Re: Looking for a new Rifle
I think the idea of borrowing a friends rifle is a good one. Offer to buy him some ammo or components in return. If I was one of your hunting buddies I would be thrilled to loan you a rifle. Also gives you a chance to try out a rifle and cartridge for recoil.
Also, you said... "I'm not certain I'll even be around next year so, investing a lot of money on something I might only use one season is what I must consider." I hope you have numerous hunting seasons in front of you but if this is a concern, all the more reason to borrow a rifle. And maybe next year you'll have a better idea of your status as well as having a better feel for what will work for you.
Based on what you have said, if you do buy a rifle, I would recommend a 7-08. It will kill elk effectively with well placed shots and is relatively mild on recoil. It is also easy to find inexpensive ammo for. Corebond does have some 168 Berger VLD loads which are a little pricey but a good high BC hunting bullet with a good amount of mass for factory 7-08 loads.
I think the best entry level rifle out there for the money ($479) is the Vanguard. This is going to ruffle some feathers, but it is a better rifle than a standard Rem SPS etc. That's not a subject opinion, it's based on the features of the rifle and especially the action and its historical performance out of the box. Can't speak for Savages, but there are a lot of happy Savage owners. Weatherby offers a Sub MOA guarantee on their Vanguards. Other entry level rifle makers do not.
You also have a thread asking about reloading. For reasons stated, I would not recommend you start that at this time. Put your money toward a good rifle and scope first. If you think you have the funds for reloading after you have a good rifle and scope, then go ahead. That said, reloading only saves you money if you shoot a lot. You will spend a lot just working up a load, depending on how fussy you are. It sounds to me like your only buying a rifle for hunting and maybe shoot 1 or 2 boxes of ammo a year from it. At that rate it will take you many years to break even after initial investment. Most shooters reload because they want to customize a load for their rifle. Good factory ammo in a good rifle should get you to should get you 400-500 yds, which sounds like your farthest range based in everything I've read.
If you do want to reload, this is what I would recommend for starters.
Rock Chucker press
Hornady new dimension dies
Imperial Sizing wax
RCBS hand primer
Wilson case trimmer
Primer pocket cleaning tool.
You can get all this new for about $300 give or take, or you can get most of it used in good condition for less from this site and Ebay and gun shows and garage/estate sales, etc.
A tumbler is nice but you don't need one. You can use a kitchen scotch pad to clean necks and Imperial sizing wax cleans the brass a little as well.
Also highly recommend but not necessary would be a primer pocket uniformer and flash hole deburrer. I recommend Lyman.
Hope that helps, and hope you have a successful and memorable hunting season.
You will never know how much it has cost my generation to preserve your freedom. I hope you make good use of it.
~ John Quincy Adams