When it comes to choosing a new deer hunting rifle, it’s usually better to go with something that fits your taste rather than anything showy, stylish, or costly.
The ideal deer rifle does not exist. Consider how your 10-pound, heavy-barreled sniper rifle chambered in 7mm Rem. Mag. will pull you down in Idaho’s mountains if that seems strange. Or the Northwoods of Maine. Uncle John’s 10-acre woodlot, for example. Consider how inept you’d feel aiming an open-sighted lever-action weapon. Over 300 yards of chopped corn, it was a 30-30 tie.
Rifle action choices
The first factor to consider when choosing a deer rifle is the type of action you like. There are four options available.
Among today’s deer hunters, the bolt-action rifle is without a doubt the most popular option. A bolt-action rifle can handle the most powerful cartridges because it uses a bolt with locking lugs to seal the breach when the action is closed and ready to fire. Follow-up shots are quick in trained hands.
Another popular alternative is the autoloading, or semi-automatic, rifle, which comes in a variety of classic and modern designs (MSR). They are generally designated for shorter medium velocity cartridges, which are among the most popular for deer shooting, and give the advantage of a speedier follow-up shot.
The single-shot action is the last thing you should think about. While single-shot weapons are popular among adult deer hunters because they crack open easily to display an unloaded gun and can only contain one shot, there are a number of very accurate, complex single-shot firearms on the market that any adult deer hunter would appreciate.
They’re lighter than bolt-action and semi-auto rivals, making them ideal for still hunters, stalkers, and people who want to hike miles through the woods. Many include a switch-barrel option, which allows you to fire multiple cartridges by simply switching out the barrel, which is useful for a variety of purposes.
While purchasing, you’ll come across deer rifles with a number of stock options. There will be the traditional wood stock, typically walnut, but there will also be laminate wood stocks that are both attractive and robust, and many rifles designed to withstand the demands of hunting in all weather conditions will have a synthetic or polymer stock. All are excellent choices, so it will be a matter of personal preference.
Just remember that synthetic stocks will outlast wood stocks in terms of weather resistance, but there’s something warm and comfortable about the feel of a walnut stock, and wood stocks are simpler for a gunsmith to modify length for a perfect fit. If you want the best of both worlds, a laminate wood stock is a wonderful compromise, providing a weather-resistant packaging while yet having the look and feel of real wood.
Stocks that don’t fit properly might lead to bad shooting habits due to increased perceived recoil, especially while training with the rifle. Any experienced firearms salesperson will advise you to shoulder any rifle you’re considering to check that the fit and balance are right for your frame. When testing fit in this manner, consider the weather in your region during deer season, as a thick hunting coat and layers below will have a significant impact on how your rifle fits.
Picking a scope
Unless you’re hunting in densely forested areas where deers will be near, you’ll probably want to use a telescopic sight installed on top of your rifle. They enable for accurate shot placement, and versions are available for a variety of hunting circumstances and at a range of costs, from budget-friendly to budget-busting. If this is your first deer rifle, be sure it can readily fit a scope.
A deer rifle that may be used for several purposes must be light enough to carry all day. Don’t add a monster of a scope to detract from this. In forested regions, a 1.5X-5X or 2X-7X type is ideal for a lightweight bolt. Just about anywhere, a 3X-9X or 2.5X-10X would suffice; 12X should be the upper limit. Keep the objective lens to a maximum of 44mm.
You won’t need exposed elevation and windage changes for most whitetail deer hunting, but if you want to shoot long and that’s your choice, go ahead. A scope with a basic range-compensating reticle is the way to go for whitetails in most forested or mixed-cover locations, and a plain Duplex isn’t obsolete for whitetails in most wooded or mixed-cover regions.
Don’t scrimp on the breadth of your project. Smart hunters invest almost as much in their optics as they do in their firearms. Some people spend more and never look back. There are several excellent scopes that will suffice for deer hunting. The Leupold VX 3i 1.5-5x20mm, for example, is tiny, light, and allows you to view the entire world through it. There is nothing better for the price if you’re going to hunt in the brush. The identical device in 2.5-8X36mm is a work of art—enough power for almost any type of photography while being light and compact. The Swarovski Z3 3-10x42mm delivers excellent optics at an affordable price.
What about caliber?
There is a plethora of various cartridges available for deer rifles, nearly too numerous to count. My advice for a first deer rifle would be to go with one of the more common calibres so that ammo is always readily available.
The.30-06 Springfield, the.308 Winchester, the 6.5 Creedmoor, the.243 Winchester, and the.270 Winchester are all good options for all-around deer hunting, since they are equally successful at extended ranges as they are up-close and personal.
The.30-30,.444 Marlin, and even the.45-70 are excellent lever-action options that should be easily accessible at stores.
All are simple enough to master on the shoulder, and all are easily available in nearly every sporting goods store that sells ammo.
There are dozens upon dozens of cartridges available, old, new, and in between, and a fresh crop is launched each year. Get your first hunts in with a rifle that’s simple to fire and chambered in a cartridge that can be found at almost any store. After your first venison burger or bacon-wrapped tenderloin, I’m fairly certain you’ll be hooked on deer hunting and looking for new areas to hunt and strategies to improve your success.