Back in the day, you would have to spend a lot of money to purchase a quality bolt action hunting rifle.
Rifles such as the Remington Model 700 or the Winchester Model 70 were excellent firearms that served many hunters and shooting enthusiasts well, but were also not available to those on a budget (costing around $800 to 1,000 new).
Fortunately, those days are long gone. While the Model 700 and Model 70 are still produced, and remain very popular, these and other rifles in their same price range are not your only options anymore.
In fact, it is now perfectly possible to buy a bolt action rifle that is accurate, reliable, and dependable for less than $500, and sometimes with a good scope already installed.
Some guns closing in on the $1,000 marker offer performance levels that were unthinkable in factory guns from a couple of decades back.
Below you will find a list of 10 of the best budget bolt action rifles for hunting that are currently available.
Marlin is a gun company that is primarily known for their lever action rifles and their .22 carbines. The Marlin 336 .30-30 and Model 60 .22 in particular are two highly regarded weapons that have been popular for many decades and continue to make strong sales today.
Just because Marlin isn’t particularly known for making bolt actions, that doesn’t mean that they offer solid guns in this category. In fact, the Marlin X7 is a superb choice for those looking for a long lasting hunting rifle on a budget.
Marlin has been in the gun making business for nearly a hundred and fifty years, and they’ve taken what they’ve learned from that time and combined its recent advancements to craft the X7.
For example, the stock of the X7 is synthetic and pillar bedded with a cheek piece that makes it easier to look through the scope.
It also features a trigger that is fully adjustable as well, and can be lowered to break at as little as 2.5 pounds for as minimum creep as possible.
The bolt is fluted, and very easy to take off of the gun for cleaning purposes, but can be quickly re-installed back into the gun and is held by a durable pin. Also, the two position safety is easily accessible.
All in all, the Marlin X7 is a superb choice for a shooter looking for a basic hunting rifle with some critical modern advancements. There are many models of X7s for you to choose from.
The Mossberg Patriot represents the latest advancements in bolt action rifles from Mossberg. Previously, they made the ATR and then the 4x4 rifles.
The Patriot is simply a 4x4 only one with an improved bolt handle and stock, in addition to being offered in a myriad of different calibers (all the way from .243 up to .375 Ruger).
While the Mossberg Patriot is ideal for those on a budget (scoped combos can be purchased for around $400 new), much work and effort still goes into the design.
The Patriot employs a barrel lock nut and a tubular receiver, for instance, while it also utilizes a fluted barrel to dramatically improve accuracy.
One of the Patriot’s most attractive features is that it uses an adjustable trigger that can be quickly tuned anywhere from two up to seven pounds (no one’s going to want a seven pound trigger on a hunting rifle, but at least it’s there).
Another attractive feature of the Patriot is its detachable magazine, which permits quick tactical reloads. In contrast to this, most other rifles of similar types have to be fed the rounds individually.
The magazine that ships with the Patriot is made out of a single piece of molded polymer, and is extremely lightweight while also being very durable. While only one magazine ships with the Patriot, you can easily purchase more.
The worldwide famous Model 700 is not the only rifle that Remington makes. The 783 is a very similar rifle but also incorporates elements of the Mossberg Patriot, including the fitment of the barrel and the fact that it utilizes a detachable magazine.
The receiver of the Remington 783 is much sturdier in comparison to other budget bolt actions. The ejection port is also noticeably larger to result in smoother extractions of spent shell casings. Wide ports are also required for bolt rifles made for the military.
The trigger on the 783 is also fully adjustable by the user, making use of Remington’s CrossFire adjustment system. The range of the adjustment is shorter than the Patriot’s however.
While you can adjust your trigger to be from 2-7 pounds on the Patriot, you can adjust it to be only 2.5-5 pounds on the 783.
The safety is a two position version that will block movement of the trigger when engaged, but it will not lock up the bolt (unlike, say, the Winchester Model 70 that utilizes a three position safety system).
The magazine of the 783 is made out of both polymer and metal. What’s also interesting is that the magazine release is not located on the stock of the 783, but rather on the magazine itself. This will be either a pro or a con depending on what your personal preference is.
Last but not least, Remington has also installed a very cushioned butt pad on the 783 to help soak in recoil, which will especially be a relief for smaller statured shooters. The 783 will ship with a bore sighted 3-9x40 scope at an MSRP of just $400, which is an incredible value.
Probably the most influential bolt action design of all time was the Mauser K98 rifle, as it has been copied by almost every bolt action designer since.
This does not hold true for the Ruger American, however, which uses Ruger’s ninety degree bolt rotation system instead. This results in a bolt that is a little larger in comparison to other bolt actions, but that also requires less effort in order to cycle.
Another real standout of the Ruger American is its detachable magazine, which is among the finest of any detachable magazines for bolt rifles out there.
It’s constructed out of one piece of polycarbonate and uses a rotary action, meaning the follower rotates when a new round is loaded into the gun.
This essentially means the cartridges are held in the magazine in the shape of a C, resulting in a magazine that is easier to load, and smaller than those from other manufacturers.
The American uses an adjustable trigger called the Marksman from Ruger, but it has a relatively short range from just three to five rounds. The tang safety is a two position version that, when engaged, does not block the bolt but does block the trigger.
The Ruger American is available in seven calibers up to .30-06 Springfield, but is not yet available in any magnum calibers. The reason why is because of the design of the bolt.
So if Ruger does indeed decide to manufacture a bolt rifle that can fire larger rounds they will likely have to make an entirely new design.
The Axis is the least expensive rifle in Savage’s arsenal, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad weapon by any means. In fact, the Axis actually incorporates features found on rifles built for competition use, such as a minimal ejection port.
However, a point of difference between the Axis and Savage’s more expensive Model 100 variant is that there is no rear tang located on the receiver. The point of this tang is to anchor the trigger assembly into the gun.
To lower costs, the Axis simply has a receiver bridge that ends shortly. That being said, this design does not actually impact the performance of the rifle in any way.
In essence, the Axis is a Model 100 that has been trimmed down to lower costs, but not in a way that actually hurts how the rifle fires. The shape of the magazine is difference, as is the handle and the shape of the trigger guard.
One of the best aspects of the Axis is its price, being available for around $200-250 new and sometimes even with a scope. Previously for a quality rifle at this price range, someone would be forced to go with something like a surplus Mosin Nagant.
However, things change, and the Axis provides you with a brand new rifle in common calibers that can be purchased at the same price point.
Winchester has for an age been known as makers of the “rifleman’s rifle.” But since their days of being synonymous with rifles in general, technology has advanced.
Today, Winchester Repeating Arms has sought to capitalize on cutting-edge advancements in both metallurgy and technology to create a hard-working, high performance and no-nonsense rifle in the XPR.
Except the synthetic stock, all components in the XPR from the trigger housing and receiver to the small parts themselves are all made of steel.
And you might say it is the trigger system itself, Winchester’s M.O.A. Trigger, that is the heart of the rifle. A wide, smooth trigger face gives way with zero creep, zero take up and zero over travel.
A bold claim for any manufacturer to make, but in this case, Winchester has succeeded and the trigger on the XPR series rifles is one of the best in the business, not just at its price range.
But the good news doesn’t stop there, as the XPR is packed with other features that shooters want, informed by the legacy of innovation and performance that the Winchester name is known for.
The bolt is chromoly steel, crafted from bar stock and through-hardened. The bolt features a short, crisp 60° lift for maximum clearance of today’s larger scopes.
The entire bolt assembly is also easy to remove and can be field stripped in moments without any specialty tools for easy inspection, parts replacement or lubrication after a tough day in the field.
The barrel is button rifled and provides outstanding accuracy across a variety of calibers, bullet weights and styles.
Thermal stress relief ensures consistency and dependability even across a wide range of climates and during intense volumes of fire. Precise headspacing is assured by Winchester’s proprietary barrel nut alignment system.
Lastly, both the trigger guard and magazine frame relief are oversized for easy use with gloves no matter the conditions and no matter the position.
Box magazines are completely detachable and made from rugged yet affordable polymer. All magazines across all chamberings possess a 3-round capacity, are single stack and push feed straight into the chamber for maximum reliability.
The XPR might be considered the ultimate in no-frills performance from a legendary manufacturer and available at a highly attractive price.
If you want a rifle that will withstand all conditions while in the field while giving up nothing in terms of accuracy and reliability, definitely give the XPR a look.
Thompson Center Compass II
Thompson Center is a company that has long been renowned for high-performance hunting handguns, but their rifles offer just as much as their hand counts and then some.
One of the most beloved rifles in the price range is their own Compass rifle, recently upgraded with their innovative Gen II trigger system to produce the Compass II offering.
This rifle is incredibly feature packed in the sub $500 category: A traditional three lug bolt design lends itself to strength even when firing the highest pressure magnum cartridges available in the line.
Speaking of chamberings, the Compass II is available in the most popular hunting cartridges of our era, including .243 Win., .270 Win., .308 Win, .300 Winchester Magnum and 7mm Remington Magnum, among others.
Probably the most standout inclusion in the lineup is the increasingly popular, accurate and high performance 6.5mm Creedmoor.
A three position safety is tried, true and easy to use with or without gloves on and provides visible as well as tactile indication of the safety status. Loading and unloading is possible with the safety engaged.
Moving forward to the muzzle, all models are threaded and compatible with compensators, muzzle brakes, flash hiders and silencers with a standard 1/2-28 UNEF thread but can be had with an optional 5/8-24 UNEF thread.
One of the best attributes of the Compass II is its scope mounting interface, coupled with a short, 60° lift on the bolt handle enables shooters to mount the beefiest scopes on the market today with a little risk of interference. Cycling the bolt is itself a joy- crisp, clean and fast.
Complimenting the fast-cycling nature of the compass to, detachable, flush fit rotary magazines offer a capacity advantage over many competitors, with most chambering holding five rounds, plus one more in the chamber, while magnum chamberings afford a four round capacity with an extra in the chamber.
The barrels on every TC Compass sold are guaranteed to be match grade with a minimum performance standard of 1” at 100 yards when using premium ammunition.
Even though modern rifles, including budget rifles, have come an awfully long way in just the past 20 years there are still plenty of competitors offered by major manufacturers that cannot match this accuracy standard.
This accuracy is partially achieved by the overall level of quality and design in the Compass II, but also achieved due to the unique rifling profile employed in their barrels.
The edges of the lands inside the bore are designed in such a way that they do not slice into or radically deform the jacket of the bullet as it travels down the bore. The result is far greater consistency and better accuracy from shot to shot compared to legacy barrel designs.
Backed by a lifetime warranty, the Thompson Center Compass II is remarkably accurate, handy and extremely affordable. Paired with a good scope, there is little that could not be accomplished by this rifle on the North American continent.
Weatherby Vanguard Weatherguard
Coming in on the high side of the price range for an entry level rifle, Weatherby’s Vanguard Weatherguard series rifles offer maximum performance and refinement in an all-weather package that, and their words, echoes the US postman’s creed: Neither rain, nor snow, nor sleet, nor dark of night will stop this rifle.
Lightweight, durable, accurate. These are three words that describe every vanguard series rifle, and that applies to the all-weather, synthetic stock weather guard series.
Possessed of a highly ergonomic stock with a raised Monte Carlo comb, the Weatherguard features non-slip contrast colored grip inserts fore and aft on either side of the stock for maximum control in all weather conditions.
Probably the most famous feature among all of the Vanguard series rifles is the match quality, fully adjustable two-stage trigger.
Famously called “creep-free,” each of these triggers is hand perfected and intricately tuned at the factory to assure the best possible trigger right out of the box. Regardless of your opinion on the matter, as the shooter you can easily tune it to your preference.
The Vanguard series rifles marry a cold hammer forged barrel (each guaranteeing sub MOA accuracy with premium factory ammunition) to a forged, single recoil lug for maximum repeatability shot to shot no matter what the chambering.
A fluted bolt body reduces weight and minimizes bearing surface area to ensure smooth, easy cycling while eliminating the possibility of binding.
Gas porting in the bolt body and sure that high pressure gas will escape safely away from the shooter in the event of catastrophic failure or overpressure event.
This is complemented by a fully enclosed both sleeve at the rear that redirects any brass particles, unfired propellant, and additional gas down and away from the shooter when firing suppressed or in case of aforementioned catastrophic failure.
Also equipped with a three position safety that offers tactile confirmation of position, the Vanguard can be safely loaded and unloaded with the safety engaged and the trigger blocked. A hinged floor plate is standard, but a removable box magazine is optional for certain chamberings.
Speaking of chamberings, the Vanguard Weatherguard is available and virtually every modern and legacy offering between .22-250 Remington to .30-06 Springfield and all the way up to 7mm-08 Remington.
No matter the country, no matter the quarry and no matter the conditions, the Vanguard Weatherguard will prove to be more than capable if you are capable.
Browning X-Bolt Stalker
Another highly refined entry level gun on the further end of the scale, Brownings X-bolt Stalker is advertised as durable, accurate and intelligently designed.
I think you’ll find it more than lives up to those claims, and is awfully pretty to boot despite its all-weather composite stock.
This is a rifle that means business, with all exterior metal parts finished in a flat, non-glare midnight black surface sitting atop an equally ebony black synthetic stock.
Only the polished surface of the bolt sticking out breaks up this intimidating profile. But I must admit, this is a classy rifle even sitting among others with traditional, beautiful wood.
A free floated barrel with a recessed muzzle crown to prevent damage ensures accuracy and consistency, and is specially bedded at the front and rear of the action to ensure uniform spacing with the stock.
Browning advertises this rifle as rivaling the accuracy achievable with customized bolt guns costing thousands of dollars more.
This accuracy is made more easily achievable thanks to Browning’s Feather Trigger System, ensuring a clean, glass rod-like break with no take up, zero creep and only the slightest hint of overtravel.
Perhaps of more important to long range shooters, their X-lock scope mounting system features a four-screw-per-base proprietary design that completely surpasses old fashioned two screw mounts.
With each scope-base secured at all four corners, strength and uniformity are radically enhanced, perfect for shooting a steady diet of today’s hard-kicking calibers.
In tandem with a short lift, 60° throw bolt this will ensure plenty of standoff between the bolt handle and even the widest scope commonly available today.
Speaking of bolts, Browning utilizes an interesting safety configuration.
A traditional, tang-position safety is used for basic fire control but there’s also a “bolt unlock button” that engages separately of the safety to ensure the safety remains on and under complete control during status checks, loading or unloading of the rifle.
Lastly, proprietary rotary magazines are fully detachable and feed inline with the chamber for maximum positivity and reliability.
Available in a wide array of chamberings, the X-Bolt is highly refined, dead hard, accurate and just a beautiful looking rifle compared to any of its synthetic stocked brethren.
Tikka T3X Lite
Tikka has long been one of the so-called best kept secrets in the rifle world. With most of their offerings being extremely affordable, but possessing performance outstripping many of the best domestic rifles in the category, these Finnish powerhouses are greatly admired by the cognoscenti in the shooting world.
There’s probably no better example of this for the modern hunter than the T3X Lite. At first glance, these rifles appear completely unremarkable, but believe me, they are sleepers. Uncompromising in quality throughout every detail, these guns are incredibly light, handy and modular in design.
A traditionally blued barrel and receiver perch atop an all black synthetic stock devoid of embellishment save an irregular, asymmetric texturing pattern on the pistol grip and the forend.
Probably most notable about the series of rifles is the interchangeable nature of the stock system: The pistol grip is switchable, making it configurable to a variety of shooters, positions or endeavors.
There is also an attachment point up ahead allowing the width of the forend to be altered for shooter preference in kind.
The receiver shows considerable intelligence in its design, too, with an overbuilt, highly rugged rail attachment system featuring extra screw mounting points compared to other rifles in this category.
This will maximize the tightness and rigidity of the interface to the receiver, further assisting with the achievement of consistent accuracy these guns are famous for.
The ejection port is similarly smart: Widened, lowered and flared to ensure no issues with ejection or to facilitate the easy loading of one cartridge at a time if desired.
Cold hammer forged barrels ensure consistent accuracy over a long life of shooting, detachable box magazines make reloads and clearing easy and a highly polished, short throw bolt means you’ll never struggle during follow-up shots or to clear an oversized scope.
Perhaps the only thing I would take away from this rifle is the cost of the magazines themselves, which seem to be dramatically more expensive than comparable detachable mags sold for domestic rifles. A small concern, however, unless you are taking this rifle to your local action match!
Tikka’s T3X Lite is a pleasure to shoot and a pleasure to carry. It is also accurate, durable and handsome, a winning combination from a highly regarded Finnish maker.
In conclusion, there are many excellent models of hunting rifles on the market today that hold their value well, and offer you a lot for the money.
They may not be quite as finely furnished as a Remington 700 or Winchester 70, but for the price you simply can’t beat them. Any one of the five choices we have covered in this article will serve you well on your next hunting trip and for many hunting trips to come.