From the earliest stages of repeating rifle production until the modern day, there have been thousands of different rifle designs. Most of these guns didn’t receive worldwide acclaim, and many only exist today in historical texts or in the hands of a few collectors. Other guns, however, became classics that defined the standards by which all other rifles are judged.
Some win this acclaim through innovative design, others through their reputation for hell-and-back reliability. Many of these guns have been copied, and some—like the 98 Mauser—are the inspiration for dozens of other similar designs that have remained popular over the course of the last century.
Modern machining technology has allowed companies to build cheaper rifles to tighter tolerances. With the accuracy revolution of the last decade, we’ve seen the development of rifles that cost less than $500, yet still promise sub-MOA accuracy and a great trigger. With that kind of competition, it’s hard to believe that anyone would pay for a rifle designed 50 or even 100 years ago.
None of us would consider driving a 1916 Studebaker Speedster through rush-hour traffic every day, but hunting big game with an early 20th century rifle doesn’t significantly limit the hunter’s ability to fill a tag. The enduring nature of these firearms—and their innovative designers—is a testament to just how good they were in the first place.
And, in my opinion, they’ve all earned a spot in the big game rifle hall of fame. Check out my list of the best big game rifles of all time.
- Paul Mauser’s design is the most-copied bolt action rifle of all time, and there’s a good reason. The Mauser’s design is robust, with a full-length claw extractor that insures positive extraction and ejection when you need it most, whether that’s on a battlefield or facing a charging cape buffalo. Mauser’s design became a worldwide winner, and you can thank him for giving us the concept of the “controlled round feed” action. Mauser still makes rifles, but it will take another century to determine whether or not any of the newer designs will be as successful as the venerable 98.