How to Choose Your First Hunting Rifle

Updated on March 29, 2018
LJ Bonham profile image

LJ Bonham is a semi-subsistence hunter, hunting magazine editor, and firearms enthusiast who lives in the Rocky Mountains.


A Hunter's First Rifle

At some point in a new hunter’s life, they must purchase their first hunting rifle. There are many options, perhaps too many these days. Which is best? How do you select the right one?

People new to hunting fall into two categories: novice shooters and experienced shooters.

Hunting Rifles for the Novice Shooter

Novice shooters are often young—pre-teens or teenagers. Although some adults take up shooting and hunting later in life. The two most important factors when selecting a rifle for a novice shooter are easy operation and tolerable recoil.

Types of Rifle Action

Novices need a gun which is simple to load, unload, and clean. This narrows the action type choices down to two: break actions and bolt actions.

The first photo shows a bolt-action rifle.

The second photo shows a break-action rifle. Notice how simple it is to verify whether the break-action rifle is loaded or not.

Bolt-action rifle with action open
Bolt-action rifle with action open | Source
Break-action with action open.
Break-action with action open. | Source

Single-shot rifles, in either action type, are best for pre-teens since they preclude accidentally feeding a live round after removing the one in the firing chamber. Single shots are not an impediment to hunting in an adult supervised environment since with proper marksmanship, one shot is enough to drop a game animal humanely. Also, the accompanying parent or guardian can quickly verify if the child’s gun is loaded.

Novice teens and adults can, under normal circumstances, learn to use a magazine fed weapon safely. The military trains eighteen year-olds to do so every day. Still, bolt actions are the best choice for these individuals as well, since they are easy to maintain and use under stress. However, mastering a lever, pump, or semi-automatic rifle is possible with additional diligence by both student and teacher.

Novices often start with deer, the most common big game animal in North America. Deer are not very robust animals—hard recoiling, powerful magnums are unnecessary. At two hundred yards or less (the most common hunting range), the ubiquitous .30-30 Winchester is an excellent choice. This cartridge has killed more deer over more time than any other caliber. The .243 Winchester is another good, low recoil, proven deer cartridge. Both Harrington & Richardson and Thompson Center, for instance, offer break action single shots in these calibers.

If ranges are beyond two hundred yards, often the case in the western states, the .243 is still a good option. Other choices are:

  • .257 Roberts
  • .25-06 Remington
  • .260 Remington
  • 6.5x55mm Swedish

Although these are often only available in magazine fed bolt actions. If a magazine rifle is the only option available, get one with a detachable magazine. These guns are easily converted to single shot by just removing the magazine. Once the novice gains enough experience and demonstrates the ability to handle the extra responsibility, the magazine can be reinserted into the rifle.

For larger animals such as elk and moose, the .25-06, .260, and 6.5x55 remain good choices if the range is kept reasonable. Some other calibers to consider are:

  • .308 Winchester
  • 7x57mm Mauser
  • 7mm-08 Remington
  • .270 Winchester
  • 6.5 Creedmoor

L-R: .223, .30-30, .308
L-R: .223, .30-30, .308 | Source
L-R: .223, .243, .308
L-R: .223, .243, .308 | Source
6.5x55mm Swedish
6.5x55mm Swedish | Source

Guns for the Experienced Shooter

Experienced shooters have a wider selection available. They already have (or should have) good firearms safety habits, good marksmanship, and recoil tolerance. They are free to choose the action type which best suits their hunting environment and the game pursued. Any bolt-action, lever-action, pump, or semi-auto from a reputable firearms manufacturer is a good choice.

Lever Action Rfle
Lever Action Rfle | Source

Medium Game Calibers for the Experienced Shooter

Caliber selection is more open as well for the experienced shooter. They should use whatever cartridge they are proficient with and is matched to the game's size. Here are a few suggestions for animals up to deer at less than two hundred yards.

  • .30-30
  • Any of the 6.5mm (.26 caliber) cartridges mentioned above
  • .25-06 Remington
  • .308 Winchester
  • .30-06 Springfield
  • Any of the non-magnum 7mm’s (7x57, .280 Remington, etc.)
  • 8x57mm Mauser

For longer ranges on deer add the following:

  • .264 Winchester Magnum
  • 7mm Remington Magnum
  • Any of the .30 caliber magnums (.300 Win Mag, etc.)

L-R: 9.3x62, .30-06, .8x57, .6.5x55, .308
L-R: 9.3x62, .30-06, .8x57, .6.5x55, .308 | Source

Large Game Calibers for the Experienced Shooter

Large animals (elk, moose, black bear, etc.) require more power and are often taken at longer ranges. Here are a few good choices:

  • .257 Weatherby Magnum
  • .30-06
  • Any 7mm magnum
  • Any .30 caliber magnum
  • 8mm Remington Magnum
  • .338 Winchester Magnum
  • .35 Whelan
  • 9.3x62mm Mauser
  • .375 Holland & Holland Magnum

.375 H&H (L), .338 Win Mag. (R)
.375 H&H (L), .338 Win Mag. (R) | Source

Calibers for Dangerous Game

If the experienced shooter’s plans include dangerous game, either in Africa or Alaska, these cartridges in a well-built bolt action are good:

  • 9.3x62
  • .375 H&H
  • Any of the .416’s (Rigby, Remington Magnum, etc.)
  • .404 Jeffery
  • .458 Winchester
  • .458 Lott

The other rifle choice for dangerous game is the traditional, break action European double. These are the most common calibers:

  • .458/400 Nitro Express
  • .450 Nitro Express
  • .470 Nitro Express
  • .500 Nitro Express

An Assortment of Nitro Express and Magnum Cartridges
An Assortment of Nitro Express and Magnum Cartridges | Source


Hunting is a wonderful sport. The best way to ensure novice hunters embrace it and continue for years is to get the right rifle in the right caliber the first time. With a little research and common sense, a hunter can choose a first rifle they will cherish for life.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2016 LJ Bonham


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No comments yet.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)