Selecting the 10 best elk rifles is like choosing the world’s most beautiful people. It’s subjective, for one. But also, the “best” may not be practical for you. A Hollywood star might set your heart a flutter, but she probably wouldn’t adapt well to your Colorado cow town. By the same token, today’s cutting-edge long-range wonder won’t do you much good if you like to hunt the timber.
Then there’s price. A list of nothing but the finest rifles would be 90 percent out of the price range of most of us.
So what follows are the best—depending. Bolt-guns, levers, semi-autos, and single-shots can all be capable elk rifles, but you need to match the rifle and cartridge to where and how you hunt and what fits your budget. To that end, here are my top 10 top elk rifles in three different price ranges, with options ideally suited for everything from the thickest timber to the prairies and open plains.
Best Bargain Elk Rifles
America’s long tradition of building plain, affordable, hard-working elk rifles started with the Hawken rifle of the 1800s, and it continues today with low-cost trustworthy options like the Ruger American, Savage Axis, Weatherby Vanguard, and others. You’d be well-served with any of those. But, there’s something about deeply blued steel and warm walnut that tugs at the heartstrings of elk hunters. So here are three rifles that will do just that, all for well under $1,000.
Recommended Caliber: .45/70 Government
Dangerous game aside, there’s no hunting experience more heart-pounding than calling up a rutting bull elk to breath-smelling distance in the dark timber. If you’re going to do that you need a quick-handling rifle that will thump the bull with authority. My policy is: Anytime it makes sense to carry a lever-action into the woods, you should. So my nod goes to the Marlin 1895G in .45-70. The rifle weighs only 7 pounds, has an 18.5-inch barrel, and is drilled and tapped for scope bases. Pair it with the new 300-grain, HammerDown load from Federal and you can whack a big bull elk with more than a ton of energy. Check availability here.
CZ-USA 57 American
Recommended Caliber: .270 Winchester
You don’t have to spend a fortune to get European-type bolt-action quality. CZ-USA’s 557 American is built with a cold hammer-forged barrel that’s been hand-lapped for extreme precision. It rides in a gorgeous, checkered, Turkish-walnut, American-style stock that has a high comb to allow for a good check weld, and the action has integral dovetails, so scope bases are not needed. The 557 is available in six elk-killing cartridges but the classic American lines of this rifle, combined with CZ’s excellent out-of-the-box accuracy, just begs for the .270 Winchester. Also, CZ finally rectified that ridiculous reverse-action safety; the 557 comes standard with a new push-to-fire, two-position safety.
Recommended Caliber: .300 Winchester Magnum
When I’m standing in the nation’s most stunning country, listening to bull elk bugle, I want to be carrying a good-looking rifle. And this is one. The Patriot Revere’s classically-styled wood stock is finely checkered European walnut, with a rosewood grip cap and fore-end cap, with maple accents. Add to that a recessed crown and Mossberg’s adjustable LBA trigger. Chambered for the .300 Winchester Magnum you’ll also have enough cartridge for an elk at any distance you have any business shooting. Check availability here.
Best Mid-Priced Elk Rifles
There are plenty of elk hunters who don’t mind saving their pennies and dropping more than a grand for a rifle. But when they do, they expect a high level of quality and well-thought-out features for exactly the type of hunting they do, whether that means deep hikes into the backcountry, long shots on the prairie, or close encounters in the timber. Here are four such rifles, all priced between $1,000 and $2,000.
Recommended Caliber: .30/06
Of all the cartridges that could be used for hunting elk, none are as iconic as the .30/06 Springfield. And while this grand old cartridge can be had in just about any rifle, it deserves one with classic lines. With the Hawkeye Hunter, Ruger took their famous Hawkeye action and built it from Stainless steel. They then mated it with a stainless-steel barrel with 5R rifling and buried it in a beautifully checkered American walnut stock. To help with the longer shots, Ruger added a 20 MOA Picatinny rail held in place with four 8X40 screws. And, to bring all this classic goodness into the 21st century, the muzzle is threaded and suppressor-ready. Check availability here.
Recommended Caliber: .280 Ackley Improved
Savage is often thought of as a manufacturer of bargain rifles. It’s true they make some great guns for not a lot of money. But with their 110 Ultralite, Savage took all of their rifle building expertise and created a top-end, lightweight, hunting rifle that cuts no corners. By teaming up with Proof Research, Savage was able to create a bolt-action rifle that weighs less than six pounds, and it’s loaded with features modern-day elk hunters dream about. It has a carbon wrapped barrel, lightweight stainless receiver, the unbelievably versatile AccuFit stock, a threaded muzzle, detachable magazine, and a 1.5- to 4-pound AccuTrigger. And you can have this featherweight wonder chambered for what some consider the professional’s big game cartridge: the .280 Ackley Improved. Check availability here.
Recommended Caliber: .358 Winchester
Not all elk rifles are bolt-action rifles. For those hunters who cannot separate themselves from a lever-gun, but who demand ballistics that are out of the reach for traditional lever-gun cartridges, there’s a rifle called the Browning BLR—and the Lightweight Stainless version might be the best lever-racking elk-getter of the bunch. This elegant rifle teams the performance of modern cartridges with the fast handling and follow-up shots lever-guns are famous for. It’s drilled and tapped for scope mounts, the stainless steel will combat the elements, and the glossy wood finish will make your knees weak. The .30-06, 7mm Rem. Mag., and .300 Win. Mag. are all good options, but there’s something about this gun that begs for the almost forgotten, and hard-hitting, .358 Winchester. Check availability here.
Lipsey’s TALO Ruger No. 1 Medium Sporter
Recommended Caliber: .35 Whelen
If you’re the kind of elk hunter who doesn’t mind letting all the chips ride on a single shot, the Ruger No. 1 is the rifle for you. Sadly, the No. 1 is now mostly being produced in limited editions and offered as dealer-exclusive models. But dealers like Lipsey’s and TALO are keeping this classic hunting rifle alive. For a short time, you can have a Ruger No. 1 built in the 1S Medium Sporter configuration, with a stunning American walnut stock, and deep bluing. And while this gun looks beautiful, the best feature is the 24-inch barrel chambered for the .35 Whelen. If there was ever a single cartridge to trust for a single shot at an elk, it’s the .35 Whelen.
Best Expensive Elk Rifles
For those who have the money, compromises are not made when it comes to selecting an elk rifle. And, some hunters will save for several years just to get that special rifle they’ve been dreaming of. Narrowing the vast field of semi- or fully-custom elk-capable rifles to three is about as hard as finding a fresh pile of unicorn poop, but I’ve done it. Here are three of the best elk blasters; you have a close-quarters option, a general-purpose option, and a canyon rim to canyon rim option. And, with a little extra cash, you can further customize each of them to better suit your needs.
Wilson Combat .458 HAM’R Ultimate Hunter
Recommended Caliber: .458 HAM’R
For more than a century, the lever-gun was America’s rifle. Lever-guns will never go out of fashion, but the AR-15 has now taken that title. For elk hunting, however, the problem with the AR-15 is a lack of chamberings that are capable of taking an elk. Wilson Combat sorted this out by mating an AR-10 bolt and barrel extension to hybrid length receiver, and by creating a new cartridge. The .458 HAM’R outperforms the .450 Bushmaster, .458 SOCOM, and even the .500 Beowulf. Weighing in at just a shade over 7 pounds, the Wilson Combat Ultimate Hunter in .458 HAM’R can drive a 300-grain Barnes TTSX bullet into a bull elk with more than 3,000 foot-pounds of energy.
Remington Custom Shop Model Seven Mannlicher
Recommended Caliber: .350 Remington Magnum
When you look at that beautiful bull elk on the wall above your fireplace, wouldn’t it be nice to be able to match it with a rifle that was just as striking? With some help from a custom builder and enough money, you can. Since the introduction of the Remington Model Seven, the Model Seven Mannlicher has been one of the most lust-worthy rifles out of the Remington Custom Shop. The laminated stock extends to the end of the muzzle and it is hand-checkered at 20 lines-per-inch. Open sights are standard as is the dime splitting precision this rifle will deliver. You can add engraving to suit your taste and choose from a plethora of elk-capable short-action cartridges—but .350 Remington Magnum seems about perfect.
Recommended Caliber: 6.5 PRC
For those who go deep for elk by riding a horse or burning up boot leather, a light rifle is critical. If you’re one to stretch the distance on shots because you know you have the skill, a precision rifle is mandatory. But what if both long walks and long shots describe the way you hunt elk? If so, there’s a rifle for you and it’s called the Proof Research Glacier Ti. Built around a 20 to 26-inch carbon fiber-wrapped barrel, a titanium action, and carbon fiber stock, this rifle will weigh between 5.30 and 6.25 pounds. It has a TriggerTech trigger, a threaded muzzle, and comes with a ½ MOA accuracy guarantee. It’s light enough to go anywhere and accurate enough to shoot anything. The 6.5 PRC seems like a perfect match for this rifle, but it’s also available in seven other elk-killing cartridges. With a retail price of roughly $6,500, start saving now for next season. Check availability here.
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