Hunters have never had such a large selection of firearms and cartridges as they do today. For a deer hunter beginner starting out, the decision is a difficult one because there are so many firearms that will do the job.
So how do they go about choosing?
This article is designed to give the beginner some guidance about the most suitable rifles. Experienced hunters will already have made their choices and will probably have strong views about the ‘best’ rifle for them.
It is important to state that there is no ‘perfect’ or ‘right’ rifle for deer hunting. Many hunters swear by certain calibres, but equally there are others who will argue for differing calibres. The debate will never reach agreement because in the end it comes down to personal preference.
However, to assist the beginner, this article will focus on rifles, and not cover muzzleloaders, handguns or shotguns.
Most decisions revolve around the action and the calibre.
The action is the mechanical means by which the cartridge is delivered from the magazine to the chamber. The simplest action is the single shot bolt action. This is a very popular action because of its accuracy and reliability.
A lever action has a lever next to the trigger that is moved forward and then moved backwards and this action removes the previous empty cartridge and replaces it with a new cartridge. It is a popular rifle from the western movies and is chosen for its speed.
Pump actions and semi-automatic actions are rapid firing mechanisms that can cause problems due to jamming or failing due to not being clean and maintained.
The next decision is to choose a calibre.
The most popular hunted animal in America is the whitetail deer which has a relatively light bone structure. Small calibre cartridges such as the .22 are unsuitable.
Low velocity, medium calibres like the 30.30 Winchester or .300 Savage were very popular and are suitable for accurate shots up to about 150 yards.
High velocity, smaller calibres such as .243 Winchester, .260 Remington and 6mm Remington increase the effective range out to about 250 yards, however the projectile weights tend to be light.
High velocity, medium weight calibres offer the best versatility and are good up to about 300 yards. The calibres include examples like the .308 Winchester, 30.06 Springfield, .270 Winchester and the .280 Remington.
The bullet weights usually range between 150-180 grains; however they can go as low as 130 and up to 220 grains.
They are ideal for the whitetail, including the larger bodied northern whitetail bucks, and even elk and caribou.
The short magnums are suited for long distance (greater than 300 yards) because of their flat trajectory.
The rifles can come with synthetic or wooden stocks, and stainless or blued actions and barrels. This is really a personal preference.
So for a deer hunter starting out who is confused by the large selection of rifles for deer hunting, the best versatility is offered by high velocity, medium calibres such as .308 Winchester, .270 Winchester, 30.06 Springfield and the .280 Remington, with loads ranging between 150 and 180 grains.