Some guns have reputations that, for some reason, far outweigh their actual performance in the field. Read on to learn our choices for the most overrated guns for hunting.
There are many guns designed and marketed for hunting that are truly great firearms and are recognized as such. However, there are also a number of highly overrated guns that do not live up to their glorified reputations in reality, yet they somehow still maintain a very devoted following.
Some of these overrated guns used to be great, but are now only trucking along on their past reputations or due to nostalgia amongst fans. Others are great guns for a gun collection or for taking to the shooting range, but aren’t the best choices for a hunting gun.
In any case, virtually all of these guns are extremely popular among certain segments of the hunting and shooting communities and their inclusion on this list will be considered almost sacrilegious by the respective fan clubs for each gun.
Keep in mind that this is an article on the most overrated guns for hunting, not the most overrated guns for collectors, or the most overrated guns for shooting enthusiasts. Additionally, I’m not saying that any of the choices on this list are bad guns or that they don’t work well in certain applications.
I am saying that the actual performance by these guns does not measure up to the hype that surrounds them. In almost every case, there are many other guns currently available that would be better choices for you to use as a hunting gun than any of the overrated guns on this list.
Scroll through to learn all about the most overrated guns for hunting, and why they are not the best choices for most hunters.
Pre-64 Winchester Model 70
When it was first introduced in 1936, the Winchester Model 70 was an instant hit among American sportsmen. It didn’t take long for the rifle to develop a well-deserved reputation for reliability and accuracy and it quickly became the standard against which other rifles were judged.
However, Winchester made a number of modifications to the iconic Model 70 rifle in 1964 to make it cheaper and easier to manufacture. Though many changes were made, the primary difference was that rifles produced after 1964 no longer had a Mauser-style “controlled round feed” bolt
This change, combined with a general decline in the overall quality of craftsmanship, made the newer model rifle very unpopular among shooters and it was widely panned by critics as inferior to the Pre-64 Model 70. As a result, Pre-64 Model 70s are in high demand among collectors and shooters all over the world and Pre-64 Model 70s fetch fantastic (and some would say unreasonable) prices on the current firearms market.
Fortunately, FN Herstal began producing the latest version of the Winchester Model 70 in 2007. This incarnation of the legendary rifle was a dramatic improvement in quality over the other Post-64 Model 70s and once again featured controlled round feeding. Among many other improvements, these new rifles feature outstanding triggers, great barrels, and excellent bedding jobs. Not surprisingly, they are quickly developing a reputation for accuracy and reliability deserving of the good Winchester Model 70 name.
Look, I get it: people love the Pre-64 Model 70 and there are a lot of reasons why it is still an awesome rifle. However, with a great utilitarian option available for hunters in the current production Model 70s, most of the value in a Pre-64 Model 70 is derived from its value as a collector’s item (especially if you have a particularly rare specimen, such as one chambered in .300 Savage or .35 Remington).
If you’re a gun collector or just someone who loves old rifles, then the Pre-64 Model 70 is perfect for you and there’s nothing wrong with owning or hunting with one. However, if you just want a good quality hunting rifle, then there is virtually nothing the Pre-64 Model 70 can do that current production Model 70s can do (and maybe even do better) at a fraction of the price.
Post-2007 Marlin 1895
A cousin to the venerable Marlin 336, the big bore Marlin 1895 is commonly used by hunters pursuing large, tough game in North America. Nicknamed the “guide gun,” the Model 1895 was especially well-liked among those who might have to deal with an angry brown bear, grizzly bear, or moose at close range.
For many years, Marlin made great rifles befitting their sterling reputation. However, Marlin Firearms was acquired by Remington in 2007 and the quality control on their rifles (especially on the Model 1895) began to noticeably slip. Shooters started complaining of problems with the wood on the stock, unreliable feeding, and just generally poor quality work in general.
Though Remington claims to have fixed their quality control issues, the jury is still out on current production Marlin rifles at this point. The older Marlin Model 1895 rifles are still fantastic choices for hunters wanting a good quality lever-action hunting rifle, but be cautious about buying one made after 2007.
A previous version of this article featured the Taurus Judge. However, we decided the Blaser R93 was a better choice and replaced the Judge with it.
Quite common in Europe, the Blaser R93 also has a smaller, but still loyal following among hunters in the United States. The rifle is accurate, has a fast cycling straight-pull bolt action, and Blaser produces a line of interchangeable barrels that allow the owner to completely customize the rifle for a wide range of situations. For these reasons, it is not surprising that the Blaser R93 is so popular.
However, the rifle is not without a serious flaw, which is why it is on this list of overrated guns. The most notable problem with the Blaser R93 is the fact that there have been multiple cases of the bolt on an R93 unlocking when fired and striking the shooter in the face with disastrous results.
It is tough to separate fact from fiction with these incidents though. People in the Blaser fan club state that all of these incidents were the result of the shooter using poor quality handloads that greatly exceed the maximum safe pressure of the rifle. Critics of the rifle counter that the shooters were using factory ammunition and that a rifle design that allows the bolt to fly straight backwards with such force, even when subjected to excess pressure, is inherently flawed.
Sure, all rifle actions will fail, sometimes spectacularly, when subjected to enough abuse. However, I’ve never seen or heard about a bolt actually flying straight back into the shooter’s face except with the Blaser R93.
Interestingly enough, Blaser introduced the new R8 rifle a few years ago as an upgrade to the R93. Among other changes, the R8 features a completely reworked bolt that appears to be better designed than the one on the R93. So far, the R8 has been well received and incorporates almost all of the features people liked about the R93. Additionally, the new bolt appears to be a dramatic improvement over the one in the R93 and there have been no reported incidents of catastrophic bolt failure with the R8. So, if you really like Blaser rifles and want to hunt with a straight-pull bolt action rifle, buy an R8 instead.
Any Rifle Chambered in a Weatherby Magnum Cartridge
Founded by legendary hunter Roy Weatherby, Weatherby Firearms produces some particularly high quality rifles, such as the Mark V and the Vanguard models. Chambered in a wide variety of cartridges, including common rounds like the .30-06 Springfield, these rifles are known for their accuracy, reliability, and sturdy construction, making them great choices for big game hunters.
Weatherby also designed a line of high velocity magnum cartridges, like the .270 Weatherby Magnum, the .300 Weatherby Magnum, the .378 Weatherby Magnum, and the .460 Weatherby Magnum. The .257 Weatherby, .300 Weatherby, and .30-378 Weatherby are especially popular among hunters pursuing animals like elk, mule deer, sheep, and mountain goat who need a flat shooting cartridge that still hits hard at long range.
It is true that the Weatherby magnums shine when shooting at extended range. It is also true that they shoot at higher velocities than virtually every other comparable cartridge (like the .270 Winchester for the .270 Weatherby, the .300 Winchester Magnum for the .300 Weatherby Magnum, etc.). However, it is also true that the gap in performance between the Weatherby magnums and their closest competitors is often overstated.
For instance, the .300 Weatherby Magnum can shoot a 180gr bullet about 300 feet per second faster than the .300 Winchester Magnum. Yes, it will shoot a little bit flatter and hit a little bit harder, but no game animal will be able to tell the difference and I’ll wager that there isn’t much you can do with the .300 Weatherby that you can’t do with the .300 Win Mag.
The other problem with the Weatherby magnums is that extra velocity comes at a cost of increased recoil and muzzle blast. While there are many hunters who can shoot the smaller Weatherby cartridges accurately and take advantage of the slight edge in performance they provide when shooting at long range, this is often not the case with the larger Weatherby cartridges like the .375, .378, .416, and .460 Weatherby Magnums. They have such heavy recoil and so much muzzle blast that it is a rare hunter who can really handle them well.
Due to the fact that so few hunters can accurately shoot the really big Weatherby Magnums, they have developed a nasty reputation among African professional hunters, some of whom refer to them as “Wounda-bees” due to the propensity of Weatherby armed hunters to wound animals because of poor shooting.
For example, in his book Africa’s Most Dangerous (p 96), Kevin Robertson told the tale of a visiting hunter who took several shots at a Cape Buffalo with a .460 Weatherby Magnum. When it was all over, he joked that the buffalo was in better shape than the hunter, who had two black eyes and a bloody nose from the recoil of his rifle.
Even when carried by a hunter who can handle one of the big Weatherby Magnums, these cartridges are still not generally highly thought of in Africa. This is because most shots on the big animals that necessitate the use of larger cartridges (like buffalo) are taken at short range where the high velocity and flat shooting characteristics of the cartridge aren’t much of an advantage.
In fact, the high velocity of these cartridges might even prove to be a disadvantage since extremely high impact velocities often result in bullet failure, erratic terminal performance, and produce excessive amounts of blood shot meat.
If we’re really being honest with ourselves, the vast majority of American hunters take very few shots at game more than 200 yards away during their lifetime. At short range, the high velocity Weatherby Magnum cartridges don’t offer much of an advantage over the dozens of other capable hunting cartridges out there. Why deal with the increased recoil and increased cost of Weatherby Magnum ammunition when you’re not in a situation to fully utilize their strengths? For those that really do need a good long range cartridge for hunting, I ask the question again: what can you do with a Weatherby Magnum cartridge that you can’t do nearly as well with their closest competitors for less money, less recoil, and less muzzle blast?
Holland & Holland Double Rifle
Double barreled firearms first became prevalent during the days of the muzzleloader. Having the ability to quickly fire two shots without going through the lengthy reloading process required of a muzzleloader was a great advantage for hunters. Breech loading double rifles, especially those chambered in big bore cartridges like the .450/400 and .577 Black Powder and Nitro Express rounds, remained in widespread use during the late 1800s and early 1900s among hunters in India and Africa pursuing large species of dangerous game like tiger, buffalo, and elephant. These rifles really proved their worth during close range encounters with these animals where having a nearly instantaneous follow up shot could be the difference between life and death.
Holland & Holland rifles were (and still are) regarded as the the cream of the crop among double rifles. Known as the rifle equivalent of a Rolls Royce, they are fashionable and have historically been the most popular rifles used by the rich and famous. Frederick Selous, Theodore Roosevelt, and numerous members of the British Royal Family have used Holland & Holland double rifles on safari.
Holland & Holland advertises that all of their firearms are hand made by master gun makers and that 850 man-hours of work go into making each of their rifles in order to ensure that they are the finest guns that money can buy.
Their double rifles are also often custom made to the exact size specifications of the hunter who will be using them. This is to make sure that the rifle fits the shooter and points perfectly. For these reasons, Holland & Holland double rifles are among the most reliable and best “feeling” rifles available anywhere in the world.
That being said, Holland & Holland double rifles (really all doubles for that matter) have a few inherent disadvantages. The first disadvantage is the rifle’s small magazine capacity. Yes, double rifles allow the hunter to take a very fast follow-up shot. However, a well-trained hunter with a good quality bolt-action rifle can get off an aimed second shot nearly as fast as with a double rifle. Combine that with the fact that a modern bolt-action rifle can hold up to 5 big bore cartridges in the magazine, and a bolt-action rifle has a clear advantage if more than 2 shots are required.
The second disadvantage is that a double rifle is a specialized tool and, like any highly specialized tool, it struggles in applications outside of its intended use. No other rifle in the world can compare to a big bore double rifle when it comes to stopping large, dangerous game at close range. A good double is handy and points almost as well as a fine shotgun, which makes it ideal for stopping an angry buffalo or elephant at ranges measured in feet. However, while it would be wrong to say double rifles are inaccurate, there are many other rifles that are much better choices than a double rifle for shooting at targets further away than 50-75 yards.
These rifles are also typically quite heavy, which is necessary to dampen the fierce recoil of really big cartridges like the .500 and .577 Nitro Express. This makes them much easier to shoot, but a 13-pound rifle is pretty darn heavy and will quickly wear down most hunters during the 10-20 miles of walking per day that may be necessary on an elephant hunt.
The other big disadvantage of Holland & Holland double rifles is they are incredibly expensive, with prices starting at over $100,000 and going up fast from there.
Sure, they’re great guns, but a large portion of that cost is paying for the name Holland & Holland. Most hunters (myself included) have no problem paying extra for the quality that comes with a good brand name. However, I’m not convinced you’re really getting enough extra performance in this case to justify the incredible cost of these rifles.
For instance, a CZ 550 Safari Magnum chambered in .458 Lott is a capable rifle at both short range and out to about 200 yards, is very reliable, holds 6 cartridges (5 in the magazine and 1 in the chamber), weighs less than 10 pounds with a scope, is an excellent dangerous game stopper, and can be purchased for less than $2,000. In many respects, it compares favorably to a 13 pound Holland & Holland double rifle that costs over 50 times as much. Is paying that much more money for the Holland & Holland name on a rifle that is a slightly better short range stopper and is extremely reliable, but worse in almost every other regard, really worth it?
For someone who often needs to deal with stopping a large and angry animal at close range, such as a Professional Hunter guiding elephant and buffalo hunts in Africa, I would say yes. However, for the vast majority of hunters, to include those who have the opportunity to hunt large, dangerous game in Africa a time or two, I would say no.
What do you think of our choices for the most overrated guns for hunting? Did we miss any?
Like what you see here? You can read more great hunting articles by John McAdams on his hunting blog. Follow him on Facebook The Big Game Hunting Blog, on Twitter @TheBigGameHunt, and on Instagram The_Big_Game_Hunter