It used to be that precision bolt-action rifles were firearms you had to save your pennies for in order to to afford. In the past few years however, the price of an entry-level bolt gun has fallen to the point that almost anyone can afford to purchase a high quality accurate rifle. In many cases, a durable 3-9x40mm scope is also included in the package, outfitting new shooters and first time hunters quickly. Here is a rundown of some of the best values we have found among entry-level bolt-action rifles.
Ruger American Rifle
In 2011, Ruger asked a team of designers and engineers to develop a hunting rifle that was not only reliable and accurate, but also affordable to the average hunter. Ten months later, this team presented the Ruger American Rifle to executives. Inspired by reliable popular bolt-action rifles of the past, Ruger added plenty of its own innovative features to the American at a price point you would be lucky to find any other bolt gun that rivals it.
Admittedly, Ruger cuts corners and costs by offering the American only in a lightweight synthetic stock. Instead of investment casting the American’s receiver is made from bar stock steel on CNC machines. However, that is where the noticeably value-lined features end. The Ruger American Rifle has a clean, smooth trigger that is user adjustable from three to five pounds, a three-lug 70-degree bolt throw that allows you to cycle the action quickly and clears a low-mounted scope with ease, and Ruger’s patented Power Bedding system. The Power Bedding System incorporates insert-molded stainless steel bedding blocks, creating a lock-tight fit and a free-float barrel. It uses the celebrated flush-fit detachable rotary magazine.
The all-American made American is currently available in eight different models—the Ranch, Predator, American, American All-Weather, Left-Handed, Scoped, Compact and All-Weather Compact—in both long- and short-action. All popular hunting calibers are represented from the classic .243 Winchester and .30-06 Springfield to 6.5 Creedmoor and the popular new predator caliber the .300 AAC Blackout. The Compact rimfire models start out priced lower than $250, while the standard American Rifle in a caliber suitable for medium-sized game starts at $100 more. Feeling much more like a custom bolt-action rifle than factory, the Ruger American Rifle achieves one-inch or less groups at 100 yards straight out of the box. The American exceeds where most value-priced, entry-level hunting rifles simply just work.
By far the best bang for your buck, the former Savage Edge, renamed the Axis features a silky smooth bolt and 22-inch free-floating tapered barrel topped with a matching 3-9x40mm scope. Dual pillar bedding further enhances the consistency of the barrel. It is only available in long action, but is able to handle both long and short action cartridges. It is available with a variety of calibers ranging from .223 Remington, .243 Winchester, .25-06, and .308, on up to .270 Winchester and .30-06. MSRP is set at $396, but dealer prices are hovering slightly over $300. The Axis’ synthetic stock is available in your choice of black or camo.
The Savage Axis is not just a rehashed Savage 110. While there are similarities between the two designs such as the bolt head, the few differences such as the bolt handle are easy to spot. The new handle is a skeletonized version of the 110 bolt handle and adds some visual interest to the Axis. Like the 110, the bolt action on the new Axis is smooth and shows no indication of binding. It uses the same dual bolt lugs as the 110, the even pressure on the bolt face ensuring that the cartridge is perfectly aligned with the bore every time. Unlike the 110, the Axis uses a different action and trigger. Gone is the much loved Savage AccuTrigger, but don’t despair. The Axis trigger is still a very nice crisp trigger with a “glass rod” break right at five pounds. While the new trigger is not adjustable, a gunsmith can still fine-tune it.
Easily shooting 1.5 MOA, the Savage Axis is more than accurate enough to serve as a deer rifle. Any beginning hunter would do well to consider this rifle as a great starting point.
Mossberg 100 ATR
Based off the Japanese-built Howa 1500 action, the Mossberg Model 100 ATR is a simple to use rifle with minimal controls—bolt, safety and bolt release. Unlike most other budget rifles, the ATR has an internal box magazine. The Mossberg 100 ATR holds four rounds, plus one in the chamber. The polymer stock is tough enough to stand up to harsh field conditions while still light enough to make this seven-pound rifle easy to carry on long stalks. Sling inserts are molded directly into it the stock, making it simple to attach swivels and a sling or bipod.
The “keep it simple” design used on the ATR makes it easy to quickly learn the controls well enough to operate by touch, allowing the shooter to keep their eyes on the target and not fumble around searching for the safety. The Mossberg 100 ATR sells for less than $300 to $350 with a scope and is available chambered in .308, .243, .30-06, and .270 Winchester.
The newer Mossberg 4×4 is a step up from the ATR. While much nicer than the ATR, the 4×4 does not cost much more, with pricing right around $450 depending on configuration. Chambered in .25-06, .270, .30-06, 7mm Remington Magnum, .300 Winchester Magnum, and .338 Winchester Magnum, the 4×4 has a detachable box magazine that holds four standard or three magnum cartridges.
The highlight of the 4×4 is in the action. The LBA “lightning” trigger breaks right around 3.5 lbs. as set from the factory and is user adjustable down to a very light 2 pounds. The bolt moves effortlessly and locks securely into place with two lugs. The two-position safety placed just behind the bolt handle blocks the trigger, but still allows the bolt to open with the safety on.
The 4×4 is available with a wide range of stock and barrel combinations. Mossberg’s futuristic looking skeletonized stock is available in synthetic or laminate, while walnut stocks are similar to the skeletonized stock or in a traditional classic design. All of the stocks offered have a Monte Carlo-style raised cheekpiece built in to better position the shooter and enhance cheek weld. Barrels are either tapered or fluted with a traditional blue matte finish, or with Mossberg’s proprietary Marinecoat stainless satin finish. Ported muzzle breaks are also available to help reduce recoil.
The Marlin XL7 is a minimalist bolt-action rifle built around tried and trued designs. Marlin engineers took a proven bolt-action design and refined it until they came up with the XL7—a rifle that is as supremely accurate as it is reliable. The Marlin XL7 comes with a Pro-Fire fully adjustable trigger system and incorporates a trigger safety to help prevent accidental discharges. Additional safety devices include a standard two-position safety located behind the bolt handle and a red indicator behind the bolt for a visual confirmation that the rifle is cocked. A fluted bolt makes the action very easy to quickly open and close, and the bolt movement itself is silky smooth.
Like the Mossberg ATR, it utilizes an internal box magazine that holds four long action cartridges. Though it does not include a scope, the Marlin XL7 does come with a one-piece scope base.
The XL7 is available in .25-06, .270, and .30-06. and dealer prices for the XL7 range from $300-$400.
Well-known rifle manufacturer Remington made quite a reputation for itself with its line of Model 700 rifles. Available in a wide range of configurations and finishes, the Model 700 is easily the best selling bolt-action rifle in the world. Variants of the Model 700 are the rifle of choice for military and SWAT snipers.
The Remington Model 770 is an updated and much improved version of the Model 700-based 710 rifle. Improvements include a modified detachable magazine release, redesigned stock with raised cheekpiece, and the addition of texturing to the grip. A mounted and bore-sighted 3-9×40 scope is included with every 770.
The Model 770 is available with a black synthetic stock and blued barrel, or in stainless with a Realtree patterned camouflage stock. You can be find it in long action chambered for .30-06, .300 Remington Magnum, and .300 Winchester Magnum or short action chambered for 7mm-08 and .308 Winchester. A recent addition to the 770 line is the 770 Compact Model chambered in the mild-recoiling .243 Winchester, making it perfect for youth.
Whether you are an experienced hunter looking for the perfect beginner rifle for your young hunter or a new hunter looking for an inexpensive rifle to take your first deer, there is an entry-level rifle out there to fit your budget and your needs perfectly.