Skip to Content

The Best Deer Hunting Rifles for 2023: Our Top 5 Picks

Choosing a hunting rifle is complicated, no matter what kind of game you’re targeting. But it can be particularly tricky with a deer hunting rifle.

You’ll need to consider whether you’ll be hunting from the ground or from a tree stand. Then, there’s the question of whether a bolt-action, lever-action, or semi-automatic deer hunting rifle will best suit you. But don’t worry, we’re here to help!

Read on for our recommendations for the best deer hunting rifles of 2023.

deer hunting rifle

Our Top Picks

Best Overall
Winchester Model 70 Featherweight

Best Premium Option
Browning X-Bolt Pro

Best Budget Option
Ruger American Standard Bolt-Action Rifle

Best Overall

Winchester Model 70 Featherweight

The Winchester Model 70 Featherweight is aptly named. Despite its 22-inch barrel length, it weighs only slightly more than 6.5 pounds. That’s as close to an ideal weight for a hunting rifle as you’ll find for either carrying or using in a tree stand.

But there is more that makes the Featherweight our recommendation as the best overall deer hunting rifle. It features excellent trigger action, complemented by a hammer-forged barrel, both of which help ensure exceptional accuracy.

Accuracy of the Featherweight is enhanced by its non-slip stock design and a rubberized rifle butt. Both allow the rifle to be comfortably held and managed. Whether you’re stalking deer or spying them from a tree stand, the Featherweight is a perfect choice.


  • Three-position safety mechanism provides extra confidence
  • Holds its value for years
  • Excellent fit and finish


  • May be difficult to mount some scopes

Best Premium Option

Browning X-Bolt Pro

Precision engineering and unparalleled construction quality are hallmarks of the Browning X-Bolt, and explain why it’s our choice as the top premium deer hunting rifle. Featuring a carbon fiber stock paired with a stainless steel barrel, no corners are cut with the Browning X-Bolt.

In addition, the X-Bolt’s bolt-action mechanism is designed with exquisite attention to detail. It cycles through loading and firing quickly and smoothly and keeps the hunter’s hand well outside the field of view of scope-sighting mechanics.

Also, a specially designed recoil pad keeps the hunter’s aim steady for follow-up shots. And the rifle is pre-drilled for mounting a scope.


  • Grip is well-designed for fitting hands
  • Recoil is negligible
  • Trigger pull can be adjusted to individual hunters


  • Price likely puts the X-Bolt out of range of some hunters
  • Accuracy could be somewhat better for the price

Best Budget Option

Ruger American Rifle Standard Bolt-Action Rifle

At less than $500, the Ruger American Standard is packed with features, making it a solid choice as our recommendation for budget-conscious deer hunters. Meant for serious hunters, whether experienced or novice, this Ruger bolt-action rifle features a light and crisp adjustable trigger pull.

But that’s just one of the Ruger’s many outstanding features. It is equipped with an unobtrusive rotary magazine for ease of handling. Also, its stock, constructed of composite material, features grooves and texturing to ensure non-slip gripping in any weather.

Finally, at just over 6 pounds, the Ruger American is perfect for stalking deer on the ground or for getting up into a tree stand.


  • Accurate, durable and built to last
  • Magazines work for multiple bullet calibers
  • Great choice for beginners and experienced hunters


  • May not shoot groups tight enough for some hunters
  • Safety mechanism may click too loudly for hunting
  • Barrel may not be as ‘free-floating’ as manufacturer claims

Best Lever-Action

Henry Steel Side Gate

Our recommendations for the best deer hunting rifle would have been seriously incomplete without including a lever-action model. They’re reliable and can stand up better than other rifles to unintentional abuse, making them a no-brainer choice among deer hunting rifle options.

The Henry Steel Side Gate stands out for its excellent craftsmanship. Its stock and front end, both crafted of American walnut, make the Henry Steel Side Gate a simply beautiful deer rifle. That beauty is only enhanced by the rifle’s satin-blued finish.

But the Henry Steel Side Gate is much more than an amazing example of rifle craftsmanship. It offers a smooth firing action, a must for effective deer hunting.


  • Heirloom-quality rifle suitable for passing from generation to generation
  • Lever action much easier than other side-gate-configured rifles


  • Disassembly and reassembly for cleaning may be tricky

Best Semi-Automatic Action

Browning BAR Mark III

If you’re looking for a deer hunting rifle that can fire tightly-grouped shots in quick succession, the Browning BAR Mark III is an excellent choice.

Our recommendation as the best semi-automatic deer hunting rifle available today, the Mark III allows for exceedingly accurate follow-up shots. What that means is that if your first shot doesn’t bring down your deer, you’ll get a quick second chance to take it down.

Part of the reason for that accurate rapid-firing capability is that the Browning BAR has very little recoil. In short, that means you can keep your sights on the deer very easily while firing.


  • Very comfortable to shoot
  • Excellent for shorter-range shots
  • Steel magazine can accommodate as many as 10 bullets


  • Jamming may be an issue for some users
  • Shot grouping may not be as tight as some users expect
  • Magazine can be difficult to remove

Best Deer Hunting Rifles for 2023 Buyer’s Guide

You’ve now had a chance to look over our recommendations for the best deer hunting rifle for a variety of circumstances. As you begin to make your own decision about a deer hunting rifle, you’ll need some guidance on the technical aspects of those guns.

Read through this buyer’s guide for background on rifle calibers, rifle actions, and matching a deer hunting rifle to your hunting style.


A deer hunting rifle caliber refers to the diameter of the bullet it fires, expressed in either millimeters or inches. The higher the caliber, the larger the bullet, and the more effective it will be.

If you’re a novice, a good starting point is .243 Winchester, noted for accuracy and mild recoil. Other notable calibers include the .77 Remington Magnum, good at long range, and the .30-30 Winchester, a longtime favorite caliber.

Also to be considered are the .45-70 Government, which causes little damage to deer, and the 6.5 Creedmoor, effective at 400 yards or more.


When choosing a deer rifle, you’ll decide among three “actions,” the way the cartridge is loaded into the rifle barrel. The simplest, a bolt-action rifle, loads a single round into the barrel through manipulation of a handle on the rifle’s side.

A lever-action rifle uses a lever at the bottom of the rifle stock to load rounds into the barrel. A semi-automatic rifle fires a bullet with each pull of the trigger.

Generally, bolt- and lever-action deer hunting rifles are the easiest and safest to use. Semi-automatic rifles do have a place, however, allowing for quick follow-up shots when an initial shot isn’t fatal to the targeted deer.

Hunting Style

The decision you’ll make on a deer hunting rifle will depend in large part on your preferred hunting style. Whether you like being on the ground actively stalking deer or hunting from the wide vista offered by a tree stand, you’ll want an appropriate rifle.


If you plan to stalk your deer, you’ll, of course, be carrying your rifle and will want a lightweight option. You should be able to find a deer hunting rifle within the 6- to 7-pound range as an optimal choice.

On a related note, you might want to consider a rifle without a scope. With a scope attached, your rifle might become hung up on vegetation as you move it into firing position.

Tree-Stand Hunting

If you’ll be hunting from a tree stand, you’ll need to focus on durability because you’ll be regularly dragging your rifle into and out of trees. Both for safety and protecting the rifle, bring along a gun case and place your rifle inside it before hauling it up to or sending it down from your tree stand.

There are cases to be made for using bolt- and lever-action, and semi-automatic rifles in tree stands. As a result, your personal preference is a viable choice.

Frequently Asked Questions

Even with our recommendations for the best deer hunting rifle in a variety of categories, you may have additional questions. Read on for answers to frequently asked questions on acquiring and using a deer hunting rifle.

Are scopes necessary for all deer rifles?

The short answer to this question is “no.” In fact, there is an argument that a scope can hinder hunting. Consider, for instance, hunting in thick brush, where a scope might actually compromise your ability to focus on or recognize a deer.

Also, there’s the fact that plenty of hunters took down plenty of deer with open sights before scopes were available for any deer hunting rifle.

Of course, there are many arguments in favor of a scope. A scope will gather a lot of light along with its magnification. That’s important because the first and last hours of daylight, when light is scarce, are productive times for hunting.

In the end, success with a scope over open sights, or vice versa, will depend on practicing before an actual hunt. So maybe try shooting both ways and then decide which you prefer.

How should a deer hunting rifle be maintained?

Once you’ve purchased a deer hunting rifle, you’ll need to protect that investment. The key to that is properly maintaining your firearm.

The manufacturer of your deer hunting rifle no doubt provides some maintenance instructions. It never hurts, though, to take a different look at how best to keep your rifle in good working order.

As a first step, regularly clean your rifle’s barrel. When fired, copper and other residue build up in the barrel and can affect your rifle’s accuracy. To keep that from happening, use a bore cleaning compound.

For further cleaning of the inner workings of your deer rifle, use an aerosol gun scrubber and cleaner.

It’s also important to attack any signs of rust on the exterior of your weapon as early as possible. As you notice rust, use extra-fine steel wool to remove it. And don’t forget to maintain your rifle scope. Use a lens cleaning solution and lens tissues for the best results.

At what age is it appropriate for someone to get their first deer rifle?

The first thing to do when deciding whether it is appropriate for a young person to have a deer rifle is to know state and local regulations. Some jurisdictions have no minimum age for hunting, while others set the minimum age at 10, 12 or 16 years old.

But also, in many jurisdictions, young hunters must be accompanied by an adult. And many jurisdictions require that all hunters, regardless of age, complete a hunter safety education course.

In the end, a parent or guardian is the best judge. It’s possible that some young people may be ready for the responsibility of owning and using a deer rifle before their 10th birthday. Others, though, may need at least a couple more years.

deer hunting rifle

Wrapping up the Best Deer Hunting Rifles for 2023: Our Top 5 Picks

Choosing the best deer hunting rifle depends on many factors, including your comfort with any particular firearm. Regardless, our recommendation as a best overall deer hunting rifle, the Winchester Model 70 Featherweight, is a good place to start.

In the meantime, Life in Minnesota offers lots of information on hunting in the state.