Before we get to my favorite new rifles of the year, a travel note. Those of you who fly Delta may have noticed that when you board, they put a post in the middle of the walkway that says “Sky Miles Medallion,” which refers to people who fly Delta a lot. First class, business class, and frequent fliers walk to the left of the post. When they’ve all boarded, the rest of the herd files to the right of the post. I flew with the peasants, and when they told us to board to the right, I and the young man next to me burst out laughing. If my old mom had asked me what my life’s ambition was, I would have said “Ma, I want to walk to the left of the Delta post some day.” Perhaps it’s just as well she is not here to see that I failed. But that’s not important now.
This year at SHOT it was hard to walk 10 feet without encountering a tactical rifle, or a rifle that was designed for long range, or a rifle that cost $3,000. Apparently there are a lot of people out there who are not shy about spending three large on a good gun, and boy, are there some good ones. However, since I walk to the right of the Delta post and am therefore a man of the people, I will include some guns that are affordable by the masses. So here we go.
1) Forbes Rifles
Forbes Rifles which is located in Maine, and builds a less expensive version of the New Ultra Light Arms rifle, which is made in West by God Virginia, began production with a distinctly limited number of calibers and configurations. But for 2014, there are right and left hand guns, long and short actions, stainless or chrome-moly barrels and receivers, a choice of solid colors and ten camo patterns, and lots of new calibers. Like the parent guns, Forbes Rifles are extremely light, dead accurate, and unchanging of zero, but are priced in the $1500-$1600 range, which is about half of what a NULA costs. ForbesRifleStore.com
2) Bergara Rifles
Bergara may be an unfamiliar name, but it should not be. This company, based in Duluth, Georgia, turns out very high grade hunting and tactical rifles. They have half a dozen base models, but are prepared to, and expect to, include all sorts of optional features. Bergara started as a barrel maker, so they use their own button-rifled tubes, a dedicated bolt action, McMillan or Brown synthetic stocks, and Timney, Shilen, and Jewell Triggers. They make three hunting rifles: The Long Range Hunter, the Sport Hunter and the Mountain Hunter (pictured), which is the new gun for this year and is very short and very light. All Bergara rifles are built under the supervision of Dan Hanus, a career Marine for 22 years who built rifles for the Corps’ elite marksmen. These things are screwed together right. Prices for the three models range from $3500 to $4000, and the website is bergarausa.com
In case that last left you gasping for air, Ruger has brought out an extremely cool .22 bolt-action that is a mirror image of its hugely successful centerfire American Rifle. Called the Ruger American Rimfire, this .22 comes in regular and compact versions, has good iron sights, a decent trigger, and an interchangeable buttstock with two different comb heights and two different lengths of pull. To swap, unscrew the rear swivel stud, pull one stock free, push in another, and screw the stud back in. Ruger retained its rotary magazine, the same as in the 10/22, which is distinguished from 93 percent of all other rimfire magazines because it works. The list price for the regular or compact version is $329, but the real world tag is $250. If you can find something better for that price, good luck with the search. But take a lunch along. Ruger.com
CZ, whose full name I will not even attempt to spell here, makes all sorts of rifles, shotguns, and handguns, ranging from the very traditional to the very modern. This year, they’ve spanned the gap with the CZ 557, a series of three new push-feed bolt-action centerfires that comprises the wood-stocked 557 Sporter, the 557 Carbine (a truly nifty gun with a 20-inch barrel and excellent iron sights) and the synthetic-stocked 557 Sporter. Heretofore, CZ has employed controlled-feed actions, but the new one is slick and sleek, and the trigger is not to be believed. Prices range from just under $800 to $1200, depending on model and configuration, and these are some damned nice rifles for what they cost, or at any price. The Carbine in particular is a little jewel, or did I say that already? So what. Cz-usa.com
5) Montana Rifle Company
Montana Rifles Company comes out with a new model just about every year, and this time around it’s the MMR, or Montana Marksman Rifle, which is designed for hitting what you aim at when it’s far, far away. It’s a big, heavy (12 ½ pounds) gun with a 24-inch #6 contour barrel that comes with a detachable muzzle brake. The target-style synthetic stock can be adjusted both for comb height and length of pull, and the trigger is set at 2 ½ pounds. The MMR is all stainless, and is Cera-Koted in case you want to shoot in the rain and snow. The action, of course, is Montana’s own greasy-slick, unstoppable version of the Model 70/M98. It comes in .260 Remington, .308, 6.5/284, .300 Win Mag, and, in case you enjoy pain, there’s a special version in .338 Lapua. The price for the non-Lapua version is $2,990, and the website is montanariflecompany.com