If you're considering buying a rifle for deer stalking then you need to think long and hard about what you actually want from it and how you are going to use it.
Our experts have reviewed 14 rifles for deer stalking that have proven popular and ranked highly with our reviewers.
Choosing a calibre
Consider the calibre that will fit your deer species — for example, if you only have muntjac and Chinese water deer, a .22 centrefire, a .222, a .223 or .22-250 would be fine. If you have the chance at roe as well, then legally in England and Wales you need to start at 0.240 minimum calibre, so practically a .243 Winchester would be good. With the proper bullets the .243 Win would also suit fallow or red, but personally I prefer a .308 Win, 6.5×55 or 7×57 for these species.
What about used options?
Choosing a good second-hand rifle for deer stalking actually has become more difficult because there are so many really good rifles out there. Shooters will often trade up for the latest model, so a good, almost unused, model can be bought quite reasonably. I certainly would look at second-hand Tikka T3, Browning A or X-Bolt rifles as well as Ruger M77 and the Howa 1500 series of rifles. These are good-quality bolt-action rifles available in varying styles or stock material and light or heavy barrel configuration — the choice is dictated by whether you are sitting in a high seat or walking a lot.
Rifles for deer stalking
Our reviewer notes that you don’t see many of these on the shelves of second-hand gun dealers. Is that because it’s an unpopular model or because owners tend to hang onto this rifle? Read our expert’s conclusion in his review of the Steyr Mannlicher Pro Hunter.
First time out stalking a fallow buck for our reviewer – how did the gun perform? Why have we chosen it as one of our popular rifles for deerstalking? You can read what Sporting Gun’s editor thought and the review of the Merkel RX Helix here.
3. Sako 85
The Sako 85 is a development of the much respected 75 model. It has an improved magazine system, which requires upward pressure on the magazine floor in order to operate the release catch. The flush-fitting magazine is fabricated from steel, and the hammer-forged, fully floating barrel is guaranteed to one minute of angle. The Sako 85 is available in an extremely wide range of calibres and there are models offering both composite and wooden stocks, most with threaded barrels.
4. Blaser R8
For the shooter who wants one firearm that can be changed into a fox, deer or even an African game rifle in seconds, the Blaser R8 has to rank as one of the best.
Our reviewer says:”I hope British shooters take notice of this rifle.” A stalking rifle which is well priced and available in a wide range of popular UK calibres.
Since its introduction in 1962, the Remington Model 700 is still going strong, and its longevity is testimony to the appeal and quality of the rifle. It has been described as: “One of the most popular hunting rifles ever conceived”.
7. CZ 550
Out of the box, a classic rifle – far cheaper than having a custom rifle made in these calibres.
8. Sauer 202
Pro stalkers have a great respect for the gun and it has increased in popularity considerably in recent years and deservedly so.
9. Mauser M03
At a cost of £1,377 for the standard model, the M03 is competitively priced and, as the range tests show, it is a fine shooting rifle.
The Tikka T3 is probably the best-selling stalking rifle in the UK today. It’s earned a reputation as being dependable and the rifle is certainly capable.
A gun that can handle anything from foxes to big game due to its calibre choice from .223 to .300 Win Mag. Designed as a compact, longer-range, fast-handling rifle, the Pantera is equally good in the field.
A perfect marriage of old world English styling and German engineering. Available in a woman’s version too.
A smart stalker-friendly .223 that combines shooting well with good looks and great handling
The rifle of choice for many hunters, this superb all-rounder from a well-respected brand is worthy of its praise.
Other stalking rifles to consider
- Holland & Holland .375
- Ruger 77
- Anderson Wheeler. Famously supplied the double .500 for the Bond film, Skyfall, but also makes a top notch, especially-well-finished Mauser ‘98 style double-lug bolt rife. A classic and superbly stylish London stalking rifle.
- Westley Richards
- Howa (because it offers good value)
Q: I’m wondering about deer stalking rifles. I’ve been considering a .243 but would this be the best all-round rifle for this purpose? And what about scopes? My budget for both is about £4,000 tops.
So with this budget you’ve got some money left over to spend on a sound moderator and ammunition, plus a good rifle cleaning kit.
What would I choose? Any of bolt-action rifles on the market today. Value for money is offered by such names as Tikka, Sako, Remington and Ruger. However with the funds you have available, you could look at a premium rifle from the likes of Heym, Steyr Mannlicher, Merkel or Sauer.
You’ll probably be wanting the traditional blued steel and a walnut stock, which you could upgrade with your sort of budget. If you wanted to, you could also have some engraving done to personalise your new rifle.
You might like to look at the Blaser R93 and Heym SR30. These ultrafast, straight pull bolt designs are popular in the UK and provide a quick-exchange barrel system so that you could also buy a varmint or big game barrel — making your original purchase very economical. I also like the Mauser M03, which is a modern interpretation of the old Mauser 98 bolt-action. This rifle is strong, sturdy and accurate, and also offers a barrel change system for versatility.
Tips on buying second-hand rifles for deer stalking
- The bore condition is critical to good accuracy and a gunsmith should be able to show you the bore with bolt removed to reveal no rust, little wear to the rifling and, importantly, no rust or scratches around the muzzle end.
- Check that the magazine feeds correctly, using rifle snap caps and make sure the stock is not cracked around the magazine well and pistol grip area.
- Ask about the provenance of the rifle. Was the previous owner a keeper or an enthusiast? If it wasn’t used in a professional capacity the rifle will probably have had less use and be more of a bargain.
- Handle as many of the second-hand rifle stock at your local gunsmiths as you can to find the one that suits your stature and build.