Ask Foghorn: Best Bolt Action Hunting Rifle for Under $500?

Josh asks:

I’ve been whitetail hunting where I live (Alabama) with a Marlin .30-30 for years now, and while it’s been great, I really would like to be able to reach out a little farther than the .30-30 cartridge wants to. I’ve always wanted a bolt-action .30-06, and I first gravitated towards the Remington 700, but now I’m seriously considering the Mossberg 100 ATR. Price is a major factor, as I’m not looking to spend more than $500 for rifle + scope. Point me in the right direction, please sir.

I fully admit this one came in yesterday. And while it may be jumping the queue a little bit, its only because this is the exact same question that hunters across the country are asking right now in preparation for the upcoming hunting season. And the 100 ATR may not be the best choice . . .

I’m not saying its a bad choice, but there are better rifles.

I reviewed the Mossberg 100 ATR well over a year ago and my opinion of the rifle hasn’t changed. Its an okay rifle — a 2 MoA shooter for about $360. Three solid, very respectable stars. But since that rifle was reviewed, some new players have come onto the field and I have to admit I like all of them more than the 100 ATR.

The next rung up would be the Ruger American Rifle, which I reviewed in .30-06 Springfield. Its $10 cheaper, AND the improvements in the fit and finish of the gun are clear. A better free floating stock, a detachable internal magazine and a FAR superior bedding system make this rifle a definite step up from the Mossberg.

But if you’re willing to spend just a hair more money, there’s a real treat on the other side of that $500 barrier.

Say it with me — “Weatherby.”

Weatherby came out with their Series 2 Vanguard rifles at SHOT Show this year and they have proven to be absolutely wonderful rifles. This one — my personal Weatherby — has been stacking shots at 100 yards all year long with no problems, leaving one ragged hole in the target at the end of the day. There’s a reason that when I reviewed the Weatherby Vanguard Series 2 I gave it 4.5 stars. And while the MSRP is just a hair over your $500 limit, Bud’s has these for about $460 in your caliber of choice.

As for a scope for that bad boy, my default recommendation is the Konus 4×32 Riflescope. You may have noticed it in all of the pictures above. At just about $65 MSRP, this thing is just enough glass to get you solid hits out to 250 yards. Anything past that and you may want to consider paying more for a scope than it takes to fill up your tank.

[Email your firearms-related questions to “Ask Foghorn” via guntruth@me.com. Click here to browse previous posts]

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About Nick Leghorn

Nick Leghorn is a gun nerd living and working in San Antonio, Texas. In his free time, he's a competition shooter (USPSA, 3-gun and NRA High Power), aspiring pilot, and enjoys mixing statistics and science with firearms. Now on sale: Getting Started with Firearms by yours truly!

54 Responses to Ask Foghorn: Best Bolt Action Hunting Rifle for Under $500?

  1. avatarNathan says:

    Got any advice on left handed bolt actions? I don’t think Weatherby makes them in the Vanguard series, and the best I’m finding under $500 are the Savage 11/111 rifles.

    • avatarOHgunner says:

      Post tagged for interest… As a southpaw, a right hand AR is passable, but RH bolt actions are a no go. Period.

      • avatarInternational Jeff says:

        Savage makes TONS of left handed rifles. The Trophy Hunter XP series is respectable and is sub-$500 (no glass).

        • avataradam says:

          right now I am on the hunt for a left handed bolt gun. I was ready to pull the trigger on a Tikka (I had previously had 2 t3′s and they were great guns) But my experience with the a$$hats at the NYC Beretta showroom put a kayobosh on that –(no more beretta or any brands the distribute for me). I am going with a Savage 10 in 308. The price is right for me, they have a stellar reputation for shooting well, and with a little gunsmithing, I can change the barrel out and have a 308 and a 260 for pretty short money.

        • avatarChrisJ says:

          Actually that’s just sub-$500 with a very respectable Nikon BDC 3-9x-40, and the accutrigger.

          I love the living hell out of mine in 204 Ruger.

      • avatarBLAMMO says:

        Because of my left-eye-dominance, I started shooting left-handed when I was young. Boy am I glad I re-learned to shoot right-handed. You guys get no love.

        • avatarKB says:

          Blammo

          I have left eye dominant too. What did you do to relearn shooting right handed?

      • avatarDrewN says:

        Eh, I actually think RH bolts are better for lefties if you’re shooting supported or from a bench. Dangerous game rifles are a little more problematic, but if I’m ever in a situation where I need to cycle my DG rifle at speed, I’m pretty sure reaquiring my target won’t be an issue, provided I’m not screaming in terror like a little girl.

    • avatarChristian says:

      Tikka T3

      They make left handers, and between my dad and I we have 3; .270, .25-06, .300WSM. They all shoot amazing and are basically built with a Sako action, if I needed another bolt action I wouldn’t hesitate to buy another

    • I shoot a left handed Ruger Hawkeye & love it: sub MOA accuracy & a trigger that’s way better than Ruger offered in the past.
      They’re out there for less than $600 too.

    • avatarAnthony says:

      I have left handed savage 110c with the clip option from the 60s ultra smooth bolt action and paired with a leopould 3×9 adjustable scope. Shoots a quarter at 100 yrds year after year without ever needing a adjustment. Vargis14@gmail.com if interested or call 610 742 2031

  2. avatarspymyeyes says:

    Thank you.

    I never even looked at the Weatherby products because of the name-brand price range issues. I know about their reputation and would have never dreamed that you could get their quality for under a grand.

    I have yet to buy my 1st hunting rifle and been doing a lot of research to see how to get the best bang for my buck, and where I live (mountains of NH) I will rarely if at all have the opportunity to shoot anything over 100 yards because of terrain & vegitation issues so I think taking advatage of dual-use ammo, I am going to buy a Henry lever action chambered in 45LC because I already own a pistol that shoots the same rounds.

    Deer, moose, and bear in new hampshire have all been taken with this heavy hitting round and Henry lever action rifles have a good solid reputation backed by being in business for over a century.

    Could you PLEASE do a review on Henry rifles soon?
    Thanks again TTAG for all you do.

  3. avatarBill says:

    Howa 1500… it’s a Vanguard for cheaper… you can get them way below MSRP online or local.

    • avatarOHgunner says:

      My friend’s dad has a Howa in .223 with a stainless steel bull barrel and is getting sub MOA groups consistently with cheap factory and Milsurp ammo. I’ve been drooling over it for months.

  4. avatarGreg Camp says:

    Haunt pawn shops and gun stores. With a little looking, you can find a rifle with a scope for under $500. One good option is a military surplus rifle, sporterized or not. They’re heavy if you have to schlep, but that weight also helps with recoil. I got a vz. 24 in .30-’06 in beautiful shape and with a scope for around $300.

    If you’re really cheap, go with a Mosin-Nagant in 7.62 x 54R. That rifle plus a bunch of ammo can run less than $150. They’re plenty accurate enough for deer ranges.

    • avatarLoyd says:

      I was just about to suggest Mosin Nagant. Putting a scope on one is a pain, but the iron sights are damn accurate out the crate.

      • avatarjwm says:

        cork the action on a mostly nasty. put white paint on the front post. open the rear v notch with a little judicious work with a small v file. you have a crude, weather proof , accurate sumbitch that will handle anything on this continent in foul weather out to 150 yards with no problem. and the ammo is cheap enough to really practice and get good with the craptastic thing. love my mostly nasty.

        • avatarGyufygy says:

          I’m going to try to nab a good Mosin next time a gun show comes to town. Cheap enough that by the time it comes by, I might have talked the significant other into it. Firearms are expensive when just starting out… and forever after. :p

          Also, thanks for the advice on little improvements for the M-N.

        • avatarjwm says:

          there are very good how to videos on you tube about getting the most out of your mostly nasty. most of them were refurbished before being put in storage. mine is 74 years old and with just a little work it’s a shooter. parts are cheap and available. if you shoot surplus ammo, it’s about the cheapest center fire rifle ammo going. just clean well after shooting, i start with windex in the barrel and action, then clean as normal. just be warned, once you buy your first it becomes an addiction.

    • avatarMoonshine7102 says:

      +1 on the pawn shops. My first bolt-action was a tang-safety Ruger M77 in 7mm Rem Mag with a decent 3-9×40 for around $425. 1.5″ groups at 100 yards if I laid off the coffee, and more than enough gun for any critter here in Minnesota. Buying used can be a very pleasant experience.

    • avatarbontai Joe says:

      My Mosin-Nagant was a $40 bargain I bought at a gun show about 20 years ago. Made by Remington under contract to Russia. Nice looking rifle, but I didn’t get lucky in the accuracy dept. The first 2 shots are somewhat close to each other, but every shot after that wanders further away until off the target at 50 yards. But, hey it was only $40. At current prices, I don’t think I’d want to risk getting one with refridgerator door accuracy, when for a few bucks more, you can get MUCH better quality/accuracy/ergonomics.

      • avatardave says:

        Try accuritizing the rifle using the rough method used by the Finns. I bought a 1939 Izzy, and here’s what I did:
        Sanded the stock and forend where they touch the barrel, so that more or less you’ve free floated the barrel. Then, wrap some (less than you’d think) high temperature electrical tape around the barrel, about 4-6 inches from the muzzle (for historical accuracy, use oiled wool or leather scraps). Then, at the points where you put in the screws to hold in the reciever to the stock, put brass washers to separate the metal from the wood (for historical accuracy, use brass shims). I did these mods to my Mosin, and it shoots under 2 inches with S&B soft-point hunting ammo, a little tighter with the match grades. To be fair, I also have a Smith fiber optic front sight and I did these mods before I took my first shot with the gun, so I can’t say how much this will help you. I don’t know what condition your rifle is in, but this should help at least a little.

  5. avatarRoll says:

    Heard the Howa 1500 is pretty good, may wanna give that a try. Last I saw it was about $435 for a Howa 1500 in 30-06 with a Hogue overmold stock.

  6. avatarJust Another Matt says:

    there is nothing wrong with a Savage but they do push the $500 a little. They are accurate out of box and are often overlooked because some people thing the barrel nut makes them “ugly”. The ugliness goes away quick when you see group sizes

  7. avatarTarrou (Joshua Grabow) says:

    Savages aren’t the best looking or best feeling out of the box, but what they are is solid and stupid accurate. I’ve spent years and hundreds of dollars trying to get my A-bolt to shrink group size to what I had with my Savage 111. If you want cheap, simple, reliable, accurate, I can’t recommend Savage enough. If you want bells and whistles, proper cheek comb, nice trigger, then you’ll be spending more than $500. Milsurplus is hit and miss in my experience, and they are generally heavier than civilian models and tend to have even worse ergonomics. Some are solid, some are stinkers, so if you want to be sure, the Savage is my recommendation. You can get them used for under $400, with cash left over for a scope.

  8. avatarM.IA says:

    I never see the T/C Venture rifles on posts like these. Great rifles for under $500. I bought a 30-06 for $450 and its sub MOA with 3 different factory loads so far. Better with reloads.

  9. avatarKelly in GA says:

    For a super cheap hold over, you could try the Leverevolution. It’s a rubber ballistic tip (I think Hornady makes it) that nearly doubles effective range over standard LRN.

    • avatarKelly in GA says:

      For example, a Winchester 150 gr HP is 26.6″ low at 300 yards, traveling 1400 fps, and transfers 643 ft-lbs of energy. The Hornady 160 gr is 12.1″ low, traveling 1699 fps and transfers 1025 ft-lbs. That’s off a 1.5″ high zero.

    • avatarAccur81 says:

      The LeverEvolution is legit ammo, and makes the .30-30 a 250 -300 yard deer gun, in my opinion. The Marlin XLR has a longer barrel than the carbine .30-30′s to take advantage of that load.

      Otherwise, I’d get a used Remington 700 in .270 / .308 / .30-06, / 7 mm Mag. It may put you a bit over the $500 mark with good glass, but good glass is one of the most important things you can have for long range shots. Redfield has some decent scopes at reasonable prices that are made in the USA. I’ve got a Winchester 70 .30-06 with a Redfield Tracker scope that’s a 1 – 1.5 MOA gun that I would go for about $500 on the used market. It’s not for sale, though.

      There are definitely decent bolt guns in the sub $500 category, but buying a used gun would get you better value, and probably a better scope. A new gun becomes a used gun once you pull the trigger, anyways. That’s my $.02.

    • avatarAnonymouse says:

      Hornady makes em, and it comes in either 160 grain lead or 140 grain lead free (for CA Condor zone and/or better weight retention). Its a rubber tipped hollowpoint with a soft-enough rubber that it works in tubular magazines (but don’t store the rounds in the magazine, you’ll bend the tip eventually)

      Much better terminal ballistics than a round-nose 30-30.

      If your marlin is old enough, you may (MAY) need a new magazine follower to get the last round to feed reliably.

  10. avatarJeremy L. Knauff says:

    Damn it, I wish you would have written this post a few weeks ago…you know, before I bought the Mossberg 100ATR based on one of your previous posts ;)

  11. avatarirock359 says:

    About two years ago a buddy and I purchased a Remington 770 and a Mossberg 100 ATR within days of each other. We went to the range and put 100 rounds of 30-06 downrange (Turned my shoulder into pulp) throughout the course of the day and we walked away thinking the ATR was a winner over the 770. The Remmy’s”sticky bolt” was the deciding factor, however both rifles shot 1 MOA at 100 and 300 yards with off-the-shelf Winchester and Remington ammo. Personally I can Say that the Mossberg 100 ATR is a great rifle, but both the Remmy and the ATR have taken down whitetails which is what really matters. Interesting enough, both the 770 and ATR 100 use the same scope which is good enough but I replaced it with some better glass at the first chance. Personally I would get the either the ATR or the Ruger and put some decent glass on it.

  12. avatarDrewN says:

    I’d actually spring an extra $200 bucks and get a Tikka T3. I think they start at $650 or so, and the step up in quality is tremendous. And screw 30-06.Fantastic caliber, but overkill a good portion of the time. Go with something like .260 Remington and stay in a short action.

  13. avatarWiregrass says:

    I’ve been looking for something that’s a little bit of an upgrade in this area also. For the last four years I’ve been shooting deer with a Mosin Nagant M38. While looking at the lever actions among the used offerings at my local gun shop I happened across a Marlin XL7 in 30-06. It seemed to have a lot to offer for $249. I might decide to go that route.

  14. avatarChris Dumm says:

    At any price range, optics are just as important as the rifle. And much harder to rate objectively.

  15. avatarI_Like_Pie says:

    Never buy a new hunting rifle if you are actually planning on hunting with it. Don’t even consider it.

    Under $500 will get you a leupold scoped Ruger 77 in 30/06, 270, or 243
    Under $400 will get you a perfect condition Savage with a lesser scope and in the same calibers.
    You are wasting your time and money paying for something greater than 1 MOA and in perfect condition. Take it from somone who actually hunts…you will scratch your rifle and it doesn’t matter if you are 1.5″ off the mark.

  16. avatarMichael C says:

    Hey Foghorn,
    Even your ‘default’ scope costs more than it takes to fill up my tank (15.5 gallons). Same for everyone I know. How about finding a decent scope for under $40?

    • avatarMatt in FL says:

      “How about finding a decent scope for under $40?”

      That animal does not exist. It simply does not. I’m sure lots of people have anecdotal evidence of the one they bought that “does just fine,” but at that price level, quality is always going to be hit or miss. You might get one that’s perfect and lasts you the rest of your days, but you’re equally (if not more) likely to get one that never quite focuses just right, or the reticle twists in the tube, or turns out not to be quite so waterproof, etc.

      That applies even if your buddy bought one and it’s flawless. My friend has a BSA 4×16-40 IR on his 10/22, and that thing is a tackdriver. That scope cost him about $65, and he (who owns a dozen Mosins, a half dozen ARs, and a selection of handguns) refers to it as “the best single $65 I’ve spent on a gun”). I bought the same 10/22, so I bought the same scope. I paid $62 shipped. Mine’s been back to the factory and replaced twice (with me paying $12 one-way shipping each time); once for a twisting reticle and once for fogging up inside. So now, my $62 scope is a $96 scope, and I finally have one that works right.

  17. avatarMichael B. says:

    Nick, what are your thoughts on hunting solely for sport? Like trophy hunting?

    • avatarSanchanim says:

      I can personally say if I don’t eat it, I don’t hunt it. Sure there are people who like to do that, and it is fine by them, but not my personal choice. I put meat int he freezer, and give the hides to a local leather shop to use. They send it out to get tanned and then kids taking leather working classes get to use it.

  18. avatarSanchanim says:

    Well I have to agree on the Weatherby. They make great rifles. I am also left handed, and also prefer a left handed rifle. Having said this though my two choices are the Savage XP which comes with the Nikon scope or the Weatherby. Sure I have to shoot a right handed rifle with the Weatherby, but if I use a bipod, or shoot supported it isn’t a big deal and I am pretty good at it. The savage is also great, and it comes with the acu trigger, but not the acu stock. For that you have to spend a bit more, but both are great budget oriented rifles.
    A little work and you should be able to go beyond 500 yards and be fairly reliable. Depending on the caliber you choose and the ammo and weather. I think most of us make shots on deer in the 250 yard range or closer, depending on the environment. In CA unless you are hunting out in the valley with open rolling hills, ranges tend to stay fairly close.

  19. avatarWalter says:

    Do you really need a scope?
    I don’t like tree stands, since I tend to fall asleep in the bush, so I am at ground level. All the deer I have gotten are at pretty close range, and I think it takes longer to find them in the scope.

    Last year the buck and the doe he was chasing were so oblivious, that they ran past me so close I could have reached out and touched them. I waited for them to pass and I took the first shot. Of course I was so excited and I missed. Ok, calm down, find him in the scope, pull the trigger.

    Click, the semi jammed. Win 740 semi 30-06
    That’s it, I am now only hunting with my bolt 30-06

  20. avatarbrcSVO says:

    Another option might be the Remington ADL. I was able to buy mine from a Sports Authority for right around $500, and that was with the brushed stainless steel action and barrel.

    The review of the ADL on this site is pretty good. They are correct that the factory stock is so-so, but one thing I like about the composite stock is that Remington now sells spacer kits to adjust the length of pull. Since I’m 6ft2, I find that adding an extra inch or so to the length of pull allows me to actually use my right arm to pull the rifle into my shoulder. With “standard” length of pull rifles, I wind up with too much arm and not enough stock and look like kid mimicking a retarded T-rex.

    Also, the included scope isn’t that great. Especially for 30-06. The eye relief on the scope is so short that the scope would whack my safety glasses on each shot. I have now switched over to a Leupold VX-II and find the set up much nicer.

    All of that said, I do like the feel of the action and trigger. To me, they feel better than a lot of the other entry level rifles I tried. When I bought mine, I looked at it as a way to get a 700 action for the price of a 710/770.

  21. avatarNerdwithguns says:

    Here is an idea for a low cost bolt action with tons of cheap ammo available

    https://kgbarmory.com/KGB_Mosin_Scout_Rifle.html

  22. Savage Axis with scope is under $400. Since it’s a Savage there are plenty of aftermarket triggers/stocks/barrels to customize to your heart’s content.

  23. avatarJeremy says:

    I have to also agree on the Weatherby or Howa. On the older ones, the triggers kinda suck, but with a little know-how can be tuned to be light, clean, crisp, and no creep or overtravel. The thing about these rifles that I have found, is that they are a high-end quality rifle in a cheap stock. Not that that’s a bad thing, since you can save $ for a better stock later; the Hogue with the aluminum bedding block and the B & C medalist are popular choices.
    My Weatherby Vanguard in .243 has a Redfield Revolution 3-9×40 scope on it, and for the money I honestly don’t think you’ll find better glass… very close to the Leupold VX-II, but for less $ than a VX-I. Mine shot 1 1/8″ 5 shot groups before I reworked the trigger, but I’d bet that the groups will be tighter when I punch paper with it next time. Now to get a new stock for this one, and a heavy barrelled action in .308 from Legacy Sports… (my next project).

  24. avatarManu says:

    I am a lefty also and just bought a Browning X Bolt 300 mag. I love the way this gun feels and was waiting for my local store to get a sale going… I got it for $656 from $820 (20% off) and couldn’t be happier with it. Now I just need some glass. If you are a lefty, look into Browning… They make high quality riffles that will last.

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