The Gun Nut Battery: 30 Essential Rifles and Shotguns Picked by David E. Petzal and Phil Bourjaily
Our resident gun bloggers (and new TV stars) Phil Bourjaily and David E. Petzal pick their 30 favorite rifles and shotguns, and tell us why they like them. Check them out by clicking through the slides at left. How many do you own?
The Hard-Knocks Champs
It’s a terrifying thought to any Gun Nut, but out there in the real world, bad things happen to good rifles. Here are three very good rifles that can suck up the pain and not flinch. Savage Model 111 FNS .30/06
$591 | savagearms.com
This is the ultimate basic rifle–absolutely no frills or gimmicks. It comes in standard calibers, with a synthetic stock. Savage sells even less expensive rifles, but this one has their AccuTrigger; that’s worth the extra money.
Nosler Model 48 Trophy Grade.300 WSM
$1,745, short action; $1,896, long action | nosler.com This is the lower-priced version of the Model 48 Custom Sporter. Instead of a handmade Kevlar stock, it has a synthetic one by Bell and Carlson, and the hinged floor plate-trigger guard assembly is replaced by a blind magazine. Every metal surface is rustproof. The rifle is light, has an excellent trigger, and is guaranteed to give sub-MOA accuracy at 100 yards.
Weatherby Vanguard Synthetic .270
Starting at $419 | weatherby.com
Weatherby says on its website that this gun is perhaps the best rifle value on the market today, and I am not about to argue with them. The ones I have shot have been very accurate and are immaculately put together. The finish is matte blue, which means you have to wipe the rain and snow off when it gets wet, but otherwise the rifle is–pardon the expression–bulletproof.
The Break-the-Bank Gems
No true Gun Nut can achieve nirvana until he or she acquires one truly fine rifle with which to hunt every kind of big game that ever pooped in the boondocks. Since we are talking perfection here, I am including custom guns. Nosler Model 48 Custom Sporter .30/06
$3,195 | nosler.com
The Model 48, in addition to Nosler’s own action, comprises a Pac-Nor barrel, a Timney trigger, and a Kevlar-graphite stock. All the metal surfaces are weatherproof, and it is guaranteed to shoot sub-MOA. A number of working rifles are as good as the 48. But there aren’t any that are better.
**Ed Brown Savanna .300 Weatherby Magnum **
$3,995 | edbrown.com
There are few guns that you can look over and not see one detail that might be improved, but here is one. Brown makes no guarantees about accuracy, but he tests all his rifles, and if they don’t meet his standards they don’t get out the door. I have three, and I can tell you that his standards are very high.
Remington Custom Shop Model 700 AWR II .338 Win. Mag.
$3,503 | remingtoncustom.com
The AWR II looks like a Model 700, but it is a handmade rifle that uses components not found in production guns. Accuracy is guaranteed sub-MOA for cartridges of .30 or under, but the .338 I’ve shot groups way under a minute, guarantee or no.
The .22 is the basic rifle. If you have a brain in your head, you’ll fire 100 rounds from this gun for every one you shoot from a centerfire. It is the rifle that teaches you to shoot and keeps your skill level where it should be. CZ Model 455 American .22 LR
$463 | cz-usa.com
The guns from Ceska Zbrojovka Uhersky Brod (if that’s a few consonants too many, CZ will do) are built on modern machinery, but they have the look and feel of firearms built before WW II–milled solid steel and walnut, put together carefully. Country of origin (Czech Republic) aside, the Model 455 is totally American.
Sako Quad Synthetic
$500 | sako.fi
It’s an interchangeable-barrel rifle that you can convert to shoot .22 LR, .22 WMRF, .17 HMR, or .17 Mach 2. With all four barrels the Sako Quad is expensive. But you want it with just the .22 LR tube, which keeps the real-world price affordable. This is the most accurate factory rimfire I’ve ever shot, in a walk.
New Ultra Light Arms Model 20 Rimfire
$1,300 | newultralight.com
This is a Kevlar-stocked rifle of unearthly accuracy. You can choose a repeater or a single-shot, right- or left-hand, just about any color, chrome-moly or stainless barrel in any taper you want. The one option I recommend is the Jewell trigger. It ain’t cheap, but it’s worth it.
The Varmint Snipers
Gun Nuts dote on accuracy, and the more extreme the better. That’s the charm of varmint rifles–a good one will shoot dime-size groups at 100 yards, which will make your liver quiver. They are essential to the collection. Thompson/Center Icon Precision Hunter .22/250
$1,149 | tcarms.com
T/C makes this one with a laminated stock, a 22-inch heavy fluted barrel, a tactical bolt handle, an integral Picatinny rail, and a partridge in a pear tree. They have spared nothing to make the Precision Hunter accurate, and if you are not an accomplished marksman, it will make you feel your own inadequacy.
Stag Arms Model 6 Super Varminter .223
$1,055 | stagarms.com
If you’d really like to make the prairie dogs dance, here’s the gun that plays the tune. It’s got a heavy, match-grade stainless barrel and a two-stage match trigger. Mount a big honking scope; stuff in a 10-round magazine (where legal). Find yourself a prairie-dog town, and don’t plan on leaving soon.
**Savage Model 12 Long Range Precision Varminter Left Port .223 **
$1,277 | savagearms.com
This is a custom rifle that comes from a factory. It is big and heavy and state of the art. The one I tested was the first factory gun I’ve ever shot that would turn in 1⁄4-inch five-shot groups. And to take full advantage of it, you have to be a damn good shot.
The Safari Shooters
So, Africa is nowhere on the horizon? Buy an African rifle anyway. You can awe your friends, and it will give you an excuse to go there one day and use it. Ruger M77 Mark II Magnum .458 Lott
$2,404 | ruger.com
Of all the many rifles Ruger produces, I’ve always considered this one their best. It’s a near perfect African heavy rifle, and for what you get–Circassian walnut stock, ideal weight and balance, serious iron sights–it is a bargain. But if you can’t put an animal down with this cartridge, you’d better buy a rifle from our third source.
Montana Rifle Co. Model 1999 Summit Alaskan .375 H&H
$3,599 | montanarifleco.com
Yes, I know it says “Alaskan.” I say, who cares? It’s all stainless, synthetic-stocked, slicker than a lubricated eel, and dead reliable. It has excellent iron sights and is the ideal weight (8 pounds) for a .375 H&H. In short, it’s the perfect African medium rifle. You can take it to Alaska, too.
Ryan Breeding Custom Rifle .505 Gibbs
$25,900 and up | rbbigbores.com
This gifted Idaho gunmaker specializes in bolt actions built to handle horrifying cartridges such as the .505 Gibbs. Not only are Breeding’s rifles beautifully made, but they are designed to keep you from being stomped into a puddle of goo when you battle with death in the long grass. Think of this gun as life insurance.
The Classic Uplanders
The elegance of an upland gun comes from its pure functionality: It is the stripped-down essence of a shotgun, made to point as easily as your finger. Aguirre y Aranzabal No. 2
$5,199 | aya-fineguns.com
Spanish makers excel at copying English designs for much less money. The No. 2 is a version of the classic sidelock game gun. It’s made the old-fashioned way–by hand, with files and black smoke, and it will cost you thousands less than a British best. The No. 2 comes in five gauges, with even the 12 weighing no more than 6 pounds 12 ounces. You can buy one off the rack or spend a little more and wait a few months to have one made to measure. When you get it, you will look in vain for the slightest flaw in fit and finish.
$4,995 | merkel-usa.com
Germany invented the pocket battleship–a lightly armored, fast cruiser armed with heavy battleship guns–and the 1620 is that concept applied to shotguns. Sixteen-gauge barrels on a 20-gauge frame make it an easy-carrying, hard-hitting, practically perfect upland gun. It weighs just 6 pounds, yet gives you near 12-gauge power. The wood tends to sensible, strong, straight grain, but it’s handsomely finished and the whole package is good looking in an angular, Teutonic way.
The Deer Sluggers
Today’s most accurate slug guns feature rifled barrels rigidly locked to the gun’s receiver to eliminate vibration and can shoot 100-yard MOA groups. Even shotgun nuts like accuracy, and here are three slug guns that deliver. H&R Ultra Slug Hunter
$351 | hr1871.com
I might have said it before but I don’t mind saying it again: The Ultra Slug Hunter is the best bargain of any kind in shotgunning. Yes, it’s a single-shot, but the way this gun shoots, one is plenty. Very soft kicking thanks to a 24-inch heavy-contour rifled barrel, this single-shot hammer gun delivers tight groups at a tightwad’s price.
$2,835 | tarhunt.com
Randy Fritz of Bloomsburg, Pa., has perhaps shot more slugs than anyone, so he knows what kind of gun shoots them the most accurately: a custom bolt action with a glass-bedded barrel, a McMillan stock, and a good rifle trigger. A TarHunt can shoot groups well under an inch at 100 yards. TarHunt makes only about 100 guns a year. You will have to pay, and wait, but it’ll be worth it.
Ithaca DeerSlayer III
$1,189 | ithacagun.com
With a 26-inch heavy fluted barrel, threaded into the receiver in order to squeeze every last fps from slugs, and free-floated so there’s no magazine tube ring, the pump-action DS III is a solid launching pad for speedy sabot slugs. The owners at Ithaca’s Ohio plant are building beautifully fit and finished guns–as good as or better than any Ithacas ever made.
**The Do-It-All Semiautos
**It pains me to admit you could get through life with one shotgun, but it’s true if that gun is an alloy-receivered, soft-shooting 12-guage semiauto. If it makes you feel better, try to think of it as the one backup for all of your other guns.**** Benelli M2
$1,319 | benelliusa.com
Benelli’s inertia action kicks more than a gas gun’s, but it’s softer than a fixed-breech gun. Because inertia guns don’t bleed gas from the barrel to drive the action, they stay cleaner longer. And a Benelli lasts forever: In the outback, there’s surely a rabbit shooter with one that’s shot 500K rounds.
**Winchester Super X3 **
$1,199 | winchesterguns.com
In the X3’s case, ugly is only skin deep. Inside is a thing of beauty: Built around the proven Browning Gold-Super X2 system, the soft-shooting X3 is easy to clean and cycles light loads well. An alloy magazine tube and recoil spring keep the gun at around 7 pounds.
$895 | berettausa.com
The Beretta 390 was arguably a simpler and more durable gun than its successor, the 3901, which is just a 390 made in Beretta’s factory in Maryland. But the 3901 cycles almost anything you feed it, shoots softly, and is a proven survivor of Argentina’s high-volume dove fields.
The Target O/U’s
Hunting season only lasts a few months, so a Gun Nut needs balm for an itchy trigger finger the rest of the year. A dedicated target gun will withstand the pounding of thousands of rounds a year. Although semiautos also make good target guns, these are all break actions, because we spend enough time diving into trash cans for other shooters’ empty hulls without needing to crawl around looking for our own. Krieghoff K-80
$10,695 | krieghoff.com
When Remington discontinued its Model 32 o/u, Austrian maker Krieghoff recognized the excellence of its unusual sliding top-latch lockup and bought the patent. Made to exacting standards as a high-end target gun, the K-80 isn’t good looking, but it is strong and it wins a lot. Stolid and heavy, it may be a Clydesdale to the Perazzi MX Series’ cutting horse, but when it comes to American skeet, trap, and sporting clays, the K-80 is a force to be reckoned with.
Browning Citori XS
$2,989 | browning.com
Based on the venerable Superposed, the Citori XS is an easy-to-shoot, durable, target-grinding machine. The XS combines classic good looks with competition-ready features like an adjustable comb, a long forcing cone, and extended chokes–all for a third of the price of a Perazzi or Krieghoff. You can purchase plenty of practice rounds with the money you save. And it will be a very long time before you’ll ever have to get your Citori’s action tightened.
Perazzi MX series
$11,731 | perazzi.com
The Perazzi’s low-profile action and lively feel disguise the fact that this gun is tough enough to digest shells by the pallet-full. Introduced in the ’50s, Perazzis have racked up impressive Olympic medal counts in the demanding games of bunker trap and international skeet, as well as winning at every other clay-target discipline. They have a drop-out trigger in case you break a spring and stocks that you can swap in seconds. The MX20 shown here is a small-gauge sporting gun, but you can order a Perazzi in any gauge for any game. **
Caesar Guerini Magnus
$3,955 | gueriniusa.com
The Magnus’s beautifully case-hardened side plates feature gold-inlaid gamebirds, and the stock is carved from deluxe Turkish walnut. Underneath the decoration the gun is a sure-handling tool of the hunt. A Prince of Wales grip and Schnabel fore-end keep your hands in line for sure pointing. It weighs 6 pounds 4 ounces with 28-inch barrels in .410, light enough to carry all day, substantial enough to make it easy to shoot. Guerini has a custom shop, so you can have a gun stocked to measure and fitted with a leather cover pad.
The Bottom-of-the-Boat Pumps
If you absolutely positively have to keep shooting no matter what the conditions, you want a pump gun. And if you treat your pump guns badly, as so many waterfowlers do, you want them to be cheap. Like these guns. Mossberg model 500
$422 | mossberg.com
The lowly 500 gets treated like a poor man’s 870 except by the U.S. military, which test-fired and tortured the gun until it passed the demanding 3443 Mil Spec standards. The 500 is a durable gun, light in weight, surprisingly slick to pump. And it has a tang safety for ambidextrous use. You can get it in wood-blued steel, basic black, or camouflage. All three are tougher than you are.
_ $399 | weatherby.com_
Weatherby’s new budget-priced Turkish pump gun comes with a synthetic stock that should take the abuses of waterfowling in stride. It’s slick-handling and light, and the easy-to-find slide release is a nice feature. Granted, this gun doesn’t have the established 110-year combined track record of the 870 and Model 500, but if preliminary indications are anything, Weatherby did its due diligence and the gun works.
Remington 870 Express Super Mag
**_ $577 | remington.com_
**With 10 million made since 1950, the 870 has proved itself everywhere from the 27-yard line to the Tet Offensive. A little mud and ice aren’t going to stop it. If you do gum it up, it’s easy to take apart, and there are tons of aftermarket gadgets available. Spend a little extra for the waterfowl camo version–the matte finish on a plain Express turns orange at a drop of water.