By: Warren Gray
Copyright © 2022
“There can be a steep price to pay for many of these rifles—
in terms of both cash and increased recoil—and many people
can’t shoot lightweight, hunting rifles as accurately as heavier,
more-stable platforms. If you’re willing to pay the price, here
are (some) production rifles that will get the job done without
weighing you down.”
— Mike Dickerson, Field and Stream magazine, August 12, 2022.
I recently studied a dozen of the best lightweight and ultra-lightweight, hunting rifles in the range of 4.75 pounds to 6.6 pounds, and the results were somewhat surprising. First of all, let’s eliminate those that are outrageously expensive, such as the MG Arms Ultra-Light at 4.75 pounds for $4,725, the New Ultra-Light Arms (NULA) Model 20 at 4.75 pounds for $4,200, the Weatherby Mark V Backcountry 2.0 Ti at 4.9 pounds for $3,449+, and the Sako 85 Carbonlight at 5.29 pounds for $3,149. These are all priced up there in the lofty stratosphere, beyond the practical affordability of most hunters. There are eight excellent rifles in this lightweight category with more-reasonable price tags, however; so it’s worth a quick review of each of them, in descending order of price.
First is the superb Kimber Mountain Ascent at 4.8 pounds for $2,302, advertised by Kimber as “the lightest production, bolt-action, big-game rifle available today.” It’s manufactured in 6.5mm Creedmoor, .308 Winchester, and 7mm-08 Remington at this low weight, and other caliber options ranging up to .300 Win. Mag., but the weight increases accordingly to 6.4 pounds. All are produced with thin, stainless-steel barrels, camouflaged, carbon-fiber stocks, factory-installed muzzle brakes, adjustable triggers, and Pachmayr Decelerator recoil pads to help tame the hefty recoil.
Jason Vincent of Sporting Classics Daily reviewed the Kimber Mountain Ascent on August 23, 2018: “Looking to shave some weight from my gear…(so) I chose Kimber’s Mountain Ascent rifle in 6.5mm Creedmoor…Why skip a meal or two and get on a treadmill, when I can just reduce the weight of my rifle?…I had a box from Hornady with plenty of the ELD Match and 143-grain ELD-X Precision Hunter (ammunition.)
“I took the barreled action out of the stock to adjust the trigger…With very little effort…it became the best factory trigger I’ve felt in a long time. Holding the carbon-fiber stock by itself is strange—it weighs nothing…(I) mounted a Swarovski Z8i 1.7-13×42 (scope), and installed the Spartan Precision carbon-fiber bipod…This rifle won me over…(It) has very little recoil, thanks in part to the muzzle brake.
“My groups with the ELD Match averaged in the low .8 (MOA) range…(but) a better shooter can get the match ammo into the .5s…I’m buying it from them…the Mountain Ascent can shoot better than I can with the factory Hornady ELD-X…This rifle is very accurate…it does have features you’d normally only find on a custom rig.”
Next on the list is the Barrett Fieldcraft at 5.2 pounds for $1,799. This weapon is still a bit on the steep side of affordability and is similar to the Kimber in the use of stainless-steel barrels, carbon-fiber stocks, and Pachmayr Decelerator recoil pads. It’s made in .243 Winchester, 6mm Creedmoor, .22-250 Rem., 6.5mm Creedmoor, .308 Win., and 7mm-08 Remington. The gun saves additional weight with a scaled-down receiver and a fluted bolt.
Stepping down only slightly in price is the Savage 110 Ultralight at 5.85 to six pounds for $1,649, sporting a skeletonized receiver, with Savage’s famous, adjustable AccuStock and AccuTrigger. Its most-noteworthy feature, however, is its PROOF Research carbon-fiber-wrapped barrel, as shown below.
The Savage 110 Ultralight is available in .308 Winchester, .270 Winchester, .28 Nosler, .280 Ackley Imp., .30-06 Springfield, .300 WSM, 6.5mm Creedmoor, 6.5mm PRC, and 7mm PRC.
Still on the high side of $1,000 is the Kimber Hunter at 5.4 pounds for $1,026. The cost savings come from using less-complex, composite stock and a detachable, non-metallic magazine. These rifles have adjustable triggers, and the Kimber Hunter is offered in .243 Win., .308 Win., 7mm-08 Rem., .270 Win., .280 Ack. Imp., .30-06 Springfield, and 6.5mm Creedmoor.
Finally descending into the range of realistic affordability is the Savage 110 Lightweight Storm at 5.65 pounds for $849. This simplified rifle features a stainless-steel barrel, skeletonized receiver, synthetic AccuStock, and AccuTrigger. It’s chambered in .308 Win., .223 Rem., .243 Win., .270 Win., 6.5mm Creedmoor, and 7mm-08 Rem.
The Savage 11 Lightweight Hunter features a traditional, oil-finished, walnut stock, yet it weighs in at a wispy 5.5 pounds for $840. It has the adjustable AccuTrigger, and is produced in 6.5mm Creedmoor, .243 Win., and .308 Win., with a spiral-fluted bolt and slender, 20-inch barrel. With Federal Trophy Copper ammunition, it routinely shoots 0.5 to 0.7-inch MOA groups.
The last two lightweight entries are from Ruger Firearms, starting with the Ruger American Go Wild rifle at 6.6 pounds for $769. It is the heaviest of this particular group, but also one of the most impressive and affordable. It features a synthetic, camouflaged stock, soft, rubber recoil pad, adjustable trigger, and a free-floating, bronze-Cerakote-finished barrel with radial muzzle brake. The Go Wild is chambered in .243 Win., 6.5mm Creedmoor, .25-06 Rem., .308 Win., .30-06 Springfield, .300 Win. Mag., .350 Legend, 6.5mm PRC, 7mm-08 Rem., or .450 Bushmaster.
Mike Dickerson, seen above, recently wrote for Field and Stream magazine: “The rifle grouped five different factory loads into one inch or less, with two loads producing best groups well below half an inch. That’s stellar performance for a hunting rifle of any weight, at any price.”
Our final, lightweight, hunting entry is the Ruger American Rifle Compact at just six to 6.1 pounds for a mere $579, offered in .308 Winchester, .243 Winchester, or 7mm-08 with an 18-inch barrel, or 6.5mm Creedmoor with a 20-inch barrel. It’s a rather plain, black, compact, no-nonsense rifle that gets the job done on a budget, featuring a smooth trigger pull and decent accuracy. It’s all that you really need for taking whitetail deer at 100 yards, so it’s clearly the best buy of this group of eight hunting rifles.
Here you have a wide range of lightweight and ultra-lightweight rifles with various price tags. My favorite is the versatile, Ruger American Go Wild rifle in .30-06 Springfield, capable of taking virtually any North American, wild game. You’ll really appreciate every ounce saved on a lightweight rifle if you ever have to stalk deer on steep, forested hillsides, over a scattered blanket of slippery, autumn leaves at your feet. Rugged terrain like that is the reason that lightweight and ultra-lightweight rifles exist.
* * *
Warren Gray is a retired, U.S. Air Force intelligence officer with experience in joint special operations and counterterrorism, and is an NRA member. He served in Europe and the Middle East, earned Air Force and Navy parachutist wings, four college degrees, and was a distinguished graduate of the Air Force Intelligence Operations Specialist Course, and the USAF Combat Targeting School. He is currently a published author, historian, and deer hunter. You may visit his web site at: warrengray54.vistaprintdigital.com.