by Brad Fitzpatrick
The term “elk rifle” means many different things. To some, one must be light and easy to carry, a gun that doesn’t burden hunters at high altitudes and in steep country. For others, an elk rifle should be infused with a heavy dose of target rifle DNA with adjustable stocks, top rails, threaded muzzles and all the other characteristics of today’s top target rifles that have crossed over into the hunting field. And then there are some who prefer classic big-bore lever-actions for short shots in heavy timber.
Some rifles on this list are extremely sophisticated and priced accordingly. Others offer fewer high-end features but lack nothing when it comes to their ability to hit targets at extended ranges. However you define the perfect elk rifle, we feel certain that you’ll find something on this list that works for you.
X-Bolt Speed Suppressor Ready and X-Bolt Mountain Pro SPR
Why We Love Them: The X-Bolt has remained one of the most popular elk rifles, Browning’s X-Bolt is both a best-selling rifle (consistently top 10 in sales) and it is particularly popular with elk hunters because it is light, accurate, and carries brand cachet. These suppressor-ready versions make it much simpler to hunt with a silencer to help protect your hearing.
The Lowdown: Last fall, I hunted New Mexico with Browning’s new X-Bolt Speed Suppressor Ready rifle with Silencer Central’s Banish Backcountry suppressor. Normally, hunting elk in tight timber with a suppressed rifle is a chore, but the X-Bolt’s 22-inch barrel and the short suppressor made it manageable. That allowed me to enjoy the benefits of a silencer without the awkward added length. The X-Bolt Speed Suppressor Ready comes equipped with a match-grade sporter-weight barrel threaded 5/8 x 24 to accommodate muzzle devices (a thread protector and radial brake are included). The rotary magazine and Feather Trigger are outstanding, and the bolt unlock button allows you to unload with the safety engaged. All X-Bolts come with three-lug bolts with a 60-degree lift and a lightweight, durable composite stock with recoil-absorbing Inflex pad and full OVIX camo coverage. A Smoked Bronze Cerakote finish protects all the metalwork, including the stiff, fluted barrel. Barrel lengths vary from 18 to 22 inches depending on the 12 caliber options ranging from .204 Ruger to .300 PRC. MSRP for the Speed Suppressor ready rifles ranges from $1,429 to $1,529.
Also new from Browning is the X-Bolt Mountain Pro SPR available with either a Tungsten or Burnt Bronze Cerakote finish. Mountain Pro rifles come with lightweight carbon fiber stocks that help keep weight to a minimum (between 5 pounds, 14 ounces and 6 pounds, 6 ounces) and make this the perfect elk gun for hunting at elevation or steep country. Browning’s Recoil Hawg muzzle brake, which cuts felt recoil up to 76%, comes standard, as does a rail section/front sling stud combination that makes mounting a bipod painless. Like the other Speed Suppressor Ready model mentioned above, these rifles sport 18 to 22-inch barrels and are available in calibers from 6.5 Creedmoor to .300 PRC. MSRP ranges from $2,659.99 to $2,699.99.
Why We Love It: With a new finish and camo pattern, Kimber’s long-awaited update to its tried-and-true lightweight mountain hunting series reminds us why so many hunters love these rifles.
The Lowdown: After launching a new revolver and striker-fired semiauto in recent years, Kimber overhauled its hunting rifle line for 2023 with the launch of the Pnuma Outdoors Caza and Badlands Skyfall version of their Mountain Ascent rifle, the gun that has set the standard for super light mountain rifles for years. The new Mountain Ascent retains many of the features such as a match-grade chamber, Mauser-type claw extractor, three-position safety, stainless construction and reinforced carbon fiber stock that has made these guns a hit with high-country hunters. The new versions come with updated camo stocks and black KimPro II finish for maximum concealment and outstanding durability. Chambering options range from 6.5 Creedmoor to .300 Win Mag. The threaded barrel makes adding a suppressor simple, and a muzzle brake and thread protector are included.
Mountain Ascent rifles range in weight from 4 pounds, 13 ounces to 6 pounds, 7 ounces and are guaranteed to shoot under an inch at 100 yards, though I’ve never owned a Kimber that couldn’t do better than that. The Kimber’s light weight coupled with its excellent accuracy potential and ultra-dependable 84/8400-series controlled feed action make the updated Mountain Ascent an even more appealing hunting rifle.
The Perfect Backup Gun in Bear Country: Developed in partnership with RMEF, the Kimber Camp Guard 10mm 1911 weighs just 38 ounces and boasts a magazine capacity of 8+1 rounds. Lighter and trimmer than most revolvers while holding more rounds, the 10mm Auto is a proven bear stopper, especially with hard-cast bullets. Camp Guard 10 pistols combine practical features like a crisp 4- to 5-pound single-action trigger and tactical wedge night sights with aesthetic touches like a two-tone metal finish and custom rosewood grips inscribed with a mountain scene and RMEF logo. MSRP is $1,476.
Model 307 Range XP
Why We Love It: The veil has lifted on the first new Weatherby rifle action in more than 50 years, and we’re glad to see it.
The Lowdown: Weatherby has hinted at a major development for some time, but the release of the Model 307 action is monumental for the brand. It’s only the third action developed by Weatherby in the company’s existence and the first in over five decades. The model’s name pays homage to Weatherby’s base of operations in Sheridan, Wyoming (area code 307). The 3 also identifies this as the third Weatherby action while the 7 hints at this design’s compatibility with an iconic rifle action—the Remington 700. The Model 307 is an updated take on the Model 700 and the Weatherby will be compatible with most aftermarket Remington 700 parts. All Weatherby 307 rifles will come with a spiral fluted bolt, durable M16-style extractor and TriggerTech trigger. Weatherby promises that these rifles will shoot sub-MOA, and they’ll be built in the Sheridan factory.
“With more accessories available for a 700 platform than any other bolt action rifle in the world, the goal for our third action was to come up with a design that could accommodate the vast offerings of stocks, triggers, rails, mounts, magazines and so forth that exist in the marketplace,” says CEO Adam Weatherby. “While keeping the importance of compatibility in mind, we also committed ourselves to keeping this ‘made in the USA’ rifle.”
The first Weatherby Model 307 rifle will be the Range XP, which comes with a stock offering adjustable length of pull and comb height. It utilizes Magpul removable magazines and features a vertical pistol grip, dual front sling studs and a spiral-fluted threaded barrel with brake for an MSRP of $1,199. Caliber offerings haven’t been made public, but no doubt the Range XP and future Model 307 rifles will be available in a range of Weatherby and non-Weatherby calibers for hunters.
Why We Love It: The Waypoint is a top-shelf rifle made from premium components and is backed by a 3/4 MOA accuracy guarantee.
The Lowdown: Not much has changed since Springfield introduced the Waypoint 2020 a few years ago, but that’s because demand has remained very high for these well-designed rifles. All feature carbon fiber stocks with the option for adjustable combs and a choice of steel fluted or carbon fiber wrapped threaded barrels with SA radial brakes, TriggerTech triggers, AICS magazines and many other features. Prices range from $2,173 to $2,670. Springfield promises .75 MOA accuracy, and both Waypoint 2020s I’ve carried hunting met that level of accuracy with factory ammo.
In addition to superb accuracy, these rifles offer no fewer than five QD attachment mounts for your sling and an MLOK rail on the forearm. I like that this setup allows me to mount a bipod and sling out of the way of one another. The cylindrical action is silky smooth, and vertical pistol grip, oversized bolt knob and two-position safety are well positioned for easy access and comfort.
The included top rail makes mounting optics on this gun easy, and small touches throughout add to the Springfield’s appeal including unique camo paint pattern on the stock with a custom-fit Pachmayr Decelerator recoil pad with angular corners that perfectly match those on the stock.
You’d be hard-pressed to find anything but praise for the Waypoint 2020, and it’s rare to see a company succeed so brilliantly with their first entry into a new market segment. Now, the only question that remains is when we’ll see additional chamberings available and a magnum version.
S20 Hunter Fusion
Why We Love it: The superb S20 offers updated features and typical Sako build quality at a price that seems almost too low to believe.
The Lowdown: Sako’s S20 is a modular bolt-action chassis rifle with removable forearms and buttstocks that allows customization for a variety of shooting or hunting applications. Integral mounts make securing a scope simple and the standard thumbhole stock offers a comfortable and stable platform for long-range shooting. Weight is modest—around 8 pounds—and the First Light Fusion camo stock and Tungsten Cerakote finish barrel are both attractive and durable. Threaded (5/8 x 24), fluted barrels with muzzle brakes come standard with these rifles, and the extractor and ejector are Sako’s own time-tested design. The quality of the S20’s design is nothing shocking from Sako, but the price is: MSRP is $1,599, a bargain for a rifle of this—ahem—caliber.
Nexus Rifle System
Why We Love It: The high-tech Nexus offers the build quality, outside-the-box engineering and accuracy you’d expect from Gunwerks at a very un-Gunwerks price.
The Lowdown: The Nexus is a premium hunting rifle with a long list of top-end components including a carbon fiber stock with very cool leather inserts, a premium NXT action and interchangeable carbon fiber barrels. The aluminum action and double-stack magazine is Gunwerks’ own creation. With a starting price of $5,475, the Nexus is hardly inexpensive, but it’s Gunwerks’ most affordable rifle and it gives up none of the astounding accuracy that has made this company famous. I tested this rifle at Gunwerks’ famed Sheep Mountain shooting course, and I can assure you of its supreme accuracy.
Why We Love It: The strikingly handsome Lupo Walnut BE.S.T. rifle adds two new chamberings this year, making these ultra-accurate Italian rifles even more desirable.
The Lowdown: The Lupo Walnut was a big hit when Benelli launched it last year, and for 2023 the company adds two new chamberings: .308 Win and .30-06. Lupo rifles couple a free-floated CRIO barrel to a hardened steel barrel extension bedded to a steel block in the chassis-style alloy receiver. The AA-grade satin walnut stock features Benelli’s Progressive Comfort recoil reduction system and includes spacers to customize it for your pull-length and trigger reach. Speaking of which, a crisp adjustable (2.2- to 4.4-pound) trigger also comes included.
Last year on a DIY hunt in Alaska I dragged a Benelli Lupo through some incredibly rough terrain and the patented BE.S.T. (Benelli surface treatment) survived the abusive episode with nary a scratch nor blemish. One Lupo rifle I tested in .30-06 put five shots under an inch at 100 yards with factory ammo, making it the most accurate factory rifle I’ve tested in that caliber. MSRP for these rifles is $2,199.
M21 Carbon Chassis Hunter
Why We Love It: A competition-inspired chassis gun that weighs in at a modest 7 pounds.
The Lowdown: Nosler’s first chassis rifle is bound to win the favor of hunters who want the features of a precision rifle without the added bulk. A Model 21 action is paired with a Sendero-contour carbon fiber-wrapped threaded barrel. V-Block bedding and a TriggerTech primary trigger help improve accuracy, and the stylish magnesium alloy frame and foam-filled carbon fiber-wrapped foldable buttstock that is LOP and comb height adjustable help keep this gun at a manageable weight. The slathering of carbon fiber continues onto the pistol grip and ARCA rail-equipped forearm. The Model 21 CCH, which is chambered in 6.5 Creedmoor, 6.5 PRC, 28 Nosler and .300 Win Mag, utilizes AICS magazines and is perhaps the best hybrid hunting/precision rifle on the market. MSRP is $5,395.
Why We Love It: A lightweight mountain rifle perfect for extreme backcountry hunts without breaking the bank.
The Lowdown: Combining Howa’s M1500 reduced short action with a carbon fiber stock and a light contour 20-inch threaded barrel, the Super Lite weighs under 4 pounds, 8 ounces and still offers a sub-MOA accuracy guarantee. The one-piece rail makes mounting optics fast and easy, and you can customize it further to your tastes with a host of new stock colors announced this year, including a walnut stock version that weighs just 5 pounds, 9 ounces.
The Superlite is currently chambered in 6.5 Creedmoor and .308 Win, but Howa plans to add .243 Win and 7mm-08 offerings sometime this year. Measuring just 39-inches long, the Superlite is short enough for heavy timber, treestands or wherever else your hunting may take you. MSRP is $1,039.
Why We Love It: All the accuracy and dependability you expect from Tikka, and a price that’s hard to beat. Who could ask for more?
The Lowdown: Tikka made a name for itself by offering affordable bolt-action hunting rifles that outshot the competition at a lower price. To say that made waves in the industry is an understatement, but despite a flurry of competitors aimed (so to speak) at the T3x, this gun still stands apart. These rifles come with a stainless-steel barrel and action, steel recoil lug, 2–4-pound trigger, noise-reducing polymer stock and a wider ejection port to resist jamming. Weighing around 6 pounds, these Finnish rifles are ideal for hunting in rugged mountains and backcountry trips, and every Tikka I’ve tested displayed superb accuracy. And at a MSRP of $999, good luck finding a similarly equipped rifle under four figures.
Impulse Mountain Hunter
Why We Love It: Finally, an American-made straight-pull centerfire that’s light enough to bring elk hunting.
The Lowdown: Savage’s American-made straight-pull Impulse is very popular, but at around 9 pounds, most hunters found the original rifle too hefty for serious high-country adventuring. Enter the Impulse Mountain Hunter, which comes with a light PROOF Research carbon fiber threaded barrel that cuts weight down to the 7-pound range. My first experience with this rifle didn’t produce fast follow-ups because of my ham-fisted attempts to overwork the bolt (a simple flick and pull will do the trick), but I eventually caught on. Accuracy was in the .7-inch range for all three factory 6.5 PRC loads I tested. MSRP for the Impulse Mountain Hunter is $2,437.
1895 High Grade
Why We Love It: Despite being nearly 130 years old, Teddy Roosevelt’s “Big Medicine” is still perfect for big bulls at close range.
The Lowdown: Winchester revived the 1895, and that’s a good thing. John Browning’s innovative box magazine lever action can be loaded with pointed bullets, so Winchester is offering these rifles chambered in Roosevelt’s favorite .405 Winchester round as well as .30-06 and .30-40, all potent elk calibers. You can add a side-mount sight, but I’d stick with the Marble gold bead front sight with either the included adjustable buckhorn rear sight or an aftermarket aperture so as not to break up the 1895’s sleek, classic lines. The grade III/IV oil-finished stock looks great with the 1895’s deep, rich bluing. It’s a modern classic.
Wilderness Ridge Carbon
Why We Love It: The lightweight Ridge Carbon offers a long list of premium features at an attractive price.
The Lowdown: Bergara rifles have enjoyed tremendous success over the past several years, and guns like the Ridge Carbon are the reason why. This rifle’s B-14 push-feed action is paired with a threaded #6 contour Bergara carbon fiber/410 stainless barrel with an Omni brake. The metalwork features a Sniper Grey Cerakote finish and these rifles come with crisp triggers that help achieve promised sub-MOA accuracy. The synthetic camo stock comes with a SoftTouch finish and epoxy spiderweb pattern.
These rifles handle well and shoot superbly at an easy-to-tote weight between 6 pounds, 6 ounces and 6 pounds, 11 ounces. MSRP is $1,599, a good value for an elk rifle loaded with high-end features.
1886 TC86 Takedown
Why We Love It: Ready-made to disappear into your pack as you disappear into the deep woods, this rifle is a splendid modern take on John Browning’s 1886.
The Lowdown: The TC86 Takedown is chambered in .45-70 and breaks down to carry in a backpack for wilderness hunts. Classically styled with a color case receiver and checkered walnut stock, it comes ready to mount modern scopes with a forward-mounted rail and a 5/8 x 24 threaded muzzle makes it easy to mount a suppressor. But if you want to keep it old-school, it comes with ghost ring sights suitable for close-range hunting. The TC86 Takedown blends the look of the classic 1886 big bore with modern amenities that make this a more practical elk rifle. MSRP is $2,025.
Why We Love It: The versatile Hunter 29 allows hunters to have a solid rest in any shooting position on any terrain.
The Lowdown: New rifles and ammunition may encourage hunters to extend their effective range, but accurate shots often hinge on finding a solid rest. The Swagger Hunter 29 is stable from 6 ¾ all the way up to 29 inches, allowing shots from a prone, seated or kneeling position. It’s also ready for any weather with a nitride finish on the springs and spring housing to protect against damage and corrosion, while removable rubber feet reveal spikes that dig into uneven surfaces. Quick Adapt Technology allows you to secure the bipod to a sling stud, MLOK or Picatinny rail, or just about any other interface found on today’s hunting rifles (a standard rifle adapter is included). At just 23.6 ounces, the versatile Swagger Hunter 29 can improve your performance in the field and won’t slow you down. MSRP $169.
Leather & Canvas Gun Case
Why We Love It: This is simply the Cadillac of gun cases. If you’ve got a shotgun or rifle you count in your top-five prized possessions, you need to take a good long look at Boyt Harness Company’s Leather & Canvas Gun Case.
The Lowdown: Handcrafted in the USA with a rugged, water-resistant, 20oz cotton canvas and paired with rich brown, top grain leather accents that combine to create a striking exterior contrast. A quilted, flannel lining cradles the family heirloom or newest-to-the-market firearm on the inside. Antique brass hardware and rolled leather handles make this case handsome as all get out, which practical items should be. This American made gun case will be sure to draw your hunting buddies’ jealous eyes at an MSRP of $199. Go to boytharness.com to learn more.
Real Avid’s Master Gun Workstation
Why We Love It: This is the perfect tool for people who take cleaning, maintaining and mounting optics to their firearms seriously. This is not just a vice; it’s a complete gun workstation. Say goodbye to the frustration that comes from fighting with your vice, because the features of this workstation make it easy to seamlessly maintain your guns. Place your firearm in the vice and tighten it in with one hand with the quick-adjustable clamp.
The Lowdown: The Gun Gripper technology provides unshakable stability while never marring or scratching your firearm. Make sure your gun stays level while you mount your scope with the built-in leveling knob. The yoke is one-hand adjustable for both width and height, and with 18.3 inches of travel, it easily accommodates the longest rifles and shotguns. This workstation is also thoughtfully designed to include integrated storage for chemicals, brushes, jags and cleaning rods. Magnetized trays keep small parts in reach and off the floor, and the chemical-resistant metal base tray gives you a space to put larger parts and tools. For more gun tool solutions designed for the do-it-yourself firearm owner, visit realavid.com.