If Santa Was a Deer Slayer: Proven Guns & Optics for Hunters This Christmas Season
The Christmas season is about so much more than gifts. Yet, every year, it’s fun to act like a kid and write out a wish list of perfect gifts. There are stocking stuffers and gifts for casual friends, but then there are those items that make the ultimate hunting registry.
Though many are high-dollar items, it’s always nice to fantasize – and we’ll be following this with more budget-friendly, stocking-stuffer options. When you’re on Santa’s lap this year, mention one or two of these – our proven winners from last year’s hunts.
Leupold VX-5HD and CDS-ZL Turret
We’ve long been high on American-made Leupold riflescopes and for good reason. They’re quality, they perform, and they’re backed with a lifetime warranty. On a recent hunt, we had the pleasure of testing the VX-5HD, an optic generally out of our price range. But when “they” say you get what you pay for, that’s certainly true with this line of glass.
There’s a 5:1 zoom ratio, professional grade optics, motion-sensor technology on the illuminated reticle, and ultra-lightweight construction. The VX-5HD lineup can be had in six base options, from 1-5x24 to 7-35x56, with the bread-and-butter hunter being our T&E model 3-15x44. Multiple reticle selections are available, with quality illumination front-and center.
Having Leupold’s CDS-ZL turret almost makes shooting and hunting too easy. Almost. In short, the custom turret – free when you buy the scope – is built for your chosen caliber and load data. Once zeroed at your chosen yardage, shooters simply dial the yardage of the target and hold dead on. That’s a major boon, especially for long-range hunters.
The even better thing? You needn’t buy the highest dollar Leupold to cash in on this feature. In fact, the CDS-ZL can be found even on select models of the company’s VX-Freedom line of affordable scopes.
Ruger-built Marlin 1895
If your loved one loves lever guns, they’ve surely been awaiting the long-anticipated launch of Marlin rifles under Ruger ownership. At the time of this writing, the freshly redesigned and improved Model 1895 lever guns in .45-70 Government can be had in three variants: the big-loop polished stainless 1895 SBL, a short-barreled matte-stainless Trapper, and the blued alloy-steel Guide Gun.
We had the absolute pleasure of spending quality time with the SBL. Its polished stainless against gray laminate makes it a looker, which is enhanced even more by the nickel-plated bolt with spiral flutes.
But its features are practical, too – with a threaded barrel, extended Picatinny rail, and quality iron sights – and the rifle more than proved itself on the range. Want to ensure you’re getting one of the new Ruger-produced levers? Look for identifiers like the Mayodan NC barrel rollmark, “RP” proofmark, red-and-white Marlin stock bullseye inlay, and “RM” prefix serial number.
As many companies move away from the handgun scope market, Burris is expanding its choices. They offer a number of practical, affordable, quality options for hunters seeking a standard scope at a time when red dots and holographics are all the rage. We’ve been testing the straight 2x20 Handgun with a standard Plex reticle, but there’s also a 2-7x32 and 3-12x32 with the Ballistic Plex. The neat thing? Burris builds them in not only black, but nickel-silver as well.
If we may say so, these optics not only look good, but perform well, too. Thus far, we moved it from the BFR in .45-70 to a CVA Scout handgun in .350 Legend without a single hiccup. It holds zero, tracks well, and looks good to boot.
The Burris Handgun is built on 1-inch tubes with an impressive 10 to 24 inches of eye relief, and our test optic weighs a scant 7 ounces. Need more reason to buy one? Burris optics are covered by their no-questions-asked “Forever Warranty.”
Magnum Research BFR
If your hunter doesn’t already own one of the best-built wheelguns on the market, may we suggest tucking one under the tree this year? From the company of Desert Eagle fame comes a family heavy-built, generational quality single action revolvers. The BFR is touted by the company as “the most powerful production single action made.” These USA-built, stainless wheelguns are intended for hard use in any kind of conditions.
With both short and long-cylinder models, there is a BFR that will dominate on any hunt. Barrel lengths are available in either 7.5 or 10-inch lengths with cut rifling. In addition to over a dozen production calibers, Magnum Research’s Custom Shop proves pretty well that if you can dream it, they will build it. We’ve taken everything from whitetail deer to Cape buffalo in Africa with BFRs in chamberings of .30-30 Winchester, .375 Winchester, and .45-70 Government.
You may ask why two Leupold products make the list, and the short answer is because they work, and we have trusted them on our most remote and dangerous hunts. Though we’re newer to using small red dots, the Delta Point Pro impresses with its range of capabilities.
While often thought of as a tactical choice, the optic actually serves hunters well. Whether mounted on a shotgun, handgun, or modern sporting rifle, this baby earns its keep. It’s built of lightweight aircraft-grade aluminum.
Motion sensor technology greatly increases battery life, as it deactivates illumination after five minutes of inactively and instantly re-engages with movement. We took the optic to Africa and spent multiple range sessions with it. We even mounted the piece on a semi-automatic 12-gauge shotgun, a hard-recoiling big-bore handgun, and the softer-shooting CVA Scout .350-Legend single-shot pistol.
Through it all, we never had to replace the battery, but if we had, Leupold guarantees the sight stays mounted and holds zero even when changing batteries.
Savage Arms Impulse
If you want a rifle that your loved one almost certainly doesn’t own just yet, the Savage straight-pull bolt action Impulse is ideal. The Impulse platform was designed to be customizable. Each rifle is built on an aluminum receiver with an integrated barrel extension and carbon-steel barrel. What looks like a right-handed bolt is actually ambidextrous, while also being adjusted for the preferred angle. There’s a detachable box magazine, Cerakote finish, fluted barrel, integral optics rail, and threaded muzzle.
The Impulse platform was designed for modularity, meaning that users can essentially swap barrels, bolt heads, and chamberings on a single rifle, though we’ve yet to experiment with this aspect. While there’s no ejection port on the left side just yet, the Impulse’s ambidextrous bolt design makes it much more southpaw friendly.
Savage now builds four models to suit different hunting and shooting styles, with the Big Game, Predator, Hog Hunter, and Elite Precision in some of the most popular chamberings. We tested the Big Game on the range, but really got down to business on an Oklahoma whitetail hunt with the Predator. The Impulse is impressive with the speed of its action and intuitive features.
Mossberg’s 940 Pro family of semi-automatic gas guns has expanded seemingly exponentially over only a few years, and for good reason. The company claims the cleaner-running gas system “allows for up to 1,500 rounds between cleanings.” Though it’s always better to maintain a gun regularly, it's also nice to know a hunting gun can take a beating when needed. We had the opportunity to hunt with not one but two versions of the 940 Pro shotties over the course of the last year.
The Pro Waterfowl dominated off the wintry coast of Maine on sea ducks while the Pro Turkey shined in the Black Hills of South Dakota. The latter really fills a niche in the short-barreled, optics-ready repeating scattergun market. Our test gun was a five-shot 12 gauge with an 18.5-inch barrel.
Features abound, with a buttstock adjustable for both LOP and drop at comb/cast, HiViz fiber-optic sights, extended ported X-Factor chokes, a receiver cutout to accept direct mounting of micro-dot sights, and full Mossy Oak Greenleaf coverage. Mossberg is building a 940 Pro for every shooter. In addition to the variants we tested, there’s also a Competition, Field, Snow Goose, and Tactical.