By Pete Rogers
The Whitetail deer is the most sought after big game animal in North America. Far surpassing any other big game animal. The method of pursuit is widely varied depending on which part of the country you are from, and the laws of your individual state.
For states where the use of centerfire rifles is illegal, this story will not pertain to you. But for the rest of the country it is relevant. Whether you are hunting the deep boreal forest of Maine, the open prairies of the Dakota’s or the swamps of the south, selecting the right rifle can be a big decision. If you combine this with the different sizes of the same species, it can compound the situation. For example, a three year old buck here in my native South Carolina may, and I emphasize may, top the scales at 160 pounds on the hoof. That same animal in Maine could weigh fifty percent more. Push the animal further north and it is over three hundred pounds. This alone makes selecting the right rifle for deer difficult.
So in choosing the parameters for selecting the top five rifles for your whitetail deer hunt, I included a list of items I thought most hunters would look at when selecting a rifle. Accuracy, dependability, and price all are what I would call no brainers, so beyond these I also included reliability – has this particular gun and caliber stood the test of time and been a reliable gun for deer? I’ve also looked at availability of ammunition – there may be some top notch guns out there in obscure calibers. If the average person cannot find ammunition in a pinch, it is off of the list. Lastly, I looked at the ability to perform at close quarters of the thick swamps and the long range of the prairie. Could the gun perform in a variety of environments?
In today’s sporting world, almost every major manufacturer makes excellent rifles for deer. In this particular story we will look at both rifle and caliber and see which combination is best suited for deer in your neck of the woods.
Remington 700 in .30-06 Springfield
The Remington 700 in .30-06 is in my opinion THE finest rifle ever built for deer. This specific rifle can and has killed every big game animal in North America and beyond. The rifle is indestructible and the caliber is one of the finest ever designed. When placed in the hands of an able marksman, this rifle can kill deer as far as you care to shoot as well as point blank. Personally I have used this specific rifle and caliber combination to kill deer as close as seven feet to as far as 385 yards, but it can handle an ethical shot much further than that. The Remington 700 is the bestselling bolt action rifle ever designed in America. Entering production in 1962, the 700 was designed for mass production and has stood the test of time. Its solid bolt action design is based on dual opposing lugs that fully enclose the cartridge. The standard version is configured with built in clips, some with a fold down floor plate and some with removable clips depending on the specific rifle. Its dependability is second to none in its price point. My personal preference is for the model with the removable clip. This allows for a faster reload and removes the rattle of extra shells in your jacket.
The popularity of the Remington 700 spawned different versions that are being made to appeal to different shooters and hunters. To date there are twenty eight versions of the 700 available with different configurations but all carrying the same dependability that has made the Remington 700 the number one selling bolt action rifle of all time. Available in a wide variety of calibers, actions designed for the specific caliber. Short actions and long actions are just as dependable. The Remington 700 in .30-06 is one of the best choices any hunter can make when choosing a rifle for whitetail deer.
Browning BAR in .308 Winchester
For those who prefer a semi-auto, there is no better choice than the Browning automatic rifle. All BAR rifles made before 1976 are referred to as Type I rifles based on the original design. Those made between 1976 and 1992 are classified as Type II. The major redesign change involved the trigger mechanism. The complex yet dependable trigger assembly was redone to make disassembly, maintenance and cleaning more efficient. At the same time the gas system was upgraded to allow for more dependability. The .308 Winchester Is about as good as it gets for the deer hunter. Some could argue that this is far too big of a caliber for southern whitetail, and I personally would not disagree. But for someone that wants a rifle to kill the diminutive deer of the south and then drive to Kansas and kill a big bodied deer, the .308 Win. is a great choice.
There is still a considerable segment of hunters who just prefer a semi-automatic. The first decade of my hunting career was with a semi-auto and I never thought I would change from that dependable rifle. It is hard to argue with the success the BAR has had through the years. If you are looking for a semi-auto rifle for your next deer gun, the Browning BAR in .308 Win. is the best choice for you.
Weatherby Mark V Ultra Lightweight in 6.5 Creedmoor
When spotting and stalking big deer in the mountains of the west or across open prairies, the 5 ¾ pound Weatherby Ultra Lightweight is the perfect rifle. Top this off in the 6.5 Creedmoor and you have the ultimate long range deer rifle. It is capable of killing deer quickly and humanely at distances beyond five hundred yards.
As I have gotten older, the heavy guns of my youth seldom leave the safe. I am now considering weight a lot more than ever when it comes to selecting a rifle. The Weatherby Ultra Lightweight in 6.5 Creedmoor may just be the perfect whitetail deer rifle ever designed. With the precision of the Weatherby, engineers and design coupled with the extremely high performance of the 6.5 Creedmoor and you have everything ever needed for the whitetail deer. The 6.5 Creedmoor was designed as a long range competition rifle. As more and more shooters were so impressed with its performance, they began taking it afield and the results have been outstanding.
A key feature on Weatherby rifles is their 54 degree throw on the bolt action. This reduced movement allows for faster follow up shots and reduces the concern about optics being interfered with during the chambering of rounds. Fluted Bolt and Barrel, thin lightweight composite stock the 6 lug version comes in at a tiny 5.75 pounds. Add lightweight Leupold optics and you are still under seven pounds fully loaded.
For those looking to buy a fine rifle for chasing deer all across the country, the Weatherby Mark V Ultra Lightweight in 6.5 Creedmoor is top of the line.
Ruger American Rifle in .7mm-08 Rem
The Ruger American rifle is one of the greatest rifles to come out of manufacturing in a long time. Available in eight different configurations, the American Rifle has something for everyone. A personal favorite is the all-weather compact in 7mm-08 Rem. Perhaps the best caliber for small framed shooters and children. The 7mm-08 Rem carries the ballistic coefficient very similar to that of the .308 with the recoil mirroring a .22 caliber rifle. This is the gun I used to introduce children to shooting and not a single deer or hog has moved from their tracks when my children shot them. The performance of this caliber in this rifle is impressive and more than adequate for whitetails across the continent.
Personally I really like the tang safety as opposed to those alongside the bolt. It makes it a lot easier to find and activate with heavy gloves. The rotary detachable magazine is dependable and low profile. The American Rifle by Ruger is one of the better choices for deer hunters, whether it is a smaller framed hunter, youth or an adult who just doesn’t like to punish themselves when pulling the trigger. The Ruger American in 7mm-08 Remington is a top five for sure.
Savage DOA Hunter XP in .270 Win
If you want to buy a true workhorse that will last a lifetime, get a Savage. It is as dependable and reliable as any rifle ever made. A friend of mine who is now deceased loved Savage Rifles and used them exclusively while hunting deer all across the Northwest. He compared these rifles to an anvil: “You cannot destroy a Savage rifle. I don’t have to baby it when afield. If it gets wet, dropped in the mud or snow, or whatever when I want it to work, by God it works!” These testaments of the Savage Rifles are why I included it on this list. The DOA Hunter is new for 2017, but carries the same qualities offered by the gun maker. If it carries the name Savage, it is a great gun that will outlast most of the original purchasers.
The legendary gun scribe Jack O’Connor was famously in love with the .270 Winchester and called it the best all-around caliber for all game. There have been strong cases made for that statement, but for the purpose of killing deer across the continent, the Savage DOA Hunter in .270 Win. is well on its way of proving O’Connor’s sentiments.
There are many other fine rifles that could be included in this list. Trying to select the top five is akin to waiting until you get to the prom to find a date. There are too many excellent choices. Whether you choose one from this list or another, the mere fact that we have so many fine guns to choose from is something to herald. Gun manufacturers and designers are still making high quality firearms for sportsmen and women to enjoy. Make your selection and take them afield and while you are at it, take the time to introduce someone else to the great sport of hunting.