he said that it kept him from getting confused).  If you shoot a pump shotgun, you might do well with a Model 7600.  It’s a Remington, so you know that it’s dependable and affordable.  Its major drawback is its trigger, like the Model 7400, is stiff and there is also nothing that you can do about it.  They start at around $375.00.

It used to be that bolt actions and single shots were the most accurate rifles available (for rifle hunting accuracy is everything).  Lever actions, semi-autos, and pumps all have a much faster second shot capability than bolt actions and single shots, but they were regarded as not nearly as accurate.  Over the years this has changed somewhat, especially with semi-autos.  If you are wanting to go after really big or dangerous game then you’ll need a bolt action or a double rifle (the largest caliber for semi-autos is the .338 Winchester Magnum and the big bore lever-action rounds like the .444 Marlin, .45-70 Government, and the .450 Marlin don’t have anywhere near the power of the big magnums that are only chambered in bolt actions and double rifles).

Note that I did not discuss Kimber, Dakota, and other makers of finely crafted rifles because they are pricey and, thus, out of the reach of most FCS members.  The rifles that I recommended all have reputations of quality, have survived the test of time, their parts are readily available, most gunsmiths are very familiar with them, and they are available at local gun stores (they don’t have to be special ordered).  Although feel for rifles is not nearly as important as it is for shotguns (because a rifle shooter will shoot about 1/75th as often during a hunting day as a dove hunter) it still should feel good in your hands and when you mount it on your shoulder.  The best-made gun in the world is worthless if it doesn’t feel right because you won’t have confidence in it.

As to barrel length, I prefer 24 inches for long action calibers and 22 inches for short action calibers.  As to calibers, I recommend the following flat shooting calibers for Texas deer: .243, .243 Winchester Super Short Magnum (WSSM), 6mm (.244 caliber), .257 Roberts, .25-06 (.257 caliber), .25 WSSM (.257 caliber), .260 (.264 caliber), 6.5mm (.264 caliber), .270 (.277 caliber), .270 Winchester Short Magnum (WSM; .277 caliber), .280 (.284 caliber), 7mm-08 (.284 caliber), .308, and .30-06 (.308 caliber).  The 7mm-08 and .243 are necked down .308 cartridges.  The .280, .270, and .25-06 are necked down .30-06 cartridges.  The .308 family are short action cartridges and the .30-06 family are long action cartridges.  The longer action calibers deliver more velocity and energy.  The exceptions are the magnums.  The .25-06 and .25 WSSM are ballistically identical but the .25 WSSM is considerably (a couple of inches) shorter (and fatter), which results in a shorter and, therefore, lighter gun.  Short action caliber rifles’ advantages include less length and weight.  They are better for cross-country hunting or stalking than long action caliber rifles.

The problem with the 6mm, .257 Roberts, .260, 6.5mm, .280, WSM’s, and WSSM’s is they are not very popular and, therefore, these bullets are hard to find and are costlier due to the law of supply and demand.  The last thing that you want with these cartridges is to be out somewhere like Ozona and realize that you didn’t bring your bullets.  Good luck finding bullets for these calibers except in specialty gun shops in major cities.  The .25-06 and 7mm-08 are popular but are not as popular as the big four – .30-06, .308, .270, and .243, which retailers like Academy and Wal-Mart often run on sale, as do online stores.  More than a few outdoor magazine writers consider the .270 to be the perfect deer caliber.  While that may be true for the entire country, I prefer the .25-06 for Texas deer as they typically are smaller than their northern cousins.  For hogs, I choose the .30-06.  Equipped with 180-grain bullets it can take down Goliath.

All the above cartridges are regarded as very accurate and have plenty of punch to take down Texas deer with one shot.  Calibers such as the 7mm family of magnums and the .300 family of magnums (.308 caliber), and larger cartridges are just too much bullet for Texas deer.  They’re great for mule deer, elk, bear, big hogs, and other big game, but are overkill for Texas deer.  Their bullets go faster, shoot flatter, and hit with considerably more energy than their standard caliber brethren but they consequently tear up considerably more meat and kick a lot more, making sighting in and shooting them for fun painful propositions.  The question that must be asked is why use a caliber with a heavy kick when a lighter (non-magnum) caliber will more than adequately do the job?

The .224 family of cartridges (.22 Hornet, .220 Swift, .222, .222 Remington Magnum, .22-250, and .223) are not powerful enough for Texas deer, except the smaller ones that are found in the Hill Country, with a bullet that is designed for deer.   Most of the bullets that are available for those cartridges are designed to hunt varmints (it says so right on their boxes) and are not suitable for deer.

If you’re deer hunting the Hill Country you will probably need to be more precise with your aim with a .224 bullet, as a marginal hit with would probably wound and not kill.  The same question that I asked earlier should be asked – why buy a cartridge that designed for hunting coyotes and bobcats when you can buy a real deer cartridge?  As with buying the biggest magnums, some men have a macho “look what I killed with a spit wad shooter” attitude.  Again, the Christian Sportsman should buy a rifle that is chambered in a caliber that is designed for the game that he is pursuing.

Choosing a rifle is a complex and difficult decision.  The potential buyer, in addition to asking himself the above questions, would do well to talk to men who own or have owned the rifle(s) that he is considering.  FCS members who have the mind of Christ will loan their rifles to other members for a field test (borrowers should always pay for ammunition used, and return borrowed rifles clean, in working order, and with nothing missing, and never adjust the rifles sights, of course).  I will be happy to further discuss your own scenario with you.  I can be reached at randywrowley@gmail.com.

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Today’s Devotionals and Blogs

Kent Crockett’s blog – www.kentcrockett.blogspot.com

Mark Dillow’s blog – http://noclearline.blogspot.com/

Bible Verse of the Day

A little that a righteous man has Is better than the riches of many wicked. For the arms of the wicked shall be broken, But the LORD upholds the righteous.