For the last decade or so, it seems there's been a race between gun manufacturers to see who can whip out the fanciest rifle in the most bizarre calibers with ultra magnum velocities with matching price tags.
If you listened to all the hype, you'd think that older guns and standard calibers were no longer adequate to kill a deer, or any other game animal.
Yet, millions of older guns sit on gun racks of local Gun and Pawn Shops just hoping someone will come along and put them back into action in the deer woods. I believe many of these old firearms are some of the most durable and accurate guns ever made. A hunter looking for a deer rifle can't go wrong when selecting one of the rifles from the 7 listed below. Not on the list are the Remington Model 700, Winchester Model 70 and Savage Model 110. Any deer hunter, beginning or veteran, probably knows these rifles are top notch in any of the standard deer getting calibers.
But the list below consist of some rifles you may not have heard of. I want to tell you about 7 of my favorite ones in case you find one tucked back into the corner of a gun or pawn shop somewhere. Then you'll recognize it for the deer getter it is.
I've owned most all the guns and caliber combinations mentioned below and can personally vouch that these old guns will still bring home the venison. They're not flashy mega magnums or some new whiz-bang gun of the day, they're just well made deer guns that will do their part if you do yours. These are the 'deer rifles' you can past down to your kids and theirs for generations.
7 'Old School' Deer Rifles That Can Still Get It Done in the Deer Woods
Note: To see some great vintage gun ads of the guns in this list, click on the thumbnails.
If memory serves me correct, this model was introduced in 1942, or somewhere around there. You can pick up a good used Marlin 336 for a song in most shops these days. The most popular rounds it was chambered for were the 30/30 and .35 Remington. The 30/30 has killed more deer than most all other calibers combined. And every year it ups it's total as millions of hunters take to the wood. The 30/30 is a good caliber out to 200 hundred yards if you know what you're doing. Beginning shooters and those who only dust their rifles off once a year the day before season opens, should limit their range to around 125 yards or less.
I still shoot the Glenfield Model 30A (a subsidiary of Marlin) that my Dad gave me many years ago. He purchased that rifle used in New Mexico the year I was born. That was his "Deer Gun" and it didn't matter whether or not it was Mule Deer or Whitetails. I love looking back through old photo's of him and my uncle with Mule Deer hanging from meat poles and my Dad with me on one side and that old Glenfield Model 30A on his other knee.
It was the rifle I took my first deer with and one I've since killed more deer with over the years.
I've seen Marlin 336's in Gun and Pawn shops fetching anywhere from $125 to $300. I'd expect to pay roughly $200 for a quality 336 in good condition and hopefully it would have a decent scope on it.
Ruger 44 Carbine
The Ruger 44 Carbine is a great first time gun for a young hunter or for a hunter who'll never be shooting out past 100 yards. This little carbine tames the 44 mag round and makes it manageable for those shooters who are slight of build.
The 240 grain 44 Magnum is plenty for any buck who ventures into your stand area. The rifle is compact and quick handling and comes with a rotary clip magazine. You can find clips for these old deer getters on ebay and some gun shops still carry a few.
I've heard of a few reports that this gun would not cycle reliably with factory bullets heavier than 240 grains, but I can not personally attest to that. I never found the need for anything heavier than the good old 240 grainer, but it's something you should be aware of if you'll be trying bullets of different weights.
As I said above, the Ruger 44 Carbines are getting harder and harder to find. Expect to pay in the neighborhood of $300 to $500, and possibly even more, for a Carbine in Excellent shape.
Savage Model 99
The Savage Model 99 is an old favorite of many deer hunters across the country. Whether your after a Whitetail Buck in the expansive forest of the Northeast or a Mule Deer buck in the Rockies, you can do far worse than carry a Model 99.
The Savage 99 is a lever action rifle that is most known for the two Savage cartridges it was chambered for early on in its production, the 250 Savage and the 300 Savage. Both are good deer rounds, although ammo may be hard to find on the shelf for both in most parts of the country. Later 99's were chambered for the popular .243 and .308.
Early models of the Savage 99 were not tapped and drilled for scope mounts, although any good gunsmith can do this relatively cheaply. The rifles had a rotary magazine until 1984 when Savage introduced the '99 with a clip magazine.
The Savage 99 came in both a solid frame gun and a take-down model.
The '99 was made for nearly 100 years and was chambered in a range of calibers all the way from the 22 Hi-Power to a version that was chambered for the .410.
Savage introduced the 250-3000 Savage in 1915 and it was the first commercial cartridge to break the 3000 fps barrier. Later the name was shortened to .250 Savage.
These rifles have smooth actions and are plenty accurate for hunting needs. Expect to pay anywhere from $300 for a well worn '99 all the up to a $1000 or more for a rare caliber Model 99 in excellent condition. Most of the .300 Savages and the new production run of clip fed Savage 99's in .243 and .308 in good shape can be had for around $400 to $600.
Remington Model 788
I bought a used 788 in .308 in the early 90's. That rifle was the 2nd most accurate rifle I ever owned (the first was a Ruger 77V in 6mm). This rifle would easily hold 1 inch groups at 100 yards with most factory ammo and sub MOA groups with my handloads with Speer 165 grain Hot-Cor's.
The Remington 788 is a rugged "meat and potato's" type gun. It's far more accurate than most people can shoot. The clips can be easily found on eBay should you need more than 1.
The 788 was chambered for most standard short chamber cartridges including the 22-250, .243, 7mm-08, .308 and 30/30.
If you happen to see a Remington 788 on the gun rack at your local gun shop, be sure to grab it. You won't be disappointed!
The Remington 760 is as fine a deer gun as you can find. It's a solid pump rifle that many Eastern deer hunters have relied on for years. TheBenoits of New England have probably done more for the popularity of pump rifles as anyone.
The Remington 760 and 7600 come in standard calibers such as the .243, .270, 30-06 and .308. You can also find some of these older guns in deer getting calibers such as 35 Whelen, 300 Savage and the 7mm-08.
These pump rifles are amazingly accurate as well. In fact, although one thinks of Eastern hunters when they think of the Remington pump rifle, they're used by many a Western big game hunters as well.
Remington pump rifles come in a standard 22 inch barreled version as well as a 'Carbine' version with a 18 inch barrel. If memory serves me correctly, the Carbine comes in 30-06 and 308 only...just don't quote me on that! The Carbine is a quick handling gun in thick timber. One reason it's a favorite among Guides who go after dangerous game like Bears in thick cover.
Expect to pay in the $300 to $600 range for a good Remington 760 or 7600. Extra clips are easily found on GunBroker.com and eBay.
Winchester Model 88
The Winchester Model 88 has been around since 1955 when it was introduced for the then new .308 Winchester. The Winchester 88 is a lever action rifle that is chambered for short action rounds such as the .358, .308, .284 and .243.
The Winchester 88 uses a detachable clip magazine which allows the use of spire pointed bullets for greater velocity.
In the late 60's Winchester introduced a Carbine version of the 88 that was chambered for the .243, .284 and .308. It had a plain stock rather than the checkered stock of the standard version.
The Winchester 88 is very accurate due to its rotating bolt lugs. Rotating bolt lugs very similar to a bolt action rifle. This is one solid gun.
I believe the Model 88 failed to 'catch on' because it was ahead of its time. It really didn't look like any of the traditional deer guns of its time. The .284 and .358 weren't the most popular calibers, although they enjoyed far more favor back then than they do today.
Expect to find a good used Winchester 88 for $400 to $700.
Ruger No. 1
I know that it's said the Model 70 is the 'Riflemans Rifle' but I don't agree. I think the Ruger #1 is the 'Riflemans Rifle'. Like it or not, there's just something positive to be said for someone who has the confidence to use a single shot rifle.
Although the Ruger #3 is also a fine single shot rifle, it was only made in a few calibers including the 30-40 Krag and 45-70. Both of which are more than enough for any deer walking, but the rifles their self are scarce.
The Ruger #1 on the other hand are still being made. These are accurate single shot rifles. One reason I preferred the No. 3 to he No. 1 is because the No. 3 was a 'Basic' rifle with little to no frills and was accurate. The No. 1 on the other hand is a high class big game rifle and the price reflect that.
The No. 1's come in a wide range of calibers depending on the Model. You can get them in anything from a .204 right up to the .458 Magnum.
Another advantage of the Ruger #1 is that the standard length barrel is 26". Even so, since there is no action, the Ruger #1 is shorter than many standard bolt action rifles with 22 " barrels.
My 'Perfect' deer rifle would be a #1 or #3 with a 22 or 24" barrel chambered for the 7mm-08. Since that combination is not available (or wasn't the last time I looked), I've been thinking about a No. 1 in the .257 Roberts. (another favorite round of mine)
Ruger No. 1's aren't cheap. Expect to pay $500 to $800 for a No. 1 in Good condition.
Good Guns That Didn't Make My List
There are many good rifles that didn't make my list. Guns like the Browining BAR and BLR's, any number of Sears and Western Auto contract rifles, Remington Automatics, etc. Some rifles I just don't like. Others, I have never used or have been around.
One that didn't make my list and that I'm very familiar with is the Winchester Model 94. I know it's a popular deer rifle, but I just don't like the 94. I don't like the early versions because it takes a good gunsmith to mount a scope with them and the newer side ejection models still benefit from using see through scope rings. I hate see through rings!
No Magnums Here
I also didn't list any Magnums. I have never felt the need to use a Magnum caliber on a deer. They're just not needed. Few hunters can actually shoot one well and if a deer is so far off that you feel you need a Magnum, you need to learn to get closer to the deer.
Case in point. I used to work with a guy who talked his wife into buying him a .340 Weatherby Magnum one year for Christmas. At the time I lived in Arkansas and he hunted the same general area I did. The Ozark Mountains. His excuse was that he needed the rifle to "reach across the clearcuts to touch 'dem big boys".
He only shot this rifle a day or so prior to the Gun opener and only in camp. Which meant the target was never more than 100 yards away (I visited their camp several times). After the first few times of shooting the gun he became afraid of it and would try and have other people site it in for him. I shot the rifle on several occasions. Needless to say, of all the years I knew him, he only shot two deer with that rifle and both were under a 100 yards. Both were badly mangled due to one bullet hitting the front shoulder first and one hitting the rear leg bone on the other.
Another guy I worked with bragged to everyone in ear shot that he used a 7 Mag and a .338 Win. Magnum for deer hunting. The other guys at work who hunted out of his camp said he would find a spot where he could see the furthest, usually a clear cut, and open up on anything that walked into few. The running joke in camp was "When is Bud starting the Revolution?" Surprisingly, for all the firepower this guy had, he never killed a buck large enough to enter into the company's big buck contest. Go figure.
If you run into any of the 'Old School' guns listed above on a gun rack, know that they'll do a good job for you. Don't hesitate to put the gun back into the field. Hey, chances are they're experienced deer killers anyway!