What makes a great hunting rifle?

Great hunting rifles come in many configurations. There are lever guns, bolt guns, pump guns, semi-autos and single shots, and even muzzleloaders. Some are simple, some are fancy, and some are somewhere in between. Cost can be an indicator of a great hunting rifle, but it is not conclusive. I have seen some excellent hunting rifles almost stolen on the used market for several hundred dollars. And I’ve seen some great expensive rifles that were outstanding, as well as some that just sucked.

During a week at deer camp, I asked custom rifle builder Melvin Forbes (the man behind the fabulous New Ultra Light Arms rifles, recently acquired by Wilson Combat) to help me determine exactly what the specs are of a wonderful hunting rifle. . We came up with seven criteria that must be met—regardless of make, model, or style—before a hunting rifle can be considered great. Does your rifle cut?

Richard Mann and Melvin Forbes standing next to each other holding a rifle.
Author (right) and Melvin Forbes (left). Forbes has been building some of the finest hunting rifles ever made for nearly 40 years. Richard Mann

1) Perfect fit

A great hunting rifle will suit you. It might not fit your friend, your friend’s friend or your dad, but it will you. The length of pull won’t be too long for you to easily reach the trigger, the comb will position your eye perfectly behind the sight, and it won’t be too heavy to suit your hunting style. Fit is an individual thing, and when it comes to shotguns, it’s about you and no one else. You won’t shoot with boots that are too big or too small, and the same goes for rifles. Remembering Johnny Cochran’s famous phrase, “If it doesn’t fit, you gotta loose,” if a rifle doesn’t fit, find one that does.

2) The right balance

The balance of the rifle should be determined by the type of hunting you do. If you jump the thick wood where the shots are close and notice almost no notice, you’ll want a heavy rifle, because butt-heavy rifles tend to snap in the shoulder. If you only shoot open places but plan to shoot with sticks or from a box blind or bipod, you need a rifle with a heavy muzzle so it will appear to hang on target. If your hunting situations are a mix of both, and if you routinely shoot from unsupported positions in the field, you want a rifle that balances between your hands. Riflemanship is a martial art, and as with the sword, black belt proficiency cannot be found without proper balance.

Man holding a hunting rifle in the forest.
Great hunting rifles have impeccable balance. The balance point will vary depending on the style of rifle, but it should be perfect. Richard Mann

3) A good trigger

Your main interface with a rifle is the trigger; after all it is the thing you use to make the rifle send the bullet on its way to the animal. It used to be that you had to go to a gunsmith to get a good trigger. Not any more. For most factory-made rifles, there are plenty of good triggers on the market, and you can install most of them on the kitchen table between dinner and desert. Timney Triggers revolutionized the release trigger and today there is no excuse for a rifle to have a bad one. A great deal of rifle magnificence is found in the trigger switch. Just like you can’t have a good conversation when there’s static on the line, you can’t communicate well with your rifle if the trigger is unstable, harsh, or has a lot of lift or overshoot.

4) Ability to provide sufficient accuracy and precision

An accurate rifle hits where it’s aimed. Accuracy speaks to the repeatability of that accuracy. Great hunting rifles put bullets where they are aimed and do so every time the trigger is pulled. They are both accurate and precise. Minute-of-angle accuracy has long been the gold standard, but I’ve killed animals all over the world with rifles that barely broke the two MOA marks. A hunting rifle must be quite accurate and precise, when you are pulling the trigger – will put the bullets in the kill zone every time at the maximum distance you intend to shoot. Less precision and accuracy is unacceptable, anything more is unnecessary.

Man holding a shotgun cartridge.
The cartridge matters. Great hunting rifles are chambered for live and range-friendly cartridges that won’t knock your muzzle off. Richard Mann

5) The right cartridge

The scope your rifle is chambered for is a very personal thing, and it should be. It’s the easiest way we can individualize rifles, and the abundance of cartridges available gives us reason to argue about the often meaningless minutiae of ballistics. But for a rifle to be a great hunting rifle, it must be chambered for a cartridge suitable for the game you will be shooting and the distances you expect to shoot it. At the same time, it shouldn’t be pulled so hard that your eyes water every time you pull the trigger. Well-mounted rifles reduce felt recoil, and heavy recoil rifles are more difficult to shoot accurately.

6) Uniqueness & Appeal

Two silhouetted hunters shooting from a tripod at sunset.
A great hunting rifle has an intangible quality that can be hard to explain. Richard Mann

For a hunting rifle to be great, you have to love everything about it. Pride in ownership not only leads to confidence, but also helps you enjoy the hunt. You do not believe me? Hunting with a borrowed rifle. A good hunting rifle is also brag-worthy, and not just because it costs a lot or a little. It should be brag-worthy because of what you and the rifle can do together. The larger shotguns are also a bit unique. Unique because of how you got it, unique because of how you customized it. or perhaps the uniqueness is in the oddball wildcat cartridge it was designed for.

A great hunting rifle will have an almost indefinable, intangible quality that you simply cannot explain. It’ll be a rifle you’re proud to take out of its case, no matter who’s looking, and one you’ll brag about around the campfire—or on the Internet—no matter who’s looking. listens to you

7) Unfailing reliability

Perhaps the most important characteristic of a good hunting rifle is reliability. Sumbitch needs to work … no excuses, every, damn, time.

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