How to Choose a Rifle for Hunting Whitetail Deer in Thick Cover (Plus Seven Recommendations from Field & Stream)

Yes, whitetail bucks do occasionally step into the wide open. But they live in the brush. That's why most shots at deer occur in cover, within 100 yards, and without much time to pull them off. So why not own a firearm perfectly suited to these conditions?

Designed to be quick-handling in tight places, brush guns are the answer: lightweight, short-barreled rifles chambered in short-to midrange calibers. For quick, closeup work, there's nothing better, and many models can reach out 200 yards or more for when your buck does step out of the thick stuff.

Here's what to consider:

Action: Traditional brush guns are primarily levers, pumps, and autos, all of which offer fast follow-up shots. But the real test isn't how fast you can rip off a second shot; it's how quickly you can take a well-executed first shot. A bolt action, therefore, is no handicap and in many cases offers better accuracy. Among the spate of newer lightweight short-action bolts, several make excellent brush guns.

Barrel Length: A short barrel is less apt to get snagged on a tree branch. Twenty-two inches is the max; 20 is ideal; 18½ isn't too short.

Weight: A quick-handling rifle should be light. Anything over 7½ pounds is too heavy. Between 6 and 7 pounds is about right.

Accuracy: You don't need a tack-driver. A rifle that'll put three shots inside 3 inches at 100 yards will do the job. Many brush guns are, in fact, more accurate than they need to be.

Caliber: The .30/30, .32, and .44 magnum have all proved their worth within their limits. Other good choices include the .35 Rem., .25/06, .260, 7mm/08, and .308.

Finish: These are mostly traditional deer rifles, and that means wood. But getting a synthetic stock is not a crime, and the added durability and stability is quite sensible.

The seven rifles at right all make dandy brush guns.

SEVEN SOLID CHOICES

Browning BLR Lightweight '81

(800-333-3288; browning.com)

Action: Lever • Barrel Length: 20 inches • Weight: 6 pounds 8 ounces • Caliber: .308 • Price: $731 • Comments: Unlike most lever actions, this traditional-looking but thoroughly modern clip-fed model chambers spitzer bullets in a variety of excellent deer rounds.

Kimber 84M Classic

(800-880-2418; kimberamerica.com)

Action: Short-action bolt • Barrel Length: 22 inches • Weight: 5 pounds 13 ounces • Caliber: .260 • Price: $945 • Comments: Quick-handling and beautifully crafted, the 84M has a free-floating barrel, pillar and glass bedding, and a Grade A claro walnut stock.

Marlin 336C

(203-239-5621; marlinfirearms.com)

Action: Lever • Barrel Length: 20 inches • Weight: 7 pounds • Caliber: .35 Rem. • Price: $400 • Comments: This is one of America's most popular brush guns, in a short-range caliber favored by many for its knockdown power. The 336C has an excellent factory trigger.

Remington 7400 Carbine

(800-243-9700; remington.com)

Action: Gas-operated semiauto • Barrel Length: 18½ inches • Weight: 7 pounds 4 ounces • Caliber: .30/06 • Price: $624 • Comments: The .30/06 is a popular but hard-kicking round for a brush gun. Here, though, the gas-operated action softens the recoil.

Remington 7600

(800-243-9700; remington.com)

Action: Pump • Barrel Length: 22 inches • Weight: 7 pounds 8 ounces • Caliber: .308 • Price: $588 • Comments: Though not as compact or light as some, the 7600 is a longtime favorite of big-woods hunters and has an excellent reputation for accuracy.

Savage 10FCM Sierra

(413-568-7001; www.savagearms.com)

Action: Short-action bolt • Barrel Length: 20 inches • Weight: 6 pounds 4 ounces • Caliber: 7mm/08 • Price: $552 • Comments: For those who prefer rugged performance over traditional looks, the new 10FCM Sierra is a fine brush gun, with superb accuracy.

Winchester 94 Ranger

(801-876-3440; winchesterguns.com)

Action: Lever • Barrel Length: 20 inches • Weight: 6 pounds 4 ounces • Caliber: .30/30 • Price: $377 • Comments: The quintessential traditional brush gun, the Model 94 in .30/30 has probably killed more deer than any other rifle.