March 20, 2012
March Madness: The Sweet Sixteen of All-Purpose Deer Rifles
by Dave Hurteau
VOTE FOR DIVISION II AND SEE THE RESULTS OF DIVISION 1 HERE
Basketball? What basketball? All I know is that March means the Sweet Sixteen of Deer Guns and Ammo. Two years ago, the .30-06 won the title of Whitetail Cartridge Champ. Last year, the venerable Marlin 336 won the title of Whitetail Brush Rifle Champ. This year, it’s the all-arounders. That is, whitetail rifles that are light enough for the mountain, quick enough for the woods, tough enough for the swamp, accurate enough for the prairie, and not too hard on the wallet.
It’s a tough category because there are so many good general-purpose rifles today. So as usual, to cover my butt and get in on the fun of complaining about the rankings, I let someone else choose them. This year, F&S Contributing Editor Lawrence Pyne picked our players, with instructions from me to go with:  the latest version of any still-produced model,  only widely available discontinued models, and  non-custom, affordable models (read under $2,000).
And so, with those caveats, below are his seeded selections (which I encourage you to take issue with).
Let's get started. Check out the bracket (you can click here to print out a copy if you want to fill it out by hand). Then vote for your preferred all-purpose deer rifle in each matchup below to begin the first round of play for Division I. We'll follow up with Division II, then move on the Elite Eight, Final Four and finally the F&S All-Purpose Deer Rifle Championship.
1. Winchester Model 70: The rifleman’s rifle is back better than ever, and the Featherweight version is both easy to carry and deadly at long ranges. Jack would approve.
2. Savage 11/111: One of several modern variations of the venerable Model 110, this one features Savage’s proven AccuTrigger and new AccuStock.
3. Weatherby Vanguard: Weatherby changed the face of American firearms more than 50 years ago. Its latest rifle features guaranteed sub-MOA accuracy, standard calibers, and an eye-catching price (MSRP: $599).
4. Browning X-Bolt: Sleek, fast, and loaded with innovative features, it's arguably the best bolt-action rifle Browning has ever built. It’s an A-Bolt, only better.
5. Ruger Model 77: Like all things Ruger, it’s rugged, reliable, and a proven performer. The LC6 trigger on the new Hawkeye models make it more accurate than ever.
6. Thompson/Center Encore: The one-shot gun for all seasons. Interchangeable barrels let you switch between muzzleloader, slug gun, and more than a dozen centerfire cartridges.
7. Marlin 308MX: It’s basically the 336—a classic brush gun—but in a caliber that offers legitimate long-range performance. That said, the trigger can’t compare to the best bolts.
8. Remington 7600: No gun provides quicker, more reliable follow-up shots in thick cover than this proven pump, yet with a 22-inch barrel, it can still reach out and touch ’em. Again, too bad it doesn’t have a better trigger.
1. Remington Model 700: Perhaps the most popular American bolt action ever made, even though it’s a push feed. Its time-tested accuracy has only been enhanced by the new X-Mark Pro trigger.
2. Kimber 84M Montana: The lightweight champ of production bolt rifles. Its blind magazine isn't for everyone, but hey, a gun weighing only 5 pounds, 6 ounces, has to have at least one tradeoff.
3. Sako Model 85 Hunter: This Swedish import has great lines, a lustrous finish, and a silky smooth action. It doesn't come cheap, but it’s one fine rifle.
4. Thompson/Center Icon: A thoroughly modern firearm that is still pleasing to the eye, it is one of the most accurate out-of-the-box rifles on the market. If only it was a pound lighter.
5. Savage 99: A classic lever that was ahead of its time and remains in high demand despite being out of production for 15 years. It's old-school cool. But mounting a scope is tricky and the trigger is only okay.
6. Marlin X7: Loaded with premium features--adjustable trigger, pillar bedding, button-rifled barrel, and fluted bolt action—it’s a best buy at under $400.
7. Ruger No. 1: If you’re a really good hunter, this single-shot is all you need. A compact killer that looks as good as it shoots.
8. Browning BAR: Reliable and surprisingly accurate, it’s the gold-standard in autoloaders. But it’s a little clunky and no lightweight, especially in magnum offerings.
Sweet Sixteen Whitetail All-Purpose Tournament: Division I