Mossberg Patriot in Review

Best Bolt Action Hunting Rifles Made in the USA for Every Budget

By Matt Mullins   Last updated September 8, 2021

Decades ago it was almost unthinkable to expect affordable hunting rifles to shoot sub-MOA groups with factory ammunition. Now it’s practically the expectation of even sub $500 rifles with quality ammo and a solid shooter behind the trigger. We are living in a golden age of American rifle manufacturing. Let’s review the best American made hunting rifles available on any budget from absolute bargains to true premium rifles.

What's the Difference?

I genuinely want to help people find the right rifle for their needs. Whether you want an heirloom rifle made in America to pass down the family line or just a cheap beater rifle that you won’t worry about, these rifles will reliably put meat on the table within reasonable ranges. So what’s the big difference to justify wildly different prices? It mostly comes down to the value you place on precision engineering, materials, and fit and finish. It also depends on whether 1 MOA accuracy is good enough (which it certainly should be for most hunters) or you require sub .5 MOA long range groups with handloading. 

 

The main differences between low cost rifles and premium ones tend to be the use of plastic stocks, plastic “bottom metal”, carbon steel vs stainless steel actions and barrels, and a lack of precision fit and finish for budget rifles. Stepping up in price and quality generally means a smoother action, stiffer carbon composite or carbon fiber stock, light and consistent trigger, more rust resistance with stainless steel and or a cerakote finish, and at the high end of the spectrum carbon fiber wrapped barrels. 

 

As far as barrels, don’t let anyone tell you thin barrels can’t be accurate. I’ve shot thin #1 contour light sporter barrels, bull barrels, and carbon wrapped barrels which are capable of outstanding accuracy. The main advantage of carbon wrapping a barrel is the same advantage as having a thick bull barrel but without the weight penalty. Carbon wrapping adds stiffness to the barrel which allows you to shoot more rounds before heat buildup throws off your shots. This advantage might be more important for shot strings at the range than while hunting where you’ll likely shoot just once or twice. Regardless, with hunting rifles at the range I like to alternate between multiple rifles to allow each to cool, shrink groups, and increase barrel life.

 

In regards to stocks: I’ve used rifles with stiff wood, aluminum chassis, fiberglass, and carbon fiber stocks, as well as inexpensive plastic stocks. I’ve shot excellent groups with all of them. The concern with most polymer stocks is their flexibility with potential for lateral tension at the fore-end to touch your free floated barrel and throw off shots. A bipod combined with lateral tension on a plastic stock is begging to throw off your shot. That said, I often fire off bags or my backpack which minimizes such concerns. I think the fuss about polymer stocks is often blown out of proportion. However if you want the utmost precision in benchrest and prone shooting then you will want a more rigid stock. You can find good aftermarket stocks like Boyd’s stocks for nearly all of these rifles and a huge variety of custom stocks for the Rem 700 clones by Christensen Arms.

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Why Trust Me?

I know how hard it is to find honest recommendations and to narrow down American made gear. This is why I started American Gear Guide. I take my recommendations seriously and only recommend the best of the best. Here are a few reasons to trust me.

  • I make independent recommendations based on personal experience (not paid to endorse a product).
  • I’ve hunted, fished, gathered, and gardened since childhood. I fill my freezer with meat via bow, rifle, and rod.
  • As an avid outdoorsman that reviews gear for a living, I also actually own and use all American made gear.
  • My background includes 10 yrs working with the Forest Service as a Hotshot Wildland Firefighter, Ranger, Wildlife Crew-leader, and Forest Ecologist. I’ve certified as a Wilderness First Responder (WFR) and Emergency Medical Technician (EMT). I’ve backpacked extensively throughout the USA and 34 countries including in the Middle East, Central & South America, Africa, Europe, and Asia. See About page for more.
  • I attend industry trade shows like Outdoor Retailer to stay informed on the latest innovative equipment.
  • This guide receives regular updates with the newest gear.
  • Continuous learning & self improvement are encouraged, so I welcome your criticism. If you think I missed anything then please leave some helpful suggestions.

Best American Bolt Action Hunting Rifles at a Glance

Best Bargain Rifles Around $500

Price Range: ~ $450

Video Review: View here

Since its introduction in 2011 the Ruger American has earned a reputation for value. If you want a well put together rifle for a low price then Ruger’s American is a solid choice. It has a smoother bolt and a better bedding system than other price point rifles. The 3-5 lb adjustable trigger pull is a little heavier than the other rifles listed here but it’s still quite good for precise shooting. I don’t love the looks nor the fore end flex of the plastic stock but beauty is a relative term and you can’t argue with a functional tool. You can find the Ruger American in a variety of different models including those with threaded barrels, cerakote finishes, and camo stocks.

Pros:

+ Better bedding block system than most stocks

+ Smoother action for a budget rifle

+ Available in threaded barrel versions

+ Available with cerakote

+ 70 degree bolt throw

 

Cons:

– Flexible polymer stock

– Safety doesn’t lock bolt

– Plastic bottom metal

– Ugly stock… but looks are subjective

Price Range: ~ $400

Video Review: View here

The Patriot feels and looks the best of the bargain rifles. Unlike others in its price range, the Patriot has an attractive Winchester model 70 style stock. Mossberg adds touches like well executed fluting on the barrel and bolt. Some models have a nice cerakote finish and a threaded muzzle for brakes and suppressors. I shot sub MOA groups through a privately owned (not demo) Mossberg Patriot in 300 Win Mag, contrary to a popular youtube video which ended up with a rare lemon. Lemons can and do happen to even premium factory rifles costing far more; the internet spreads news of the outliers far and wide. Most manufacturers will correct such issues if you press them on it.

Pros:

+ Fluted barrel and bolt

+ Light adjustable trigger 2-7 lb

+ Cerakote versions available

+ Threaded barrels available

+ Classically styled stock like a Win mod 70

+ Action functions similarly to Remington 700

 

Cons:

– Flexible polymer stock

– Safety does not lock bolt

– Plastic bottom metal

Best Rifles Between $1000-1500

Price Range: ~ $1300

Video Review: View here

What the Remington 700 wishes it was. The Mesa is a Rem 700 clone with nice added touches. For instance, the Mesa has a cerakoted stainless action and barrel topped with a radial muzzle brake. The bolt is fluted and the bolt handle skeletonized while the light trigger is a custom Triggertech. I much prefer the metal trigger guard and blind magazine on the Mesa than the plastic “bottom metal” on the bargain rifles and Savage Ultralite. Is it really that hard to include an aluminum trigger guard and magazine box!? I like the carbon composite stock though I notice more fore end flex on the Mesa than on the CA Ridgeline’s similar stock. Another perk is being a Rem 700 clone opens the rifle to the most aftermarket upgrades available. If you don’t like something you can change it.

Pros:

+ Carbon composite stock

+ Trigger Tech Primary trigger 1.5-4 lb pull

+ 416 SS barrel

+ Hand lapped

+ Match chamber

+ Fluted and nitride treated bolt

+ Cerakoted action and barrel

+ Rem 700 platform allows for many upgrades

+ Sub-MOA guarantee

+ 5/8×24 threaded muzzle

+ Muzzle brake

+ Stainless steel pillar bedding

+ Great Limbsaver recoil pad

+ Reliable M16 extractor

+ Dual ejector for magnums

 

Cons:

– Lower comb height if you use a large scope

– Safety doesn’t lock the bolt

Price Range: ~ $1400

Video Review: View here

Savage is known for producing accurate rifles at a great price. This light weight mountain rifle often outshoots customs costing far more right out of the box while only weighing around 5.8 to 6 lb. The Ultralite represents exceptional value. Its highlights include a Proof Research carbon wrapped barrel and the factory blueprinted action which results in consistently high precision. This of course saves you the cost of truing the action with a gunsmith. Maybe you don’t get the fit and finish of some premium rifles; for example the Ultralite comes with plastic bottom metal and a flexible polymer stock, but you can’t deny it works incredibly well. Enhancing the Ultralite’s accuracy is a light trigger that adjusts down to a feathery 1.5 lb and a custom adjustable stock LOP and comb height. The flexibility of the stock doesn’t do it favors but it also doesn’t make it inaccurate.

Pros:

+ Proof Research carbon wrapped barrel

+ Blueprinted action

+ Light 1.5-4 lb trigger pull

+ Spiral fluted bolt and skeletonized action

+ Light weight

+ Accufit stock is adjustable for a wide range of fit

+ Nitrided stainless action

+ 3 position safety locks the bolt closed

+ 5/8×24 threaded muzzle

+ Good customer service

Cons:

– Polymer stock is flexible but also light

– Plastic bottom metal

Top $1500-2000 Premium Hunting Rifles

Price Range: ~ $1895

Video Review: View here

A frequent favorite of long range hunters who opt not to go full custom, the Ridgeline often shoots sub .5 MOA groups as well as custom guns costing far more. The Ridgeline shares many of the great features of the Mesa like a Triggertech trigger and carbon composite stock but adds a carbon fiber wrapped barrel. Carbon wrapping provides greater barrel rigidity with less weight which is a light 6.3 lb in a short action and 6.8 lb in the long action (also depends on cal. and barrel length). That stiffer carbon wrapped barrel is less affected by heat buildup that throws off precision vs a less rigid and thinner sporter barrel. This makes shot strings at the range far more pleasant.

Pros:

+ Light but stiff carbon composite stock

+ Trigger Tech Primary trigger 1.5-4 lb pull

+ Lightweight carbon fiber wrapped 416 SS barrel

+ Match chamber

+ Hand lapped

+ Fluted and nitride treated bolt

+ Cerakoted action

+ Tons of aftermarket upgrades for the Rem 700 platform

+ Sub-MOA guarantee

+ 5/8×24 threaded muzzle

+ Large effective muzzle brake

+ Stainless steel pillar bedding

+ Great Limbsaver recoil pad

+ Reliable M16 extractor

+ Dual ejector for magnums

 

Cons:

– Low comb height for a large scope

– Safety doesn’t lock the bolt

Price Range: ~ $1800

Video Review: View here (for old PH1)

Seekins Precision crafted their Pro Havak 2 with the lines of a competition rifle further honed for hunting. It’s lightweight for a long range rig at 6.9 lb in a short action and 7.2 lb for long action (depends on cal. & barrel length). That weight is fairly ideal for long range backcountry hunting. If you want crazy lightweight then look at the Havak Element starting at 5.5 lb. Every feature on the PH2 is high quality. The main draws are a stainless match grade spiral fluted barrel, semi-custom action, stiff carbon fiber composite stock, and Timney trigger. Seekins also includes more unique touches like flush push button sling swivel mounts and a carbon fiber magazine on long actions (short actions use Magpul PMAGs). Owners frequently report sub .5 MOA groups with handloads which should satisfy the pickiest among hunters.

Pros:

+ Stiff yet lightweight carbon composite stock

+ 5R Rock Creek 416 stainless fluted barrel

+ Light Timney Elite Hunter trigger

+ Hand bedded action

+ Carbon fiber magazine for long actions

+ Long magazine OAL for reloading long bullets

+ Flush fit push button sling swivel mounts

+ Smooth bolt after initial break-in

+ Excellent lifetime warranty with no need for proof of receipt and great customer service

+ Affordable barrel replacement through Seekins

+ Vertical grip for prone and benchrest shooting

+ 20 MOA rail

+ 5/8×24 threaded muzzle

+ Satisfaction guarantee

 

 

Cons:

– 2 handed magazine change

– Safety doesn’t lock the bolt

– Thickly palm-swelled vertical grip might not be your preference for offhand shots but is a pro for prone

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