Are you new to hunting and trying to pick out your first rifle?
Having trouble wading through all of the information out there on what’s best for a beginner?
Rifle selection is a decision all beginner hunters must face before they can head out in the woods. With so much information on the internet nowadays you might be having more trouble making a decision than hunters of the past.
It can be very intimidating for someone new to the sport. Ballistics, velocity, bullet selection, it is enough to confuse even more experienced hunters.
Luckily this article is here to help. You will learn:
- Why we think the Ruger American is the best choice for a beginner.
- Our opinion on what caliber you should purchase for your first rifle and why.
- The item we think is more important than rifle selection for beginning hunters.
Top Pick: Ruger American Rifle
The 3 Top-Rated Hunting Rifles for Beginners
|Best Overall||Ruger American Rifle||8.9|
|Runner Up||Remington 700||8.8|
|Best Budget Hunting Rifle||Savage Arms AXIS||8.4|
Up to this point in history hunters often began hunting with their father or grandfathers old .30-06. My grandfather used a .22 mag for years when he was young.
In general you are probably worrying too much about your rifle and not enough about the rest of your gear. Regardless, weapon selection is still important and with so much information available on the internet an investment like purchasing a rifle warrants due diligence.
Our Top Pick – Best Beginner Hunting Rifle
Ruger American Rifle
The Ruger American Rifle is the best hunting rifle for beginners. The rifle offers tremendous value. The list of features of this rifle matches or exceeds those from every rifle on this list.
The gun is very accurate out of the box thanks to its factory bedded stock and free floated barrel. The Ruger American Rifle also features the Ruger Marksman Adjustable trigger so you can set a nice crisp release between 3-5 lbs.
The rifle is the lightest weight of the group and handles amazingly well. The recoil is very manageable thanks to the soft rubber buttpad. And to top it off, it is 100% American-made. You just can’t go wrong for the price.
- Tons of features for the price
- Very accurate
- None for beginners
- 22″ Barrel
- 3-5 lb. Trigger Pull
- Weight: ~6.2 lbs. (Depending on Caliber)
The Remington 700 is the most popular hunting rifle in the world and for good reason. The 700 was originally released in 1962 and has been a favorite among hunters, law enforcement, and military snipers ever since.
The Remington 700 comes in many variations and flavors. The ADL is a good hunting rifle for beginners. A great benefit of choosing this platform is the enormous amount of aftermarket parts thanks to the platforms popularity. You can customize practically any part of the rifle you want and there are countless options for components like triggers, barrels, etc.
The Weatherby Vanguard is another good hunting rifle for beginners. It ranks slightly lower than the two above due to the higher price.
The Weatherby Vanguard offers as good of accuracy as you can achieve from a mass produced factory rifle. Weatherby guarantees sub MOA accuracy out of the box with the recommended ammunition. The two-stage trigger which is adjustable down to 2.5 lbs. is another fantastic feature of the Vanguard. It also has grip inserts to keep your hands from slipping even in harsh hunting conditions.
Best Budget Hunting Rifle
If you are on a tight hunting budget your rifle is actually a decent place to save some money. The Savage 110 is a great choice for your first hunting rifle. You are looking at around $100 savings compared to the Ruger American.
This gun is lightweight and accurate, making it hard to bear for the price. The only negative is that the trigger pull is slightly heavy. At this price point this gun is a bargain.
Everyone we know that has a Savage is happy with it. Definitely give it a look if money is tight.
Another Good Hunting Rifle for Beginners
The Tikka T3 Lite is too expensive to really be considered a good hunting rifle for beginners but in our experience the Tikka has proved to be one of the most accurate hunting rifles we have ever used. The Tikka is over a full pound lighter than the Vanguard. If you really want a lightweight accurate rifle and have the extra money to spend you will love this rifle.
What to Look for in a Hunting Rifle
If you are new to hunting or rifles in general you should stay away from buying something used. The risk of ending up with a damaged or faulty rifle is not worth the relatively insignificant amount of money saved vs. buying a new rifle.
Bolt Action Rifles are Best for Beginners
You should start with a bolt action rifle.
While the AR-15 is getting more popular with hunters, we don’t recommend it to start.
You do not want to be fiddling around with the more complicated mechanisms of a semi-auto while your heart is pounding and adrenaline rushing as you get the opportunity to kill your first buck.
Lastly, don’t spend up on a rifle unless you really have a surplus of money to spare. You will be much happier with a quality, well rounded hunting setup than you will be with a $2k rifle and a cheap pair of boots. Do yourself a favor and invest in a pair of high quality hunting boots.
Choosing a barrel length is another decision you are going to have to make. Barrel lengths can vary a lot across rifles but for new hunters, I recommend going with something between 22″ and 26″ long. This is a complicated topic but there is no point in overthinking it at this stage in your hunting journey. All of the rifles recommended in this article are within this range.
Another common question I hear when someone is looking at hunting rifles for the first time is what type of stock they should get, wood or synthetic? I recommend you opt for a synthetic stock for your first hunting rifle.
The reason is because when you are first getting into hunting, you are still learning. You are going to make mistakes. It takes time to learn to handle a rifle and how to care for it. Synthetic stocks are the most resilient and usually weigh less than wood. Both traits are preferred for beginners.
Stay Within Your Budget
The last recommendation I will make is that you stay within your budget. There is no point in going overboard when buying your first rifle.
Hunting is a lifelong endeavor. If it turns out to be something you are passionate about, you can always upgrade later.
If you take care of your rifle as suggested below, it will hold its value.
For now, go with something you can afford and focus on learning how to become a better hunter.
In addition to the specific things listed above, here are a few other things I considered when creating the list in this article. The rifles reviewed were selected for someone new to deer hunting but the advice largely applies to hunters of all experience levels, even those of you hunting small game. The criteria used for the recommendations are:
- Extra Features
Best Caliber for Beginner Deer Hunter
While the focus of this post is on the make and model of your first rifle, selecting a caliber is a very important choice.
Every year it seems like a manufacturer is coming out with a new and improved caliber.
But I recommend you avoid all of those.
With ammo shortages occurring all the time across the United States, picking an exotic, rare caliber can wind up being a real pain when you can’t find ammo.
So what should you pick?
Stick with one of the classics: .30-06, .270, or .308.
All of these are extremely popular with hunters for a reason. They have stood the test of time.
Ammo is always readily available and can be significantly cheaper than the newer more exotic rounds manufactures keep coming out with. Cheap ammo is important for a beginning hunter because you MUST practice shooting your rifle before you get out into the woods. When you spot that first legal buck you want to be comfortable with how your rifle operates.
Not Too Much Recoil
Another benefit to 30-06, .270, or .308. is that they don’t have as much recoil as some of the new, magnum style cartridges.
When you are first beginning, a rifle with a lot of recoil is going to make it harder for you to be accurate, and less fun to shoot.
For more detailed help selecting a hunting caliber, checkout this article on the best calibers without a lot of recoil.
How to Care for Your First Hunting Rifle
Once you have pulled the trigger and bought your first rifle, you need to learn how to take care of it. While this deserves an article on its own, here are a few guidelines to get you started.
Wipe It Down
After every time you use your rifle, make sure to wipe it down with a light gun oil. Something like Rem Oil works great. I also like to remove the bolt and wipe it down as well.
Clean the Barrel
How often you clean the barrel depends on how often you shoot it. Recommendations vary widely so this is a decision you will have to make yourself. I recommend cleaning it at least every 100 rounds you shoot. The basic steps are:
- Remove bolt from rifle. Make sure it is unloaded!
- Run patches soaked with solvent through the barrel from bore to barrel end. Repeat ~5-10 times.
- Push clean patches through. Continue to do so until the patches come out clean.
- Run a lightly oiled patch through the barrel. The rifle is now ready for storage.
- If you are going to be shooting the rifle soon, run another patch through the rifle to remove excess oil.
Storing Your Rifle
When you are not using your rifle for hunting, you will either be transporting it or storing it.
If you are transporting it, first off, make sure you are following your states regulations to stay within the law. This can mean keeping it in a locked case with the ammo located elsewhere.
Never transport a loaded rifle. Always unload the rifle after using it.
As far as storage, your best bet is to keep the rifle locked in a safe. It is critical that it is not accessible by anyone but you. Too many gun accidents have happened in the past and you obviously want to avoid this at all cost.
Frequently Asked Questions
How much should I spend on my first rifle?
How much you spend really comes down to your budget. If you are new to this you will need to buy other gear besides a rifle. Hunting is not a cheap sport but with some effort it can be affordable on most budgets. If you buy a Ruger American and a decent rifle scope, you can get started with as little as $700-$800.
How many bullets can I hunt with?
In most states, there is no limit for the number of rounds in your rifle as long as you stay within the overall legal limit for that state. This only applies to hunting big game like deer, elk, etc.
If you are hunting waterfowl, there is typically a limit of 3 rounds in your shotgun.
Your best bet is to check with the authorities in the state you are hunting. The last thing you want to do as a beginner is get slapped with a fine for breaking the law.
What else do I need when beginning hunting?
As you are probably well aware, a rifle is only one of the pieces of gear a beginner needs when starting out. You will also need a scope, knife, appropriate clothing etc. I have written a guide on how to get into hunting to help you out. The post goes through everything you need to know and do to get started step by step.
Ultimately one could argue the for any of the recommend models as the best beginner hunting rifle. All three are great hunting platforms. They all provide a strong blend of accuracy, durability, dependability.
Beginning hunters (heck, all hunters) focus too much on rifle selection and not enough on the other pieces of the hunting equation. Just pick one of the rifles recommended and focus on the rest of your gear. We think the Ruger American Rifle is the best beginner hunting rifle. The list of features the Ruger has at the price point is simply amazing.
If you are on a budget it makes a lot more sense to pay up for other important gear and get a reasonably priced rifle instead of going all out and buying an expensive rifle and skimping on other gear. Your blistered feet will be a painful reminder of this mistake until you bite the bullet and splurge for quality footwear.