Access to hunting ground is the number-one barrier to entry for new hunters, but firearms are usually also towards the top of that list. It can be intimidating to select, purchase, and learn to shoot a rifle, especially if you’ve never done so before.
If that’s you, you’ve come to the right place. This article won’t teach you how to shoot a rifle, but it will offer five solid recommendations and send you to reputable gun stores where you can purchase your new firearm in person. After that, it’s time to hit the range.
Jump to: RIFLES WE RECOMMEND
Whenever I recommend a rifle to a new hunter, I’m looking to balance several different features. First, the rifle should be comfortable to shoot, and nothing impacts comfort more than recoil. To minimize recoil, don’t purchase rifles marketed as “lightweight” or for “high mountain hunts.” Usually weighing less than six pounds, these rifles will transfer more recoil energy to the shooter’s shoulder and can be more painful to shoot. Recoil is highly dependent on cartridge selection, obviously, but it’s also something to keep in mind when rifle shopping.
Avoid rifles that are too light, but also be sure you select a firearm that isn’t too heavy. A heavy rifle is no fun to carry through the woods, but it’s also difficult to shoot accurately from most field positions. A heavy rifle is fine from a solid rest, but it’s more difficult to steady while leaning against a tree or from a kneeling position. Look for rifles in the six to eight pound range–heavy enough to absorb some recoil but not so heavy that it’s cumbersome in the woods.
Cost is another factor to consider. It used to be that you had to spend serious moo-lah on a custom built setup to get an accurate rifle with a crisp trigger, smooth action, and well-built stock. Now, you can spend less than $500 and get those same features. You may have to test lots of ammo to find what your rifle likes to shoot, but don’t feel like you have to spend more than $800 on your first long gun. Unless you’re independently wealthy, most people don’t have the cash to drop on a hobby they may or may not continue. We hope you’ll become a lifelong hunter, but a little dose of realism never hurt anyone.
Speaking of realism, don’t spend too much time looking for pinpoint accuracy. Forum posts abound with claims of half-inch or quarter-inch 100-yard groups from budget rifles, most of which are exaggerations or outright lies. All of the rifles below can shoot one-inch, three-shot groups with good ammo (some of them even guarantee it). But don’t expect to purchase a competition rifle at this price point, and don’t be disappointed if your five-shot group average is something around 1.5 inches. That’s plenty accurate and can certainly get the job done.
Last piece of advice: if you can, try to test a few rifles at the range before you make your purchase. You can give yourself a stroke pouring over spec sheets online, but sometimes the best choice becomes obvious with a few shots downrange in the real world.
Jump to: PRODUCT NOTES
Ruger American Predator
Weatherby Vanguard Sporter
Savage Axis II
Tikka T3x Lite
|Weight||6.6 lbs.||7.5 lbs.||6.3 lbs.||6.6 lbs.||6.5 lbs.|
|Trigger||3-5 lbs.||>2.5 lbs.||3-6 lbs.||2-4 lbs.||2-7 lbs.|
|Safety||Two Position||Three Position||Two Position||Two Position||Two Position|
|Product Notes||Product Notes||Product Notes||Product Notes||Product Notes|
Ruger’s American rifles are popular for a reason. They’re accurate, durable, and reasonably priced. I like the Predator model because it offers a few additional features over the standard American. It’s available with a detachable box magazine, which I tend to prefer over internal magazines for the ease of loading and unloading. It comes with a picatinny rail for mounting optics and a threaded barrel for attaching muzzle devices. As a new hunter, you probably don’t have plans to purchase a suppressor, but if you stick with the sport you’ll want that option down the road.
The American Predator also checks many of the boxes I outlined above. It clocks in at 6.6 pounds with a 13.75-inch LOP, and comes with a great trigger that can be adjusted between three and five pounds.
The stock keeps the rifle under seven pounds, and some might refer to it as a "Tupperware stock." But while it feels a little flimsy, it also features two V-block recoil lugs that are embedded in the stock and allow the action to be torqued between 60 and 80 pounds. This both secures the action and free-floats the barrel, which improves accuracy. (Also, if you ever want to upgrade in the future, Magpul makes a great aftermarket stock that comes with an adjustable cheek piece and butt stock.)
Weatherby’s Vanguard Sporter is more spendy than the Ruger American, but it combines classic hunting rifle styling with modern technological advances. Unlike your grandfather’s deer rifle, the Vanguard Sporter comes with a sub-MOA accuracy guarantee. In other words, it’ll shoot three-shot groups measuring one inch or less with premium ammunition. Most modern rifles will do this, but Weatherby is confident enough in their products that they guarantee it. The Walnut Monte Carlo stock offers a bit of a cheek rise, and the rifle’s 7.5-pound weight is great for absorbing recoil.
The Sporter isn’t manufactured in the U.S., but Weatherby’s Vanguard line has been built at the same factory in Japan for over 50 years. The rifles are known for quality craftsmanship at an affordable price, and I’ve never had any trouble with the Vanguard’s two-lug action and hammer-forged barrel. Of course, if you’re looking for something a little more modern, we recommend the Vanguard MeatEater Edition.
I've heard great things about Savage’s line of Axis rifles, though I’d describe my personal experience as “middling.” Still, it’s hard to leave the Axis off a list of entry-level rifles. Savage made a name for itself producing accurate rifles at a price everyone can get behind, and the Axis has led that charge. Plus, Savage offers a huge range of options and configurations that play around with barrel length, length of pull, stock patterns, and scopes.
At the heart of all Axis II rifles is the AccuTrigger, which was one of the first high-value adjustable triggers included in a factory rifle. The AccuTrigger can be adjusted between three and six pounds, and it’s as crisp a trigger as you’ll find at this price point. The carbon steel barrel comes in 12 different chamberings (including the .280 AI!), and the rifle only weighs 6.3 pounds.
Many hunters and at-home gunsmiths also like Savage rifles because you can swap out the barrel at home. You need a few special tools and some elbow grease, but it’s a nice option if down the road you decide to upgrade your barrel or change calibers.
Tikka rifles are manufactured in Finland, and they have a reputation for excellent quality and accuracy. Like Weatherby, Tikka promises sub-one-inch groups at 100 yards, and also like Weatherby, you’ll spend a little more than other entry-level options. But that extra cheddar might be worth it. (MeatEater’s Janis Putelis certainly thinks so.)
The T3x line offers tons of different stocks, barrels, and calibers built around the T3x action. All T3x rifles improve upon the T3 line by including a modular stock that allows the user to swap out pistol grips and a more robust recoil pad to help keep shots on target (among other improvements). The 2-lug bolt with a 70° lift cycles smoothly, and the single-stage trigger is adjustable between two and four pounds.
The Lite model clocks in around 6.5 pounds–not too heavy but also heavy enough to absorb some recoil. It’s available in 40 caliber and barrel length combinations, so you can find exactly the rifle that fits your hunting goals.
Rounding out our list of entry-level hunting rifles is the Mossberg Patriot. The Patriot is a durable but affordable firearm that, like many of the models in this list, comes in a variety of configurations. I like the standard model with the synthetic stock and Cerakoted barrel and action. The synthetic stock keeps the rifle a svelte 6.5 pounds while the Cerakote combats the moisture you’ll encounter in the field.
Most Patriot models feature an adjustable trigger; a fluted, threaded barrel; and a rail for mounting optics. The trigger has the widest adjustment range of any trigger on this list (two to seven pounds). New hunters can keep the trigger weight heavy while they acclimate themselves to firing a rifle and slowly decrease the weight as they gain confidence. The fluted barrel reduces weight and the threads can accept a muzzle device. The factory optics rail is also a great touch; not every rifle in this list comes with that.
The drop-box magazine is another thoughtful feature. It offers better capacity than most rifles on this list (5+1 for all calibers), and it sits flush with the bottom of the stock. It can also be loaded while the magazine is ejected or while it’s inserted into the rifle.