Hey y’all. Last time I spoke about “good” hunting rifles that hunters on a budget should consider. I appreciate the response I received. It seems there is no shortage of folks who cannot spend $900 – 1200 on a hunting rifle. The problem has been getting reliable comparisons and information on weapons in the working person’s spendable range. I did hear from a couple folks that thought I was off base and that quality firearms are not expensive because they hold their value, are built better, last longer blah, blah, blah. Of course they are built better…but the point is that if you cannot afford to buy one without taking food off your families’ table, you are not going to buy one of the those high dollar pieces.
Don’t misunderstand me. If you can afford a custom rifle, fine, go for it. This article is not about you. My CamoSpace friend, Bob Hart, builds some sweet custom rifles that shoot incredibly well. But you are not going to get one for $400-500. The situation is that a working class family has a need to purchase a rifle for Dad or a son or daughter just starting out. I gave some excellent alternatives for them last time. Today, I am going even further down the firearm evolution scale and talk about what can be bought to hunt deer with for LESS than $200. I swear I just heard someone say they would not be caught dead with a deer rifle that costs less than $200. For the record there are some excellent deer/pronghorn/elk class rifles available in that range. I see them every day. I am talking about good, well made bolt action rifles. The guns I am referring to saw their reputations built over two world wars, in dreadful conditions and in many corners of the world.
Ahhh, he’s talking about those dadgum military rifles….
YES, by George, I am. When you have made a science out of hunting and fishing on a budget (for nearly fifty years), you leave no stone unturned. All it takes is a little research. One of those military actions is the most copied action ever made, the Model 98 Mauser. Keep in mind, saying 98 Mauser is like saying Chevrolet. It doesn’t really narrow down what we are referring to, but is a starting point. Variations and a few predecessors of the 98 are available today for less than $200, if you shop around. The calibers will vary from 7X57, 8X57, 7.65 Argentine, 6.5 X55 Swedish, 7.5 Swiss, 308 Winchester and 30-06. Any of these calibers are commercially available and very lethal. If you pick up one of these weapons in full military dress, you will probably remove some of the excess wood to lighten the rifle. The sights that come on these weapons are adjustable out to over 1000 yards and are very accurate and serviceable. A couple of my favorites are the Model 95 Chilean Mauser (produced by Lowe in Berlin) in a 7X57 carbine and the K31 Swiss in 7.5 mm. The Swiss has the original straight pull bolt, now used commercially by Mauser and Blaser (pronounced like Mauser). It is fast, fool proof and utilized on an extremely accurate firearm. The caliber is fine for deer and deer-sized game out to 300 yards, for the average hunter. The little 7X57 carbine is a joy to carry and 300 yards is a piece of cake. Eleanor O’Connor, wife of legendary outdoor writer Jack O’Connor, used a 7×57 to take virtually all major game animals around the world, including an elephant. This is not to say that a 7X57 is that powerful, on the contrary. It is a testament that its excellent power can be used to its maximum because of its mild recoil and barrel jump. You may remember that Jack, the consummate champion of the 270, equaled his wife’s feat (except for the elephant) with his Winchester 270.
Another favorite in this category is the 7.65 Argentine. Most often it is found in the Model 1891. Well made, very accurate but like the Mosin-Nagant K-31 Swiss, the 1891 has a fixed box magazine that extends down to near the base of the trigger guard. It doesn’t affect function; it merely uglies the weapon up a bit. If you can locate a decent Model 1909 Argentine, it offers a truncated magazine (how about that fancy word – truncated – just means flush to the rifle stock). This is a boon if you want to put an after market stock on and dress it up a bit. These rifles are mostly German built, but there were some external contracts given to produce the rifle. The Argentine and Peruvian versions are considered by most military enthusiasts to be the preferred Argentines. If you can grab a good Model 1891 that has not been altered, you can have it sent direct to your house (California and New York residents check your state laws). It does not come under the 1968 Gun Control act as it was made prior to 1898 and is not considered made for modern ammo. The caliber fits the bill on deer and with some handloading and tweaking can be serviceable on elk out to 300-350 yards. The variable with the 7.65 and the other military calibers is if a bullet is produced that is designed for thicker skinned animals like the elk. At this writing I could make an elk rifle out of any of the above calibers.
Next on the list is the 303 British. It is most often found in the Lee Enfield SMLE version. The caliber is a bit below 308 in power; however Hornady offers a light magnum 303 British that puts it solidly in the factory 308 range. This is a good deer load but the 139 grain bullet is lacking muscle for elk, etc. Factory loaded 174 grain loads out to 200 yards (basically muzzle loader range) will dispatch an elk. The weapons are very well made and are still available inexpensively. Again, it may come with a beat up military wood stock, but you can dress that stock up easily. A difference from the Mausers, I believe that the Enfield’s cock-on-close cannot be altered to the cock-on-open. But I do not find that a problem.
My ultimate favorite in the military class is usually the cheapest to purchase and most unknown. However, lately it has become very collectable, in certain versions. The caliber is 7.62X54R, or as I call it….the 308 Russian. The rifle is the Mosin-Nagant bolt rifle co-developed by a Belgian and a Russian. These are extremely well made and very dependable. Every one that I have fired has been very accurate. The round falls between 308 and 30-06 in power. The most common models are the model 91/30 and model 44.
The 91/30 is a full length rifle with a 29 inch barrel. The model 44 is the Russian version, with folding bayonet affixed to the muzzle. Either can be bought for under $100 and require very little to be huntable. However, the bayonet on the 44 is troublesome, at best, to neatly remove. The model 38 Finnish does not have the bayonet and makes for less work. All the variants of the 44 are carbines with 16 inch barrels.
They will flat shoot at 300 yards with the military ramp iron sights that come on them. I did this with five consequtive rounds from a Model 44 at the city range in Las Cruces, NM. I simply slid the well-marked sight ramp up to the number “3” (300 yards), laid the front sight blade in the slotted rear sight and carefully squeezed. All five rounds hit the silhouette target (a ram) behind the shoulder. These guns are starting to be discovered, however. In a few years the Russians will get their due on building quality weapons in the WWII era, as they have for the ones they now produce.
One thing that all of these weapons have in common and can be a stumbling block is the triggers. They all employ a two-stage works-regardless-of-how-much-mud-is-in-it trigger. These triggers can be annoyingly stiff with a long trigger pull. The problem is very easily correct on most of them by a 6/48 screw. If you get one or have one and needs help on the trigger, contact me and I will be glad to help. There are after market triggers available, but you know how much I hate to spend money.
Should you want to use a scope, all of these weapons have scope mounts readily available, although the rifle will have to be drilled and tapped. Virtually anyone can afford one of these pieces. They may not be pretty, but they sure beat not hunting. I would have no reservations taking any of these models hunting for any game animals in North America, except perhaps the biggest bears. Lets face it, if your pick up looks like it escaped from the junk yard and people hand you money when you stand beside it at Winn Dixie…you really don’t mind that your deer rifle won’t win any beauty contests. All you know is that it cost very little and killed the buck in the back of that prize pickup. That’s being a Frugal sportsman. An, hey, if you already have one or seven of these rifles, let me know about yours.
When you head outdoors this summer – take a youngster with you and pass it forward. Remember, enjoy the outdoors…just do it cheaply. God Bless