Budget rifles recently turned a corner. Several companies have produced centerfire rifles under the $500 mark that shoot accurately and don't feel like they're cutting corners. Savage's Axis XP, Remington's 783 and Ruger's American come to mind.
Now, add Mossberg to the list. The Connecticut company best known for their 500 autoloader shotgun is now delivering a new centerfire to the market: the Patriot.
At first blush, the Patriot looks a lot like the venerable and proven Winchester Model 70. The gun is a push-feed action, like the Winchester, has a barrel nut like the 70 and even borrows its forend and stock lines from the classic. But Mossberg fans will recognize features from the best of recent Mossberg centerfires.
The Patriot has a Lighting Bolt Trigger taken from the design of 2006's 4X4 rifle. The blade trigger is user-adjustable and breaks at about 2 pounds while the detachable box magazine is a throwback to the more recent All Terrain Rifle.
It looks like Mossberg has learned over the years what works and what doesn't, and has put the best of the traits into the Patriot.
Made for Action
The Patriot is made for action. The barrel is fluted to reduce weight and help in the transfer of heat. Mossberg went ahead and spiral-fluted the bolt as well. The rifles weigh in the area of 7- to 7-and-a-half pounds. All of the literally 60 model variations — yes, 60 models already — have 22-inch barrels, even the magnum, calibers.
Some shooters might like a longer barrel for the mags, and that's likely in the works for future models because all signs point to the fact that Mossberg is getting behind this Patriot and will make it the centerfire flagship for years to come.
Last season, I hunted with a preproduction rifle that had rich walnut stock and was chambered in 7mm-08 Remington Magnum.
The rifle cycled cartridges cleanly and solidly. I jacked dozens of rounds and never had a misfeed or any issues.
While we did not run it through extensive tests, I was able to eek out several three-shot groups in the 1 1/4- to 1 1/2-inch range at 100 yards off a pack rest. That gave me confidence to hunt with the rifle and set my limit to about 300 yards. I used a Swarovski Z6i with a ballistic turret set to 300, 350 and 400 yards.
My Federal Premium Vital-Shok 7mm-08 Rem Mag cartridge would have a 3.7-inch drop at 200 yards and 10-inch drop as it approached 300 yards. If the game showed up at 300, I could dial the turret to the first stop and hold center.
Over the first few days of the hunt, I only saw one buck that could have been in the 150-inch range that I was looking for. He appeared and disappeared as quickly without giving me a shot. But early on the third day of a 5-day hunt, a buck suddenly materialized from a dense fog about 130 yards away minutes after legal shooting time. One moment I was looking out over a good 200-acre cattle pasture dotted with cedars and grasses.
The next I was frantically fumbling to get my binoculars, trying to count tines, age it and do some quick calculations. I needed to figure out — quickly — if he's got the antlers and age to make him a shooter. In the few seconds it took for my brain to bring together the relevant info to make that decision, the buck had ambled through, right to left.
He was gone before I could even put down the binos and pick up the Patriot. I cussed myself for not being at the ready for such an opportunity.
I could have been better prepared with my binos up, knowing that first light is prime time for big bucks to move from feeding areas to bedding area. I figured he was 4 1/2 years by the way he walked and his sway back. I was sure he was a tall and wide 10-point, the buck of a lifetime. But outfitter Ted Jaycox of Tall Tine Outfitters is serious about ages and racks.
His motto is "When Size Does Matter." Jaycox has a wall of fine buck mounts and photos of happy hunters who are all pushing 150- and 175-inch racks toward the camera. I wanted to respect his high standards — 150-inch minimums — or at least take an older buck, perhaps on the decline.
An hour later, Jaycox texted me to ask how things were going. I started to reply that a great buck went to bed, and I didn't expect to see the deer again. As I started to second-guess my decisions again, something suddenly caught my eye out in the field.
Two bucks strutted from left to right. I put the Swarovski EL 10x42 rangefinder-binoculars on the first buck and saw 306 yards. I looked at the second buck, and didn't even range him. He was my shooter. I didn't finish the text to Jaycox but put my cheek to wood. I dialed the turret to 300, held on the front left shoulder and pulled the trigger.
'I See Antler'
I didn't see the deer fall in the tall grass, but I didn't see him run away either. The smaller buck ran from the scene, looked back from about 50 yards and then bolted for the woods to the right. That was a good sign but I did not see the big buck fall, in fact, I did not see the big buck at all after the shot. Was he on all fours behind a big cedar?
Was he expired on the ground?
I stayed in the stand, scanning every inch of grass looking for an antler or movement to indicate I had not missed or, worse, wounded the deer. I called Jaycox who arrived about a 1/2 hour later. We walked toward the last place I saw the buck.
"I see antler," said Jaycox as he held binos to his face.
"Are they big?" I asked, like an excited little kid.
Jaycox turned to me and said, "A little too late to be asking that question!"
Finally, I spied white tips and saw the largest buck I ever targeted lying door-nail dead in the grasses. I dropped to my knees in relief and joy.
He had mass from bases to the tips. Not one antler was broken. He was incredibly symmetrical. This unbelievable animal would measure a little less than I had thought — about 147 4/8 inches — and, at 4 1/2 years old, be a year younger than I predicted. But it was a trophy to me and a true representation of the fine bucks south-central Kansas offers whitetail hunters.
The Patriot did its job, even pushing the limits of my self-imposed maximum ethical distance. It was a fine gun on a fine hunt in American's heartland and it ended in unimaginable success.