Your first time afield can be a daunting prospect. From how to conduct yourself and dress, to which gear to bring and which to leave at home, the experience can be as humbling as it is rewarding, revealing just how little you yet know about how to thrive in the great outdoors. Potentially the most daunting part, is deciding on a rifle. While the process can be eased by using a mentor’s firearm, you will eventually need to pull the trigger on a purchase of your own. This is a big decision, as it can represent a substantial outlay of cash, and a potential commitment to a platform and caliber. Read on for a few great options to get you started on your search for the best hunting rifles.
I won’t lie to you, if we were to liken this process to your first car, the Benelli Lupo would be a Corvette, but hear me out. Unlike flipping your 15-year-old self the keys to a 400-horsepower monster, there are some significant benefits to starting near the top of the proverbial heap. For starters, if (like me) you prefer to minimize your overall expenditures, this is not a rifle you will ever need to graduate from. With nine different caliber options, sub-MOA accuracy, a threaded barrel, and a weight tipping the scales right around seven pounds (caliber dependant), this rifle can take you from the treestand to intense backcountry excursions, and will likely outshoot your own capabilities at any distance. Additionally, for beginner shooters, the Lupo tames recoil with a Progressive Comfort system and Combtech cheek pad, though I would recommend a smaller hunting caliber for a first rifle anyway (unless you’re jumping straight to elk). The controls are also intuitive, with an ambidextrous, tang-mounted safety, a detachable box magazine, and an adjustable trigger. The gun also comes pre-mounted with a two-piece Picatinny rail, to make mounting your first optic easy. MSRP: $1,699; www.benelliusa.com
Savage Model 110 Hunter
I should disclose upfront a small bias toward Savage Arms, as my first and most trusted hunting rifle is an old Model 111 I got a deal on at the local auction house. I say small, however, as my large predilection for the company’s firearms is due in larger part to the incredible accuracy and dependability I have seen out of their guns over the years. The company’s Model 110 line is about as storied as a hunting rifle can get and encompasses guns from basic utilitarian models, all the way up to ultralight backcountry bruisers. The Model 110 Hunter is a great place to start. With the company’s adjustable AccuFit system, tunable AccuTrigger, and an AccuStock rail that secures the action along its entire length, the gun is a solid performer that can grow with you as your skills improve. Additionally, the tang-mounted safety and detachable box magazine will get you used to the ergonomics of other Model 110s when you’re ready to step up your game to a more lightweight or game-specific variant. MSRP: $849; www.savagearms.com
Ruger American Standard Rifle
Ruger’s primary offering to hunters, the American rifle, also comes in a variety of different trims, each with its own specific features. For a beginner’s hunting rifle, however? The American Standard will serve your purposes just fine in your quest for the best hunting rifles. Available in seven common calibers, the Ruger American Standard weighs in between six and six-and-a-half pounds, with a 22-inch barrel for good accuracy results. An alloy-steel receiver and a black-synthetic stock mean this gun can take all the abuse a beginner can give it, and keep on ticking. The Marksman trigger is adjustable between 3 and 5 pounds, the magazine is detachable, and a soft rubber buttpad is included for recoil reduction. To make the gun safe, ergonomic tang safety provides easy access at a moment’s notice. MSRP: $579; www.ruger.com
While I don’t think any roundup of the best hunting rifles for beginners is complete without the inclusion of a lever gun, I must make one caveat. If you ever intend on getting into longer-range precision shooting, or longer-distance hunting, your first gun should be a bolt-action. While I appreciate the appeal of a good old lever gun as much as the next red-blooded American, the fact of the matter is that with modern loadings and cartridges, a bolt-action is almost always going to be the best bang for your buck, and you should get familiar with how to run one right off the bat. Please note, however, that I said “almost.”
If you have a true need to go the lever-action route, and you don’t plan on pushing the distances all that far, Henry’s Long Ranger has found a way to allow the classic design to run with modern calibers, making for an excellent and well-rounded hunting gun. Coming chambered in .223 Remington, .243 Winchester, .308 Winchester, or 6.5 Creedmoor, this lever action comes with a detachable box magazine instead of the ubiquitous tube, which allows it to run the aforementioned cartridges. Weighing in at seven pounds empty, this gun is right around the weights of the other rifles on this list, despite some truly beautiful American Walnut furniture. A round, blued-steel barrel meshes nicely with a hard-anodized black receiver, which is drilled and tapped for scope mounts. While I’d consider mounting a scope essential for any hunter, it does come with a standard set of irons. Using a high set of rings, you could even witness your irons underneath the scope–this is a favorite setup of Eastern hardwoods deer hunters. MSRP: $1,195; www.henryusa.com