Most serious shooters dream of a custom rifle.
Whether that is a hand-fitted, custom barrel with a grade VI or VII walnut stock with fine tooling and engraving on the action and bolt, or one manufactured with one of today’s super materials like Kevlar, fiberglass, or carbon fiber, it’s hard to argue the quality and craftsmanship that can be had when price is no object.
Most custom rifles start at the $2000.00 range and go up to the stratosphere from there. $5000.00 is certainly not uncommon, especially from some of the more renowned companies or individual builders.
Add some high-end glass on top and you can rather easily cross the $8000.00-$10,000.00 mark, or about the price for a lower-end used car with a median level of miles on it.
The vast majority of folks, though, are somewhere “in the middle” when it comes to their income and affordability.
That is, they can’t afford or don’t want to spend the money for a fancy custom rifle, but are also not looking for a bargain bang stick that will be fired 1 to 3 times per year and then put away.
That’s where this review comes in.
A team of shooters with varying experience went through, shot, and evaluated four, mid-range priced rifles from Mossberg, Savage, Howa, and CVA to see just what kind of bang for your buck you get in a mid-priced rifle. The criteria was real-world pricing no less than $350 and no more than $700.
Just like the middle class is the largest economic group, the range, and choice of rifles in this price range was rather large, so we chose several well-known, one not as well-known and one brand new rifle to the market for this evaluation.
Each rifle was scored on a range of 1 to 5 on fit, feel, function, appearance, and something rather intangible – that we called “factor.“
“Factor,“ was anything that did not fit into the other classes that might be a selling or performance point that needed to be noted. Finish, fluting, and several other features were found on almost every rifle that fit in this category.
For purposes of evaluation, we chose the 6.5 Creedmoor caliber for several reasons: First, it has been on the market long enough and has proven itself an inherently accurate caliber that is capable of maintaining accuracy in even non-custom rifles out to the most extreme ranges.
Second, when we put the call out for Ammunition to our friends at Hornady, that was one of several calibers they listed as having no problem getting us enough ammo for the test!
Most importantly, though, the 6.5 Creedmoor has become a “mid-range priced” ammunition fitting our needs almost perfectly. It’s more expensive than .223, but nowhere near the cost of 7mm or .300 Win Mag, both popular, long-range hunting calibers.
Each rifle had three different types of Hornady ammo fired through it – performance, match, and hunting.
About the Shooters
Kevin Hedger is a lifelong outdoorsman and hunter that has been shooting rifles at both game and paper for over 40 years. He’s also a bit of a technical genius that can take apart and fix most anything from a firearm to a four-wheeler in the field and with duct tape, lube, a crescent wrench, and a screwdriver so it can at least get you home.
Marshall Macfarlane is a former member of the Canadian Armed Forces that has been an Arizona permanent resident for 22+ years. He also is the genius behind the outdoor website, “Desert Rat Outdoors,” where he reviews all kinds of cool products and gear for the desert and beyond.
Chad Haymon spent the majority of his career as a preacher for several, well-known churches in the U.S. before going full time into the gun business. He is a founding member of 2AO, The Second Amendment Organization, and is an NRA-certified firearms instructor as well as FFL holder under the name, “PrizeGunner.”
Hunter, shooter, outdoorsman, and well-known writer and author Ace Luciano is most known for his big game hunting and rifle knowledge, as well as his wingshooting and youth mentorship. Ace has over 40 years of shooting experience and has opinions on just about everything- including lots on guns and ammo.
We had to overcome several challenges while performing this evaluation, as, unexpectedly, the COVID-19 epidemic closed not one, but TWO of the Ranges that we normally use for rifle shooting, with the second one we drove to being closed by the police as we pulled up at 8 AM.
No matter, though – a quick trip to Walmart for a folding table and chair and the fact that several of us keep way too much gear in our vehicles set us up at a secret spot in the desert to perform the majority of our shooting tests.
While accuracy was not one of the judge criteria, we knew that all four of the rifles we were going to be shooting advertised MOA accuracy with factory ammunition.
Our experience was that, even with our less than perfect set up, all rifles lived up to that claim- with some being rather surprising.
Here are the results.
Overall winner: CVA Cascade 4.7 / 5.0 Real World Pricing: $550.00
One of the newer firearm manufacturers on the market today (they were founded in 1971) CVA is most known for their Muzzleloading rifles- first having only sidelock finished guns as well as kits and, more recently, for their single-shot centerfire. Their reputation for quality at excellent prices is well known.
Evaluators consistently scored this rifle high on “appearance” and “factor.” A deeper dive into the features and looks of this rifle make it easy to see why. The threaded barrel and action came finished in Cerakcote flat dark earth. Matched with a fiberglass reinforced, soft touch-finished stock in Veil Wideland Camo, this rifle is sure to turn some heads in the field and on the range.
Other cool factors were the removable spacer to adjust the length of pull and the butter-smooth action. Topped with a Riton 5-20×50 scope, this rifle proved to be a tack-driver. Reviewers also noted the cascade had an exceptional trigger and felt the most like a much more expensive rifle.
Most Surprising: Mossberg Patriot Rifle 4.4 / 5.0 Real World Pricing: < $500.00
Billed on the Mossberg website as, “attractive, accurate, and affordable, the Mossberg patriot rifle comes in several different finishes with handsome walnut and both solid color and camouflage synthetic stocks.
Ours came out of the box with a matte finished, fluted barrel, and bolt as well as a surprisingly attractive walnut stock. The trigger on this rifle is surprisingly good, especially considering the price point. If you are a fan of wood stock rifles that shoot very, very well, this is certainly a firearm that would be well at home in the field or on the range.
Toward the end of the evaluation, when each of the reviewers were asked if they would like to shoot any of the other rifles again, this was the most chosen rifle. The Vortex scope that came with this rifle was certainly adequate for our testing and should perform well for most short to medium-range hunting situations, but we would expect this rifle to perform even better with some higher-end optics from any Quality rifle scope manufacturer. Testers loved the wood and fluted barrel combination with many comments such as, “it’s good to see a wood stocked rifle that performed so well in this price range.”
Best Value: Howa 1500 4.0 / 5.0 Real World Pricing: <$500.00
You truly get a lot when you buy a Howa.
The rifle we were sent was their Game Pro scoped package, which includes a HOA 1500 rifle paired with a Hogue, pillar bedded overmolded stock and recoil pad. A truly high-quality option and product that is priced at a bargain basement price point, especially considering that it comes standard with a Nikko Stirling Gamepro 3.5-10×44 scope mounted on an included Picatinny rail. This is Legacy Sports’ “house” brand optic, and it performs rather well for most hunting and shooting purposes. The company manufactures only rifle scopes – no cameras, microscopes, or other optics. Just hunting and shooting optics and has been around for almost 70 years. Now manufactured in China, this surprisingly high-quality optic comes with rather good glass for the price, though it certainly would not go toe to toe with any of the European and high-end American and Japanese glassed rifle scopes on the market.
That doesn’t mean that it is not perfectly adequate for today’s average hunter or shooter. Every one of the shooters of this rifle said that out of the box it would be their number one choice for a first hunting rifle or an additional rifle in other calibers if they were on a budget.
Savage Axis II Combination 3.8 / 5.0 Real World Pricing: <$450.00
This group from the Savage Axis2 was the best of any rifle in the test- especially considering it was at 200 yards.
Savage is a company that has been a long known for their value in the shooting world. Their Axis line takes that value to the extreme by adding Savage’s Accu trigger, one of the best triggers on the market, and pairing it with a scope that has been mounted and bore sighted for a “range – ready“ package that is hard to beat for the money.
While we did not rate any of the rifles on accuracy and all were able to demonstrate MOA with several different types of ammunition, the Savage turned in the best group of the entire test – a 5-shot, 1/2 MOA group at 200 yards. This was quite surprising, considering the lower quality of the Bushnell Banner scope compared to some of the other scopes we used, maximum 9x magnification and a rather large reticle that made shooting precisely at distance not exactly the easiest thing to do with it.
If the price is your main concern with a new rifle, the axis II should certainly be one of your top choices.
Shooters complemented the Accu-trigger, proven action, and overall performance. The axis lost points in the “factor“ score as well as “feel“ for the much lower-end and plastic stock it came with compared to the others, but that added to its low price-point.
As you can see, none of these rifles is a “poor” choice for a mid-range shooter. All excelled in at least one aspect, and most in several. Every one of these rifles shoots MOA and should perform very well when topped with a quality optic.
That’s the best part about choosing a rifle these days. There really is no bad choice.
One of the best things about the 6.5 Creedmoor is that ammunition for it is plentiful and rather inexpensive- on par with most .30-06 ammunition with a range of sub-$15.00 to $50.00+ for premium bullets.
The majority of our test was performed with 140 gr. Hornady ELD Match and the new 143 gr. ELD-X Precision Hunter. Today’s hunting ammunition is better than it has ever been, relegating reloading to those that love the process or for whom 1/2 to 1 MOA accuracy “just isn’t good enough.”
Every gun in our test, even with the non-ideal conditions, placed at least several, 3-shot groups into a 1” group.