At a time when the logical choice might be “any gun for which the hunter can source ammunition,” we’re rounding up our favorite year-old hunting guns from 2021. This is not a comprehensive list of hunting-specific firearms built last year. Rather, it’s the long guns we either personally hunted with or spent considerable time behind. 

Our selections is neither all high-end nor all budget guns, but what they share in common is quality, reliability, and accuracy. These are guns we would – and have – staked the outcome of an adventure on. 

Savage Impulse

Savage Arms’ splash move in 2021 was introducing their American-made straight-pull Impulse bolt actions. Rather than using four motions to cycle the action like with a traditional bolt, the Impulse’s bolt moves directly rearward and forward without lifting. The company’s HexLock ball-bearing technology ensures secure lockup, while the ambidextrous design allows the bolt handle to be swapped to the left for southpaws. 

When the Impulse first debuted early in the year, we were intrigued. With a .300 Winchester Magnum test gun in hand, we ran rounds through it on the range with both success and accuracy. Hunting seasons, however, were closed, so we were limited to working that straight-pull bolt action on the range. After six months using that testing gun, we were thrilled to have the chance to hunt Oklahoma whitetails with a 6.5 Creedmoor chambered Impulse Big Game

The results were impressive. Not only did we bag a wide buck, but we also rang steel across Sooner State canyons out to 700 yards. The rifle excels in the field, as the company includes the most popular features from their Model 110 rifle, like the AccuFit, AccuStock, AccuTrigger, threaded muzzle, and dropbox magazine. It took surprisingly little range practice to become proficient and confident in rapidly cycling the bolt and achieving on-target follow-up shots. If that’s not enough to raise an eyebrow, Impulse bolt heads and barrels are user-interchangeable, allowing multiple calibers on one rifle. The Impulse is already available in three models – Big Game, Predator, and Hog Hunter – with further additions likely. 

RELATED: Straight-Pull Sensation – Savage Impulse Big Game Rifle

Almost Anything 6.8 Western

We hesitate to even mention this, because it seems there are just too many “hot new” cartridges, especially starting with the number six. But after pulling the trigger on several 6.8 Westerns – and seeing firsthand the results from trusted friends on 2021 big game hunts – this one looks, feels, and performs like a keeper. 

Hunters in the market for a rifle will find no shortage of options, even if shopping only parent companies Winchester and Browning. The Winchester Model 70 remains a classic choice, while Browning offers a beefy family of X-Bolt bolt guns in the chambering. Personally, we were quite impressed with the X-Bolt Mountain Pro Burnt Bronze with its Recoil Hawg muzzle brake or a classy M70 Super Grade, though both can be cost-prohibitive. On the budget end, Winchester’s XPR line of bolt guns is hard to top, with multiple models to pick from. Though on the market for less than a full year, the number of rifles chambered the Western is creeping up on 50. 

The most difficult part, especially just coming off fall seasons, will be sourcing enough ammo to try out your new rifle. Why would hunters even bother with another new round? The cartridge is designed to excel at both distance hunting and terminal performance on bigger game when other popular calibers – say, 6.5 Creedmoor – are a tad light. With heavier bullet choices than the Creedmoor, 6.5 PRC, and .270 WSM, the 6.8 Western builds its brand as a superior choice for big game hunting and long-range shooting. 

RELATED: 6.8 Western – Winchester and Browning Debut New Caliber

Mossberg 940 Pro Waterfowl

It’s one thing to test a gun on the range, the clays course, or even on a pleasant day in the hunting fields. Really putting a waterfowl shotty through its paces, though, must be done in its element. We jumped at the invitation to pursue sea ducks off Maine’s Atlantic coast last December. In some of the most inhospitable conditions we’ve ever hunted – below zero, wind-whipped, salty sleet, snow, and ice – Mossberg’s 940 Pro Waterfowl cycled the rounds.

The 940 Pro Waterfowl is another addition to a burgeoning family of speed-shooter Jerry Miculek-endorsed, fast-cycling semi-automatics including the JM Pro competition gun and Pro Snow Goose with their wildly extended magazine tubes, and the recently-announced Pro Field. All models utilize a gas system that, according to Mossberg torture testing, allows up to 1,500 rounds between cleanings – almost unheard of among gas-driven autoloaders. 

Internal parts use corrosion-resistant finishes, including a nickel-boron-coated gas piston, mag tube, hammer, and sear. An adjustable stock allows for 1.25 inches of customization for the length of pull, a feature each of us hunters used as soon as we got the guns. Wearing bulky waterfowl clothing, a shorter LOP can make the difference between smooth shouldering on fast-passing duck and not getting a shot off. Even when wearing several pairs of gloves and with fingers still freezing, the Pro Waterfowl’s controls were easy to operate and did so without fail. Though the ducks didn’t cooperate as well as we would have liked, the hunt proved without a doubt that going out with the right firearm makes all the difference in the world. 

RELATED: Wicked Winter Waterfowling –  Sea Duck Hunt Essentials

Henry All-Weather Picatinny Rail 45-70 Side Gate

Nobody travels halfway around the world in pursuit of dangerous game with a rifle they don’t trust. That’s how we found ourselves on the Dark Continent with Henry’s just-introduced All-Weather Picatinny Rail Side Gate. That’s a mouthful for a short-barreled, matte-hard-chromed, scout-sized big bore with a large loop lever and chambered in the throwback hard-hitting .45-70 Government. Several wild crocodiles, a Cape buffalo, and numerous plains game animals later, the bond was complete. This rifle cemented itself as one of our go-tos. 

With an 18.4-inch barrel, industrial hard-chrome-plated steel, large loop lever, and stained American walnut stocks, this one is both a looker and performer. While any of the all-American company’s All-Weathers will do, this newbie shows the shift to side-loading gates now found on most of the company’s lever actions. 

Loading and unloading via the tubular port are simple enough before and after the hunt, but rapid top-offs are easily accomplished in the heat of the pursuit from a belt pouch to the side gate, should the need arise. Further, the rifle we came to know as Henry’s Scout is not only compact and practical in rough conditions, but also topped with Skinner Sights’, an extended optics rail, and rear peep that makes both optics mounting and iron-sighting a snap. Whether chasing dangerous game abroad, big game at home, or simply blasting on the range, there are few things more pleasurable than running nostalgic rounds through a slick, all-American lever action, and this model hits the pinnacle. 

RELATED: On Safari in Africa – Henry’s All-Weather Lever Action

TriStar Bristol SxS

We like fine doubles as much as the next discerning hunter, but high costs usually keep them out of our hands, especially on hunts. TriStar is changing the market with their side-by-side Bristol shotguns, advertised by the company as coming “with competition-grade craftsmanship at Field Grade pricing.”

Shooters have a choice of either the Bristol or Bristol Silver, with chamberings available in 12, 20, and 28 gauge, along with the baby .410 bore. All four of the gauges wear 28-inch barrels. Regardless of configuration, Bristols are built on true-sized frames and feature auto-ejectors instead of standard extractors. The double barrels are chrome-lined and come with five Beretta-style choke tubes. Though stock designs and the receiver finishes differ between the two variants, both wear oil-finished Turkish walnut stocks. The selective top tang safety makes the guns lefty friendly. We were pleased to see a single-selective trigger in place of double triggers, but that’s a personal preference. 

We were tickled to take a svelte, smooth-swinging, tight-patterning 28-gauge color-case-hardened Bristol on a South Dakota pheasant hunt. With its light weight and smooth lines, the double was a joy to carry afield all day. Partner a sub gauge like the 28 with specialty ammunition like Federals’ Prairie Storm packed with premium shot for knocking down birds. The Bristol appears the part and performs just as well as it looks. 

RELATED: TriStar’s Bristol Shotgun – An Affordable & Attractive Double

Winchester Wildcat SR

We first tested the standard Wildcat when it debuted well over a year ago. The diminutive rimfire repeater uses a striker-fired, blowback action and is fed by a 10/22-style rotary magazine. The skeletonized black polymer stock is simple and contributes to the ultra-light, 4-pound weight. You read that correctly – 4 pounds even. Though we raced rounds through the rifle on the range, we wondered if such a light, mostly polymer gun would last. 

Yet, here we are more than a year later, and not only is the Wildcat still going strong, but the company has since expanded the Wildcat clan. There are new models, stock types, and finishes, but none are more interesting – whether for backyard plinking or small game hunting – than the Wildcat SR. The SR stands for suppressor ready and indicates the threaded barrel is ready for muzzle devices, including a can. 

Fans of the Ruger 10/22 will appreciate the Wildcat’s use of the former rifle’s magazines, which are interchangeable with Winchester’s own. Partner the neat features, especially the light weight and sub-$300 price tag, and it’s hard to pass up Winchesters rimfire as a hunting and plinking bargain. 

RELATED: Winchester Wildcat Brings Polymer Rimfires Into the Modern Era

Henry Single Shot Turkey

Single shots are too often overlooked as either beginner guns or part-time budget buys to be upgraded as funds allow. That couldn’t be further from the truth. For decades, single shots have been getting it done in the woods and fields, though models have come and gone with varying degrees of reliability. There’s no wondering about the quality of a Henry, and when they introduced their first dedicated turkey hunting shotgun, we simply had to go after gobblers. 

The Henry Repeating Arms Model H015T-12 – better known as the Single Shot Turkey – epitomizes an American-made, one-shot thunderer. The 12-gauge uses a Magnum 3.5-inch chamber to handle the heaviest hunting loads. A quality recoil pad helps mitigate recoil, along with a hefty 6.78-pound build, though this one hammers. The entire gun is covered in Mossy Oak Obsession, and what appears to be synthetic stocks are actually American walnut beneath the camouflage. A short, 24-inch barrel houses an extended turkey choke and is dressed with adjustable fiber-optic sights.  

We patterned the one-shooter shotgun on the range out to 60-yards but were able to call our birds in significantly closer. Hunting with a single shot can be more challenging, but that trial also builds better hunting skills. We bagged a dandy gobbler using Henry’s Single Shot Turkey, and there’s a definite satisfaction in going back to basics. 

RELATED: Gobble, Gobble, Bang – Henry’s Single Shot Turkey

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