Head-to-Head Review: The Ultimate Predator Rifle

Head-to-Head Review: The Ultimate Predator Rifle

With this rise in popularity of predator hunting across the country, the "Ultimate Predator Rifle" debate has ramped up in hunting camps everywhere. Our office is no different. Here at Petersen's Hunting we've always had a goal of finding the best rifle on the market for coyotes, foxes, and bobcats. In an attempt to end our search, we chose five popular models and subjected them to a realistic battery of objective tests.

There are literally dozens of predator rifles available, so how did we determine which five to test? It had to be a .223 (to keep the playing field level), it had to be under $1,500 (MSRP), and it had to be available at the time of testing. We wanted each gun to represent a category of the market and to be widely known and used by predator experts around the country.

We set several test parameters: length, weight, price, trigger pull, reliability, raw accuracy, and speed of operation. Each rifle was measured and weighed, and triggers were tested five times each with a Lyman Digital Trigger Gauge from Brownells.

The rifles were evaluated for reliability both with live fire and by cycling many rounds through the action. Using the same Leupold VX-3 4.5-14x40mm scope and premium Hornady 55-grain V-Max ammunition from the same lot for each rifle, the rifles were shot from a benchrest at 100 yards to determine mechanical accuracy potential.


Finally, they were fired from the seated position at steel targets positioned at 80, 100, and 150 yards with the close target placed at an oblique angle to provide for a transition. The results of the field course were logged with a timer with both total time and split times (time between shots). While all the rifles did well, as expected, some shined in different categories. Nonetheless, we have our minds made up on the ultimate predator rifle. Now it's your turn.


CZ-USA 527 American

true micro-length Mauser-style action.

CZ-USA 527 American

Detachable 5-round magazine.

CZ-USA 527 American

Best Group | .62

Overall Length | 40.4

Barrel Length | 22

Unloaded Weight | 5.9

Twist Rate | 1:12

Trigger Pull AVG. | 3.12

Chronograph Velocity | 3,134

Magazine Capacity | 5+1

MSRP Price: $711

CZ-USA 527 American

Adjustable single-set trigger.

CZ-USA 527 American

This little Czech rifle is the most traditional among our choices with a mini Mauser action and a checkered walnut stock. CZs have the reputation as being a tad rough out of the box, and this rifle was no exception. The bolt throw was scratchy, and though the rifle functioned reliably, it took some effort to get the cartridges out of the magazine and up the feedramp.

The single-set trigger is fantastic for precision shots and our benchtesting, but the trigger has a lot of creep. Most users will find the safety catch a bit odd as it operates in reverse to what we're accustomed to. This rifle showed signs of serious accuracy potential, with two shots from each group landing in a single hole, but the slow twist rate handicaps the rifle from taking full advantage of the .223 cartridge.

Kimber Montana

Stainless bolt with Mauser claw extractor.

Kimber Montana

Stock features pillar and glass bedding.

Kimber Montana

Best Group | .65

Overall Length | 41.25

Barrel Length | 22

Unloaded Weight | 5.37

Twist Rate | 1:9

Trigger Pull AVG. | 3.12

Chronograph Velocity | 3,188

Magazine Capacity | 5+1

MSRP Price: $1,359

Kimber Montana

Very repeatable adjustable trigger.

Kimber Montana

The Kimber is the best-finished and sweetest-handling rifle in our test. This rifle is slim, trim, and lightweight, and the rugged Kevlar synthetic stock design is excellent. The fit and finish of both the metal to metal and metal to stock are superb, and the pillar- and glass- bedded synthetic stock and stainless-steel construction make it ideal for harsh weather conditions.

It has a very good, and very repeatable, trigger pull, and the accuracy was excellent. For a 'œwalking varminter,' it would be hard to beat this little Kimber. It handles like a wand and points like a dream. Not surprisingly, it is the most expensive bolt-action rifle in our test. There always has to be a downside.

Mossberg MVP Flex

Drop-Push bolt design accepts AR-style magazines

Mossberg MVP Flex

Synthetic 6-position adjustable FLEX stock.

Mossberg MVP Flex

Best Group | .64

Overall Length | 37.25

Barrel Length | 20

Unloaded Weight | 6.5

Twist Rate | 1:9

Trigger Pull AVG. | 3.12

Chronograph Velocity | 3,135

Magazine Capacity | 30

MSRP Price: $928

Mossberg MVP Flex

LBA Adjustable Trigger System.

Mossberg MVP Flex

The Mossberg MVP Flex was a sleeper. The unorthodox stock design and rather poor stock-to-metal fit had me doubting this rifle — that is, until I shot it. The MVP is accurate on paper and handled fine on the steel speed course. The rifle consistently had one of the best triggers in our test. The safety's position made it easy to access, and the protruding AR-style magazine made the rifle comfortable to carry one-handed.

While we question the ruggedness of the unique bolt design that allows it to feed cartridges from an AR magazine, we did not encounter any problems. The MVP's threaded barrel would make attaching a suppressor simple, and when not in use, a cap covers the threads. Despite a rather utilitarian appearance, this rifle is a performer.

Rock River Arms Fred Eichler

Free-float handguard with full-length top rail.

Rock River Arms Fred Eichler

Durable scope rail mount.

Rock River Arms Fred Eichler

Built-in storage compartment.

Rock River Arms Fred Eichler

Best Group | .36

Overall Length | 34

Barrel Length | 16

Unloaded Weight | 7.6

Twist Rate | 1:8

Trigger Pull AVG. | 4.1

Chronograph Velocity | 3,185

Magazine Capacity | 30

MSRP Price: $1,510

Rock River Arms Fred Eichler

This Rock River tricked-out AR is obscenely accurate — so much for the old myth that bolt guns are more accurate than semiautos. This was by far the fastest rifle for engaging multiple targets — not only do you not need to cycle a bolt, but also you never lose the sight picture between shots. The only downside to this rifle is that it's a pound heavier than the other competitors, but at 7.6 pounds, it's not a beast to carry by any means.

Thanks to the effective but noisy muzzle brake, this rifle is also the loudest. With the 1:8 twist, stainless-steel, free-floated barrel, this is an incredibly versatile rifle that could do duty as a hog-hunting or home-defense carbine when it's not slaying coyotes. Despite having the shortest barrel in the test, it produced among the highest velocities.

Browning X-Bolt Composite Stalker

Smooth 60-degree bolt lift.

Browning X-Bolt Composite Stalker

Textured pistol grip and adjustable feather trigger.

Browning X-Bolt Composite Stalker

Detachable Rotary polymer magazine.

Browning X-Bolt Composite Stalker

Best Group | .63

Overall Length | 41.25

Barrel Length | 22

Unloaded Weight | 6.18

Twist Rate | 1:12

Trigger Pull avg. | 3.84

Chronograph Velocity | 2,998

Magazine Capacity | 5+1

MSRP Price: $860

Browning X-Bolt Composite Stalker

The X-Bolt was a solid performer in every respect and is a good option for chasing coyotes. This rifle is trim and lightweight but feels more like a big game rifle, which I intend as a compliment. The X-Bolt had the only flush-fitting detachable box magazine in our test, and the tang safety is the most user-friendly of all of the bolt-action designs we tested.

The much-celebrated 60-degree bolt throw offered no real advantage on the steel targets, but in fairness, this was the first rifle shot on the course, so I may have got slightly faster with practice. The rubbery surface on the synthetic stock makes this rifle easy to hang onto in foul weather. My only real complaint about this rifle is the 1:12 twist, which prevents the use of today's excellent heavyweight bullets.

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