Best Deer Rifles: So Many Great Options

by Kat Ainsworth-Stevens

September 11, 2023

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No matter what time of year it is, it’s always the right time to get more guns and prepare for deer season. When deer season begins depends on the state in which you reside, and those details are your responsibility to find out. What we’re here to do is run through some of the best deer rifles currently in production. We will discuss the best models and calibers for ethical hunting and give you tips for a successful deer season. 

Types of deer rifles

What you picture when you hear the phrase “deer rifle” depends on your own background and time spent in the woods. There’s no one platform or caliber for everyone, which is one of the best things about firearms: you can get the gun that’s right for you and for your needs and preferences. Types of deer rifles include:

Bolt-action – These rifles are what many people associate with deer hunting, especially outside the gun world. We operate bolt action rifles by manipulating a literal bolt backward and forward to chamber or eject rounds. They come in an array of calibers and all kinds of finishes, including the classic wood stocks and newer, resilient synthetic stocks. Bolts are made with short or long actions, which is a condensed way of saying that not all bolt-action rifles are the same internally. There are even box magazine fed bolt-actions. Let’s just say the bolts of today aren’t necessarily the guns your grandfather shot, although those older designs are fantastic, too.

AR platform – Rifles such as the AR-15 and AR-10 are popular for a range of reasons. These are semi-automatic, gas-operated guns capable of being run with fairly large capacity box magazines or even drums, although we don’t recommend using drum mags in the woods while hunting (because they’re heavy, if nothing else). They’re highly customizable, versatile, and reliable. Shooters can easily adjust these guns to fit their specific needs, and they are available in every imaginable caliber.

Lever-action – These rifles are often seen as relics of the Old West, but they have modern applications as well. We operate these guns by manipulating the lever itself, which is located on the underside of the gun. The levers can have standard or oversized loops, the latter of which are easier to operate when you’re wearing gloves. Lever-action calibers are more limited than AR platform rifles, but there are enough out there to handle whatever needs to be done, including hunt deer at varying distances.

Muzzleloaders – These get a mention partly because almost every deer season includes a muzzleloader season. If you’re willing to learn to operate, load, and clean a muzzleloader, it’s possible for you to add days or even weeks to the overall length of your deer season. As for individuals who grumble about muzzleloaders providing only a single shot, one shot should suffice to take down a deer ethically.

Single-shot – Single shot rifles are exactly what they sound like: rifles designed to hold and fire only one round. These are typically, but not always, reproductions of older models and can be enjoyable to hunt with. For this list we’re not going to get into single-shots, but we wanted to be sure they got a mention because they are a legit option for hunting.

Bolt action and lever action rifles are probably the most common deer rifles. We break down bolt action vs lever action in its own article, as they both have their pros and cons for hunting situations.

Gun University’s Choices of the Best Deer Rifle

Let’s get into the good part: the best deer rifles on the market (or at least some of them). This list is in no particular order, but we have broken them into categories that we think they are best in that category.

Best Deer Rifle

Best classic rifle

Remington 700 SPS

Remington 700 SPS
  • 60+ years in production
  • Synthetic Stock
  • Many calibers available
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Browning X-Bolt Western Hunter LR
  • Threaded for suppressor or muzzle brake
  • Composite camo stock
  • Adjustable comb
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Best straight-walled cartridge

Marlin 1895 SBL

Marlin 1895 SBL
  • Picatinny rail for scope mount
  • Threaded barrel
  • Polished stainless steel finish
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Best multi-purpose

Rock River Arms LAR-15M

Rock River Arms LAR-15M
  • AR ergonomics
  • Two stage ultra match trigger
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Best close-range

Marlin 336

Marlin 336
  • American walnut stock
  • CNC machined receiver
  • Classic looks
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Big Horn Armory AR500
  • 500 Auto Max
  • AR Ergonomics
  • 5 or 9 round magazine
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Best Deer Rifles Specifications

Below is a table of the specs for each rifle.

RifleActionCaliberWeightBarrel Length (in)Capacity
Remington 700 SPSBolt-action308 Win7 lb204+1
Browning X-Bolt Western Hunter LRBolt-action300 Win Mag7 lb 4 oz263+1
Marlin 1895 SBLLever-action45-70 Gov7 lb 3 oz19.16+1
Rock River Arms LAR-15Semi-Auto350 Legend6 lb 8 oz1610+1
Marlin 336Lever-action30-30 Win7 lb 5 oz20.256+1
Big Horn Armory AR500Semi-Auto500 Auto Max9 lb185+1

Best Deer Rifle

Here is our list for the best deer rifle:

  1. Remington 700 SPS
  2. Browning X-Bolt Western Hunter LR
  3. Marlin 1895 SBL
  4. Rock River Arms LAR-15
  5. Marlin 336
  6. Big Horn Armory AR500

Best Deer Rifle – Reviews 

1 Remington 700 SPS

Remington 700 SPS Featured Image

Remington 700 SPS

The Remington 700 is one of the most iconic bolt-action rifles ever made. The SPS variant comes with a synthetic stock.

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  • Shootability A
  • Reliability A+
  • Ergonomics B+
  • Accuracy A
  • Value B

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A-

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Remington Model 700 SPS Specs

  • Action Bolt-Action
  • Caliber 308 Win
  • Weight 7 lb
  • Barrel Length 20 in
  • Capacity 4+1

Remington Model 700 SPS Review

It’s impossible to make a best deer rifle list without including the Remington 700. We’re going with the 700 SPS, specifically, for this write-up. The Remington Model 700 SPS chambered in 308 Winchester is a fantastic rifle that’s stood the test of time. It was 1962 when the 700 first hit the market and it’s enjoyed endless popularity since. There are many variants of this rifle today, so it’s highly likely you can find one that suits your needs.

The Model 700 SPS in 308 Win with a 20 inch barrel is a solid choice for hunting. The barrel length gives you a slight edge for ballistics and accuracy without being excessive and the chambering of 308 Win is in line with this being a classic. It has a four round capacity which isn’t fantastic for shooters used to larger capacity guns, but four is plenty to take a deer. 

The reason for the SPS designation in this model is because the gun has a Special Purpose Synthetic stock rather than wood. According to Remington, they make the gun for unrivaled performance right out of the box, and in my experience, it’s true. The 700 is a bolt-action that’s comfortable to shoot, light enough to carry on a hunt, and accurate on target. And now that Remington is working with Timney Triggers to put their fantastic triggers in these guns at the factory, they’re even better. You simply cannot go wrong with a 700 with a Timney Triggers trigger.

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Best long-range Browning X-Bolt Western Hunter LR

Browning X-Bolt Western Hunter LR Featured Image

Browning X-Bolt Western Hunter LR

A hunting rifle designed for long range action with a threaded barrel and camo stock with adjustable comb height.

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  • Shootability B-
  • Reliability A
  • Ergonomics B-
  • Accuracy A
  • Value B-

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B+

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Browning X-Bolt Western Hunter LR Specs

  • Action Bolt-Action
  • Caliber 300 Win Mag
  • Weight 7 lb 4 oz
  • Barrel Length 26 in
  • Capacity 3+1

Browning X-Bolt Western Hunter LR Review

For true long-range precision while hunting, you’re best off trusting a bolt-action chambered in the venerable 300 Winchester Magnum (Win Mag). The Browning X-Bolt Western Hunter LR is those things and more, and it’s more affordably priced than many rifles of this caliber and quality. This is a rifle that’s worth saving to add to your collection, especially if you’re focused on taking deer at significant ranges. A good example of a niche for this gun is if you’re hunting mule deer in Colorado and know the odds you’ll be forced to take a significantly longer shot are pretty high.

The Browning X-Bolt Western Hunter LR in 300 Win Mag has a 26 inch barrel, so it’s not as portable as others, but it’s still possible to sling this rifle where it’s needed. It has an overall length of 46.75 inches with an empty weight just over 7 pounds. So despite its length, it’s not heavy at all. It has a composite stock which lends to its lighter weight and a Sporter SR barrel.

On target, this rifle is impressively precise and effective. 300 Win Mag is effective on deer out to around 750 yards, although you’ll see its greatest effective range listed closer to 1000 yards. Is it possible to make that shot humanely and accurately? Yes, but it depends heavily on your own skill level and familiarity with your specific rifle and caliber.

This rifle has a nice, crisp trigger and shoulders comfortably. Its barrel length ensures you get everything possible out of the caliber and gives you a marked edge for precision down-range. Drop a nice long range optic on your X-Bolt and you’ll have the perfect long-range deer rifle. The rifle does have sling swivel studs so you can easily add a sling, making it far easier to carry on a hunt, and the barrel is threaded, so it’s suppressor ready.

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Best straight-walled Marlin 1895 SBL

Marlin 1895 SBL Featured Image

Marlin 1895 SBL

The first Ruger made Marlin rifle, comes with a ghost ring rear sight, extra long picatinny rail and threaded muzzle.

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  • Shootability B+
  • Reliability A+
  • Ergonomics A
  • Accuracy A-
  • Value A

Our Grade

A

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A+

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Marlin 1895 SBL Specs

  • Action Lever-Action
  • Caliber 45-70 Gov
  • Weight 7 lb 3 oz
  • Barrel Length 19.1 in
  • Capacity 6+1

Marlin 1895 SBL Review

We’re sticking with the proven 45-70 Government chambering instead of newer options. There’s a time and place for everything, and when you want the best, you want a Marlin lever-action rifle.

The Marlin 1895 SBL in 45-70 Government is now made by Ruger, who bought the brand when Remington was sold off in pieces. It’s a lever-action rifle with a 19.1 inch barrel. This makes it long enough for solid ballistics and short enough to be easier to sling and carry on your way to your deer stand (or to tote along as you stalk the fields, if that’s more your speed). It’s worth mentioning that the 45-70 Government chambering can make a significant wound cavity, so keep that in mind if you’re taking up close shots. You won’t lose a lot of meat, but you might lose a little.

This lever has a great trigger with a clean break and brief re-set. The tritium fiber optic front sight is easy to focus on through the rear ghost ring, making this an accurate gun even with irons. Of course, it does have a Picatinny rail, so it’s easy to add an optic if that’s what you prefer. The stock on the Marlin 1895 SBL is a gray laminate and the length of pull is 13.38 inches, which is a good fit for most shooters. This rifle does have a threaded barrel so if you want to hunt with a suppressor, it’s easy enough to accomplish.

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Best multi-purpose Rock River Arms LAR-15M : Rock River Arms LAR-15M

Rock River Arms LAR-15M Featured Image

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  • Shootability B
  • Reliability B+
  • Ergonomics B-
  • Accuracy B
  • Value B-

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B

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F-

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Rock River Arms LAR-15M Specs

  • Action Semi-Auto
  • Caliber 350 Legend
  • Weight 6 lb 8 oz
  • Barrel Length 16 in
  • Capacity 10+1

Rock River Arms LAR-15M Review

Yes, we’re giving the best multi-purpose deer rifle category to an AR-15 platform rifle chambered in a newer straight-walled cartridge, the 350 Legend. Winchester launched this cartridge not long ago, and it’s already managed to take the hunting world by storm, and we’re not being dramatic when we say that. The 350 Legend is a versatile, smaller cartridge that’s legal for use in states where AR-15s chambered in 223 Remington aren’t allowed for deer hunting. That means hunters can still use an AR-15, just in a different caliber (one that just happens to deliver fantastic results).

The Rock River Arms LAR-15 in 350 Legend is a purpose-built AR platform rifle. It ships from the factory with a 10 round magazine and includes features like an adjustable stock, M-LOK compatible rail, and full length Picatinny rail. It’s easy as can be to add optics, lights, forward grips, or whatever you desire to this rifle. This rifle weighs in at 6 pounds, 8 ounces, empty, and a loaded mag doesn’t add much to that at all. It has an overall length of 33 inches and a 16 inch stainless steel barrel with a 1 in 16 twist rate. That twist rate might seem odd to shooters used to 1 in 7 and 1 in 8, but it’s a necessary twist rate for the 350 Legend and the results show on target.

This rifle has a decent factory trigger and if you prefer something lighter, it’s easy enough to swap it out for an aftermarket design. Really, it’s just fine out of the box. It has an effective range on deer of 200 yards with shots taken within 150 yards being ideal. This isn’t a long-range gun, but then most deer hunts don’t go beyond 100 yards anyway. What makes it versatile is the fact you can use this on other game such as feral hogs and coyotes, and it also makes a decent home defense firearm or truck gun. Because it’s an AR-15, it’s highly customizable and, due to the chambering, it’s quite effective. We absolutely recommend this gun to expand your gun collection and caliber repertoire.

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Best close-range Marlin 336 : Marlin 336

Marlin 336

Marlin 336

The Model 336 is fast handling and is an icon of the deer woods. This lever-action rifle is chambered in .30-30 Win. and .35 Rem.

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  • Shootability A
  • Reliability A
  • Ergonomics A+
  • Accuracy A
  • Value B

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A

Reader’s Grade

A-

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Marlin 336 Specs

  • Action Lever-Action
  • Caliber 30-30 Win
  • Weight 7 lb 5 oz
  • Barrel Length 20.25
  • Capacity 6+1

Marlin 336 Review

Choosing the best close-range deer rifle is a bit of a challenge because everyone’s idea of what’s close tends to differ. For these purposes, we’re calling shots you know will be under 75 yards close, because these are rifles, not handguns. If you find yourself in the position to take a perfectly placed deer at 15 yards, go for it. Just be aware of point of aim versus point of impact and the potential for loss of meat (that depends on the caliber, of course). For a variety of reasons, including meat preservation and closer range use, the Marlin 336 is a great idea for deer hunting.

The Marlin 336 in 30-30 Winchester is a reasonably lightweight gun that’s compact enough to maneuver in close quarters. It’s a lever-action, so you can’t expand capacity just by getting a bigger mag—this gun has a 6 round capacity—but it holds more than enough to go deer hunting. That applies even if you have tags for multiple deer.

This lever has a 20.25 inch barrel and an overall empty weight of just over seven pounds. The stock is American Black Walnut and the gun’s overall length is 38.625 inches. Marlin’s factory trigger is crisp and pleasant to shoot and the gun ships with adjustable semi-buckhorn sights. This gun is easy to keep on target shooting offhand at 100 yards, so you’re not going to have issues with those closer shots on deer. Thanks to the cold-hammer forged alloy steel barrel and adherence to strict tolerances during manufacturing, this is an accurate gun right out of the box.

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Best big bore Big Horn Armory AR500

Big Horn Armory AR500 Featured Image

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  • Shootability A
  • Reliability B
  • Ergonomics B+
  • Accuracy B
  • Value B-

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B+

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Big Horn Armory AR500 Specs

  • Action DA/SA
  • Capacity 6
  • Barrel Length 5.12 in / 6.75 in / 8.37 in
  • Weight 49 oz / 53 oz / 55 oz
  • Front Sight Black Ramp
  • Rear Sight Adjustable

Big Horn Armory AR500 Review

Are there times a truly big bore rifle might be a bit much while hunting? Maybe, but in reality there’s no such thing as overkill, just extra loss of meat. The Big Horn Armory AR500 is a great example of a big bore AR that’s both fun and impressively effective on whatever you aim it at. This rifle is chambered in 500 Auto Max, which does make it a little more challenging to find ammo, but it’s well worth the search and resulting stockpile. It has an 18 inch barrel and an overall weight of nine pounds, empty.

The AR500 is as cool as it sounds but also offers a host of useful features. The gun’s handguard is M-LOK compatible for easy addition of lights and lasers and a full length Picatinny rail makes it possible to add whatever optics you want. It comes with a threaded muzzle, so it’s suppressor ready. This rifle ships with a factory Match Grade Rise Rave 140 trigger that has a clean break and 3.5 pound trigger pull weight that’s set at the factory. Overall, this rifle is a good performer right out of the box.

One downside here is that the rifle ships with a five round magazine and thanks to the bigger size of the ammo, you can’t simply swap it for another brand of magazine. These 500 Auto Max rounds more than handle business on target. Just be aware that the resulting wound cavity will be sizable. If deer heart tacos are supposed to be on the menu, well, that won’t be possible if you take your deer with a gun this large.

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Get Out and Hunt

Choosing a deer rifle doesn’t have to be daunting, and you also don’t have to commit to only one gun for deer season. There is a wide range of terrain and trees to consider, so start the decision-making process by figuring out when, where, and how far you need the gun to be effective. And by all means, keep your collection growing. There’s no such thing as too many deer rifles or too much venison in the freezer.

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About Kat Ainsworth-Stevens

Kat is a respected author and dedicated student of the gun. To date, she has published three books and written thousands of articles on firearms and self-defense in print and online.

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