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Big Game Rifles Versus Varmint Rifles – what are the major differences

From cartridges to sights what are the major differences?

About four decades ago when a hunter was considering the us of a varmint rifle as opposed to a big game rifle in most cases the same rifle was applied to both tasks. Why you ask? Because in those days the selection of cartridges was far more limited, the types of hunting were more blended versus being defined as separate categories as they are today, and even rifle models were built within a tight grouping that tended to favor both styles and classifications in rifle hunting.

Without question the primary action type regarding either a varmint or big game rifle even today as opposed to way back in the day is the bolt action rifle. The bolt gun is simple, accurate, and lends itself to a vast array of different stock design applications and also basic action types.

Bolt action rifles are easy to put a special sight on such as glass sights, bolt handles can be altered to fit the user with ease, basic controls are within easy reach of almost anyone shooting the rifle, and stocks can be fitted exactly to the shooter.

The following will be an overview of the big game rifle and its paired sighting systems.
Even though I have eluded to the fact that the big game rifle is any time of the bolt action some shooters do gravitate toward the lever action or the semiautomatic rifles. On a much smaller bases some hunters tend to follow the use of the single shot rifle with your truly being one of them for sure.

Author Photos: Mossberg Scout rifle scoped heavy for upon country deer hunting. This is a 308 Caliber rifle.

Deer guns as they are often called because so much of the use with these rifles centers around deer hunting need o be a special breed and well off the akin terms of matching the varmint rigs used today. Deer rifles need to retain a low weight level, come to mount quickly and retain added extreme fast pointing accuracy. Depending on the type of country being hunted, and I have hunted all over the world for varied types of deer, the rifle could be a light as a small single shot or even the old 30-30 Model 94 lever action Winchester. In some cases, the rifle can be as complex as the Browning BAR in a heavy caliber cartridge, but again where and how the big game is hunted will dictate to a great extent just what type of rifle will be selected.
Examples of current production big game rifles.

Single Shots

Author photos:  Author with nice buck taken with Courtney 303 British on an open country deer stand South Dakota. 

In deer rifles, the single shot is an interesting choice because it is lightweight, fast to handle and get on sight. Also if interest is the fact that the rifles in most cases are being built by quality manufactures. I shoot the British Courtney as offered by Uberti in a 303 Brit cartridge, the Sharps buffalo rifle in 45-70 Government, and also the Ruger Number One in 7mm Remington Magnum. The British rifle is a remake of the famous African models used by sport hunter in the mid 1900, the Sharps is relegated to buffalo hunting only, and the Ruger is classic modern rifle that I have used for long range work in Wyoming and Utah against elk, mule, and whitetail deer. When taking an animal that has been hit and about to be lost because a client didn’t do the job correctly the Ruger 7mm is up front and a game changer every time. Single shots are cool, but built for shooters that can hit with that first round down range. To be sure these action types also be used by varmint hunters and are when offered in cartridge options often used by these fur takers. In this case however, I dedicate my trio of single shots to big game exclusively.

Lever action rifles.

Selecting the worldwide known Winchester Model 94 by example, and I own several of them myself the lever action rifle is best applied on big game in areas were the shot is not overly long, and both brush and timer can become an issue to the hunter. Chambered in 30-30 Winchester the rifle is about a 175 through 200 yard deer gun. Lever actions are among the oldest action types in high power rifle designs but in some cases due to the action type less than the most powerful cartridges can be applied to the user level when thing big game. The old 300 Savage and 308 in modern times are exceptions to the general rule, but for the most part, we tend to keep the rifle at closer quart operations and in many cases stay with iron sights versus scoped models. In terms of varmint rifles save for the lever action in a scabbard on some cowboys saddle these are not the prime examples of a varmint rig in the field.

Glass sight when applied to both the single shots and lever action rifles in most cases can be smaller and lighter weight than what is used on the bi bolt guns and newer model autos. Examples include the following.

Vortex Optics Copperhead Second Focal Plane riflescope.

This scope is lighter in weight them many others used on high power rifles. Will carry a 3X9 X40 power and objective settings which are in general an average for deer or related big game rifles, the main tube size is one inch which means it meets the basic standard of most scopes in this classification as a big game glass sight option.

Bushnell Banner Dust & Dawn Multi-X Reticle

This 1.5-4×32 is a lightweight scope that is best used on lever action receivers and also smaller single shot rifles. I shoot this style glass on a Model 94 30-30 in timber hunting situations and have picked out a deer’s vitals through heavy brush with the system and experienced very positive results with same. Using heavy over powered glass in timber or brush country can get to be a less than good experience. Stay small and lightweight in this case.

Edenberg 1-inch tube rifle scope chopped bell housing.

Here is a classic example of a light weight scope that will fit the needs of the light rifle deer hunter. When reviewing the glass sight used on these rifles it will become obvious that in the event you’re going to move into the big rifles as varmint rigs or heavy game rifles your always going to be carrying around a telescope when all you need is something in glass sights about 1/3 the value on that rifles receiver. This scope is offered at a very reasonable price in a 1.5-5×20, or a 3-9X40. The smaller the rifle the smaller the scope in this case.


In general terms the automatic or semi auto in this case is generally a much more beefed up wean largely because the need to do so with the features associated with automatically loading and ejecting rounds for a firearm. Gas pistons, operating rods and high strength chamber parts in the recoil area of the receiver make for a heavier rifle in many cases. This put the rifle right in the middle of a wide open wester plains rifle versus the common brush rifle. Back in the day which for me is about three decades ago, we shot rifles like the Winchester Model 100 semi-autos, and even war surplus M1’s. These were not the best for brush country but we also didn’t have a massive selection of firepower that is evident today. In this area the AR-10 in 243 Winchester or 308 Winchester take the lead among buyers being the American “ Black Gun” has surfaced as top gun largely due to its 20 years of use in the long war in the middle east. Scopes here vary a great deal, but again in deer rifles the basic 3-9X40 comes out on top among many meat hunting types.

Leupold VX-Freedom 450

This Leupold 3-9X40 is a classic example of one of the most used rifle scopes among deer hunters offered today. It is not massively heavy, large or cumbersome. This scope is dead on perfect as a scope for an autoloaders as a full size rifle, and also moves right into the gold standard of high powers being the bolt action rifle, or sliders as they are often referred to at times.

Bolt Action Rifles

In terms of the leader of the pack the bolt action wins hands down. Here is the gun platform that can lean any round offered to the shooting public. The bolt gun can be custom fit to just about anyone, and in terms of a deer rifle, it is the first in line in all wide open hunting country. With three to five round magazine it is not a massive high cap shooter, but it is very accurate, can retain the best in glass sights, and is a good bet as a first shot game stopping system.

Rifles like the Winchester Model 70, remington 700, Savage 110, and Browning A-Bolt, and Ruger M-77’s or Americans are among the best in the business as over the counter offerings to big game hunters. Tack on the Weatherby line as in the MARK V, or Outback models and the quality jumps as will the performance level. Shoot the 257 Weatherby Magnum and you shooting a big game cartridge that is flat with hair in the sights all the way to 400 yards. Move to the whole line of 300 Magnums, or the big 45 caliber super heavies, and nothing in north america or Africa can stand in a bolt guns way.

Big high powered glass sights are right in line for use here. And as such the bolt action becomes the very best choice as a varmint rifle as well. What is the difference you are asking? Well is the deal in black and white. The varmint rifle is most often the gun much like the big game option, but it uses very fast flat shooting bullets much of the time. Makes use of a heaver barrel to draw off excess heat buildup when shoot long strings of shot as in prairie dog or gopher shooting, and the stock designs are often developed to balance a heaver rifle then a deer rifle all around.

For the most part there is a direct comparison between the genetics of as military sniper rifle, police urban sharpshooter rifle, and the modern long range target rifle when we look at the varmint rifles design applications. The stocks are made of polymer, wood or metal. The new models often use the chassis stock designs being all metal, and the for-ends are wide and the barrels are free floated. Buttstocks are designed to be adjustable for exact shooter fit, and even grip surfaces and sizing are taken into account for the best possible control of the rifle on that end of the stock.

Author Photos: Varmint rifles need to be very accurate. This is a Ruger Precision chassis rifle in 6.5 Creedmoor at 100 yards. This is a 1000 yard coyote killer first rate.

Cartridge selection can be anything desired by the shooter but in most cases rounds like the Remington 22-250, 220 Swift, 224 Valkyrie, 22 Creedmoor, and other flat quick moving bullets are favored by many. Of late the 6.5 Creedmoor has taken a place among coyote hunters when it comes to long range song dog shooting. The new 6PRC, 25 Nosler, and 6.5 Weatherby RPM or 257 Weatherby by example are also finding a place among these coyote and other critter type hunters.

Think of the whole ting in this light. The varmint rifle is a game rifle on steroids. Every effort is made when it comes to the good ones regarding brands to make the rifle deadly accurate, able to fight wind off well down range, and out gun a conventional rifle most days of the week.
In the area of glass sights again the best of the best and an increase in scope power settings is advised here. Want range? Ok, your going to have to see the target as well as get the bullet to make contact with it.

Examples of varmint rifle glass.
Leupold VX-6HD 4-24X52

Here the Leupold long range scope is a classic example of a varmint rifles glass optical system. The scope carries massive ranging power, very good glass and a high degree of light control. Designed for low light early in the day and ate shooting, and uses an up to date design in terms of dialing in a target with the open turrets or using the sub tensions
Sub tensions are set in the “ Varmint Hunter “ CDS pattern, and the tube size is the over sized 34mm. While this is a single example of the class of glass I am referring to in this case many others in different brands can meet this level of performance. At times serious shooters will pa more for the scope on the rifle than the rifle itself.

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