When I started big game hunting I carried a classic Winchester® Model 94 chambered in .30-30 Winchester™. The handy little carbine wasn’t equipped with a sling, so I carried the 7 pound rifle in both hands, always at the ready. I was a naïve youngster who didn’t care about weight; I only cared about finding a wary wapiti or a big muley buck. Now, over 5 decades later, rifle weight has become a bit more of a factor when I consider a new gun. Here is a sampling of some of the latest and fairly affordable rifles on the market. Included are long guns that I consider lightweight, 6 to 7 pounds, and ultra-light, under six pounds. I also set the price at $ 2000 or less and because of limited space, this discussion considers only bolt-action sporters. Unfortunately, several manufacturers including some of Montana’s finest don’t list the weight of their rifles, so if you don’t see your favorite rifle maker here don’t be disappointed; tell them to add gun weight to their specs. Finally all the weights are without accessories (e.g. scopes and slings) and ammunition.
First up, Kimber®. The Yonkers manufacturer offers a bunch of models in the lightweight and ultra-lightweight category. Their newest offering the “Hunter” model weighs just 5 pounds, 12 ounces in long action (30-06, .270, .280 AI) and 2 ounces less in the .308 family. This gun is a Model 70 clone with a synthetic stock and has a suggested MSRP of only $ 891. Other Kimber® models that beat the weight include the very lovely Classic Select and SuperAmerica guns that when chambered in the .06 long action family weigh only 6 pounds, 2 ounces, and these lightweights come with beautiful walnut stocks. MSRP $ 1427. Want more firepower, then the “Subalpine” series is for you. The 300 WSM weighs a scant 5 pounds, 12 ounces, and the 300 Winchester™ Magnum tips the scale at only 6 pounds, 7 ounces. MSRP $ 1701.
For $ 991 MSRP, Savage® offers the Models 11/111. This is an oil finished walnut stocked, blued rifle available in long action (.270, 30-06) and 6 short action calibers including 6.5 Creedmoor. The gun has a detachable magazine, a fluted bolt, and the great AccuTrigger™. I have a Savage® rifle in .204 and it is really a tack driver; the zero headspace design of the 11/111 series actions makes for very accurate rifles.
A gun that has captured my imagination is the Browning® Hell’s Canyon Speed. This rifle is offered in 13 different calibers including the new 6 MM Creedmoor. It is also offered in the very hot 26 and 28 Nosler calibers. The gun is finished in A-TACS AU camo and the metal has a Cerakote® finish. The guns have detachable magazines, Feather trigger, 3 lug short throw bolt, fluted barrels, and the effective Inflex recoil pad. The long action magnum gun has a 26 inch barrel and weighs only 6 pounds, 13 ounces. MSRP starts at $ 1199.99 for the short actions and is just $1269.99 for the long action guns.
And now my personal favorite, the Winchester® Model 70 Featherweight short action. I own one in .300 WSM and I have really enjoyed this classic rifle. Chambered in the short magnum calibers and the long action 06 family, the Featherweight weighs 7 pounds, and in the .308 short-action family, just 6 pounds, 12 ounces. The Featherweight is a classic “controlled round feed” gun with the massive Mauser® style extractor. Included are a 3 position safety, Pachmayr® Decelerator® recoil pad, MOA trigger, and the venerable Featherweight walnut stock complete with a Schnabel forearm. MSRP for the 300 WSM is $ 1049.99.
My Featherweight is topped with a Leupold VX-3 CDS 3.5-10 scope. I mounted the scope in steel rings and with my sling and 4 rounds of 180 grain Nosler Accubonds, the gun weighs just a bit over 8 pounds. This might sound a bit heavy, but compared to other comparably equipped rifles that pack the power of one of the fast .30s, this is a pretty light package. It is a very nice, extremely accurate (sub MOA), and comfortable to shoot rifle. Halloween has just passed, but every time I fire my Featherweight, I know I’ve had a real treat.
Packing a light rifle in Montana’s wildlands, especially up and down steep mountains, makes hunting a bit easier. But there are a couple of trade-offs that should be considered. First, the felt recoil of a sub seven pound rifle will be harsher even with one of the lighter calibers, and secondly, barrels will heat up much faster possibly affecting accuracy. The good news is both have a panacea, practice at the range. Next week we’ll look at some more lightweight options.
Be safe and good shooting.