My first rifle was a 1943 ex-Wermacht Mauser that had been re-bored by the Israeli Defence Force for a Winchester .308 cartridge. It's price ($75) was the deciding factor. Since then I've inherited my Dad's pre-64 Model 70 Featherlite, also in .308 calibre. I use both for moose and deer. The old Mauser is fun because of the adjustable peep sight, and the weight makes for very little recoil. Most of my hunting is done with the Winchester, however. What these two weapons have in common, besides calibre, is that I didn't choose them specifically for anything. That fact has led me to consider acquiring a rifle just for Mule deer (or just for fun), and that thought process led to this list of 5 good Mule deer rifles.
I started by searching the web for "Best Mule deer rifles" and variations of the same, and I also searched a few hunting forums that I frequent. I was initially surprised that there wasn't a definitive list that people could argue over, but as I read I learned some things that changed my perspective. Rather than create a list of the 5 best Mule deer rifles I decided I'd create a list of 5 great rifles. My personal criteria couldn't be more subjective: the rifle has to be kind of cool. The objective criteria is that the rifle address the challenges of Mule deer hunting:
- Packs enough wallop to drop the deer
- Good for long and short range
- A barrel long enough to be stable, short enough to be easily handled in brush and rough country
You can already tell that this is not the definitive list of the all time best. It is a solid list of solid rifles with more than a few things going for each. If you're serious about getting a Mule deer rifle it's important to understand that there are at least two important parts to the equation: the type of rifle and the calibre you want to shoot.
The first rifle on my list is the pre- 64 Winchester Model 70 Featherlite in .308 calibre. This rifle makes the list because it's mine, and I really like it. The Model 70 was introduced by Winchester in 1936 and is very popular, earning the name "The Rifleman's Rifle", as well as being proposed as the official firearm of the state of Alaska! If you don't like the .308 you can get this rifle in a bunch of calibres. I like the .308 because of it's reputation as a good sniping round, and because I know it will knock the deer down, even at a long range.
They come with barrel lengths of 22, 24 and 26 inches and they aren't particularly heavy. I think mine's about 7 pounds, and I can carry that weight for hours without a problem. I've got a Bushnell Elite 3200 scope with 3-10 magnification. I keep it dialed down, but like the 10 power for glassing. Bolt action, checkered cuts on the stock. A classic look.
The next rifle is the Springfield 1903 30.06. I picked this rifle because one of my hunting partners has it, and is very happy with it. It was modified from it's original military configuration by his dad, but that's mostly the stock. As Wikipedia states "Sports hunters and shooting enthusiasts prize the rifle for its beauty, dependability, and adaptability for almost all U.S. game animals". It's a very dependable rifle that saw service as the main US military rifle from 1903 until the 1930s, and remained in reduced service with the military until the Vietnam war. The 30.06 round is a very versatile cartridge, and will more than do the job for Mule deer.
Speaking of 30.06 Springfields, the third Mule deer rifle I'm picking is a Ruger Model 77. The connection with the 30.06 is that this rifle in that calibre has been modified with a folding stock to serve as a survival weapon for Canada's SAR teams. It attaches to parachutes, has an orange stockand a shortened barrel. For Mule deer, however, we're going to get it in a .270 calibre with a composite stock.
The .270 Winchester round is an excellent Mule deer calibre. It's got very little recoil, a flat trajectory and a high speed, so when it gets where it's going it packs a punch. The composite stock is not as attractive, perhaps, as traditional wood, but it's more durable. Couple that with a stainless steel barrel and you'll have a great Mule deer rifle.
Rifle number four is the Weatherby Mark V, again in a .270 Winchester. Weatherby's are made in California, and can be very beautiful rifles. Classic wood stock versions of the Mark V can run you over $2000. Designed by Roy Weatherby in 1957 as an improvement on his ealier designs, the Weatherby family still runs the company. You could also try getting this rifle in the .270 WSM, which a lot of hunters like.
The last rifle I'm throwing in the mix is one that isn't often considered fro Mule deer, probably because it's a all around versatile saddle and bush gun: the Winchester Model 94 in a 30-30. This is a lever action, short barreled rifle that most people imagine when they think of a cowboy rifle. They're usually an open sight rifle, so for longer shots you've got to have some good marksmanship, but they look great and are easy to shoot. The last one I used had a very light trigger which I quite enjoyed.
In closing I have to re-iterate that you can't consider a model of rifle without also considering the calibre, and vice versa. If you hunt a lot in vehicles or quads, you probably want a drop box magazine. If you walk that's less important. A composite stock and stainless barrel are quite durable, but a bit of care for a wood stock and a blued barrel accomplishes the same thing. A Mule deer rifle needs to be light enough to carry comfortably, short enough to not get caught on tree branchs (whether you're bringing it up to shoot or wearing it slung over your shoulder), long enough to be accurate up to 400 yards, and comfortable to shoot. If you're only hunting Mule deer the smaller calibres will work, while if you want a more versatile weapon you might opt for a larger calibre. Joe, from Italian Sporting Goods in Vancouver summed it up like this: figure out what kind of hunting you're going to do, and figure out how much you want to spend. He recommends the 30.06 calibre, but after that he says that today's rifle quality gives you endless selection based mostly on taste.