Your choice of hunting rifle can make or break your next hunting adventure, and if you’re here, that means you know that already and are taking it seriously.
Well, this guide gives you the complete list of what you should check before choosing a firearm for hunting. Decades of hunting experience in the field have gone into writing this, so rest assured you’re in good hands. Let’s get straight to it.
Once you’ve read this take look at best deer hunting rifles of 2023.
- Things to Consider When Choosing a Hunting Firearm
- First Step, Know the Basics of Firearms and Hunting
- Consider Taking a Hunting and Shooting Course
- Semi-Automatics vs Bolt Action Hunting Rifles
- Know Your Local Laws and Regulations Regarding Hunting Firearms
- Make Sure You Know How to Keep Your Firearm Safe
- Choosing the Right Ammunition
- Frequently Asked Questions
Things to Consider When Choosing a Hunting Firearm
Choosing the right firearm can be tasking as there are so many factors to consider. So, what should you check before choosing a firearm for hunting?
Let’s help you narrow down your selection by highlighting some of the things to keep in mind for a successful hunting trip.
Of course, your ability should be the first thing you consider when picking a firearm for hunting. Even with the latest hunting gear, your hunting experience won’t be great if you don’t factor in your skills. Factor in rifle weight as well because your chosen firearm should be comfortable to use.
While the right firearm you choose for hunting depends on personal preferences, make sure your weapon matches your ability.
If you plan to trek long distances, consider a lighter firearm, but if you’ll be stationary, go with a heavier hunting firearm. Also, if you aren’t an experienced hunter, look for rifles ideal for beginners.
Where You’ll Be Hunting
When planning a hunting trip, research the area you’ll be hunting.
Why is this important? Well, you want to be sure your weapon can deliver the desired results in that particular terrain.
For vast plains, we recommend centerfire or semi-automatic rifles as they offer excellent range, making them suitable for hunting from a distance.
If you are hunting in a densely wooded area, pick a lightweight bolt action rifle. It’s easy to maneuver through the trees and offers great accuracy. It’s also good for deer hunting because it takes down the animal without struggling too much.
You will also need to factor in the weather conditions of the area you’re going to hunt in order to pick the right firearm.
If the area you plan to hunt is prone to snow and heavy rainfall, you need a firearm that can withstand harsh elements.
What Game You’ll Be Hunting
Another thing to consider is what you’ll be hunting. Different weapons are ideal for different animals, and picking the wrong firearm can lead to an unsuccessful hunt. For instance, a rifle is ideal for a whitetail deer, while a shotgun can hunt a rabbit.
You can hunt a squirrel with a shotgun, although we don’t recommend this because the size of shotgun pellets can make it challenging to kill a squirrel.
What Is Your Budget?
Let’s now talk about budget, which is a huge factor. Hunting rifles, especially quality ones, aren’t exactly cheap. But then again, we want a hunting firearm that will serve us for many years.
When shopping for hunting firearms, research different brands and compare prices. If your finances don’t allow it, consider a low-priced or second-hand firearm.
With that said, if hunting is one of your favorite sports, get a quality firearm that will last years. You’ll be making a long-term investment that’ll be worth it in the end.
Popular Rifle Types for Hunting
When choosing a firearm, think of the hunting rifles in the market. The most popular options include the following:
Bolt Action Rifle
A bolt action rifle has a rotating bolt or handle that slides the round or cartridge into the chamber. The shooter then pulls back the receiver to open the breech and extract the case.
Bolt action rifles were popular among military forces during World Wars and remain popular today for their accuracy and precision.
The downside to this type of hunting rifle is it’s slow to reload, which can frustrate experienced hunters.
Lever Action Rifles
A lever action rifle uses a lever to load rounds and cock the gun. The lever is located behind the trigger and allows you to load one round after the next in quick succession.
These rifles usually use low-powered cartridges, which is why they’re popular for hunting small game like squirrels and rabbits.
Note that this isn’t exactly the best for a novice hunter who is yet to perfect their aim. The most common lever action rifle is the Winchester Model 1873.
For most of us, shotguns are the first weapons we were introduced to, considering they’re common for home defense. They can be used for birds and small and big game. As they’re illegal in certain states, you’ll want to check the firearm laws of the place you plan to go hunting.
Handguns aren’t exactly considered hunting firearms. They can’t shoot over long ranges, and that’s why they’re often used for self-defense purposes.
Pellet/ BB Guns
Pellet and BB guns fire a projectile using compressed air. They often use ammunition resembling pellets, and they’re often only large and powerful enough to take down small game.
Simply put, this is a firearm we load through the muzzle. This loading method is the major difference between most modern firearms and muzzleloaders.
Using this loading method takes more time and effort because you have to load the projectile, powder, and even a primer, which takes valuable time. This is why some hunters choose to avoid it. (Reference 1: Hunting Firearms)
Selecting the right caliber may seem obvious but not to everyone. Be sure to pick the right ammunition that suits your hunting rifle.
Remember, not all bullets are ideal for hunting, and the wrong one can make or break your hunting experience. A powerful caliber can immediately take down your game but damage the carcass severely.
On the other hand, a weaker caliber preserves the carcass but causes the animal to suffer. A good example is a .22 caliber which can take down rabbits and squirrels but isn’t suitable for a deer.
The good thing is that manufacturers sell specific ammunition for different animals to help gun owners pick the proper ammunition.
Recoil and Weight
Ever noticed that when you fire a rifle, it moves backward? That’s what we call recoil and is influenced by the rifle’s weight. Although it takes time to adjust to recoil, a high recoil rate will affect your accuracy.
We’d recommend picking a heavier hunting rifle or one with a recoil-reducing system to reduce recoil. However, it shouldn’t be too heavy that you aren’t comfortable shooting. Opt for a hunting firearm with moderate or less recoil to help you make accurate shots.
Accuracy and Reliability
Who wants to return from their hunting trip without making even a single accurate shot? No one. This is why accuracy and reliability are important factors when choosing a firearm for hunting.
Imagine you’ve been tracking a whitetail deer for the past six hours, only to miss your shot because you used the wrong firearm.
Always pick a firearm that’s accurate and precise. One of the ways to determine accuracy is by going to a target range to practice shooting with different rifles.
On the other hand, reliability is just as important. If your weapon malfunctions, then it’s not useful. Always read the firearm manual and understand how certain hunting firearms behave in varying weather conditions.
It’s worth mentioning that comfort is key in determining accuracy. A firearm that’s comfortable to shoot reduces mistakes and enhances your hunting experience.
Also, comfort is relative. While I might be comfortable using a Winchester Model 70, you may find a Remington Nylon 66 more comfortable.
We can’t stress this enough – be sure to read the gun manual to fully understand a gun’s features. Things like trigger quality, stock design, and handling features contribute to a rifle’s hunting capabilities.
Find a firearm for hunting with the right features based on your hunting situation.
Sights and Optics: How Far Away Is My Prey?
Another important choice you’ll make is picking the correct sights and optics. These devices help in aiming the firearm. Checking your rifle’s sights is vital because it can greatly affect your hunting success.
When choosing sights and optics, you must consider where you plan to go hunting. Some of these devices are ideal for short distances, while others are suitable for long distances.
First Step, Know the Basics of Firearms and Hunting
We know sitting down to learn the basics of firearms and hunting isn’t exactly fun, but you’ll be glad you did this before taking your next hunting trip. Plus, it’s what a responsible hunter should do to ensure ethical hunting.
Let’s take a look at what you need to know.
The Four Rules of Firearm Safety
1. Keep your gun pointed in a safe direction.
2. Keep the firearm unloaded until when ready to use it.
3. Keep your finger away from the trigger until you’re ready to shoot.
4. Be aware of your target and what’s beyond it.
Negligent and Accidental Shootings
Occasionally, we hear stories of someone on a hunting adventure getting shot accidentally. But is it really an accident or is it negligent shooting? Practicing the four firearm safety rules above can prevent these incidents from happening.
How to Transport and Store Your Firearm
Beyond these four rules, you must also know the best practices for transporting and storing firearms. Knowing this will help you avoid trouble with the law or damaging your hunting rifle.
Unload the firearm during transportation. You may have to break down the gun if possible. Also, don’t openly display it through the window, as you may attract unnecessary attention or invite thieves.
Regarding storage, place your gun in a cool, dry area with the gun pointed down so that the gun oil doesn’t go into the action. Avoid displaying guns in wall racks or glass cabinets, as it can attract curious kids or thieves.
Check That the Gun Is Unloaded
Hunting firearms can be dangerous when not properly handled. We have heard of multiple people being injured because of accidental discharge. Some of these accidents could have been avoided by confirming that a weapon isn’t loaded.
Consider Taking a Hunting and Shooting Course
While most people eagerly await hunting seasons, we don’t take the time to prepare for it. This could explain why not everyone achieves a successful hunt.
A hunter safety course teaches new and experienced hunters the importance of conservation and hunter ethics. In fact, in certain states, it’s a requirement if you want a hunting license.
This course also teaches safety regulations when hunting, identifying animal tracks, preserving wildlife resources, respecting private properties, and local and federal hunting regulations.
So, before taking your next hunting trip, consider enrolling in such a course first to ensure you start out prepared and with already some know-how.
Semi-Automatics vs Bolt Action Hunting Rifles
Bolt action and semi-autos are the most common precision rifles. But which one is better when it comes to hunting?
Well, a bolt action has proven to be more reliable. It has a smooth trigger, which enhances precision and accuracy, particularly at long distances.
On the other hand, semi-automatic rifles shoot faster, leading to faster consecutive shots. This is because all a shooter does is simply pull the trigger for the next round. In addition, these weapons have less recoil than bolt action rifles, allowing for a faster rate of fire.
The decision to pick a bolt action or semi-automatic rifle lies on personal preferences, as both weapons are good. Consider the pros and cons of each to determine the right hunting rifle for your situation.
Know Your Local Laws and Regulations Regarding Hunting Firearms
When choosing a firearm, you have to consider local hunting firearm laws. These laws vary from state to state.
Familiarize yourself with the minimum legal requirements for ammunition or caliber, gauge, and energy produced by a bullet. Breaking these hunting laws can lead to fines or losing your firearm license.
Aside from knowing hunting firearm laws, you’ll need to know the hunting regulations. Some places have specific days, times, and animals you’re allowed to hunt.
Those regulations stipulate the correct hunting season, hunters’ minimum age requirement, and the number of animals you can kill. Be sure to follow these rules to ensure a fun hunting expedition. (Reference 2: What to check before hunting)
Make Sure You Know How to Keep Your Firearm Safe
Ensuring your firearm for hunting is safe will make it last a long time. Always store your gun unloaded and locked in a lock or safe box. In fact, use cable locks or trigger locks to keep your firearms safe.
Choosing the Right Ammunition
Ammunition is classified into rimfire and centerfire cartridges. Rimfire cartridges are cheaper with less recoil but also inaccurate. Centerfire cartridges are powerful but expensive.
When choosing rifle ammunition, here are several factors to remember before embarking on your hunting adventure.
Know Your Gun’s Caliber
Pick the right ammunition for your weapon. If you’re hunting with a shotgun, get shotgun ammunition, and if you’re hunting with a rifle, get rifle ammunition.
Check out this video explaining some of the best calibers for hunting.
As we’ve mentioned, game hunting regulations vary from place to place. For instance, certain areas have banned centerfire rifles but allow shotguns.
So, know the hunting regulations before you go hunting.
Consider Where and What You’ll Be Hunting
Where do you plan to go and hunt? How far is it, and what’s the foliage like? How are the weather conditions? These are the questions you should answer when choosing a firearm for hunting.
You have to make sure your ammunition will perform well against the animal you’re hunting as well. Once you get these things right, you can start hunting.
For more reading see our post on what can you hunt deer with.
Frequently Asked Questions
What weapons do you need for hunting?
The weapons you need for hunting include rifles, shotguns, and muzzleloaders.
When you shoulder your shotgun what part of your body fits snugly against the stock?
The body part that snugly fits against the stock when you shoulder your shotgun is the cheek.
What are the basic styles of firearm actions?
The basic styles of firearm actions include bolt action, semi-automatic, pump action, and lever action.
Where would be a good spot to store ammo?
A good spot to store your ammo would be a cool, dry place without any chance of getting into contact with water. This can be a safe or locked cabinet.
- Kyle Mizokami, A Guide to All the Different Types of Guns. Retrieved from https://www.popularmechanics.com/military/weapons/a43377749/types-of-guns/
- RAND, How Gun Policies Affect Hunting and Recreation. Retrieved from https://www.rand.org/research/gun-policy/analysis/hunting-and-recreation.html
Dakota Potts is a gunsmith, armorer, and gun rights advocate with nearly 10 years of experience. He is well respected in the industry and his work has appeared on various industry leading firearm publications. He enjoys learning about firearm history and technology. You can follow Dakota Potts on Youtube or see his Facebook.