One of the most important tools for hunting is the hunting rifle. Whether you are picking out your first centerfire rifle or your 10th, it’s important to find the right gun for you. Picking out a hunting rifle doesn’t have to be difficult but there are a lot of different aspects to consider.
A good hunting rifle needs to be tough, reliable, accurate, and easy to carry. It’s the last tool that you will use to harvest an animal. After putting in all of the work and patience it takes to find an animal and close the distance, you don’t want your hunting rifle to let you down.
Finding the perfect rifle can be a little daunting, but it doesn’t need to be. If you do a quick search online you will find thousands of people’s opinions about which brand, caliber, length of barrel, scope, etc. is the “best”.
The truth is, the perfect rifle for one person likely isn’t going to be for someone else. This rifle guide isn’t going to tell you exactly which rifle you should buy, but it’s going to help point you in the right direction and help you decide what you need out of your rifle.
Hunting Rifle Considerations
There are a lot of things to consider when purchasing a new hunting rifle, including which brand to purchase, how much money you have to spend, how you are going to use the rifle, and how it fits you.
Which Brand Should I Choose?
A lot of hunters debate which brand of rifles is best, the truth is, most common name-brand rifles will work for the typical hunter. This is assuming that you aren’t shooting long-range and won’t be doubling this gun as a competition rifle.
That said, there are some brands that stand out from the rest. A few of the most popular hunting rifle manufacturers are Savage, Remington, Ruger, Christensen Arms, Tikka, Burgara, and Weatherby. All of these manufacturers produce quality hunting rifles.
How Much Should I Spend?
One of the most important things to do when you start shopping for a hunting rifle is to set a budget. You can spend hundreds to thousands of dollars on a rifle. The minimum budget for a hunting rifle should be at least $400. Unless you are buying something used, you will not find something for much less than that. \
The more you can spend the more options you are going to have and the better rifle you will end up with. This isn’t to say that the cheaper rifles won’t work, they certainly will, but they won’t be as nice and may not be as accurate. When it comes to firearms, you get what you pay for.
If you are looking for a budget gun, you should consider the Ruger American or Savage Axis lines. If you can spend a little more dough, consider the Tikka T3X and Weatherby Vanguard lines. If you want an even better rifle and can afford it, you can even have a custom rifle built for you.
How Am I Going to Use the Rifle?
Next, you need to decide how you will be using this gun. Will you be hiking with it? Will you be camping or hunting in inclement weather? Is the shooter small-framed or recoil sensitive?
If you are going to be camping with your rifle then you should consider a synthetic and stainless steel version. These guns are practically weatherproof and you won’t have to worry about them rusting like a matted or blued gun.
Lightweight guns are nice for backpack hunting and hiking but they are more difficult to shoot and will have heavier recoil than a heavier gun in the same chamber. Get too heavy though and it can be a pain to carry in the field.
Does It Fit Me?
Another consideration is gun fit. Before buying a rifle you should always handle it. It’s hard to explain, but the gun should feel good to you. Pay close attention to fit and weight.
Shoulder the gun in the store, work the action, and get a feel for it. If it doesn’t feel right, then it probably isn’t. Aftermarket modifications can be made but these are typically expensive and usually, it’s easier just to get a gun that fits you out of the box.
What Caliber Should I Choose?
This is one of the most hotly debated topics in the rifle world, but I think it can be broken down quite simply with your answers to just a few questions.
What big game animal or animals do you want to hunt? How far do you want to shoot? Do you mind heavy recoil?
The answer to the first question should be easy. For a deer-sized game, any caliber from a .243 up will work fine. Just make sure you pick out a quality bullet that reliably expands and retains its weight like a Barnes LRX.
How far you want to shoot can be a tricky one because this can change over time. Most common big game calibers will do the trick on the deer-sized game to 400 yards. These include the 6.5 Creedmoor, 7mm-08 Remington, .270 Winchester, .308 Winchester, 6.5 PRC, 30-06 Springfield, 7mm Remington Magnum, .300 Winchester Short Magnum, and .300 Winchester Magnum.
There are others of course but those are some of the most popular. If you are more interested in shooting moose and elk then try to stick to the bigger calibers like the .300 Winchester Magnum, .300 Winchester Short Magnum, and 30-06 Springfield.
If you can’t or don’t want to handle a magnum round for elk or moose that’s ok, but you will have to limit your range. For example, the 6.5×55, the 6.5 Creedmoors equivalent, is one of the most popular cartridges in Europe, and thousands of moose have been killed with it. It’s a smaller round but if you know your limits it will work fine.
Do I Need a Scope?
If you are planning on shooting past 100 yards then you should consider purchasing a scope. If you aren’t going to shoot past 100 yards then you will be fine shooting iron sights. Keep this in mind when you are picking out your rifle.
Some popular guns for deer hunters shooting with iron sights are made by Marlin and Henry. These manufacturers are known for their lever action iron sighted rifles commonly chambered in
.30-30 or .45/70 for deer-sized game.
When purchasing a new scope you should expect to spend a fair amount of money. Anywhere from $300 up to $1000 and more. If you are going to be shooting within 400 yards then a 3-9X or fixed 6X scope will do the trick.
If you want a scope for longer-range shooting then you will need to select a scope that has the higher magnification and reliable turrets. This comes with a hefty price tag. Good brands to consider are Leupold, Swarovski, Maven, Nightforce, and Vortex.
Do I Need a Rifle Sling?
This is one of the most underrated parts of a rifle but it can make or break a hunt. Rifle slings are incredibly useful for carrying your gun or while waiting on the stand. They help keep your gun handy and have aided in harvesting more animals.
With practice, you can get a gun off your shoulder and shoot in a couple of seconds. Try doing that if your gun is leaning against a tree.
Further, slings can be used for steadying a quick shot that you don’t have time to set up for and can make the difference between harvesting an animal and going home empty-handed.
Some of the nicest slings available are made by Flatline Fiber Co., a USA-based company with lifetime warranties on all their products. Their padded sling makes carrying a rifle a joy and it is very versatile allowing you to change out the hardware to fit your specific rifle’s needs.
Selecting a new hunting rifle can be intimidating at first, but it doesn’t need to be. There are hundreds if not thousands of options to consider and it can be easy to get caught up in all the articles online covering which caliber or brand is better. But the most important part of a rifle setup is you.
Make sure to pick a rifle and caliber that you are comfortable with, that you enjoy shooting, and that is big enough to ethically harvest your largest target game animal within your maximum range.
Doing these things will lead you to be more comfortable behind your rifle and therefore harvest more animals. Stay safe and good luck on your next hunt!