Picking a rifle is not as intimidating as it may appear standing before a well-stocked counter at a sporting-goods store. But matching yourself to the right rifle can make a lot of difference when it comes to accuracy and your comfort level in shooting.
Without getting into the choice of caliber, which will be determined largely by your intended use, there are a few simple considerations you should keep in mind.
You must be able to comfortably and safely handle the firearm, and possibly handle it during a long day in the field. Not too heavy, so it feels like a boat anchor; not too light as to let recoil be an issue in larger calibers. And you need to be able to comfortably reach the trigger, so in the store tell them you want to test for length of pull (the distance between trigger and butt of the stock). Does your face fit comfortably on the comb of the stock? Does it balance well in your hand, not too much weight forward or back? You don’t want to be fighting to hold it in balance while trying to hold a steady aim.
The most common actions are bolt-action, pump-action, lever-action, semi-automatic and single-shot. Your planned hunting or shooting activity will dictate some of this, but some is personal preference. Semi-autos allow quick follow-up shots, if that is important. Bolt-actions are strong and reliable; likewise pump actions have their proponents as do lever-actions, the classic rifles that have been around since they won the West. Some prefer the simple, reliable single-action and its focus on placing that one perfect first shot.
Wood, laminated wood and synthetics, like plastic and fiberglass, are common materials for rifle stocks. Wood is traditional and many like it for its look and feel, but laminated woods are generally stronger, more durable and fend off nicks and dings better than wood. Synthetics run the gamut from inexpensive to expensive. Moisture doesn’t affect them like it can wood stocks, and they seem to absorb rougher handling without showing tell-tale marks.
Barrel length will affect the length of the rifle (obviously), the weight of the rifle and the velocity at which the bullet leaves the barrel. Generally speaking the longer the barrel, the higher the velocity because the gas pressure has more time to push behind the bullet. But it also affects how the rifle handles. Shorter barrels are easier to handle and faster to get on target while hunting in brush, for instance.
There is a lot to be considered when picking a rifle, but it is not as daunting as it may appear. Pick what’s right for – and fits – you.