Choosing your first hunting rifle requires more thought than merely going out and buying the best bolt-action tactical rifle recommended by your best friend and shooting deer with it.
You need to determine what criteria to use, how much importance do you personally put in each of these standards, then do your research.
Here are some things to consider when searching for the best hunting rifle for first-time hunters.
Type of Weapon Action
The kind of hunting you do will dictate to some extent the kind of action you want, but a lot of the criteria distills down to personal preference.
There are five common actions most people consider:
- Lever Action
- Pump Action
- Single Shot
- Bolt Action
Many hunters like a bolt action or single shot, allowing you to concentrate on making your kill with a single, perfectly placed shot.
You can do the same with a pump, level action, or semi-automatic, but these also have the advantage of providing you with quick follow-up shots.
Bolt actions are known for their durability and strength, while many like lever actions as they reflect the classic hunting style of the Old West.
The length of a barrel generally runs between 18-26 inches. Each model of a particular brand may only have specific lengths available.
Barrel length affects several things you need to consider like overall weight and length of a gun and speed of the bullet as it exits the rifle, also known as muzzle velocity.
A longer barrel may be more challenging to control for some hunters. Shorter barrels, in general, tend to be more accurate as the barrels usually weigh less and hence you can control them easier.
You can also maneuver a short barreled rifle in brush easier.
One of the downsides to shorter barrels is the recoil is generally more significant and the muzzle blast closer to your face.
Carrying a gun all day in the woods requires a weapon easy and comfortable to handle.
You want something substantial, not too light due to the recoil, and a nice length of pull compatible with your physical make-up.
The balance should make it easy to handle, without being overly heavy at either end.
Do you hunt with a fixed sight weapon or do you want a quality optical scope to give you the best chance of acquiring and hitting the target with one shot?
Some hunting rifle models may not accept optics. Some rifles come with factory optics along with other nice-to-have accessories.
The type of stock can make a difference not only to the feel of the gun but the durability. Most manufacturers offer stocks make from wood, plastic, or fiberglass.
Traditionalists like the look and feel of wood, but wood is prone to scratches and gouges.
Laminated wood holds up better in the bush, but moisture can affect any wooden stock.
A plastic or fiberglass stock does not warp or absorb moisture as a wood stock does, but some synthetic materials cost more.
Caliber of the Weapon and Prey
Depending on what game you want to hunt will determine the caliber of gun to consider. For small game and varmint shooting, .22 might be enough for your needs. A .22 rifle is reliable and very cost-effective.
You can purchase a good .22 caliber gun for around $100, and some of the best ones with all the bells and whistles cost under $350.
If you are going to hunt larger game, like deer, a .308 Winchester or 6.5 Creedmoor are better options.