THE DEERSLAYERS
Field & Stream|Volume 125 - Issue 3, 2020
Before you even claim a bunk, you need to eyeball the hardware your buddies have brought. In the process, you’ll see that the guns at deer camp are changing. What was walnut and blued steel may now be Kevlar and carbon fiber. The 10 rifles featured here aren’t your father’s deer guns. They’re today’s new camp classics
JOHN B. SNOW

Boiled down to the essentials, a proper deer camp requires only a few things: a source of fire for cooking and warmth; coffee in the morning and sipping liquor in the evening to enjoy around said fire; and a gun rack—the centerpiece of camp. ¶ A deer rifle is a magnificent thing—a tool perfected to work with the human form to fulfill a timeless purpose. Sitting at the crossroads of design, function, aesthetics, and tradition, it’s no wonder these implements are revered by hunters. ¶ Compared to the old classics, this collection of current-production rifles is diverse, reflecting a variety of shapes, colors, sizes, and most importantly, niche configurations that would have bewildered our forefathers. Purposebuilt rifles for applications like mountain hunting or long-range shooting look quite different than the deer guns of a generation ago. ¶ Still, if you grabbed any rifle shown here, worked the action, and brought it up to your shoulder, you’d recognize immediately why it deserves a place in today’s pantheon of modern classics.

NEW RELIABLES

Any bolt action that has stood the test of time, is pleasing to the eye, and functions exactly as it should can be a classic. If it has useful upgrades and remains relevant to today’s hunters, it’s a new classic. Like these two.

1. Tikka T3x Lite Roughtech

The T3 was unveiled in 2003, and it turned a lot of heads for its performance and value. With the arrival of the T3x action in 2016, the rifle also added a replaceable grip, a metal bolt shroud, and an enlarged loading port.

This newest iteration, the T3x Lite Roughtech, is the best yet. The barrel is threaded for a suppressor or muzzle brake. The three-round single-stack box magazine is totally reliable. The two-lug action has a shortened 70- degree bolt throw, and the slightly oversize bolt handle is easy to work. Plus, the rifle maintains the standard of accuracy that Tikka has become known for, easily printing sub-MOA five-shot groups in my 6.5 Creedmoor sample. This rugged rifle will be a favorite of American hunters for years to come.

2. Winchester Model 70 Extreme Weather SS

Unless you’ve been in a coma since 1936, you’re probably familiar with the Model 70’s full-length Mauser claw extractor, controlled-round feed operation, three-position safety, and other often-touted features.

The Extreme Weather SS model adds a stainless-steel action and a fluted barrel as well as an attractive and strong synthetic stock with a raised cheekpiece.

Scoped, the M70 shown above, in .30/06 with a 22-inch barrel, weighs exactly 8½ pounds. This places it in a sweet spot for big-game hunters, especially those who chase deer. The cartridge is perfect, the weight is perfect, and the overall length and balance of the rifle is, well, perfect.

CHEAP SHOTS

By definition, these economy-class rifles are no-frills guns—even a little rough around the edges in ways. They also happen to make up the majority of deer guns sold in this great nation of ours. You’re not likely to see one prominently displayed on a wall as an indication of the owner’s pride. But where you will find them is strapped across the handlebars of a muddy four-wheeler, sitting butt down in the muck of a cedar swamp, or slung over the shoulder of a young hunter busting through brush on public land before dawn to gain an edge on the competition.

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