Skip to main content

Top 50 Guns for Hunting in the Last 50 Years

This three-part series of the top 50 firearms for hunting in the last 50 years is made up of the top 25 rifles, 15 shotguns and 10 handguns.

Top 50 Guns for Hunting in the Last 50 Years

By some accounts, the Golden Age of gun-building all but ended in 1964 when Winchester changed the design of the beloved Model 70. Since then, there have been a few cool, new guns introduced, and a few truly revolutionary ones. But 50? Surely coming up with that many great guns to hit the market since 1971 would be a tall task. After putting ink to paper and coming up short, I turned to the real experts — our staff of overly qualified and imminently experienced hunters and shooters who have literally seen it all when it comes to guns and hunting.

After consulting with Craig Boddington, Keith Wood and Joseph von Benedikt, along with publisher Kevin Steele and associate editor Joe Ferronato, I had a new problem. My list of 50 great firearms introduced in the last 50 years was now nearing 100. With a red pen, a stack of gun books and the Google-box within reach, I sat down and started cutting. Let me tell you, it wasn’t an easy task and there are many great guns that got left off the list for the simple fact we just didn’t have room on the page for all of them.

Top 25 Rifles Intro

While the argument could be made that the pre-’64 Winchester Model 70 is the best firearm ever designed, there are a lot of other rifles introduced since then that are pretty darn close. From the recent re-birth of the lever-action to sub-MOA bolt-actions that can be had for a few hundred bucks, there are a lot of great hunting rifles available to hunters today. 

The in-line rifle swept the muzzleloader market, and blackpowder rifles now reach out to unheard of ranges (for better or worse, depending on your viewpoint). One even loads the charge from the breech, begging the question, is it really a muzzleloader? Many state game commission say it is.

The rifles that made the list did so for a variety of reasons, whether for their inherent accuracy, unique design or affordability. Others showcase the epitome of the gunmaker’s art. Some might be ugly, but they’re so functional, they found a permanent place behind the seat of thousands of ranch trucks out West.

Sure there are rifles that didn’t make the list, but probably should have. I can think of a few, and one or two that are among my favorites. But I had to draw the line somewhere, and for this list, that came in at 25.

See Top 25 Rifles

Top 15 Shotguns Intro

While the art of the rifle peaked in the earlier half of the last century, shotguns really came into their own starting in the 1980s and 90s. Consider Benelli’s Super Black Eagle — the autoloader that came to define waterfowling, or the venerable 11-87, an upgrade of the already legendary Remington 1100. In the mid-90s, I bought a Beretta 391 that was like an extension of my arm — it was like a couldn’t miss. Unfortunately, a struggling copywriter early in my career, the Beretta only lasted a few seasons before I had to sell it to keep the lights on. The Mossberg 835 introduced the world to the 3 ½-inch chamber, and became a nightmare for stubborn gobblers and high-flying geese. These are just a few of the scatterguns that make the list, and of those that didn’t, Browning’s Maxus is perhaps the most glaring omission. It could have just as easily made the list.

See Top 15 Shotguns

Top 10 Handguns Intro

When I asked Executive Field Editor Craig Boddington for suggestions on the best handguns of the last 50 years, he immediately replied:

“Damn me, I cannot come up with a single significant development in hunting handguns in the last 50 years.”

Lucky for our readers, we have a couple of other crack handgunners on our staff — Keith Wood and Joseph von Benedikt — that did come up with some great suggestions that have come to market since 1971. The boom in popularity of the 10mm chambering for hunting has given us a couple great 1911-variants, and of course, the Taurus Judge made a big splash when it was introduced. There are also some modern takes on the revolver worth noting, including the affordable Ruger Wrangler, which I’ve come to love since it was introduced in the last few years. 

See Top 10 Handguns

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

Popular Videos

Venison Pastrami Recipe

Venison Pastrami Recipe

Skip the deli and make your own pastrami from whitetails, mule deer, elk or other cuts of venison. The process is simple, though it does take some time for the meat to brine and smoke. This technique also works great with goose or ducks breasts as well.

New for 2021: Nosler M48 Mountain Carbon Rifle New Chamberings, Stock Updates

New for 2021: Nosler M48 Mountain Carbon Rifle New Chamberings, Stock Updates

Regardless of which caliber or color scheme option you choose, these M48 Carbon Rifles are the perfect way to get into a hard-hitting, affordable, lightweight, accurate, and high precision rifle from Nosler.

Venison Curry Recipe

Venison Curry Recipe

Hearty and flavorful, this curry is simple to make and requires just a few ingredients you can likely find at your local store. The cooking method turns tough cuts tender, making it a great choice for shoulder and hindquarter cuts from deer, elk and other venison. Bonus points if you use axis deer, which are native to India.

See All Videos

Magazine Cover

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save.

Digital Now Included!


Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services


Buy Digital Single Issues

Don't miss an issue.
Buy single digital issue for your phone or tablet.

Buy Single Digital Issue on the Petersen's Hunting App

Other Magazines

Special Interest Magazines

See All Special Interest Magazines

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Get the top Petersen's Hunting stories delivered right to your inbox.

Phone Icon

Get Digital Access.

All Petersen's Hunting subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now