Five Great Semi-Automatic Rifles for Hunting Deer

One Hunter's Recommendations

Semi-automatic rifles have gained a bad reputation in some circles. Some shooters regard them as appropriate only for target practice or for hunting small game or fast-moving predators. Others have concerns that hunters fire too often with semi-automatic weapons, thereby creating a safety issue in areas where hunting density is high. In some minds, too, there is confusion over semi-automatic rifles for hunting with the semi-automatic weapons that fall under the "assault weapon" label instituted in 1994. 

The use of semi-automatic rifles for hunting deer and other big game is controversial in many regions. The state of Pennsylvania, for example, has switched its rulings on allowing semis to be used for big game. As of this writing, Pennsylvania does not allow the use of semi-automatic rifles for hunting, but this may change. Most other states allow them for hunting, though there may be restrictions on the size of the magazines. Restrictions may even be enforced on a local level, depending on local hunting density. Always check with local authorities to determine what types of guns are allowed in your hunting territory. This can vary from year to year, depending on the game density and other factors. 

However, semi-autos have a perfectly valid place in the hunting world, especially in the hands of an experienced hunter. They are much faster and easier to use than other types of rifles. I spent my first twenty years of deer hunting using a semi-automatic rifle of one type or another, and in doing so I learned just how good and dependable an automatic deer rifle can be. The reduced recoil makes them more comfortable guns to shoot, too.

Here is a list of some of the best semi-automatic deer big game hunting rifles I've ever used. 

A couple of nice little poppers, ready once again for the woods or range.
A pair of Ruger Carbines, .44 Magnum Cal. Photo by Russ Chastain, all rights reserved

This little gem tops my list because I used it almost exclusively as my deer hunting rifle for about two decades. Although this model is no longer being manufactured, I just had to include it because of my long and pleasant history with this rifle. With its handy carbine length and the hard-hitting 44 Rem Mag cartridge, this is an excellent gun for brush use at ranges out to 100 yards or so. If you can find a used gun in good condition, you won't be disappointed.  More »

Remington semi-automatic rifles are probably the most popular big game rifles of their kind. Long the most affordable semi-auto deer rifle when it comes to high-powered cartridges, the Remingtons  have held their ground through various models, such as the 74, 740, 742, and 7400. While I'm not a big fan of Remington centerfire autoloaders, a lot of hunters swear by them, and to their credit, they have taken a lot of game over the years. More »

Since its introduction in 1967, the Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR) has set the standard for autoloading centerfire hunting rifles. Known for excellent accuracy and dependability, the BAR also lives up to Browning's reputation for high quality and usability. For decades, it was the only commercial semi-auto rifle chambered for magnum cartridges.

Long Trac and Short Trac versions signify a newer generation rifle, and they bear little resemblance to the original. The BAR is available in calibers from 243 through 338 Win Mag.

I own an older Belgian-made version in the 30-06 model, which has been used to make a clean head shot on a deer at 100 yards. More »

When Ruger discontinued the Model 44 in 1986, it left a vacuum in the rifle world. No rifle compared with the Model 44 Carbine for being a fast, hard-hitting brush gun. Fourteen years later, Ruger again produced a semi-auto carbine in the 44 Rem Mag, though it was of an entirely new design.

Similar in looks and size, the action of the new gun is different and not as scope-friendly as the older Model 44, but it will hit 'em just as hard. Sadly, the model 99 was discontinued in 2007. More »

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The Benelli R1 semi-automatic rifle was introduced in 2003. Benelli is a respected name, well-known for their excellent autoloading shotguns, and early reviews of this odd-looking rifle sounded promising.

The R1 is available in 30-06, 300 Win Mag, and 338 Win Mag. Tactical versions in 5.56x45mm NATO were also listed in 2013. More »