The Five Most Popular Hunting Guns. Ever.
By Joel Kolander
Lots of websites compile lists. “The Top 10 Concealed Carry Pieces” or “The 5 Reloading Tools You Can’t Live Without” or “The 8 Most Overpriced Milsurp Weapons.” Unfortunately, a lot of these lists are based solely on opinion. What makes a concealed carry great for you might be a no-go for me or might not fit my hand well. An overpriced milsurp weapon to one firearm collector, might be a valued piece of history to another, well deserving of its lofty price tag. However, there are some things that aren’t so subjective: sales numbers. Those totals (based highly off of production numbers) give us a relatively clear look at which firearms can hold the title “the most popular ever produced.” Some are exactly what you think they are, but there are a few surprises on the list as well, especially #1. Also, I’d be remiss if I neglected to mention that all of the firearms shown here are items in our June 2017 Regional Firearms Auction, however, with production numbers like these, you are virtually guaranteed to find multiple versions of each model offered regularly by Rock Island Auction Company. Let’s get started.
Oh, but before we do, I’ll quickly point out that as the title infers, these selections are limited to hunting firearms. There are certainly military produced weapons that far surpass the production numbers listed below, but that is an article for another time. Also, these are all firearms that originated in America, I have not compared them against sporting/hunting arms from other countries.
#5 TIE – Marlin Model 336 & Ruger 10/22
Both of these popular rifles are no surprise on this list, but I would’ve guessed the 10/22 as more produced than the 336. However, that’s likely my own bias after receiving the Ruger for my first gun; they just seem like they’ve always been around and there is certainly no shortage of demand for them.
Around since 1964, the reliable and affordable little plinkers have undoubtedly surpassed even Bill Ruger’s wildest dreams. The rotary mags are convenient in any number of ways as is its ability to quickly change a barrel. Countless, squirrels, rabbits, and pest animals are all too aware of its keen accuracy in the hands of experienced or younger shooters.
The Marlin 336 seems less ubiquitous that the 10/22, perhaps because lever actions, while still practical, were made obsolete by the stronger, simpler, and more reliable bolt actions. That said, the Model 336 in no way suffers from a lack of longevity. Begun in 1948, it can trace its bloodline back to the Model 1893, making it the longest, continually produced lever action rifle, narrowly edging out the revered Winchester Model 1894. It is a strong, utilitarian rifle that benefitted greatly from its ability to accept optics thanks to its side ejection of spent brass. A rifle has never better demonstrated, “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it.”
Do I see the Ruger 10/22 surpassing the 336? Yes. The action isn’t obsolete and the popularity of the little rifle is still high among new shooters. The 336 is more of a rifle desired by shooters who have been around long enough to know better and the people lucky enough to shoot with them. The 10/22 is the near perfect plinker and the 336 is the near perfect ranch rifle; opinions held by the millions and millions of shooters who put them on this list. More Ruger 10/22 .22 caliber rifles in the upcoming gun auction.
#4 – Winchester Model 1894
7.5 – 8 Million
We all expected this gun to be on the list, so perhaps the only surprise is that the quintessential American deer rifle hasn’t earned a higher spot. There are more popular firearms, but no higher centerfire rifle on this list. The cartridge most associated with these guns is the lauded .30-30 Winchester, which accounted for an astounding 70% of the total production. Bolstered by the introduction of a smokeless powder cartridge, the Model 1894 took notable advantage of the faster, quite practical, cleaner ammunition and sold like hot cakes. It also was designed by John Moses Browning and came during the end of the Winchester lever gun series; both qualities that imply a design that could be improved very little if at all. For more information check out the recent video by Forgotten Weapons, which gives a more in-depth look at these iconic rifles.
#3 – Mossberg Model 500
This may be the first true surprise on the list! Introduced in 1961, the Model 500 is readily the manufacturer’s most successful firearm to date. Inexpensive, rugged, and reliable, the Model 500 is guaranteed to be mentioned in any conversation that asks “What should my first shotgun be?” Available in any number of configurations, the trusty pump gun has proven itself on the hunt and in combat, finding itself a popular choice for law enforcement, home defense, and the U.S. military. Often seen as an “also ran” to the next gun on this list, the Mossberg site claims that the Model 500 reached 10 million in sales faster than any other, but that’s a pretty short list. One undeniable advantage the Model 500 has over its arch nemesis? The ambidextrous safety makes it a more attractive choice for left-handed shooters.
#2 – Remington Model 870
10 – 11 Million
Ah yes, the Model 870. The yin to the Model 500’s yang. High on the list of “Gun Debates that Will Never Be Resolved” is the question of Model 870 vs. Model 500. It’s right up there with Glock vs. 1911 and 9mm vs. 45acp. Long story short? Personal preference reigns supreme. These are both low-cost, utilitarian pump action shotguns that have led the way for their respective manufacturers, and provide an excellent entry-level product. Used in more than 25 countries, the 870 also boasts an impressive resume for sporting and combat purposes. Its introduction dates to 1950, but historical articles on the trusty pumper almost always cite the Pedersen and Browning heritage present in earlier Remington shotguns such as the Model 10 (Pedersen), the Model 17 (Browning), the Model 31 (Loomis), and the 11-48. Oddly, the actual designers of this legendary machine are rarely mentioned.
#1 – Marlin Model 60
Did you expect this little Marlin to come in at #1? If you’re like most of us, probably not. Every other firearm on this list is well-known or legendary in its own right, but the Model 60 doesn’t even find itself mentioned as much as the other .22 LR on this list – the Ruger 10/22, despite production numbers that nearly double it. The Model 60 is also a reliable, low-cost gun perfect for beginners or budget-conscious shooters. It certainly doesn’t have the aftermarket accessories the 10/22 enjoys, but its micro-groove rifling in combination with a “precision crowned muzzle,” claim to give it a higher accuracy. However it achieved its widespread popularity, it did so quietly. Very little fanfare will be made for this little plinker’s achievement, not only the most popular .22 LR ever made but the most popular American hunting rifle ever made. but something tells me that just the way this unassuming, stalwart rifle would want it.
Want to get your hands on these firearms or one of the models you think we missed? Search our online catalog now at www.rockislandauction.com.