by Phil Bourjaily & David E. Petzal Looking back on a lifetime of watching people shoot rifles and shotguns, I can think of perhaps a dozen at most who were masters of both. That is not a hell of a lot, and there is good reason: Rifle shooting is static; its mastery depends on limiting or stopping movement of the gun. Shotgunning is dynamic; if you stop swinging the gun, you will miss. Rifle shooting is mostly science with some art mixed in. Shotgunning is mostly art with some science added. There are temperamental differences involved. Good rifle shots are beady-eyed and calculating and tend toward long silences. Good shotgunners are expressive, animated, outgoing, and artistic. But the two disciplines have some things in common. Great shotgunners and great riflemen have superior hand-eye coordination. Both understand very clearly what they have to do and how to go about it. That is science. Both are able to feed intangibles into the equation and work with them. That's art. Both shoot a ton. I will say that again: Both shoot a ton. Some of this we can furnish in the pages that follow. The rest is up to you. --D.E.P..
**A Dozen State-of-the-Art Rifles
** by David E. Petzal CUSTOM BREAKTHROUGHS
These rifles changed things; not just what the guns could do, but what people expected of them, and the standard to which everything after was built. JARRETT LONG RANGER
The Long Ranger, based on Kenny Jarrett’s own Tri-Lock bolt action, is designed for taking big-game animals at 800 yards. It’s chambered only for his proprietary .30 magnum, the .300 Jarrett, which shoots special 190- and 200-grain bullets at 3100 fps from a 1:9-inch-twist barrel. The -synthetic-stocked Long Ranger comes in light and heavy versions
NEW ULTRA LIGHT ARMS MODEL 24
Before Melvin Forbes, truly lightweight bolt actions were sad, disabled creations that lacked ounces but also lacked the rigidity and the steel to be accurate and, in some cases, safe. Today, there are NULAs in everything from .22 LR to .416 Remington, and they are all lighter than anything else, and very few guns can shoot with them.
LES BAER CUSTOM AR .223 SUPER VARMINT
I once went on a prairie dog hunt in eastern Montana and saw a police officer sighting in a Les Baer Super Varmint. I looked through the spotting scope and saw the size of his groups. Maybe someone was getting this kind of accuracy from ARs before Mr. Baer detoured from building handguns, but until I find out who that may be, take a bow, Les.
RIFLES THAT BROKE THE MOLD The Weatherby was the Elvis of firearms: To some it was the end of the world; to others it was revealed truth. The Blaser is so different that many people won’t try it, but it works. The Marlin is the fat kid who turns out to be a super-athlete. WEATHERBY MARK V
$1,235 AND UP Weatherby.com
Fifty-three years ago, when the Mark V first appeared, there was only one way to hit big game at long range, and that was with an extremely flat-shooting cartridge. In a time of ballistic timidity, Roy Weatherby redefined what we thought of as high velocity. The rifle he designed for his supercharged loads was as radical as they were, and today they still form an unbeatable combination if you want to reach way, way out and bash something flat. I bought my first Mark V in 1965 and since then have owned something like 15, and have yet to see one that was not a superior shooter.
$3,250 AND UP Blaser-USA.com
Blasers have been around for a few years, and the R8 is the third generation. It is so unlike a conventional bolt action that I could not begin to describe it here, but since we’re talking about accuracy, perhaps this will do: I’ve shot, I believe, a dozen, and each was sensational. There were no average rifles, no very good ones. Each one was right in the top rank. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that before. The barrels, triggers, and scopes interchange. They come in versions from dead-plain-fiberglass-stocked to Over-the-Top Teutonic Overkill, and from affordable to Second Mortgage.
MARLIN MODEL 1895SBL
The Model 1895SBL is supposed to be a brush-busting, close-range, pound-it-flat carbine, but the models I have tested will also deliver minute-of-angle groups on a fairly regular basis. I have heard of Savage 99s shooting with this level of accuracy (although I’ve never actually seen it), but a .45/70? A cartridge that was on the hill with George Armstrong Custer? To borrow the late Jeff Cooper’s analogy, it is like sending a sumo wrestler to ballet school–you would be surprised at the results. If you would like to pulverize with precision, here is your huckleberry.
A little more than a generation ago, you could not buy big-game rifles that shot as well as these from anyone at any price. Now, it’s a whole new world. WEATHERBY VANGUARD SUB-MOA
$1,019 AND UP Weatherby.com
Some years ago, the Weatherby folks noticed that while all Vanguards shot well, some of them shot very, very well, and these were taken aside and designated as Sub-MOA guns, because they will shoot under a minute of angle. Vanguards, generally, are one of the great bargains in sporting rifles, and the Sub-MOAs are more so.
SAVAGE MODEL 11 LONG RANGE HUNTER
I shot one of these last summer in 6.5/284 Norma. Every group I fired measured between .600 and .700 inch, making this the most accurate factory hunting rifle I’ve ever used. It is not pretty and it is not light, but it has all sorts of refinements dedicated to making it shoot spectacularly. That’s the Savage philosophy.
TIKKA T3 LITE
When my colleagues want to cite just how well factory makers can do if they’re serious about turning out superior work, Tikka is the name I hear most. The Finns who build them make perfect guns. And of course they shoot. There are half a dozen permutations of the T3, but I think this is the most practical. The price, for work of this stripe, is jarringly low.
THE HEAVY-BARREL BOYS
In rifles, as in football, there is no substitute for mass. Put enough steel ahead of the receiver and good things happen. Maybe you can even get someone to carry the thing for you. THOMPSON/CENTER ICON WARLORD
This massive-barreled, 123⁄4-pound .308 tactical rifle is guaranteed by T/C to put three shots in half an inch, but for the one I got to know last year, that was just a warm-up round. It would put five shots through essentially the same hole. It would fire a 10-shot group with all 10 shots touching. It was, I believe, the most accurate centerfire rifle I’ve ever shot that was not a benchrest gun. It comes only in .308, and that’s all it needs.
SAVAGE MODEL 12 LONG RANGE PRECISION
Built with the graceful lines of an NFL nose tackle, the 11-pound Model 12 combines a fluted bull barrel, an H-S Precision fiberglass stock, and an AccuTrigger to let you shoot with finesse. And you’d better shoot with finesse, because it’s available only in .243, .260 Remington, and 6.5 Creedmoor, none of which will overwhelm much of anything. You’ll be amazed to learn what a small bullet can do if it lands in the right place.
REMINGTON MODEL 40-XB RANGE-MASTER
$2,863 AND UP RemingtonCustom.com
Originally the 40-X, this is the daddy of all super shooters. It came out in 1962, and quickly established a world-beating reputation for accuracy. I got a 40-X in .222 in 1965, and quickly discovered that it shot much better than I did. The 11-plus-pound 40-XB is made in the Remington Custom Shop in a wide variety of calibers, single-shot and repeater, with all sorts of refinements available.
A Dozen Shotgun Masterpieces
by Phil Bourjaily THE PRECISIONISTS
The homegrown precisionist movement celebrated American industrialization and machinery. The modern slug gun is nothing if not a precise machine–at least by shotgun standards. BROWNING A-BOLT SHOTGUN
$1,100 AND UP Browning.com
Briefly produced in the ’90s, the A-Bolt was ahead of its time, offering accuracy to deer hunters who preferred firepower. Times and hunting have changed. The revived A-Bolt is the gun you want when a Corn Belt trophy steps into view 150 yards away. The 12-gauge shares the excellent trigger and slick bolt action of the A-Bolt rifle. It has adjustable rifle sights but screams out for a high-quality scope, which can easily be mounted on the tapped receiver.
Based on the famously affordable, accurate Savage 110 rifle, the 220 has the company’s AccuTrigger, a user-adjustable trigger that can safely be lowered to a pull weight of 11⁄2 pounds. Combine the AccuTrigger with a rifled barrel and a rigid bolt action and you get a gun that produces tight groups at 100 yards and more–all at a very affordable price. Chambered in 20 gauge, the 220F is slim and light, yet deadly and accurate when loaded with premium sabot slugs.
REMINGTON 870 SHURSHOT SUPER SLUG
The 870 ShurShot Synthetic Super Slug uses the most popular pump shotgun of all time as a platform for a pinpoint slug shooter. A heavyweight 251⁄2-inch fully rifled barrel is pinned to the receiver with a set screw to reduce group-widening vibration. In place of Remington’s familiar cantilever, the ShurShot Super Slug has a drilled and tapped receiver and the very shootable ShurShot stock.
Neoclassicism posits a return to classical principles. In an era of mass-produced plastic stocks and robotically milled alloy receivers, a few guns are still handmade works of art in steel and walnut. Like any masterpiece, they are not cheap. WESTLEY RICHARDS DROPLOCK
$48,188 AND UP WestleyRichards.com
While many traditional firms are gone, Westley Richards has survived. Its flagship gun remains the droplock, a boxlock with a hinged floor plate that lets you remove the locks in the unlikely event they break.
C.S.M.C. A.H. FOX
$15,500 AND UP ConnecticutShotgun.com
Considered by many to be the best American double, the A.H. Fox found new life in 1994 at the Connecticut Shotgun Manufacturing Co. The gun is a combination of modern and old-world craftsmanship.
$20,000 AND UP Famars.com
Famars guns first popularized the Italian bulino style of engraving, wherein subjects are rendered in countless delicate lines that have all the subtlety and shading of a fine pencil drawing. The o/u’s and doubles are every bit as graceful in line as their engraving is stunning.
Futurism rejects the past. These are guns that depart from tradition and embrace new technology and ideals more than any others.
$1,379 AND UP** BenelliUSA.COM
The Vinci’s unconventional looks hide an innovative twist on the famous Benelli inertia action: The action spring is directly behind the bolt, where it is easy to see and maintain, instead of being tucked away in the stock as it is with other semiautos. The modular Vinci snaps apart quickly like no other gun. Broken down, the parts fit in custom-shaped compartments of the hard case that comes included. Light in weight and ergonomic, the Vinci is as shootable as it is unusual.
$1,200 AND UP Browning.com
A successor to the Browning Gold, the Maxus shows just how slim and light a modern semiauto can be. In place of a magazine cap it has a forearm latch (like an o/u) that doubles as a swivel stud. The gas system functions with a wide variety of loads and very little recoil. It has other nifty features, like a magazine plug that comes out with the turn of a car key. With an overbored barrel and a lengthened forcing cone, it patterns a variety of ammo as well.
BERETTA A400 XCEL SPORTING
The sporting-clays version of Beretta’s A400 Xcel comes with a vivid blue receiver that stands out in any gun rack. Beneath the blue, the Xcel is the easiest gas gun to clean–ever–although it will cycle thousands of rounds before it needs maintenance. The Xcel will shoot anything you feed it: Even the 31⁄2-inch hunting version cycles my slow 7⁄8-ounce reloads. On the Sporting version, you can add an optional counter that keeps track of how many rounds you have put through the gun.
Minimalism strips a work down to its fundamentals. These guns do one job, simply, efficiently, without frills or high price tags. CZ-USA BOBWHITE
The Bobwhite is an affordable version of the classic double gun made in Turkey. The slim, classic lines of a traditional straight grip-splinter forearm double put the bores in line with your hands, so the gun points like an extension of your finger. Two triggers mean instant barrel selection and little to go wrong.
MOSSBERG 835 ULTI-MAG
$463 AND UP Mossberg.com
In 1989 Federal conspired with Mossberg to create a new 12-gauge magnum shell and a gun to shoot it. The 835 Ulti-Mag was the result. A 12-gauge pump with a near-10-gauge barrel, the 835 is made to pattern heavy loads of large shot. Affordable and reliable, the 835 has fans everywhere big birds are on the agenda.
$469 AND UP Weatherby.com
The SA-08 stands far from the cutting edge of semiauto technology. To go from cycling light to heavy loads, you have to switch a valve. If you want to shoot 3 1⁄2-inch magnums, you need a different gun. But the gun is lithe and slender. It is inexpensive, and it shoots three times, every time. How can you afford not to have one?
We live in a golden age of guns. The designs of modern rifles and shotguns are more cutting-edge and intricate than ever, and never has it been easier to shoot like a deadeye–or own a rack of fine-looking guns. Here, we’ve selected 24 of today’s best guns, from custom breakthrough rifles to precisionist shotguns.