Last month we took a look at my pick for someone’s very first shotgun. Wouldn’t you know it, a longtime friend and mentor actually came in a week or so later, looking for his very first shotgun. He has hit heart set on a nice over/under, but the price difference and practicality of a pump-action might just win out here. And as I said in last month’s blog, this go around we are going to look at my pick for one’s very first rifle. I will choose it based on the similar parameters I set with the shotgun (affordability, reliability, practicality, etc.). Let’s get started.
Rifles are long-gun firearms designed to be shot from the shoulder. Their barrels are “rifled” to give extra accuracy to your shot. They have been used for a couple centuries now for both survival and warfare. When firearms became more abundant, the whole landscape of warfare changed. Rifles have evolved from the ancient muzzle-loading style to our current automatic configurations. Fully-automatic rifles are limited to military and police use, unless one owns a special permit. Most commonly we civilians will use some form of a bolt-action, lever action or semi-automatic action. This latter one is commonly called an AR-15, which uneducated people will tell you stands for Assault Rifle. It actually stands for Armalite, which was the first company to start making civilian models of the M-16, which the gun is so heavily based on. Nowadays we refer to these firearms as MSRs, or Modern Sporting Rifles. Like any other tool we humans use, our rifles have evolved right along with us.
While a MSR is an excellent firearm, I would not suggest it for one’s first rifle. Likewise, I would refrain from picking up a lever-action model. Don’t get me wrong, the Arizonan inside me lusts for a lever-action but I do strongly believe a bolt-action is the way to go. Bolt actions are a simpler firearm and are much more accurate than either lever-actions or MSRs.
Before we get any further, let’s quickly talk about sights. Sights are what you utilize to acquire your target and then shoot at it. There are numerous kinds, but it generally breaks down to two forms. There are “iron sights” which are built in sights that usually contain no magnification. And then there is “glass” which applies to a whole diverse family of scopes. Common knowledge tells us that you will actually end up paying more for your optics than you will your rifle, because a good scope makes all the difference. But manufacturers have been able to make excellent optics options that will not break the bank.
Bolt action rifles have the capability to hold several rounds, depending on the firearm and the caliber, at a time. One would load their firearm, work the bolt back which feeds a round upwards and when the bolt is worked forward it chambers the round. Once the safety is off and the target is acquired, one would squeeze the trigger to fire the gun. Afterwards the same working of the bolt action is required, but the spend case will be extracted and a new round will be chambered.
Most people get a bolt-action .22 rifle for their first firearm. Unfortunately since .22 ammo has become harder to find, (check out this article) this would not be my choice for a first rifle. And while this caliber is great for dispatching smaller game, it is ineffective against larger game. My thought process is that if it is my first gun (and only rifle for the foreseeable future) I want it to be able to handle big game that I hope to hunt one day (antelope, deer and elk).
Affordability and the ability to acquire rounds of the caliber as well are a major concern. 300 Win Mag is an excellent caliber (and has grown in significant popularity since American Sniper) but the cost (and recoil) may keep people from practicing enough with it. So we take a look at two of the most commonly owned rifle calibers, .270 Win and .30-06 Sprg. These two calibers have been keeping meat in the freezers for almost a century and people who favor one caliber to the other swear by it. I personally own a .30-06Sprg but talk to one of leads at the store and he will proudly tote the ability of his .270 Win all day.
My honest pick for a first-rifle caliber would be .308Win. This is another extremely popular caliber, that makes a good sized hole on a target but not too big of one in your wallet. Go online and you will find dozens of sources that can provide you will ballistic information. This is a well-studied, documented and proven round. It has good knockdown power (would work well on deer, antelope and elk if all in reasonable and ethical shooting points) but not enough recoil to hurt most people after a full day of shooting. You can also pick up ammunition for this caliber in bulk packs, which helps with the affordability.
Now for the big reveal: my pick for one’s first rifle would be a Savage 11/111 Trophy Hunter XP Combo. This is a great firearm that checks all the boxes I am looking for. It is reliable, practical and affordable. Most people will tell you that when you buy a combo rifle, meaning it comes with a scope already on it, the first thing you do is toss the scope and buy a new one. This combo does come with a Nikon scope, which are a good piece of glass. It is a 3-9x40mm, which is one of the most common and utilitarian scope setups and is backed by an excellent warranty. In .308Win this rifle weighs 7.25lbs (unloaded) and can hold four rounds plus one in the chamber. It shares a couple similar characteristics with the Mossberg 500 as reasons why I think it is a perfect first-gun. The safety for it is on the tang of the grip, so switching it on and off is a breeze. It is also large enough that one can easily operate it when using thick gloves and the large red-colored indicator is a nice touch. This gun is also synthetic, which makes it a perfect first-gun.
Wood is beautiful. Wood is great. Wood is art. But… wood swells, wood shrinks, wood absorbs water, wood is affected by altitude and humidity whereas synthetic stocks do not have any of those issues. Like I said with the last blog, you can also buy a nice wood-stock firearm next but for first time go synthetic and last a long time.
Next time we will cover handguns, but first we will look at one of my favorite firearms: the revolver.