Ever since I was old enough to read, I have poured over hundreds of articles that tried to pick the best all-around deer rifle. Weighing in with my pick, I am going to ignore a lot of myth and personal preference and pick one single rifle as the best ever made for hunting deer in all possible scenarios.
Deer in the United States are hunted in almost every conceivable type of terrain, from high mountains, to flat prairies, in dense forests, and on sandy deserts. So, we will first select a caliber suitably sufficient for all of these challenges.
Our perfect deer cartridge needs to be flat-shooting for all those long-range shots on the prairies and across canyons in the mountains. If we use it in heavy woods, it needs to hit hard and be capable of firing fairly heavy-for-caliber bullets.
For the heavy brush and forests, we want something that will shoot completely through a deer, leaving a good blood trail for tracking in dense cover. We also want a cartridge that will give deep, positive penetration for shots at poor angles, what Elmer Keith called "raking shots."
These criteria rule out everything below 7mm caliber, as well as such wonderful calibers as the .35 Whelen and .338/06 because of their moderate range limitations.
The perfect cartridge is going to have to cover a lot of ground. As for long range, it is reasonable to set a limit of 400 yards. Anything farther is simply beyond the marksmanship of all but a very select few. This rules out all the normal woods cartridges like the .35 Remington, .30-30 Winchester, and .348 Winchester.
Deer cover the spectrum from Coues deer in Arizona and small Texas Hill Country deer that might dress out at 110 pounds, to the monsters of the northern United States and Canada that can weigh nearly as much as a spike bull elk. This means our cartridge selection must have power and versatility.
While the standard calibers like the .270 Winchester and .30-06 can handle most situations, I would prefer a bit more power for long-range shots at the largest deer.
The .300 magnums would fit our description quite well, and many hunters use them even for smaller deer species. However, they are more powerful than necessary and kick too much for many hunters to handle well. We also do not need the power of the .338 Winchester or .340 Weatherby, though either of those would certainly do the job. This narrows the field to one of the smaller magnums in 7mm or .270. But, before we make our final cartridge selection, we need to decide which gun we want because some of the cartridges might not be chambered in our chosen gun.
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Since we are using this rifle in every conceivable type of terrain and weather, it must be light enough to carry without undue strain, and must be weatherproof. A heavy-barreled bolt-action rifle in one of the magnums would certainly take care of the accuracy and range problems, but is too heavy to carry all day on foot up and down mountains and across swamps, so they have to go, too. This leaves us with a rifle weighing less than 9 pounds loaded and scoped.
Since some of our hunting is in the thick stuff where we might need a fast second or third shot, we can rule out single shots. And although a good man with a bolt action can work a bolt faster than most would believe, the bolt action is slower than any of the levers, pumps, or semi-autos. Only one lever action, the Browning BLR, is offered in the calibers we are interested in, so it is definitely in the running.
At this time, no pump-action rifles are offered in any of the magnum calibers, so they are out. That is a shame, too, because the pump-action is one of the fastest and most reliable. In semi-auto, the only rifle I know of offered in magnum calibers is the Browning BAR. So, we seem to have narrowed our choices down to two--the BAR and BLR. Both are offered in several calibers that fit our needs for a mid-caliber magnum.
Of these two rifles, either will fit our needs, but our purpose is to pick a single rifle. Now, if we add one more straw to the camels back, we are left with only one entry. Assume that some of our hunting will be on horseback, requiring carrying our rifle in a saddle scabbard. This is the realm of the lever rifle. Therefore, our choice of the most perfect deer rifle ever built is:
The Browning BLR Lightweight 81 with 24-inch barrel in 7mm Remington Magnum caliber. Topped with a good variable scope of about 3-9X, we are set for almost anything.
There you have it. This is not a rifle I personally would choose for anything, but when we try to make one tool perform a multitude of tasks, we run the risk of choosing a tool that is not necessarily the best for anything. Still, the BLR is a fine gun, very durable and accurate, and is more than capable of fulfilling all the requirements we have placed on it in this column.
If you are one of those rare individuals satisfied with only one do-it-all gun, this is my suggestion to you. However, I will continue to pick the tool I think best for each individual situation I encounter. After all, no law says I have to follow my own advice.