By Jeremy Harding
Picture this. You’re slowly walking through a stand of trees. A crisp, cool breeze flutters past carrying the unmistakable chill of an autumn that’s rapidly approaching. Between the stony trunks, you catch a glimpse of movement. With deliberate care you gradually pick your way through the underbrush toward your objective. Inch by inch you shuffle forward, taking care not to let even the tiniest whisper of foliage give away your location. Then, as if the stars have magically aligned, you’re graced with a perfect side-on view of your quarry only a couple of hundred yards away. You work to slow your breathing before readying yourself to take the shot. You’ve spent hours, maybe days, waiting for exactly this opportunity. You look down… What are you holding?
This might seem like an odd question, but, depending on your enthusiasm for shooting and by extension hunting, your answer may be wildly different from someone else’s. Of course, location plays a factor in selecting which tool you choose to use, as well as the species of target you’re looking to bag. Is it a spirited white-tail buck that would make for an impressive trophy? A ponderous hog with bacon you can already smell cooking? Or perhaps a wily steel plate that’s worked your last nerve one too many times? Regardless, finding the ideal firearm for your application can be a bit challenging, but having a few suggestions of where to start can help eliminate some of the guess work. In no particular order, these are some of the best .308 chambered rifles you’ll find on the market today.
Springfield Armory M1A
In production since 1974, the M1A is the civilian version of the military M14, and there’s a good reason it made it to the commercial scene. If there was a single phrase one had to use to describe this classic design, it would be, “rugged dependability”. Known for continuing to function in the harshest environments, the M1A is a gas-piston driven, semi-automatic with a 10+ 1 capacity that boasts an impressive level of accuracy without sacrificing portability or speed. Depending on your choice of stock material, as well as other customizations, you can expect your M1A to weigh between 7.8-11.25 pounds empty. It sports a 22-inch, medium contour barrel with six 1:11 right-hand twist rifling grooves. The adjustable trigger breaks on the slightly heavier side between 4.5-6 pounds. With a variable starting price between $1,400-$2,100, depending on configuration, the M1A is a fantastic intermediate weapon.
Ruger Precision Rifle
Superior long-range accuracy meets infinite adjustability. Heavily inspired by the look and feel of the AR15 platform, the Precision rifle takes the adjustability potential of an AR and applies it to a bolt-action rifle. The free-float barrel is 20 inches long, medium contoured with 5R 1:10 twist rifling. The trigger pull is adjustable between 2.25-5 pounds while the foldable synthetic stock can be set in several different positions for both length of pull and cheek height. The rifle accepts both AICS and Magpul magazines with a standard capacity of 10. At a carry weight of 10.7 pounds empty, and an overall length of 43.25-46.75 inches depending on stock position, this rifle isn’t what you’d call a feather weight. However, that extra heft coupled with a pre-installed, side-slot, muzzle brake work in concert to reduce the shove of the 308 for faster target reacquisition and follow up shots. With a respectable price tag starting at $1,499, the Ruger Precision Rifle is an excellent choice for reaching out to touch something without breaking the bank.
S&W M&P10 Sport
No modern firearms list would be complete without including at least one offering from the AR platform. The M&P10 Sport is a fantastic baseline to build your ideal semi-auto. It’s 16-inch, mid-length, gas-system barrel utilizes 5R 1:10 rifling, which will shoot almost anything you try to put through it (within reason of course). The fully ambidextrous controls make it at least somewhat easier for the lefties among us to enjoy shooting as well. The only exceptions being the forward assist and ejection port. With a 20-round capacity, and an 8-pound carry weight, you’ll be prepared for just about anything from dropping varmints that are harassing your livestock to shredding that paper that looked at you funny. The M&P10 Sport is a jack of all trades straight out of the box with potential to excel in any particular niche your little heart desires. The price for an already functioning blank slate starts at about $1,000.
Remington Model 700 SPS Tactical
What could be better than a sub MOA bolt-action rifle that looks and feels great to shoot? How about one that sells well below the $1k mark at $550? Pretty hard to argue with a claim like that, and the Model 700 SPS Tactical does its best to prove it. The SPS is furnished with an over-molded, synthetic stock that provides a superb gripping surface rain or shine. At only 20 inches, the 1:10 twist, heavy contour, barrel coupled with a relatively trivial 7.5-pound empty weight offers a boost in maneuverability from your standard long gun. The X Mark Pro trigger pulls a tad on the heavy side at around 4 pounds, but breaks very clean with little slop. The tried and true Model 700 design serves up impressive accuracy with the 308 cartridge, and the SPS Tactical is no exception. The 308 tends to flip the shorter barrel a little more than heavier rifles in the same caliber, but overall handling and accuracy on follow up shots is mostly unaffected. Long story short, it’ll send a piece of lead almost anywhere you want it to go.
SA200 AXIS II XP
For those of us that truly enjoy the sport of shooting, there can be no greater joy than convincing a friend or family member to give it a try. The SA200 AXIS II XP bolt-action rifle, in addition to being a mouthful to say, is exactly the tool to use for introducing someone to shooting, or to have as a backup in case someone forgets their piece on a hunting expedition. Not only does it shoot exceptionally well for being a $500 gun, it also comes with a respectable Weaver Kaspa 3-9X 40mm scope pre-installed so you’re ready to rock straight out of the box. The XP sports a 3-pound, adjustable AccuTrigger, 22-inch carbon steel barrel with 6-groove 1:10 twist rifling, and lightweight synthetic stock. A soft rubber butt pad helps to tame the 308’s punch since the whole package, including glass, weighs in at a feathery 7.2 pounds. Altogether, the AXIS II XP by Savage is one of the best entry level firearms on the market and a personal favorite.
Henry Long Ranger
Nothing screams good ol’ fashioned Americana than a reliable lever-action rifle. Often seen as a staple in the late 1800s Wild West, the lever-action design is just as relevant today as it was back then. Henry offers this all-American-built piece of living history with all the modern upgrades one would expect from an exceptional firearm manufacturer. The Long Ranger gives modern designs a run for their money in both looks and accuracy with gorgeous walnut furniture; a 20-inch, 6-channel 1:10 twist barrel; recoil-eating rubber butt pad; 4-pound trigger pull; and, a 4-round capacity, detachable magazine. Most important of all is the buttery smooth lever action which makes chambering the next round almost as much fun as shooting it. It’s a beautiful piece of functional art that is equally perfect at home hanging over your mantle or bouncing around in a saddle holster. At 7 pounds and 40.5 inches long, this rifle can go just about anywhere, and for a cool $1,000, you can experience the home-grown nostalgia for yourself.
Daniel Defense Ambush Kryptek Highlander
Say that name out loud and you’ll have all the woodland critters quaking in fear. The Ambush is close to, if not the pinnacle of, North American semi-automatic game harvesters. Starting from the front, we have DD’s extended suppression device capping an 18-inch cold-hammer-forged, free-float barrel with 1:11 twist rifling and 4-bolt attachment system for extra rigidity and stability. Further back, we find fully ambidextrous controls sitting atop a Geissele SSA two-stage, 2-pound feather trigger. As we continue onward, we find Daniel Defense’s own proprietary synthetic pistol grip and adjustable butt stock. All this is shrouded in your choice of highly detailed camo patterns depending on where you’re intending to put it to use. Daniel Defense is long known for their superior build quality, which is exactly what you’ll get in the Ambush Kryptek Highlander for about $3,000.
Tikka TSR-1 Precision Rifle
Everything about the TSR-1 says precise attention to detail, from the full aluminum chassis that could almost be mistaken as a single solid piece, to the built-in cant indicator. Putting lead exactly where you want it is what this bolt-action rifle is meant to do. It boasts a cold-hammer-forged, 20-inch, heavy contour, barrel with a 1:11 twist and threaded tip for muzzle-device customization. Although carrying it where you need to go is made somewhat more difficult by the hefty 10-pound empty weight, it’s well worth the comfort of shooting once you get there with the heavier frame and 2-4 pound, adjustable, lightweight trigger. The 10-round magazine ensures you can stay behind the sights longer when you’re twanging steel or throwing more follow-up shots down range on that big bull elk. At $1,899, you can’t go wrong with the Tikka TSR-1.
Howa Chassis Rifle
Nearly every marksman gets that itch to start stretching their rifle’s legs and see how far out they can reliably nail a target. That’s where the Howa Chassis Rifle comes in. The 24-inch, medium-heavy contour, 1:10 twist barrel squeezes the maximum velocity out of the 308 cartridge to sling lead as far as it’ll go and still have enough punch to cause damage when it gets there. To that end, the Howa 1500 bolt-action slides like a well-oiled dream so you spend more time behind the sites looking for your next target instead of struggling to chamber the next round. The 6-position, adjustable stock, and 2.5-pound, two-stage trigger helps keep the crosshairs firmly locked on whatever you’re aiming at. At a max length of 47.5 inches, and with a weight of 10.2 pounds, it’s not the easiest gun to maneuver, but what it lacks in portability it makes up for in precision. At $950, you’d be hard pressed to find a better performer in the long-range game.
Browning X-Bolt Hell’s Canyon
Rounding out our list is the quintessential bolt-action workhorse that’s tough as nails, and ready to go as soon as you get it out of the cardboard. The phrase “built like a tank” has never been more relevant. The primary contributor to this weapon’s rugged reputation is the burnt-bronze Cerakote finish that’s been applied to the entirety of the barrel and receiver. Paramount in weather resistance, the Hell’s Canyon showcases a 22-inch glass bedded, fluted barrel with a Sporter contour to cut down on carry load, and a 1:12 twist to stabilize a wider range of bullet weights. At only 6.3 pounds, one hurdle Browning needed to overcome was the shove from the 308 cartridge. To that end, they incorporated the Inflex recoil pad and a full 360º muzzle-brake to better manage muzzle flip and kick. The X-Bolt’s trigger can be adjusted between 3-5 pounds with an exceptionally clean break and minimal take up. Altogether, the Browning X-Bolt Hell’s Canyon will only set you back about $1,000, but easily stands up to competitors with double the price tag.
With so many options spanning an inexhaustible number of potential applications, it can be difficult finding a firearm that represents the perfect fit for you. While the weapons we’ve compiled on this list are some of our go-to favorites, they were included for their overall quality and ability to perform. Whether you’re looking for a straight shooter on a budget, a hunting gun to fill your freezer with meat and your wall with trophies, or a bells and whistles sporting rifle for every conceivable situation, each one can easily hold its own against the infinite number of alternatives offered on the market today. Take care though; As any firearms enthusiast can attest, it’s almost impossible to stop yourself at owning just one.
“All you need for happiness is a good gun, a good horse, and a good wife.”