I am looking to purchase a new rifle, and I’m wondering about calibers, makes and models. I mostly hunt whitetail deer, though I’m thinking about going for moose in future seasons. I am looking for a rifle around $600, that’s durable and easy to use. I would also like to be able to do my own reloads. I’d love to hear your input.
Congratulations on your decision to buy a new rifle—it’s an exciting day for any avid outdoorsman. And the good news is that there has never been more selection or quality at reasonable prices than there is today. About calibre, considering that you’re focused on deer and moose, any calibre between .270 Win. and .300 magnum will fit the bill. There are many options in this caliber range, and all are more than capable of taking deer and moose at practical ranges, when using well-constructed bullets. And as a handloader, you’ll have the ability to customize your loads to help ensure accuracy and downrange performance. I don’t have a particular favourite among these, but would say that the .30-06 offers the widest range of available bullets. And no matter where you find yourself, you can always buy factory-loaded .30-06 bullets if you need to.
There is also no shortage of makes and models. The used market has lots of superb rifles in your price range, including classics such as Remington’s Model 700, Ruger’s M77, the Winchester Model 70 and Browning’s A-bolt. All have proven themselves again and again over time, as have similar models from Savage, Weatherby, Sako and Tikka, to name some of the more popular brands. When buying used, be sure to have your local gunsmith check it out, but by and large, a used rifle is a great bargain, and allows you to buy a higher-end rifle that might otherwise be outside your budget.
If you’re looking for a new rifle, in your price range I’d consider the Remington Model 700 SPS, the Mossberg 4x4, the Weatherby Vanguard and the Savage Axis or Model 11/111 series of rifles. The quality of materials and manufacturing is pretty consistent in today’s rifles, and all shoot well. But don’t rely solely on the brand name—pick up and handle any rifle you’re considering. Fit and handling are critical to effective field performance, and you have to find one that feels “right.” Work the bolt (some actions are smoother than others), and try the trigger and safety mechanisms. Do you like the way they operate and where they’re located? Then consider the magazine. Do you want one that’s removable? And if so, are you happy with the ease of inserting and dropping it? And don’t forget stock material. Do you prefer wood, plastic or composite? Do you need sights on the rifle? Or will you be shooting exclusively with a scope? In the end, Cam, it’s much like buying a new vehicle—if you stick with one of the major manufacturers you can generally expect similar quality of manufacturing. The choice then depends on which features you want, and how comfortable you feel when using it.
Good luck, and I hope you find a rifle that brings you many years of success in the field.