Ever popular with trackers and still-hunters, autoloaders are now gaining favor with others simply because gas-operated actions soften recoil and are more fun to shoot. Below are four excellent choices.
BENELLI R1 ($1,265-$1,465; 301-283-6981; benelliusa.com)
AVAILABLE CALIBERS: .308 Win., .30/06, .270 WSM, .300 WSM, .300 Win. Mag.
THE SKINNY: This isn't the prettiest gun, but it may well be the softest kicking and most versatile. The R1's ARGO gas system automatically compensates for different cartridge pressures, which lets traveling hunters switch from, say, a .270 WSM to a .30/06 just by swapping barrels, magazines, and bolt heads. No other auto can do that. With the revolutionary ComforTech stock, perceived recoil is reduced by almost 50 percent. My .280 turnbolt, for example, seems to kick harder than the .300 Win. Mag. R1 I tested. New for this year is a Realtree APG finish that almost makes the gun look good.
BROWNING SHORTTRAC BAR ($930-$1,139; 800-333-3288; browning.com)
AVAILABLE CALIBERS: .243 Win., .308 Win., .270 WSM, 7mm WSM, .300 WSM
THE SKINNY: The latest in a long line of Browning Automatic Rifles, the ShortTrac is easily the most stylish, lightweight, and accurate version yet. Unlike its blocky predecessors, it features a rakish, contemporary stock, and its streamlined aluminum-alloy receiver and composite components make it a pleasure to carry. In .308, it weighs just 6 pounds 10 ounces. The trigger is surprisingly good, and the hammer-forged Belgian barrel gives accuracy as good as many bolt guns. A friend owns a 7mm WSM ShortTrac that consistently produces sub-MOA groups. A left-handed version is now available.
REMINGTON 750 WOODSMASTER ($732-$831; 800-243-9700; www.remington.com)
AVAILABLE CALIBERS: .243 Win., .308 Win., .270 Win., .30/06, .35 Whelen
THE SKINNY: Early Woodsmaster models were sometimes derided as "jam-o-matics," especially when dirty, but the new 750 should shed that label once and for all. The fourth generation in the Woodsmaster line, it has a slick, redesigned gas action that provides faster and more reliable cycling. Remington's cushy new R3 recoil pad helps make it the softest-kicking Woodsmaster ever. Other changes include a low-profile receiver, a restyled stock, and a widened fore-end that sits nicely in the hand. A carbine version in .35 Whelen has already become something of a cult gun among North Woods hunters.
RUGER ALL-WEATHER RANCH RIFLE ($835; 203-256-3860; ruger.com)
AVAILABLE CALIBERS: .223 Rem., 6.8mm Rem. SPC
THE SKINNY: Ruger recently enhanced this already improved version of its hardworking little Ranch Rifle by chambering it in 6.8mm Rem. SPC--a .270 military cartridge. Its 115-grain bullet will take deer out to 300 yards. With an 18½-inch barrel, a synthetic stock, a stainless matte finish, and an improved, rounded receiver with ghost-ring aperture sights, the 6 7/8-pound All-Weather Ranch Rifle promises to be a rugged, compact gun, perfect for the whitetail woods (where legal). It will serve double duty on the ranch or farm for hogs, predators, or varmints, too. The rifle includes integral scope mounts and rings.