We may earn revenue from the products available on this page and participate in affiliate programs. Learn more ›

Written By
Updated Jan 27, 2023 8:13 AM

If you need an excuse to buy a new rifle, you might want to reevaluate things. All you should really need is the cash and some guidance as to which new rifle might be best for you. That’s why we conducted our test of the best rifles of 2023; to help you decide which new-for-2023 gun you should spend your money on.

But testing new rifles isn’t as simple as it used to be. New rifles were once born into distinct categories; hunting rifles were hunting rifles and target rifles were target rifles. But now the lines have blurred. Companies are making target rifles you could go hunting with and hunting rifles that shoot well enough for competition. And in addition to what you could call “crossover” rifles, we’re seeing a lot of specialized rifles, and sadly, fewer and fewer lever guns each year. This makes our job a bit more complicated, just as it makes your job of deciding which new rifle to buy harder. We traveled to the fantastic Phoenicia Fish & Game Association (PFG) range, located in the Catskill Mountains in New York state, to extensively test what we felt were the 10 most exciting new rifles for 2023.

The author loads up the Mauser M18 Savannah.
The author loads up the Mauser M18 Savannah. Sabastian Mann

Our test crew included executive editor Dave Hurteau, senior editor Matthew Every, PFG President and shooting instructor Syed Shahzad Adil Shah, and myself. Collectively, we have a century of shooting and hunting experience across North America and all over the world. We had to do things a bit differently, and, just like you’d probably do around the campfire, we argued a bit to come to a consensus. When it was all said and done, we were confident we ranked and rated the top new rifles fairly.

The Best Rifles of 2023

The Rest of the Best Rifles of 2023

How We Test Rifles

Collage of three photos from the 2022 Field & Stream Rifle Test.
Clockwise from the top: scoring a deer target after our snap-shooting drill; we used the same Leupold scopes for all of the hunting rifles except the Marlin; the author takes a break from the Steward Edward White shooting drill. Sabastian Mann

Just as in our past tests, we decided to rate the rifles based on certain categories. We shot them for precision and exposed them to practical shooting drills. But because of the diversity of the rifles we tested this year, we had to do all of that based on each rifle’s intended use. First, we mounted a Leupold VX-3HD 4.5-14X40mm riflescope to each hunting rifle, and a Leupold Mark 5HD 5-25X56mm riflescope to each precision rifle, using Leupold rings for both. After zeroing, we shot a bunch of five-shot groups with ammunition from Hornady, Remington, Winchester, Federal, Fiocchi, Black Hills, Sierra, and Nosler to test for precision.

Finally, we ran each rifle through a practical hunting or precision shooting drill. For the hunting rifles, we conducted a snap-shooting drill using deer targets. It was based on a 1920s practice regime used by Stewart Edward White, who Gunsite Academy founder Jeff Cooper regarded as a “true certified master of the art of the rifle.” With the precision rifles, we shot a version of the multi-positional Kraft Drill—created by long-range shooting expert Chris Way.

How We Score Rifles

We scored each gun in our test of the best rifles of 2023 on how well it shot from the bench based on group sizes and for the practical drills. We also scored each rifle on how precisely it shot the 5-shot groups in relation to how much it weighed. This gave us a pound-for-pound accuracy rating. Each of us also ranked every rifle on quality of construction, balance, shooting comfort, adjustability and adaptability, versatility, and ease of maintenance. Finally, since money matters, the retail price of each rifle was ranked with the least expensive being awarded the most points and the most expensive the least.

Man sitting at a table writing down a score for the best rifle of 2022.
Thompson Targets supplied the targets for our test. Sabastian Mann

When evaluating such a diverse collection of rifles, comparisons become complicated. You can’t compare the balance and handing of a lever gun to a long-range precision rifle, and we didn’t. Where head-to-head comparisons made sense—like with quality of construction—we did that. Otherwise, during our subjective evaluations, we scored each rifle based on whether it was a hunting rifle or a precision rifle. For example, the lone lever gun we tested had an overall higher score than one of the precision rifles. That does not mean we felt it was a better precision rifle, we just thought it was a better rifle, in general.

Best Hunting Rifle: Nosler Model 21

Why It Made the Cut: The ideal hunting rifle should balance between the hands, deliver sub-MOA precision, and weigh less than the average house cat. It should also be slim, trim, and rugged. This perfectly describes the Nosler Model 21, which stood out from the pack among the best rifles of 2023.

Key Features

  • Score: 94.56 points
  • Length: 41.65 inches
  • Weight: 6.8 pounds
  • Barrel: 22-inch
  • Action: 4340 Chrome Moly Steel
  • Trigger: Trigger Tech (adjustable)
  • Finish: Cerakote & Nitride
  • Stock: McMillan Hunters Edge Sporter Stock
  • Chambering: 6.5 Creedmoor (tested)
  • Price: $2,795


  • Excellent balance
  • Dime-splitting accuracy
  • Great craftsmanship


  • Expensive
  • Limited non-Nosler chamberings

Test Panel Notes

  • “A virtually flawless rifle. It balances well and stays on target off-hand because it has enough weight up front.” —Dave Hurteau
  • “Excellent fit and finish. I’d be proud to own this rifle.” —Matthew Every
  • “This is one of the top five rifles I’ve ever tested.”—Richard Mann

Since 1948, Nosler has established a trusted reputation with hunters by delivering some of the best game bullets made. For some time now, they’ve been building rifles, and the Model 21 is their newest offering. The heart of the Model 21 is a two-lug action made from 4340 chrome moly steel. It features an M16 style extractor and a plunger style ejector, with a spiral-fluted, Nitride-coated bolt, and a threaded bolt handle. The bolt can be disassembled without tools.

The Model 21’s barrel is threaded, and the barreled action is bedded in a McMillan Hunters Edge Sporter Stock made of carbon fiber. The stock is shaped well and is slim and trim in hand. In my opinion, it feels much better than it looks; its black base dotted with white spots gives the appearance it lives in the bottom of a pigeon’s cage. However, beauty is found in many ways, and it’s hard to say a perfectly-balanced, less-than-7-pound rifle, that will consistently put bullet after bullet into sub-MOA groups, is not gorgeous.

This rifle had an air of excellence that you could smell as soon as you picked it up. Not only did it outscore all the hunting rifles, but it also outscored all the rifles tested. We felt the Model 21 was put together the best, it was the second most precise shooting hunting rifle, and it outperformed them all on the practical shooting exercise. However, you must pay to play with all this wonderfulness; the Model 21 was the second most expensive of all the rifles. Maybe the thing we liked about it the least was that out of the 12 available chamberings, only six were for non-Nosler cartridges. I also wish the safety locked the bolt.

Best Precision Rifle: Bergara Premier MG Lite

Why It Made the Cut: With everything you need in a precision rifle that comes in a package that’s light enough to carry all day on the hunt, the Bergara Premier MG Lite is an excellent crossover option.

Key Features

  • Score: 91.55 points
  • Length: 43-45 inches
  • Weight: 6.8 pounds
  • Barrel: 22-inch or (24-inch in 300 Win. Mag.) CURE carbon barrel
  • Action: Bergara Premier
  • Trigger: Trigger Tech (adjustable)
  • Finish: Cerakote
  • Stock: XLR magnesium chassis w/ folding stock
  • Chambering: 6.5 Creedmoor (tested)
  • Price: $3300


  • Accurate
  • Lightweight
  • Versatile


  • Only four chamberings available
  • Expensive

Test Panel Notes

  • “I wouldn’t hesitate to take this rifle hunting, and it would be perfect for field-shooting matches like NRL Hunter.” M.E.
  • “If you’re a traditionalist, you won’t like this rifle…until you shoot it.” R.M.

If long-range precision is the game, your rifle needs to put bullets close together on target. This rifle, though only the fourth most precise shooting rifle tested, averaged 0.80-inch with the five loads we shot through it. That’s more than enough precision to win a match or heart-shoot a mule deer. And this duality is exactly what sets this rifle apart. Though it’s configured to perform as a long-range precision rifle, it’s light and handy enough for hunting on the back 40 or in the backcountry.

Built on a lightweight magnesium chassis with full M-Lok compatibility, this rifle accepts AICS-style magazines, has a folding stock with an adjustable cheek piece, full-length ARCA-rail forend, and a vertical AR-style grip. Combined with the carbon-fiber-wrapped barrel, you end up with a lightweight and packable, tack-driving rifle. A TriggerTech trigger serves as the go-switch and a suppressor-ready threaded muzzle comes with a muzzle brake. For optics mounting, the receiver is compatible with a Remington 700—8×40 screws—scope base, and the chassis even features a built-in bubble level.

From a user interface perspective, the Bergara Premier MG Lite outperformed both of the other precision rifles during our practical shooting test, and we felt the quality of construction was top-notch. Pound-for-pound, it was the second most accurate rifle we tested, and it delivered the second smallest individual group out of the entire test with 140-grain Nosler Match ammo. Maybe best suited to the precision shooter who wants to hunt, it could also be a hunting rifle that wants to, and is capable of, competing at distance. Though this is not a rifle that’ll warm your heart like granddad’s Winchester Model 70, it will outshoot it.

Best Value: Mauser M18 Savannah

Why It Made the Cut: There will always be a place for a well-made, reliable, and accurate, rifle that can be had for less than a single paycheck. The Mauser M18 not only meets those requisites, but it does so with a fair bit of grace.

Key Features

  • Score: 90.40 points
  • Length: 42 inches
  • Weight: 6.4 pounds
  • Barrel: 22-inch Cold hammer forged German carbon steel
  • Action: 60° Bolt-action
  • Trigger: Adjustable (2.25 to 4.25 pounds)
  • Stock: Tan and black synthetic
  • Chambering: .308 Winchester (tested)
  • Price: $850


  • 60° bolt lift
  • Three-position safety
  • Adjustable stock


  • Only one action size

Test Panel Notes

  • “An affordable rifle that does not scream ‘cheap.’” —D.H.
  • “A rifle I’d have the utmost confidence in just about anywhere.” —M.E.
  • “This is a lot of rifle for the money.” —R.M.

If there is one name that stands tall in the world of rifles, it’s Mauser. The Model 98 Mauser is not only legendary, its deeds and performance rise to mythical levels. The new M18 Mauser is not a Model 98, but it proved to be a very fine rifle. The only similarity the M18 has to the original M98 is that it comes in only one action length. The M18 is offered in nine chamberings, from .223 Remington to .300 Winchester Magnum, but with all these rifles the action size is the same. And the action is a bit different from the old 98. It features a three-lug bolt with a 60° lift, and an oversized bolt handle. It is very swift and smooth to operate, and it feeds from a detachable, five-round magazine.

The action, which is outfitted with a threaded, cold-hammer-forged, 22-inch barrel (24-inch for magnum cartridges) rests in a very attractive, tan-colored synthetic stock that has soft inserts at the grip and forend. The lines are classic, and the drop is neutral, which allows for a good cheek weld. The stock also has a unique storage compartment in the rear for a small cleaning kit or first aid items. The trigger is adjustable, and the three-position safety that locks the bolt is a nice touch.

The Savannah comes with a sub-MOA precision guarantee. We tested five loads in this rifle and overall, it failed to meet this level of precision with three of the five. But every rifle will have several loads it does not like. The M18’s best group average was with the Nosler Ballistic Tip load, which came in at 0.69-inch. For me, recoil for a .308 seemed a bit stiff but everyone agreed this rifle balanced nicely.

We ran at least three different brands of ammunition through each rifle.
Sabastian Mann

The Rest of the Best Rifles of 2023

Savage Model 110 Magpul Hunter

Why It Made the Cut: Hunters wanting a rifle capable of precision at distance, for hunting, recreation, or even competition, will be hard-pressed to find a better option near this price point. From a precision standpoint, this rifle outshot every hunting gun in our test of the best rifles of 2023.

Key Features

  • Score: 91.01 points
  • Length: 38.25 inches
  • Weight: 8.9 pounds
  • Barrel: 18-inch Carbon steel
  • Action: Carbon steel
  • Trigger: Savage AccuTrigger
  • Finish: Cerakote
  • Stock: Magpul black synthetic
  • Chambering: 6.5 Creedmoor (tested)
  • Price: $1045


  • Fantastic precision
  • Adjustable trigger
  • Adjustable stock


  • Only available in 6.5 Creedmoor and .308 Winchester
  • Heavy

Test Panel Notes

  • “Cycles a little rough, but this rifle really shoots.” —D.H.
  • “A great option for someone who wants a rifle to hunt and shoot matches with.” —M.E.
  • “This is a fantastically good-shooting and affordable rifle that crosses over between hunting and long-range shooting.” —R.M.

Regardless of your opinion of what long-range is, and of what distance is too far to shoot a big game animal, hunters are looking for rifles that will let them reach out. One of the things that’s needed for any type of distance shooting is precision, and that’s where this rifle delivered. Every five-shot group fired with this rifle measured less than an inch—the best coming from 143-grain Hornady ELD Match. This is not surprising for Savage rifles; they have a reputation for accuracy. What is surprising is that even at almost 9 pounds, this rifle scored third best in the pound-for-pound accuracy category.

It’s built on the classic Savage 110 action, but it’s tricked out with a bunch of goodies. It has a factory-blueprinted action available in right or left hand, a threaded muzzle, a tactical bolt knob, and it comes with a 20-MOA scope rail and feeds from AICS pattern magazines. It also comes with a Magpul stock that’s adjustable for length of pull and comb height with M-Lok compatibility on the forend.

On the downside, the rifle is a bit heavy for general-purpose hunting. With a suitable long-range riflescope, you’re looking at more than 10 pounds. The rifle also has sort of a weird hunting/tactical vibe; it gives the impression that it doesn’t know what kind of rifle it wants to be. However, that’s also part of the rifle’s strength. It shoots well enough to thrive in long-range competition and in the field.

Franchi Momentum Elite

Why It Made the Cut: If only accurate rifles are interesting, then this rifle is attention-grabbing. Its affordability and futuristic look only add to its appeal.

Key Features

  • Score: 88.20 points
  • Length: 44.25 inches
  • Weight: 7.1 pounds
  • Barrel: 24-inch cold hammer forged barrel
  • Action: 60° bolt-action
  • Trigger: Adjustable (2.0 to 4.0 pounds)
  • Finish: Cerakote
  • Stock: Synthetic with camo finish
  • Chambering: 6.5 Creedmoor (tested)
  • Price: $899


  • Good trigger
  • Accurate
  • Smooth bolt operation


  • Three-round detachable magazine
  • Only four chamberings

Test Panel Notes

  • “Good trigger, fit and finish is fine, but I don’t like the location of the magazine release.” —D.H.
  • “I like how fast and smooth the bolt is to operate.” —M.E.
  • “A bit futuristic looking, but it’s a solid performer for the price.” —R.M.

Of all the rifles tested, this rifle was the second least expensive. Even though it didn’t get high marks for quality of construction, and it felt a bit odd in the hand, on the practical shooting drill, it performed well. It also turned in a sub-MOA average group size. On the plus side, this rifle has a light contour barrel that’s free-floated, an adjustable trigger, comes with a threaded muzzle and a muzzle brake, and a one-piece scope rail. The bolt is massive and has three locking lugs, but it’s lightning fast and cycles smoothly.

The uniquely-shaped stock, which has integrated sling attachments, is available in a variety of camo finishes, and the TSA pad seemed to do a good job limiting felt recoil. The rifle also comes with a MOA precision guarantee, which it met. The downside is the detachable magazine which only holds three cartridges. Because it’s a single-stack magazine it probably helps with the smooth feeding and keeps the rifle stock trim at the balance point, but it limits capacity even with the small diameter .350 Legend offering. Higher capacity magazines are available.

The rifle’s balance seemed a bit off and the lack of a conventional forward sling swivel would make adding a quality bipod difficult. Even though this was no one’s favorite rifle, we all shot it very well from the bench and off-hand. Its price, pound-for-pound precision score, and its performance on the practical shooting drill placed it fifth overall.

Browning X-Bolt Target Max

Why It Made the Cut: Long-range precision rifles tend to be expensive. Relatively speaking, this one is not. It also outshot every gun we fired in our best of the best rifles of 2023. The largest group it fired measured less than ¾ of an inch.

Key Features

  • Price: 86.76 points
  • Length: 46 inches
  • Weight: 9 pounds, 14 ounces
  • Barrel: 26-inch Stainless fluted
  • Action: Browning X-Bolt
  • Trigger: Target DLX adjustable
  • Finish: Matte blue
  • Stock: Black composite
  • Chambering: 6.5 Creedmoor (tested)
  • Price: $1730 


  • Excellent precision
  • Flawless function


  • Size
  • Only available in three cartridges

Test Panel Notes

  • “The bottom line is, this rifle shoots great. It may not have the bells and whistles of other precision rifles, but it is a solid setup for anybody looking for a sub-$2,000 long-range rifle.” —M.E.
  • “Browning continues to prove that extreme precision can be had affordably.” —R.M.

The average price for the rifles we tested was $1823. The Browning X-Bolt Target Max came in at $93 under this average and still managed to outshoot every other rifle in our test. Nothing else came close. This rifle also has a lot of features those looking to perform at distance demand. It has a stiffer receiver than common X-Bolt rifles, a Recoil Hawg muzzle brake, an adjustable trigger, a comfortable vertical grip, and an easily adjustable comb. The butt stock’s flat bottom meshes well with a rear bag, and in addition to sling swivel studs, there’s an accessory rail on the forend for a bipod or tripod.

Unless you’re hunting from a shooting house, this rifle is a bit large and heavy to carry in the field. Also, without a chassis-style stock, ARCA rail, and M-Lok compatibility, it lost some points to the other two precision rifles in our test. It’s also only available in 6mm Creedmoor, 6.5mm Creedmoor, and .308 Winchester. Though we could nit-pick its configuration and features as they relate to the long-range game, what we couldn’t do was find anything about this rifle that did not perform. It shot great, functioned perfectly, and was a pleasure to shoot.

Marlin 1895 Trapper

Why It Made the Cut: If a compact and powerful repeating rifle is what you want, this rife is what you need. It handles like a quarter horse, shoots like a bolt-gun, and is hits hard.

Key Features

  • Score: 85.07 points
  • Length: 34.25 inches
  • Weight: 7.1 pounds
  • Barrel: 16.10 inch, Cold Hammer Forged Stainless Steel
  • Action: CNC machined from 416 stainless steel forgings
  • Trigger: Stock
  • Finish: Satin Stainless Steel
  • Stock: Black Laminate Hardwood
  • Chambering: .45-70 Government
  • Price: $1349


  • Well-made
  • Well-balanced


  • Expensive for a lever gun
  • A handful with heavy loads

Test Panel Notes

  • “Just what it should be.” —D.H.
  • “This rifle makes me excited to see what Ruger keeps doing with Marlin.” —M.E.
  • “Of all the lever guns that Marlin makes or has ever made, this one is my favorite.” —R.M.

Lever action lovers felt their hearts sink in 2020 when Remington closed the doors at Marlin. However, when Ruger purchased Marlin we found hope, and so far, that hope has been rewarded with three great lever guns. The 1895 Trapper, the newest of the trio, is a compact lever gun with a muted stainless steel finish and a dark, subdued stock. This rifle is put together as well if not better than any Marlin we’ve seen.

For testing, we mounted a fixed Leupold 2.5X riflescope and fired all the groups with this rifle at 50 yards as opposed to 100. At that distance, most groups hovered around the 1-inch mark, but a few were half that size. Out of the box, the Trapper is drilled for a scope base but comes with a Skinner aperture rear sight and a white-striped post front sight. This is a great combination for fast-action, short-range shooting, but we switched out the rear sight for a Skinner sight and base that let us mount the Leupold scope above the aperture sight. On the practical hunting drill, the Trapper performed third-best of all the rifles tested.

The rifle is well balanced and handles like a dream. However, with full power .47-70 loads, the recoil will get your attention and the muzzle blast will get everyone else’s. If you can handle the kick, this rifle will handle anything you want to shoot with it. It was smooth to operate and functioned without fail. We’d like to see it ship with the scope-base Skinner aperture sight to aid with scope mounting. One thing to remember with the .45-70, given the varying power levels of ammunition, you’ll have to re-zero the factory sights as you switch between loads.

Christensen Arms Ridgeline Scout

Why It Made the Cut: This rifle is worth considering if weight is your primary concern. It wasn’t feather light, but any rifle weighing less than 6 pounds that will deliver sub-MOA groups deserves recognition.

Key Features

  • Score: 80.49 points
  • Length: 37.5 inches 
  • Weight: 5.9 pounds
  • Barrel: 16-inch, 416R Stainless Steel Carbon Fiber Wrapped
  • Action: Christensen Arms Precision Machined
  • Trigger: Trigger Tech Flat Shoe Trigger
  • Finish: Black Nitride
  • Stock: Christensen Arms Carbon Fiber Composite
  • Chambering: .223 Remington (tested)
  • Price: $2199 


  • Lightweight
  • Second best overall pound-for-pound accuracy
  • Well made


  • Expensive
  • Limited chamberings
  • Poor balance

Test Panel Notes

  • “Really well made.” —D.H.
  • “Feels good in the hand, but is a little light in the front. Still, it would fit right in on a pick-up truck gun rack.” —M.E.
  • “Very handy and easy to carry, but not a true Scout Rifle.” —R.M.

It seems like everyone these days wants to use the term “scout rifle” to describe a handy, carbine-sized, centerfire rifle. Jeff Cooper defined what a Scout Rifle is years ago, and the Christensen Arms Ridgeline Scout is not a Scout Rifle. However, it is a very compact and lightweight bolt-action rifle, and most of the loads we tested in this rifle turned in 5-shot groups smaller than an inch. As you would expect, given its maker and price, the rifle is also put together well with quality components.

This Ridgeline Scout features a scope-mounting rail, and there is another rail under the forend for attaching accessories such as a bipod or a front swivel mount. (Oddly, the rifle comes only with a rear sling-swivel mount and none for the front.) The accessory rail also has a barricade stop. This might be helpful on the range, but its practicality afield is questionable. The same could be said of the flash hider. The 16-inch barrel is carbon-fiber wrapped and threaded, so you can ditch the flash suppressor for a sound suppressor, which would be an excellent idea. The added weight of a suppressor would help offset the rifle’s poor balance. We found the rifle was quick to the shoulder, and fast to cycle with the oversized bolt handle, but it was a bit butt-heavy for precise off-hand shooting.

Available chamberings are limited to three AR15 cartridges and two short-action cartridges, but all have the appropriate twist rates for high BC bullets. Out of the three weights of bullets we tried, the Ridgeline Scout liked Federal 62-grain American Eagle that shot a .579-inch group. The test rifle was chambered for the .223 Remington, so we could not make a practical assessment on recoil. However, we did like that it was compatible with AICS-pattern detachable magazines.

Savage Impulse Precision

Why It Made the Cut: This rifle is well configured for long-range precision shooting. It would also be a great companion rifle to a standard Savage Impulse used for hunting.

Key Features

  • Score: 78.57 points
  • Length: 48.75 inches
  • Weight: 13.7 pounds
  • Barrel: 26-inch stainless steel
  • Action: Savage Impulse
  • Trigger: 1.5 to 4-pound AccuTrigger
  • Finish: Matte
  • Stock: ACC Chassis
  • Chambering: 6.5 Creedmoor (tested)
  • Price: $2500


  • Adjustability
  • Available chamberings


  • Expensive
  • Poor Balance

Test Panel Notes

  • “Difficult to balance on a barricade. The action takes a bit of getting used to.” —M.E.
  • “This rifle left me thinking, Why? —R.M.

This rifle left us a bit confused and somewhat underwhelmed. Among the best rifles of 2023 that we tested, this one was the second most expensive precision rifle we tested and the third most expensive rifle overall. However, from a precision standpoint, it delivered the ninth best performance averaging only 1.18-inches for all loads tested. MOA precision is not bad until you consider that the standard hunting rifles we tested cost and weighed half as much but shot better.

On the plus side, during our practical shooting drill, the rifle performed well, though we did struggle a bit with its balance. It has all the features those wanting to reach into the next county want. The stock is adjustable for length of pull and comb height, it has a comfortable vertical grip with an adjustable 1.5- to 4-pound AccuTrigger, the ACC chassis accepts AICS magazines, and its long forend has an integral ARCA rail with plenty of M-Lok compatibility. Additionally, the bolt handle is ambidextrous. The rifle is also chambered for seven long-range-suitable cartridges, including the .338 Lapua.

We did not like the trigger. Out of the box—which is how we tested every rifle’s trigger—it seemed to be set at the highest pull weight. We also were a bit perplexed as to why Savage would offer the straight pull Impulse action on a precision rifle. It’s already a tough sell to American shooters who have never liked the concept, and it takes some getting used to. But if you have a standard Savage Impulse as a hunting rifle, and you like the action, then this rifle could make sense.

Howa Carbon Elevate

Why It Made the Cut: This rifle features an incredibly reliable action with an ultra-light stock. It’s no doubt in the running for the lightest, most affordable, bolt-action big game rifle on the market.

Key Features

  • Score: 78.29 points
  • Length: 44 inches
  • Weight: 4 pounds, 13 ounces
  • Barrel: Threaded, 24-inch Carbon fiber wrapped (tested)
  • Action: HOWA 1500
  • Trigger: H.A.C. T. Two Stage, with 3 position safety
  • Finish: Matte blue
  • Stock: Stocky’s Carbon Fiber w/Kryptek Altitude camo finish
  • Chambering: .308 Winchester (tested)
  • Price: $1566


  • Well-designed action
  • Incredibly light


  • Flimsy stock with flaky finish
  • Only offered in four chamberings

Test Panel Notes

  • “Finish is bad—I could scratch the paint off with a fingernail.” —D.H.
  • “So light you almost don’t know it’s there, and it’s affordable for the space-age materials it’s made from.” —M.E.
  • “I liked everything about this rifle but the stock.” —R.M.

The Japanese-made Howa action is in fact very well designed. It features a two-lug bolt, a plunger ejector, a Sako-style extractor, and the three-position safety locks the bolt in the safe position. This is the action that the Nosler Model 21 is based upon. For what it’s worth, HOWA also manufactures the Weatherby Vanguard action. Though HOWA offers this action in many chamberings, their Carbon Elevate rifle is only available in four: 6.5 Grendel, 6.5 Creedmoor, 6.5 PRC, and .308 Winchester. There are two primary differences in these four offerings. The Grendel has a 20-inch barrel and feeds from a detachable box magazine. The other three have 24-inch barrels and an internal magazine.

Howa rifles typically shoot well. This one did not. It averaged 1.43 inches for all loads tested. We did notice the threaded muzzle cap tended to unthread during shooting. This can change barrel harmonics, so we removed it and watched our groups tighten slightly. The best shooting load out of this rifle was 150-grain Nosler Ballistic Tip, which came in at 1.07-inches. Though the rifle balanced well, recoil seemed a bit exaggerated.

What we did not like about the Carbon Elevate was the stock. Though the barreled action is from Japan, the stock is made from an American company called Stocky’s. It weighs only 21 ounces and alone it retails for $600.00. We felt it was a bit flimsy and found the camo wrap to be substandard—it almost started flaking away in a few areas. However, this rifle is incredibly lightweight; at 4 pounds,13 ounces it was the lightest rifle we tested. It was even a full pound lighter than the diminutive Christensen Ridgeline Scout.