Rifles are like shoes. They need to fit just right or it won’t work out the way you want it to. So remember these five things when you go to buy your next rifle.
While it’s important to use enough rifle to cleanly bring down your game, deer aren’t that big when compared to other large game. There’s likely no animal hunted on this continent that sees the range of calibers used for whitetails. And most of those hunters will defend their choice with vigorous argument as to why theirs is the best choice for deer hunting.
So who is right? Just about all of them. Pick a caliber you have confidence in and shoot well. Smaller hunters, or those sensitive to recoil, should stick with lighter calibers. With the correct bullets, even the .223 can be an effective deer rifle. A step up from there is the .243, one of the most popular calibers of all time. Plan on hunting larger game with the same rifle? The mid-range calibers like the .270, 30-06 and even .300 Win Mag will do the job for both deer and larger game.
Remember, pick a caliber that fits the area you hunt the most often. If your shots are mostly long-range across open plains or ag fields, choose a flat-shooting caliber that offers more room for error in range judgement. Hunting deep woods and thickets? Bullet drop isn’t as important. You can go with a fatter cartridge to get more bullet mass downrange and into your deer.
Regardless of the caliber you choose, get a rifle that fits you. It is hard to accurately shoot a rifle that is either too long or too short for your frame. Kids and new shooters in particular, need a rifle that fits well. An ill-fitting gun will increase felt recoil and lead to bad habits on the range and in the field. Want the ultimate in adjustability for a growing shooter or a single rifle to fit multiple hunters? Look at an AR-style rifle with an adjustable stock.
Not sure how to tell if a rifle fits you? Shoulder it quickly. Does it naturally fall into place in the shoulder pocket? Does your cheek make good contact with the stock without having to bend your neck at an uncomfortable angle? Is your eye in line with either the sights or the scope without having to move your head back and forth to get the right sight picture? If you answered yes to these questions, the rifle fits you. If you answered no to any of them, figure out what you need to make it happen. Stocks can be cut down if too long, thicker recoil pads can be added if the stock is to short. Cheek not mating up correctly? Try some different stock shapes and styles, or add an adjustable comb to the stock to fit you.
Choose an action that fits your hunting style. Long-range accuracy important? It will be hard to beat a bolt-action rifle. Need a short, quick-handling gun with faster follow-up shots? Look at an AR or lever-action gun. Want a lightweight rifle that adds a bit of a challenge? Look at the break-action, single-shot guns on the market today.
4. Bullet Availability
If you hunt in remote areas, you might want to choose a rifle in a popular caliber. Accidents happen. More than one hunter has gotten to camp only to realize they left their ammo at home. While most country stores and local sporting goods stores will stock at least some variant of the common deer rounds, they might not sell the latest super short magnum.
Rain a lot where you hunt? Does the temperature swing in wide extremes, often in the same week or even same day? You might want to choose a rifle with a synthetic stock and a waterproof finish on the exposed metal. Wooden stocks exposed to a downpour or days of wet weather can swell, changing the point of impact on your rifle. Standard blued metal will rust after several damp days afield.
These are just a few things to keep in mind before making your next rifle purchase.
Whitetails make the hunting world go round. Josh Honeycutt, deer hunting editor and "Brow Tines and Backstrap" blogger, knows a fair bit about killing mature deer. He was raised up hunting the river bottoms of Kentucky. And he still hunts there—among other places—to this day.
Follow along as he shares his adventures, experiences and knowledge of the white-tailed deer.