By Paul Rackley, Gunbroker.com Editor
The rifles available today are just plain amazing. Technology has allowed manufacturers to create some extremely accurate and reliable firearms. At the same time, production procedures have improved, keeping prices down, for the most part. However, many of us remember those old wood-and-blue guns carried by parents and grandparents. Sure, most of them featured nicks, scrapes and blemishes from years of use, but that’s part of their attraction. These classic deer rifles have character, and come with a whole lot of memories.
Most of us learned how to shoot and treat firearms with respect while tagging along with older family members. And pretty much every one of us took our first deer with a rifle that was built long before we were even a thought. Some of these guns have been passed down, while others disappeared for whatever reason. Luckily, there are quite a few of these classic deer rifles still on the market. Picking one up used might not have the quite the same feeling as getting handed Grandpa’s old slayer, but any of these guns can bring back some nostalgia of simpler times.
I know these old guns affect me. In fact, I’ve fired most of these old classic rifles in the last few years. Some of those shots where even taken at deer. Every time I take out one of Dad’s or Pappa’s old guns, whether on a hunt or not, I think about the man and how he guided my life. Then I get to shooting and can’t help but wonder why we didn’t just stick to the classics.
Some shooters don’t really like the Remington 742 and 7400, claiming these guns are unreliable and inaccurate. In fact, an old curmudgeon gun writer once labeled these guns as “Jamomatics.” However, Remington has sold more than 2 million of these semi-auto rifles. Sure, these rifles can have functional problems, particularly if not maintained, but these rifles can hit game at any distance folks can reasonably shoot. These rifles outshoot most shooters. They really shine in places where hitting running deer is required. My father owned a 742 Woodsmaster my entire life, and bought me one more than 35 years ago. I used that rifle to take my first deer, along with several at over 200 yards. I even watched my brother take a deer that was quartering away running at over 400 yards with a. 7400. Folks can say what they want about Remington autos, but I have great memories surrounding these rifles.
The Winchester 94 goes back so far that it was the first commercial rifle built for smokeless powder. As such, pretty much every family owned this gun, probably in .30-30 Win. Hunters especially liked the 94 because it was light, compact, easy to swing and fast to shoot. The .30-30 round also hits deer hard out to some decent ranges, though few consider it to be a long-range rifle. Many consider the Winchester 94 to be the deer rifle, particularly since it was available in a variety of chamberings, such as .32-40 Win., .38-55 Win., .32 Win. Spec. and more. Shooters can even purchase 94s in handgun calibers, such as .45 Colt and .357 Mag. The only problem this rifle presents hunters is the difficulty in mounting optics with its top ejection design. I’ve owned a Winchester 94 ever since picking one up at a pretty good deal quite a few years ago. It mostly sits in the safe now, but it spent years as my saddle gun. As such, it has travels lots of miles, but hasn’t been fired too many time since it hit my hands.
Another classic deer rifle is the Marlin 336. This lever-action rifle has also taken more deer than anyone could know since its introduction in 1948. In fact, a lot of hunters prefer the Marlin because of it solid-top receiver, which makes mounting a scope much easier. While the 336 has been available in a variety of chamberings, the most common are .30-30 Win. and .35 Rem. Both work well for brush country deer, providing power, speed and accuracy in a lightweight package. Very few shooters have never owned a Marlin 336. Many Gen X hunters started with this rifle, particularly in the South and Northeast. Both my grandfather and father carried the one sitting in my safe. While I have never taken a deer with the gun, I can’t help but think about two men who helped guide me into the world of hunting when I hold in my hands.
🎥 Watch Video of Marlin 336 Classic & Marlin 1894 Lever-Action Rifles
Savage first brought out the Model 110 in 1958. The company derived its name from its price of $109.95. The original cost probably helped with its popularity. It first came out in .30-06 Sprg. and .270 Win. Just a few years later, Savage introduced a short-action version in .243 Win. and .308 Win. Around the same time, the company brought out a left-hand version, making it one of the first available to hunters. Shooters really like the older Savage rifles because they were reliable, accurate and affordable. The only complain was the trigger, which Savage eliminated by introducing the AccuTrigger in 2003. I’ve never owned a Savage Model 110, but I have fired several over the years. I’ve found them to be excellent rifles out to whatever distance a person can reliably shoot; they just sometimes needed a trigger job.
Ruger makes what is probably the most popular .22 semi-auto in the 10/22. However, the company also produces quality centerfire rifles, including the well-regarded No. 1. When Ruger introduced this single-shot rifle in 1967, lots of experts thought it was crazy. Why would anyone introduce a single shot when repeaters were readily available? The company did it anyway and the rifle is still produced, in select quantities. In fact, the No. 1 led to a resurgence of single shot rifles. The beauty of the No. 1 is its strength. This hammerless, falling-block rifle can handle pretty much any chambering all the way up to .450 Nitro Express. Of course, most hunters stick to the deer calibers, like the .308 Win. Now I don’t really have a whole lot of experience with the No. 1. It wasn’t the most popular gun down south, where spray and pray could sometimes be more than just a saying. The price also probably helped push most of us with accents in other directions. It is, however, still a beautiful rifle.
Known as “The Rifleman’s Rifle,” the Winchester Model 70 has long been popular with hunters and shooters. This is mostly due to its controlled-round feeding, Mauser-style extractor, cut checkering and excellent accuracy. Of course, having Jack O’Conner praise its capabilities over the years helped. While Browning, via the Winchester name, still produces the Model 70, most shooter prefer the rifles made before Winchester changed several features to reduce costs in production. The Model 70s made today are excellent rifles, but just have not resonated with the shooting public like the ones built before 1964. Luckily, shooters can still find Pre-64 Model 70s in excellent condition. I have never fired a Winchester Model 70, pre or post 64.Most preferred other bolt actions, and the simple fact is that I was born well after Winchester changed the rifle; so, I never got involved in this argument among shooters.
While it wasn’t as popular as the 94 and 336, the Savage Model 99 is actually considered by most experts to be the better gun. In fact, this hammerless lever-action just might be the most classic of the classic deer rifles. This is mostly due to it undergoing very few changes during its 98-year run. Sure, there were some variations, including a detachable box magazine in later years, but the functionality has remained consistent. The main feature that hunters and shooters liked was the rotary magazine that allowed the use of pointed, or spitzer, bullets. This allowed Savage to produce the rifle in way more chamberings than .30-30. Hunters could purchase this gun in .303 Sav., .308 Win., .243 Win. and many more. A friend of mine inherited a Model 99 in .308 Win. from his father. He still loves smacking deer every so often with this gun.
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