December 05, 2023
Part of my duty as a gun writer has been to roundup all the new hunting rifles that are available each year, and over the last decade I’ve noticed a surprising trend: Cartridges like the 6.5 Creedmoor, 6.5 PRC, 28 Nosler, and the new 7mm PRC have gained immense popularity in a relatively short period of time, while the .30-06 Springfield, which was once the standard-bearer for big-game cartridges, has been largely ignored in recent years. In fact, many new bolt-action hunting rifles aren’t even chambered in .30-06, which would have been unimaginable 20 or 30 years ago. It’s certainly been a bear market for the old ’06 lately.
While it’s very true that new cartridges like the 6.5 PRC offer better ballistics than the .30-06, especially at extended ranges, that doesn’t mean that the aught-six is any less adept at killing game than it was 50 years ago. And despite the dearth of attention the old aught-six receives, it remains one of the best-selling hunting cartridges on the market today. The reason for the .30-06’s success is simple: It doesn’t produce excessive recoil, and it shoots flat enough and hits hard enough for hunting just about any animal on earth.
If you’re a .30-06 fan the new wave of high-BC hunting cartridges hasn’t diminished the versatility of your favorite hunting round, and there are lots of great hunting rifles available chambered for the ’06 with an asking price around $750 or less. Here’s a look at eight of the best budget-friendly .30-06 rifles available today.
Ruger American Rifle
The Ruger American Rifle is consistently one of the top-five selling bolt-action rifles in the United States each month, and it’s no mystery why these guns remain so popular. A three-lug full-diameter bolt comes standard, as does a Ruger Marksman adjustable bladed trigger. The patented Power Bedding system ensures consistent accuracy, and these rifles shoot far better than what you might expect given the price point. While many of the budget bolt guns released in the last 10 years promise sub-MOA accuracy, the American is one gun that actually delivers on that promise, and many shooters find that these rifles shoot well under 1 inch at 100 yards with loads they prefer. The detachable rotary box magazine is well-designed and fits securely in the rifle. And while the injection molded stock certainly has a plastic feel, it’s well designed and offers a secure and comfortable hold on the rifle. I carried an American rifle on a black bear hunt in Alberta, and although pinpoint accuracy wasn’t required on that hunt the Ruger was certainly one of the most accurate .30-06 rifles I’ve shot.
Price: $599 and up
Mossberg built its reputation on American-made shotguns that offered years of outstanding reliability, and the Mossberg Patriot rifle fits the company's mantra of providing hard-working firearms for shooters at an affordable price point. There’s nothing particularly fancy about the entry-level Patriot which comes with a black injection-molded stock, a polymer detachable magazine and a basic blued finish, but everything on these guns works well. The two-lug bolt runs smoothly in the action and the LBA adjustable bladed trigger is relatively crisp and clean. Fluted barrels and a spiral-fluted bolt are nice touches, but the entry-level Patriot is a bare-bones working rifle that, well, works. Mount a quality scope on these guns and they’ll kill game just as effectively as many four-figure rifles, and I’ve never encountered a mechanical issue with any of the Patriot rifles I’ve tested. Over the last decade I’ve hunted whitetail and Coues deer, aoudad and ibex with Patriot rifles and in every case the rifle performed perfectly.
Price: $468 and up
Browning A-Bolt III
The A-Bolt III was Browning’s entry into the budget rifle market, and it’s a fine rifle that doesn’t look or feel cheap. In fact, the AB3 uses the same barrel as Browning’s flagship X-Bolt, so it should come as no surprise that these rifles are very accurate. The barrel is free floated, and the bolt is a three-lug design with a short bolt lift. There are both composite- and walnut-stocked versions of the AB3 available (known as the Composite Stalker and Hunter, respectively) and there’s a composite compact version that’s available chambered for several short-action cartridges like 6.5 Creedmoor and .243 Winchester. The AB3 comes with a separate two-position tang-mounted safety and bolt unlock button so the action can be operated with the safety engaged. This also means that the action will not inadvertently drop open when the bolt handle contacts brush as with many rifles with two-position safeties. These guns are certainly worthy of the A-Bolt name.
Price: $700 (Composite Stalker), $780 (Hunter)
Tikka rifles set a new standard of accuracy and affordability and the company is largely responsible for the budget bolt gun revolution that was result of other manufacturers scrambling to keep up with their Finnish counterparts. The action features an ejection port compared to the open-top design of, say, a Remington 700 and that added metal improves rigidity and accuracy. Interestingly, the Tikka T3X has a two-lug bolt with a 70-degree lift, a feat of engineering that at once reduces bolt lift yet requires less torque than a typical three-lug bolt to operate. The T3X Lite comes with a synthetic stock and detachable box magazine and the .30-06 version comes with a 22.4-inch barrel and weighs under six-and-a-half pounds. The single stage trigger is exceptionally crisp and the Tikka rifles I’ve shot and hunted with have all been tack-drivers. Because they’re so popular there are boatloads of accessories available for these guns including scope rail options, spare magazines, and extra bolts. You could certainly pay more for a hunting rifle, but with all the Tikkas continue to offer at under $800 do you really need to?
Savage Axis/Axis II
The Savage Axis family of rifles is an example of how even very affordable rifles can be engineered to be accurate and reliable. The Axis is a very basic bolt gun with a 22-inch carbon steel button-rifled barrel, detachable magazine and a basic black injection-molded stock. It doesn’t offer much in the way of fancy features but with a quality scope and ammunition this is a serviceable .30-06 bolt gun that will work for most of the world’s game. While the Axis is the most affordable rifle in the family, I believe that the Axis II is a better value. It costs a bit more (though it’s MSRP is still below $500) but it comes with an upgraded adjustable AccuTrigger that improves accuracy and performance. There are a bevvy of models from which to choose with various finishes and stock colors, but all the Axis guns are great values. If you’re looking for a basic, affordable gun that will get the job done in the field, then Savage’s Axis rifles are a solid option.
Price: $429 and up
Another product of the bargain rifle blitz of the mid-2010s, the XPR is Winchester’s first new bolt-action centerfire rifle design to be released since the Model 70’s debut prior to World War II. Needless to say, the XPR had some mighty big shoes to fill, but it did so effectively. Despite its shared lineage with the Model 70, the XPR is a complete departure from the “rifleman’s rifle.” In place of the Model 70’s Mauser-type controlled feed action, the XPR features a modern push-feed three-lug design. Like the AB3 from Browning, the XPR features a separate safety and bolt unlock buttons so that the gun can be operated with the safety engaged. There are dozens of variations of the XPR available, including left-handed versions, suppressor-ready models, compacts, and there’s even a thumbhole stock option. I carried an XPR on a Wyoming whitetail hunt and the gun performed splendidly, dropping a mature buck as he snuck out of a coulee on a windy morning. A rifle with a four-figure price tag couldn’t have performed any better.
Price: $570 and up
CVA has long been known for its muzzleloaders, but the company’s Cascade rifle is one of the best bolt guns in the sub-$1,000 price category. The cascade come with a lot of very appealing features like a precision Bergara barrel, Cerakote FDE finish, dual front sling studs, and a threaded muzzle, all of which belie its sub-$800 price tag. It features a three-lug bolt with a short lift and the receiver is drilled and tapped for Savage 110 bases. Operation is smooth and the trigger is good for a factory gun in this price range. The handful of Cascade rifles I’ve shot have all been very accurate with quality ammunition, and even with a machined steel receiver these guns weigh less than seven pounds. Fit and finish are very good as well, and based on the quality of these rifles, it’s clear that CVA’s first attempt at a bolt-action centerfire rifle has been a major success.
A few years ago, a friend told me he wanted a solid hunting rifle in a versatile caliber and I suggested a Weatherby Vanguard Synthetic in .30-06. He’s used that rifle on Newfoundland moose, Texas aoudad, and a variety of other game and told me he’s never regretted purchasing that gun. That’s not surprising, as I have never met one Vanguard owner (myself included) who regretted their purchase. Even the most basic version of the Vanguard with its synthetic stock and blued metalwork is guaranteed to shoot sub-MOA and every rifle I’ve encountered will do just that given good ammo and the hands of a competent shooter. Made in Japan by Howa on their venerable 1500 push-feed action, the Vanguard features a two-stage trigger and a three-position safety. And, unlike some guns on the list, it doesn’t look cheap. Buy a Vanguard in .30-06, put a premium scope on it and practice and, just like my buddy, you’ll find it’s a rifle suitable for all sorts of hunting situations.
Price: $630 and up
While it may not enjoy the same level of popularity it used to, the .30-06 is still getting it done every year in the hands of American sportsman. Have any additions to our list of current-production bolt guns? Send us a note a firstname.lastname@example.org using “Sound Off” in the subject line.
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