How to Hunt for Years on $2,000: The Rifle, The Bow, The Muzzleloader

You may have noticed that the September issue cover story, "Deer Hunting in the Real World," included a large sidebar called "Hunt for Years on $2,000." In it, I wrote that the 12 bargain gear items featured (all totalling less the 2K) "are either very good or shockingly good for the price and will keep you in the game for seasons to come. How do I know? I've tested almost every one." As is increasingly the case in print media, there wasn't space for me to elaborate, so I'll do it here, starting with the most fundamental of hunting implements: The things you shoot.

The Bow: Bear Archery Encounter

Last year I tested bows for $300 and under, and the Encounter came out on top. I don't believe you can find smoother, quieter, more forgiving bow for less. To show off just how quiet and accurate my test bow was, I posted this video. Check it out if you missed it or just need a reminder. (As a side note, and if you're willing to spend a bit more, this year I tested bows for under $550, and declared the PSE X-Force Drive the best of the bunch, with the Hoyt Charger a close second.)

MSRP: $300 for bow, $400 for Ready To Hunt package; beararcheryproducts.com

The Rifle: Marlin X7

Also last year, for a story entitled "Accuracy for Everyone" David E. Petzal and I tested five rifles that retail for under $500. And which one do you suppose turned in the smallest groups at 100 yards? That's right, the least expensive rifle. The Marlin X7, which goes for a paltry $330 or so at some shops, outshot the field, with an average 3-shot group of .713.

The Muzzleloader: CVA Optima with KonusPro 3-9x40mm Scope

CVA has a new version of this gun, the V2, but the earlier model is still sold and a better value than ever given that various online outlets now offer it with scope for as little as $350. I tested this model for our Field Test section back in 2011, and while it was not the most accurate in-line of the four I evaluated, it was plenty accurate enough. It was also the easiest to clean, very solidly made, and had the best out-of-the-box trigger of the bunch. Overall, it was my favorite. That's why I hunt with this very gun now.

MSRP: $350 with case; gandermountain.com

Stay tuned all week for more on budget deer gear.