David Duffy fires his favourite bolt-action hunting rifles
Many hunters tend to develop a fondness for a particular brand or model of hunting rifle which has certain traits. Some will favour accuracy over anything else, some prefer ruggedness and low cost, others mechanical reliability in feeding and extraction and some want light weight so they can hunt all day over hills and down gullies without adding to their fatigue by carrying a heavy firearm.
There are so many different brands and models of new and secondhand options on the market today (check out ssaa.gunsales.com) that you can usually acquire most of the facets that you want in the hunting rifle if you choose carefully. Below are some of the attributes of a few bolt-action hunting rifles that I am familiar with.
Winchester Model 70
One of the most iconic of all hunting rifles is the pre-64 Winchester Model 70. Dubbed the ‘rifleman’s rifle’, features include a large claw extractor which helps remove blown or sticky cartridges. There is a blade ejector which doesn’t rely on a spring, controlled-round feed for reliable insertion from the magazine into the chamber and singular round feeding in critical situations. A coned breech helps to guide the round into the chamber, there is a recoil lug to minimise movement under recoil and all-steel construction.
These qualities add to machining time and cost which has traditionally meant that Model 70s are more expensive to buy than, say, a Remington Model 700. The ‘short’ action is really an intermediate length action and is ideal for cartridges such as the 6mm Remington and .257 Roberts when using long, heavy projectiles. They can reach their full potential when the chamber is long-throated.
Belted cartridges such as the .338 Win Mag stack well in the hinged floorplate internal magazine of the long action which is much deeper at the rear than the front. A small modification to the internal magazine wall allows me to fit four .338 Win Mag rounds in the magazine and the length enables me to long-throat the chamber for a 3.52″ overall length. The Winchester Model 70s are not short rifles and the actions do weigh more than a Model 700 action. For a medium weight hunting rifle, the Model 70 is a good choice.
Remington Model 700
Many custom rifle builders have traditionally embraced the Remington 700 action to build a moderately priced accurate hunting rifle. Even though the recoil lug is not integral to the receiver, but held in place by screwing the barrel into the receiver, this doesn’t seem to make any difference to its accuracy.
The Model 700 recessed bolt face completely surrounds the case head and the front end of the bolt locks up inside the counter-bored breech of the barrel and is then surrounded by the receiver, resulting in the ‘three rings of steel’ making for a strong action. The minimal extractor in a custom build is sometimes replaced with a bigger Sako-style one.
The Model 700 action is strong and conducive to fine accuracy and can be set up easier than many actions, which makes it ideal for a heavy barrelled varmint-type rifle. Also the short action version is relatively light making it ideal to build a nimble mountain rifle that is highly accurate. There are probably more quality after-market parts available for the Remington Model 700 than any other action.
Sako AI and AII
The extra-short Sako AI and medium (.308) length AII actions are both later versions of the L461 and L579 actions respectively and have two lugs on the bolt rather than the three which are now common. The AI fits the little .222 round perfectly and you can squeeze seven into the internal magazine. The AII holds five in the internal magazine which is one more round than the Remington 700.
I like the hinged floorplate design rather than a detachable magazine. Both the AI and AII are easy to load from the ejection port either into the magazine or direct into the chamber. The Sako has a good extractor, integral recoil lug and the Monte Carlo stock with cheekpiece is aesthetically pleasing and fits me better than any other factory stock.
The integral tapered dovetail is probably a better design than a straight dovetail for scope mounts as there is a tendency for the mounts to tighten under recoil if the scope mounts for some reason aren’t as tight as they should be.
I am partial to the one-piece Sako ring mounts for simplicity with their plastic inserts which protect the scope whereas some prefer the Sako two-piece mounts. The AI in .222 weighs 3.06kg and my AII with an after-market stainless fluted 23″ barrel weighs 3.03kg making it 3.51kg with scope, which is also perfect for the .7-08/.308/.270 Redding cartridges.
The Sako rifles are quality and other than a bedding job, there is usually nothing more that needs doing to them.
Steyr Mannlicher Model M Professional
This older model has an extremely smooth bolt with six rear locking lugs resulting in a short bolt lift. Although it is a long action chambered in .270 Win in my rifle, by having the locking lugs at the rear the length of the rifle is not much more than a short action rifle.
The hammer forged barrel is accurate and lasts a long time. The twist rate is one in 9″ which is better for the long-for-calibre high Ballistic Coefficient (BC) bullets that are now coming out in .270 calibre.
The parkerised finish is more durable, weather resistant and has less glare than most blued finishes and the Cycolac stock is tough, aesthetically pleasing and feels right. If the plastic triggerguard/magazine well is replaced with a custom-made steel piece as I have done, you have an excellent rifle.
If you are seeking a light rifle for the mountains or just for long days of trekking in remote areas, the Kimber 84M medium length (.308 size) action is ideal. There are various versions with synthetic stocks such as the Mountain Ascent which weighs under 2.26kg and the Montana which is just over 2.26kg. These hold four rounds in the internal magazine, have a Mauser-type claw extractor and controlled round feed.
The recoil lug is attached similar to the Remington 700 but is cleverly hidden from view. The wooden stocked versions are still light at just under 2.72kg and hold five rounds in the magazine and come in an array of grades with the SuperAmerica having a AAA-grade walnut stock.
The stainless synthetic versions of the Ruger Hawkeye are robust and sold at a reasonable price. The stock is almost indestructible but is reasonably light and stiff at the forearm so pressure doesn’t result in the stock touching the barrel should you decide to free-float the barrel and bed the action.
I find the Hawkeye stock more aesthetically pleasing than some previous models that had the boat-paddle type stock. The bolt has controlled round feed and the scope mounts that come with the rifle fit onto the integral dovetail on the receiver. My Hawkeye in .338 RCM shoots five rounds into an inch at 100 yards out of the 20″ barrel which is good for a large calibre rifle. I’ve modified the hinged floorplate of the bottom metal so that the internal magazine holds four of the RCM rounds.
Due to the design and angle of the recoil lug, the ultra-light McMillan Edge stocks are not made for the Hawkeye. However, its synthetic stock is reasonably light at 850g. This is a great rifle for sambar hunting as it is short and light (for a .338) weighing 3.60kg with a Kahles 2-7 scope and it is rugged.
CZ 527 and 550 Magnum
If you want a factory-made rifle for hunting heavy dangerous game chambered in big bore cartridges such as the .416 Rigby then you can buy an exquisitely crafted but more expensive Rigby Big Game rifle with a top-grade walnut stock or you can opt for a reasonably priced CZ 550 Magnum. The Rigby uses a Mauser 98 barrelled action based on the model produced from 1899, keeping many of the original features and the CZ design has incorporated many of the Mauser 98 characteristics.
The large non-rotating Mauser claw extractor gives controlled-round feed which is highly desirable for dangerous game. The integral dovetailed double-square bridge receiver provides a good base for scope mounts, with a recoil lug and all-steel construction. I like the 25″ barrel on a Magnum, although many favour a shorter barrel which can easily be done.
The weight of the CZ 550 Magnum is around 4.16kg and with a 1.5-4.5 scope and modifications is 4.76kg. Although you can buy this rifle in .375 H&H, I feel that this weight is a little heavy for a medium bore and is more suited to the .416 Rigby and .458 Lott.
Many go for a heavier rifle for the big bores so as to absorb more of the recoil (the double square bridge Rigby is 0.34kg heavier), but I find that 4.76kg is the maximum I want to carry on my shoulder for long days on safari.
I’ve added a barrel band sling swivel, cross-bolt to strengthen the stock and a deepened magazine well to hold four of the large .450 Rigby rounds. CZ now make higher grade Safari Classics II with some of these features incorporated and a higher-grade walnut stock and non-reflective blueing makes for an attractive rifle.
The CZ 527 is the scaled down extra-short action for cartridges around .223 length. The five-round detachable metal magazine is useful for high-volume varminting as a loaded clip can be kept in your pocket, though I still would choose a hinged floorplate design.
The large Mauser claw gives controlled-round feed and good extraction of tight cases. Although not recommended, rounds can be hand fed into the chamber with the claw slipping over the rim. The factory scope mounts are high and they suit a large objective lens and a medium heavy barrel.
The trigger can be adjusted to a light weight in the set mode (eg, 16oz) for precision shooting by pushing forward and the normal mode can be adjusted to 3lb for walking around – a useful feature.
This is only a small selection of the many good hunting rifles available with features that you might find appealing.