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Best Big Game Rifles Under a Grand

By Randy Tucker

big game rifle

You can spend a lot of money on a big game rifle. But, just because you drop a lot of cash in pursuit of a large caliber rifle capable of bringing down moose, elk, bison, deer and pronghorn doesn’t mean you’ve selected the right one for your particular situation. Purists, with no visible budget constraints will often go to extreme costs in finding, then tricking out a rifle. You don’t need to do that, there are plenty of great, accurate, reliable rifles in a wide variety of caliber to be had for under $1000.

I’ll provide one example, though it’s about a guy who spent thousands on a shotgun, and perhaps more on his son’s shotgun. Ported, custom triggers, high end recoil pad, expensive checking on the stock, and extra milling by a gunsmith throughout the shotgun. It was gorgeous, as was the one his teenage son had.

Our two sons were friends so one day the four of us went out duck hunting. I had my 1980s vintage Remington 870 pump, I’d purchased a newer model 870 for my son, but nothing fancy, just a good reliable shotgun.

I limited out on birds in the first 45 minutes, as did my son. The guy with the gorgeous gun, and his son never hit a single mallard, or Bufflehead that morning. They never went with us again. A good, reliable gun in the hands of a skilled marksman is much better than the highest priced competitor used by someone without shooting skills.

What to look for in a big game rifle

There are several criteria to consider when purchasing a big game rifle. But it’s easy to get caught up in the thick of the thin if you don’t know what important and what’s not.

bull elk on hillside

Rifle Ballistics

Ballistics charts abound with hundreds of calibers, bullet sizes, powder charges and all the accompanying information on velocity, energy, bullet drop and even wind drift. These all matter in selecting the right cartridge for a particular style of hunting, but they’re not the biggest single factor in determining what rifle you should select for big game hunting.

The truth is that a .308, .30-06, .338 Win Mag or 7mm Mag will all do a great job in hunting for deer, elk, moose or any other big game. The differences are measured in energy on target at specific range, how flat they shoot over distance, meaning how far the bullet drops past the 200-yard range, and to a lesser extent, how strong the recoil is with each one.

Energy

Energy is the force a bullet arrives with on target. It is a calculation of velocity as measured in feet per second combined with the mass of the bullet in grains. A faster muzzle velocity combined with a lighter weight bullet can deliver more energy on target than a heavier bullet fired at lower velocity. The general rule for an ethical shot is the ability to deliver 1,000 pounds of energy on target. That means 1,000+ pounds at 200, 300 or 500 yards.

Trajectory

Trajectory is often referred to as “flat shooting.” What that means is that the bullet doesn’t rise or drop over distance. Most big game rifle calibers are flat, that is they hit exactly where you aim them at 200 yards. Some are on target at 100 yards, but most are a little high at that distance. Beyond 200 yards, some drop quickly, up to two feet or more per additional 100 yards to the target, while others don’t drop much at all.

Recoil

If you fire a large caliber cartridge there will be recoil, you can’t avoid it, but you can lessen the effect by firing from a heavier rifle, add a shock absorbing butt plate, or even a muzzle suppressor. Heavy recoil isn’t fun for anyone, and it often leads to “shooter’s flinch” the involuntary reaction that comes when you know the trigger pull is going to punch you in the shoulder hard. Shooter’s flinch leads to poor shots.

Common Caliber Ballistics Comparisons

Caliber
(Standard Cartridges)
Energy
(ft-lbs @ 200 yards)
Trajectory
(drop at 200 yards)
Recoil
Low 1-2, Mod 3-4, High 5-10
.22-250 817 0 1.65
.223 607 0 1.57
.243 1452 0 2.16
6mm 1530 0 2.29
.25-06 1793 0 2.41
6.5 Creed 1884 0 2.05
.270 2016 0 3.09
7mm-08 2018 0 2.75
7mm Mag 2562 0 3.32
.30-30 1305 7.7 2.37
.308 2084 0 2.68
.30-06 2403 0 3.46
.338 Mag 3049 0 5.06
.350 Leg 952 0 3.71
.375 Ruger 2800 0 6.08
*Recoil score is calculated as a function of recoil energy and recoil velocity using a weight average which is then normalized between 1-10 (see rifle recoil table). Energy figures from the Sportsman's Warehouse rifle caliber chart.

Fit and feel are key

Most big game rifles are available in a wide range of calibers that will easily take down large game, so that problem is off the table. What you really want in a big game rifle is one that fits well when you place it in shooting position. Take two people and give them the same rifle and one may feel its front heavy, while the other guy picks it up, locks into position and feels perfectly relaxed when holding it. That’s the most important feature in selecting a big game rifle, how does it feel when you’re in the shooting position. An easy feel means less chance at a miss, more accuracy on target, even at great range, and more successful, ethical hunts.

Other factors on a rifle should be the style of magazine, many hunters don’t like external magazines. How well will a scope mount on it? What is the stock made of? Most of us prefer natural walnut or other warm, wood stocks, but there are synthetic stocks that handle moisture and heat extremes much better than wood. Do you want a stainless-steel barrel or a blued steel barrel? What about the grip? Are you more at home with a traditional grip, or do you shoot better with an opening for your thumb as many marksmanship style stocks present? Is the rifle already drilled and tapped for scope mounts? How about the stock, is it ready to connect a sling or will you have to mill it before attaching one? Add adjustable or fixed trigger pulls, and the style of safety and you have about everything you’ll need. All of these are considerations in determining which rifle is best for you. The good news is that almost all of these features are available in different arrangements on nearly every rifle you can purchase for under a grand.

Features to consider:

  • Magazine type
  • Scope mount
  • Wood stock vs synthetic stock
  • Stainless steel barrel vs blued steel barrel
  • Grip style
  • Tapped and drilled
  • Sling mounts
  • Trigger pull
  • Safety style

Top 10 picks for big game rifles under $1000

The following are my top 10 picks for big game rifles that get the job done for under a grand.

Ruger American Rifle

ruger american rifle
Ruger American Black Bolt Action Rifle - 6.5 Creedmoor

Weight in a rifle is both a blessing and a curse. If you’re packing a rifle after big game, weight comes into play pretty quick. That third 1200 foot incline you’re pounding away at on foot gets even steeper with a heavy rifle. On the other extreme, a heavier rifle reduces recoil. Nothing kicks like a high caliber cartridge fired from a lightweight rifle.

The :Ruger American Rifle is a good choice in low priced big game platforms. The Ruger trademark is an indicator that you’ve found an accurate, reliable hunting rifle with the excellence of one of the world’s great manufacturers.

Featuring Ruger’s patented Marksman Adjustable Trigger that allows trigger pull strength from three to five pounds, it is easy to set for a light touch or a heavier pull.

A three-lug bolt, with dual cocking cams, and a narrow ejection port are a few of the features with this rifle. Available in eight different models, including a compact version, an optional stainless steel barrel, with camouflage stocks, and detachable magazine, it is scope ready with predrilled and tapped mounts.

The Ruger American Rifle comes chambered in the following calibers:

Caliber
(Standard Cartridges)
Energy
(ft-lbs @ 200 yards)
Trajectory
(drop at 200 yards)
Recoil
Low 1-2, Mod 3-4, High 5-10
.30-06 2403 0 3.46
.270 2016 0 3.09
.308 2084 0 2.68
.243 1452 0 2.16
7mm-08 2018 0 2.75
6.5 Creed 1884 0 2.05

Mossberg Patriot Synthetic Kryptek Highlander

Mossberg Patriot Synthetic Kryptek Highlander
Mossberg Patriot Synthetic Kryptek Highlander Camo Bolt Action Rifle

Mossberg is renowned for low-cost, durable pump shotguns, but they enter the low priced big game market with their Patriot rifle. Rugged as you’d expect from a Mossberg product, this rifle features an external magazine and adjustable trigger.

Trigger tension from two to seven pounds should fit just about anyone’s preference in pressure.

Available in a camouflaged patterned stock, while tipping the scales at just seven pounds. This is a lightweight rifle that is easy to pack through the brush and on long hikes after big game. At just 36.5 inches in overall length it is a shorter rifle than most competitors and offered only in .30-06.

Milled with a Weaver style scope mount, it can securely attach any of the popular brands of rifle scopes. The spiral fluted bolt cycles cartridges smoothly and without the jerk and pull you’ll find in some lower quality rifles.

The Mossberg Patriot Synthetic Kryptek Highlander comes chambered in the following calibers:

Caliber
(Standard Cartridges)
Energy
(ft-lbs @ 200 yards)
Trajectory
(drop at 200 yards)
Recoil
Low 1-2, Mod 3-4, High 5-10
.243 1452 0 2.16
.270 2016 0 3.09
300 Win Mag 2873 0 3.79
.30-06 2403 0 3.46
.308 2084 0 2.68

Thompson Center Compass

Thompson Center Compass rifle

When you think of Thompson firearms, whether rifle or pistol, you think of variety. Where else can you fire a .30-06 cartridge from a pistol than from a Thompson firearm? The Center Compass rifle continues that tradition with an amazing array of calibers offered on its standard platform. Ranging from .204 to .30-06 with stops at most of the major calibers in between the Center Compass offers the greatest variety in an inexpensive rifle on the market.

Marketed as a “feature rich” rifle at an affordable cost, the Compass is all of that with a threaded muzzle, and a free float barrel. The bolt is nickel plated with Teflon for incredible smoothness, and features a three-lug bolt design with a 60-degree lift for great scope clearance and easy cycling.

A single stage, adjustable trigger delivers a tight release for enhanced precision.

All these ergonomic features are packed with a lightweight stock, with textured grip panels, a soft recoil pad, and an internal rotary magazine. The rifle is scope ready with a Weaver style base and comes with pre-installed sling swivel studs.

The Thompson Center Compass comes chambered in the following calibers:

Caliber
(Standard Cartridges)
Energy
(ft-lbs @ 200 yards)
Trajectory
(drop at 200 yards)
Recoil
Low 1-2, Mod 3-4, High 5-10
.243 1452 0 2.16
.270 2016 0 3.09
.30-06 2403 0 3.46
.308 2084 0 2.68
7mm Mag 2562 0 3.32
7mm-08 2018 0 2.75
6.5 Creed 1884 0 2.05
300 Win Mag 2873 0 3.79

Browning AB3

Browning AB3
Browning AB3 Hunter Bolt Action Rifle

Browning bears the name of legendary designer John Moses Browning. With a Browning logo you’re always going to find a quality firearm. The AB3 is good choice to make when it comes to quality versus price.

One innovation with this rifle is a bolt release button that allows unlocking and cycling the bolt while the safety is engaged. Combined with a free-float, hand-chambered barrel that improves precision, this rifle can compete in match grade competition with much more costly alternatives.

The AB3 is offered in the standard version, a compact version and the Hunter model which features a traditional walnut stock.

The Browning AB3 comes chambered in the following calibers:

Caliber
(Standard Cartridges)
Energy
(ft-lbs @ 200 yards)
Trajectory
(drop at 200 yards)
Recoil
Low 1-2, Mod 3-4, High 5-10
.243 1452 0 2.16
.270 2016 0 3.09
.308 2084 0 2.68
.30-06 2403 0 3.46
6.5 Creed 1884 0 2.05

Remington 783 Walnut

Remington 783 Walnut
Remington 783 Walnut Bolt Action Rifle

You’re not going to get a lot of arguments on an inexpensive rifle if a Remington model is in the discussion. The Remington 783 flips a lot of switches when someone is looking for an inexpensive rifle that delivers the quality, precision and reliability that has made Remington a worldwide, renowned trademark among big game caliber rifles.

The 783 has that solid steel and walnut look that traditionalists revel in. A two-stage safety, detachable magazine, and Remington’s patented Crossfire trigger system, make this a very attractive inexpensive answer in a large caliber, big game rifle.

The rifle is heavier than competing lower priced models tipping the scales from 7.5 to 8.5 pounds in various calibers. You’ll appreciate the extra heft as it reduces recoil in some of the larger calibers this rifle is offered.

Remington takes the guesswork out of scope selection as well, offering packaged scopes and rifles. All you’ll have to do is take it to the range and tweak it from bore sighted standards to spot on precision at 200 yards before taking it out to the wilderness.

The Remington 783 Walnut rifle comes chambered in the following calibers:

Caliber
(Standard Cartridges)
Energy
(ft-lbs @ 200 yards)
Trajectory
(drop at 200 yards)
Recoil
Low 1-2, Mod 3-4, High 5-10
.243 1452 0 2.16
.270 2016 0 3.09
.300 Win Mag 2873 0 3.79
.308 2084 0 2.68
.30-06 2403 0 3.46
7mm Mag 2562 0 3.32

Savage Arms Axis

Savage Arms Axis
Savage Arms Axis Black Bolt Action Rifle - 30-06 Springfield

Purists will buy a Savage Arms rifle just for the trigger action in many cases. The Axis has the famous “accu-trigger” Savage is known for delivered in a no-nonsense basic design.

You won’t get a lot of fancy features with this rifle. The Axis is as bare bones as it gets, but it shoot well, handles a scope well and the trigger action is exceptional. As serious shooters know, it’s that last squeeze of the trigger that puts you on or off target whether on the range, or locked in on a big bull elk.

An external magazine, with a threaded muzzle ready for a suppressor, and pre-drilled drilled and tapped scope mounts are about the only luxury items included with this rifle. It is very light, at just 6.5 pounds, making it a great choice for long back country hikes in pursuit of high altitude deer, elk, Big Horn sheep and Rocky Mountain goats.

The Savage Arms Axis comes chambered in the following calibers:

Caliber
(Standard Cartridges)
Energy
(ft-lbs @ 200 yards)
Trajectory
(drop at 200 yards)
Recoil
Low 1-2, Mod 3-4, High 5-10
.243 1452 0 2.16
.25-06 1793 0 2.41
6.5 Creed 1884 0 2.05
.270 2016 0 3.09
7mm-08 2018 0 2.75
.308 2084 0 2.68
.30-06 2403 0 3.46

Franchi Momentum

Franchi Momentum
Franchi Momentum Bolt-Action Rifle

Italian arms manufacturers are major players in the international market for big game rifles. The Momentum by Franchi fills the low cost niche and competes well with American made rifles in similar price ranges.

As with anything Italian, you expect style, and the Momentum delivers with a user-friendly stock, custom textured, raised pistol grip ensuring a steady, comfortable grip, even in the act of firing and cycling ammunition.

An indentation in the grip lets you adjust to the challenges of firing from sand bags, off a lead sled, or from other platforms when target shooting. A two-position safety, threaded suppressor ready muzzle, scope bases and a TSA recoil pad, with a quality trigger rounds out the standards offerings on this rifle.

If you’re prone to shooter’s flinch, and especially susceptible to recoil, the TSA recoil pad has been proven to reduce recoil by up to 50%, a nice consideration if you’re firing larger caliber ammunition.

The Franchi Momentum comes chambered in the following calibers:

Caliber
(Standard Cartridges)
Energy
(ft-lbs @ 200 yards)
Trajectory
(drop at 200 yards)
Recoil
Low 1-2, Mod 3-4, High 5-10
300 Win Mag 2873 0 3.79
6.5 Creed 1884 0 2.05
.308 2084 0 2.68

Winchester XPR Hunter Mountain Country Range

Winchester XPR Hunter Mountain Country Range
Winchester XPR Hunter Mountain Country Range Bolt Action Rifle

Winchester, it brings images of the old west, with frontiersmen holding off outlaws, or Native Americans brandishing lever action rifles at full gallop on pinto ponies. That’s the image Winchester generates, but it’s the quality Winchester brings to the table that makes this company a world leader in firearms, especially reasonably priced big game rifles.

The XPR Mountain features an MOA trigger, a barrel nut to control headspace and a button-rifled barrel, but it’s the polished carbon steel finish that strikes the eye. The finish is alluring, but it is designed to be corrosion resistant and durable in all hunting settings.

A 60 degree bolt throw, stock mounted recoil lug, and camouflage designed synthetic stock create a unique look and action in a quality Winchester rifle.

Weighing from 6.75 to 7.25 pounds depending on caliber, it is a lighter weight rifle, suitable for carrying with a sling over long distances on western slopes, or through heavy eastern brush. The durable finish can handle all the willow, spruce or sagebrush scratches you can haul it through.

This is a durable rifle, well worth the money.

The Winchester XPR Hunter Mountain Country Range comes chambered in the following calibers:

Caliber
(Standard Cartridges)
Energy
(ft-lbs @ 200 yards)
Trajectory
(drop at 200 yards)
Recoil
Low 1-2, Mod 3-4, High 5-10
.243 1452 0 2.16
6.5 Creed 1884 0 2.05
300 Win Mag 2873 0 3.79
7mm-08 2018 0 2.75
7mm Mag 2562 0 3.32
.308 2084 0 2.68
.30-06 2403 0 3.46
.338 Mag 3049 0 5.06
.375 Ruger 2800 0 6.08

Mossberg Patriot Combo

Mossberg Patriot Combo
Mossberg Patriot Walnut Scoped Combo Rifle

Mossberg is a name that brings images of highway patrolmen, sheriff’s deputies or police officers battling desperate criminals with 12-gauge pump shotguns. Mossberg is renowned for shotguns, both sporting and tactical, but they make a quality low cost big game rifle as well in the Patriot.

Weighing 7.5 pounds, with an LBA adjustable trigger that can be set from a very light two pounds to a much more substantial seven pounds, the Patriot is a modest featured rifle utilizing a drop-box magazine, and a recessed crown.

It is offered in a standard 22 inch, spiral fluted barrel for smooth bolt action, and comfortable cycling.

The Mossberg Patriot Combo comes chambered in the following calibers:

Caliber
(Standard Cartridges)
Energy
(ft-lbs @ 200 yards)
Trajectory
(drop at 200 yards)
Recoil
Low 1-2, Mod 3-4, High 5-10
.25-06 1793 0 2.41
6.5 Creed 1884 0 2.05
.270 2016 0 3.09
7mm-08 2018 0 2.75
7mm Mag 2562 0 3.32
.308 2084 0 2.68
.30-06 2403 0 3.46
.338 Mag 3049 0 5.06
.375 Ruger 2800 0 6.08
300 Win Mag 2873 0 3.79

Weatherby Vanguard

Weatherby Vanguard
Weatherby Vanguard MeatEater Edition Tungsten Cerakote Bolt Action Rifle - 300 Winchester Magnum

When you think about low cost big game rifles, Weatherby isn’t often the first image that comes to mind. Weatherby is known as a manufacturer of high quality, high cost rifles, that bridge the gap between utility and art, but they do produce some quality, lower cost rifles as well.

The Vanguard is arguably the best rifle in this review, with a push-feed bolt, a dual-lug design and a two-stage adjustable feature, all options you won’t find on many of the competing models described here.

The traditional lines and curves of a Weatherby are friendly to the eye, and one of the more attractive features the Vanguard offers.

A fluted bolt body, and the precision Weatherby is known for make this a great rifle to choose for less than a thousand dollars. While it is at the lower end of the Weatherby line in cost, it remains a Weatherby so you know you’re purchasing quality.

The Weatherby Vanguard comes chambered in the following calibers:

Caliber
(Standard Cartridges)
Energy
(ft-lbs @ 200 yards)
Trajectory
(drop at 200 yards)
Recoil
Low 1-2, Mod 3-4, High 5-10
6.5 Creed 1884 0 2.05
300 Win Mag 2873 0 3.79
6.5 PRC 2248 0 2.93
.257 Wby 1621 0 2.92
6.5-300 Wby 2527 0 3.50

Conclusion

Pack a stack of 10 Ben Franklins in your pocket and head to your local sporting goods store. That thousand dollars of Federal Reserve Notes can buy you a lot of rifle when you’re shopping for a big game platform.

You’ll want to look at all the metrics we listed earlier in this review, but the most important is how this rifle feels when you hold it. You can buy top of the line guns that just don’t feel right when you hold them in shooting position, or you can find a discount brand that not only feels great in heft, balance and grip, but shoots well too.

The secret is to take the information we’ve offered here to your local gun store and test out the various models. Price doesn’t meant quality, and it’s the shooter, not the rifle that brings home the trophy.