One of the best parts of preparing for deer season is the possibility of buying a (nother) rifle. While the new market is all aglow with me fantastic new guns on the market, some older gems are sitting in used racks. Not only can they be easier on the budget, but sometimes it’s hard to replace that old-fashioned quality. Here are six of our favorite classic deer rifles, all available at the GDC Vault.
Winchester Model 70
Few bolt action rifles are as instantly recognizable by both name and appearance as the venerable Winchester Model 70. The pre-64 actions, with their controlled round feed and especially noteworthy quality, always fetch a premium on the used market as collectors as much as shooters, but there’s something fantastically nostalgic about hunting with those early rifles. Beyond that, they’re excellent and reliable shooters. Even if the budget doesn’t allow for a pre-64 action, the Model 70 has remained in constant production for decades, and most any of these bolt guns, however, will be a shooter and ready hunting companion. There are many new models available, from stunningly beautiful to completely utilitarian, in just about every big game chambering a hunter could want.
With the 125th Anniversary of Savage Arms upon us, few of the company’s storied rifles have achieved the fame and adoration of the lever-action Model 1899/99. While we could insert any of Savage’s bolt action rifles under the headline of great buys in used deer rifles, Model 99’s stir the nostalgic heart and take down deer. The “ninety-nine’s” internal rotary magazine with a brass round counter improved upon the tube design used on all other lever guns, while calibers like the .300 Savage and .250-3000 Savage brought new speed and distance to a rifle market seeking just that decades ago. Many Model 99’s not only survive to this day as favorites of firearms collectors but make their way to the hunting woods each Fall, a testament which speaks volumes about both the quality and longevity of the design. Most any hunter who’s had the pleasure of harvesting game with an old ’99 would love to see that design return to production.
Remington Model 700 BDL
Like the Winchester Model 70’s, one of the most recognizable rifles in the whitetail woods is the glossy-stocked, fine-looking and solid shooting bolt action Remington Model 700 BDL’s. That skipline checkering, Monte Carlo stock, and black forend cap all define the BDL’s, as do accurate groups and venison in the freezer. There are many options in calibers, barrel lengths, and even models with dropbox magazines. If the fancier BDL is not your style, any of the older Remington 700 ADL, CDL, or Classics make fine deer rifles as well. The Model 700 action has been a proven action for decades and is the building platform for many custom rifles to this day. That said, I’ll take an older Remington 700 any day over the current production because sometimes there’s no replacement for the craftsmanship of days gone by.
The Winchester Model 1894, and subsequently the Model 94, has been one of the longest-lasting and most instantly recognizable lever-action rifles ever produced. While the 94 is a do-all gun, it has surely accounted for as much meat in the freezer as any other lever gun. While any 94 will get the job done, it’s hard not to love the early pre-64 models for their collectability as well quality. Like other lever actions of the period, .30-30 was certainly the most common chambering among deer hunters, though the .32 Special also defined the Model 94. For an old-school hunting experience, seek out either a new or used Winchester 94 and relive hunting days gone by. Partner those older calibers with Hornady’s LeveRevolution ammunition and chamberings like the .30-30 find new life with even greater range.
One of the most affordable lever-action rifles on the market since the 1940s has been the Marlin Model 336. In fact, it’s the most cost-effective of all the used deer rifles on our list. While the .30-30 has long been the most common chambering and accounted for plenty of deer over those years, the 336 has been—and still is—available in .35 Rem, for those desiring a little extra wallop or a nice, maneuverable brush gun. The similar Model 1895 chambered in .45-70 is another nice option for even larger game.
Several exceptionally fine Model 336 and Model 1895 lever actions are available from the Marlin Custom Shop, for those desiring a newly made rifle with the quality of the older guns. Marlin’s side-eject makes it easy to add an optic to those models already drilled and tapped. Both the 336 and Winchester 94 are bread-and-butter closer-range deer rifles for the old-school venison hunter.
Weatherby Mark V Bolt Action
Sometimes hunters desire something just a little bit different than a regular old rifle or caliber, and Weatherby has things covered in both those areas. The immediately recognizable, glossy, high-grade Claro Walnut stocks with skip-line checkering define the refined Mark V bolt action rifles. Potent namesake Weatherby magnum chamberings like the .257 Wby Mag or .300 Wby Mag–though standard calibers are also available–set the Weatherby apart. Of course, the family-run American company builds numerous synthetic stocked models, as well as a pair of very appealing women’s rifles in the Camilla duo. The new Mark V’s come with hand-lapped barrels, an adjustable trigger, and a sub-MOA accuracy guarantee. The six or nine-lug bolts, depending upon caliber, are some of the strongest in the business. Plus, Weatherby just completed their move out of California and into a stunning new facility in gun-friendly Sheridan, Wyoming.
While all these rifles, save the Savage 99, are still produced to this day, the quality of the older guns is often superior in hand-fit craftsmanship to what is available from factory production today. Besides, the gains in patina along with more affordable prices make the used versions a no-brainer. Any of these classic deer guns will be prized for their durability, accuracy, and reliability in the field. Whether you choose bolt action, lever gun, or something completely different, deer season is a time for more than rifles—for gathering meat for the freezer, spending time with friends and family, and enjoying the beauty of nature.