Getting into the hunt can be daunting. When I started hunting four years ago, I remember being completely overwhelmed. Not only did I need to learn a ton of information on butchering big game, best practices for caring for wild game meat, and how to cook wild game, but I also realized I needed a ton of equipment, including a gun. Buying a first women’s hunting rifle can be a bit overwhelming. Fortunately, I was already backpacking, hiking, and bird watching. He already had a 65-liter backpack, decent binoculars, hiking boots, and breathable layers of clothing. To complete the rest of my hunting gear, all I needed was camouflage and a rifle.
Before I left Wisconsin for Colorado in the summer of 2018, my brother gave me his .22 long rifle. That fall, I used my shiny new hunter safety certification and that small-caliber handgun to chase small game all over Gunnison County. However, after joining me on a moose hunt and borrowing a friend’s rifle to shoot mule deer, I decided I needed a larger caliber rifle. In the end, I ended up buying a Savage Arms .270 bolt action online. It was lightweight, available for left-handed shooters, and affordably priced. Plus, that gauge was just the right size for the game I wanted to chase: deer, elk, and bear. I added a sling and scope and before I knew it, I had a functional hunting rifle setup for under $1,000 that I loved shooting.
Buying your first rifle doesn’t have to be intimidating for women. Once you identify what type of firearm you need to meet your hunting needs, it all gets easier from there. There are a few things to consider before you swipe your credit card for a new gun.
What is a hunting rifle, exactly?
A rifle is a long gun, usually fired from the shoulder, that has a rifled barrel. The rifling consists of spiral grooves on the inside of a gun’s barrel, the straight metal shot tube that makes up most of the gun’s length. The rifling is done during manufacturing and this feature causes the bullet to rotate as it travels through the barrel. Fast-spinning bullets not only travel long distances, but also make the flight path more stable, which increases accuracy. Different bullet sizes require different rifle caliber rifles. For hunting purposes, common calibers range from .17 hundredths of an inch to .300 thousandths of an inch.
What kind of caliber do you want to shoot?
Depending on the type of hunting you are looking to do, you will want to select a caliber that is appropriate for that quarry. If you plan on hunting small game like rabbits or squirrels, consider looking at .17s or .22s. Rifles that are .17 fire the smallest projectile at the highest velocity, making them great for small, far away targets. The twenty-two is fairly similar, but the projectile is slightly larger and travels less distance with less velocity than a .17. These small calibers are fantastic entry level options, can be really affordable, come in a variety of barrel lengths and stock sizes, and are basically recoilless.
If you plan to hunt large game like elk, deer, pronghorn, or bear, consider a medium caliber. Personally, I use my .270 for these applications. Generally speaking, most big game hunters don’t shoot a caliber smaller than that on big game. Also, most states have a minimum caliber size when it comes to big game. Ideally, anything from a .270 to a .300 will do the job in these situations.
If you plan on going after a moose, I recommend a .300. You can probably lethally shoot one with a smaller caliber, but when it comes to shooting this massive animal quickly, ethically, and with as little damage to the flesh as possible, you’ll want a caliber that really packs a punch.
What type of action do I want to use?
Rifles come in four main types of action: brake, lever, bolt, and semi-automatic. Interrupt actions typically fire a single shot that you need to manually reload each time. They are more common in small calibers like .17 and .22. Lever actions look great and are classic American, but they are limiting. Lever-action ammunition options are restricted to rounds designed to be loaded into a tube magazine; these weapons also shoot less distance with less velocity. Bolt action is the most common rifle action in a hunting gun. You can get just about any caliber of bolt-action rifle, and the same goes for semi-auto. Semi-autos reload ammo after each shot, saving you time when it comes to sending bullets from a distance.
What barrel length do I need?
Finding the middle ground between maneuverability, fit, and speed are the main considerations when looking at barrel length. Legally, a rifle cannot be shorter than 16 inches. Longer barrel lengths have higher velocity; this increases your range. For smaller gauges, lengths in the 16- to 18-inch range are excellent. When considering larger game, look for 18- to 24-inch barrels. However, if you’re not hunting in the tundra or open plains, the 18- to 20-inch range will be more maneuverable through brush, trees, and dense vegetation.
What should be the composition of my rifle?
The material from which the rifle’s barrels and stocks are made can influence the weight, maneuverability, and style of the rifle. Stocks are usually made of wood or a plastic polymer composite. Wooden stocks are classic, visually appealing and heavy. Its added weight can help you shoot steadily and decrease recoil. The wood is also laminated, helping it to maintain weather resistance and prevent damage. However, wood is more prone to warping in humid environments. Compound stocks are generally more affordable, lighter, and available in a wide range of colors, including camo. They are also very durable and weather resistant.
Rifle barrels are blued or stainless steel. Bluing is cheaper; it is a more historic method of corrosion resistance. If you live in a humid environment, expect to get wet while hunting, or don’t plan on cleaning your firearm after every hunting trip in the snow, stainless steel might be better for you because stainless steel is highly resistant to corrosion.
Choose a rifle that makes you feel good.
It’s important to find a rifle with the barrel length, stock material, action type, and shot length that best suits your body and hunting applications. Pull length is the distance between the trigger and the end of the stock; you want this distance to also make you feel comfortable.
For example, if you have arthritis or are disabled, consider a semi-automatic action instead of a bolt action. If you’re 5’5″ and you’re into powerlifting, a 24-inch barrel and wooden stock may not be a deal breaker for you. If you have a smaller frame, don’t rule out the option of a youth stock or pistol because it may be the best option for you. My 20-gauge shotgun is a youth model and it fits like a glove).
If you can, go to a gun store and try holding several different types of rifles to get familiar with them. It’s easy to just buy a gun online and ship it to an FFL near you, but if you can at least physically hold a few rifles before your purchase, you can narrow down what you want based on feel alone. . For example, Erin Crider of Uncharted Outdoor Women I was between two guns when I was recently looking to buy one. It was between the Sig Sauer P320 and the Springfield Armory Hellcat. He went to a gun store that had both firearms available and ended up choosing the Hellcat simply because it fit better in his hands.
Do I want rifle accessories?
When buying your first hunting rifle, it’s easy to fall into the equipment trap when it comes to accessories and equipment you can add to it. Scopes are the most common rifle accessory. I use a fixed scope on my .22 and a 10×44 scope on my .270. In addition to scopes, you can also look for sling straps to make it easier to carry your rifle. I have one in my .270 since I usually walk long distances with it. Attaching a bipod to your rifle is also an option, but I personally prefer to use a tripod-style shooting stick to stabilize my rifle.
Starting to hunt with a rifle is challenging but also empowering. Having the ability to grow your own meat, spend more time outdoors, and observe wildlife in their natural habitat is extremely rewarding. It will be much better when you have a rifle of your own that suits your body and hunting style as well.