Hunting rifles come in all shapes and sizes. When buying one, you have to consider a few key things based on how you plan to use it.
This article will break down the main types of hunting rifles based on rifle action, intended use like big game versus small game, barrel length, material, features, and popular calibers. We will also give examples of some of the most popular hunting rifle models out there right now from brands like Remington, Winchester, Ruger, and more.
Whether you’re a new hunter getting your first rifle or a seasoned pro looking to expand your arsenal, this guide will help you narrow down your options. Keep reading!
Types of Hunting Rifles
Hunting rifles come in different types that depend on a few key factors.
Action type is how a rifle works. It decides how the rifle deals with bullets, from loading to shooting and getting rid of used cartridges. Let’s check out some usual rifle action types:
These rifles have a manually operated bolt mechanism. The shooter cycles the action by lifting the bolt handle, extracting the spent cartridge, and chambering a new round. They are accurate, reliable, and ideal for long-range precision shooting.
These rifles are suitable for long-range precision shooting, hunting in open terrain, target shooting and competition.
Lever-action rifles are beloved by hunters and gun enthusiasts. When you pull down the lever, it moves the bolt and firing pin, ejects the spent cartridge, and loads a new one. Returning the lever chambers the new cartridge.
Lever-action rifles allow rapid follow-up shots, hold ample rounds, and are reliable in tough conditions. They provide consistent trigger pull, aiding accuracy, and are compact and easy to maneuver, ideal for hunting in dense brush.
- Winchester Model 94: Popular for deer hunting and cowboy action shooting
- Marlin 336: Often chambered in .30-30 Winchester, suitable for medium-sized game
- Henry Repeating Arms Lever Action: Known for smooth action and craftsmanship
- Browning BLR: Modern design with a detachable box magazine
- Rossi R92: Budget-friendly and performs well in the field
Semi-automatic rifles are firearms that automatically load a new round into the chamber after each shot. When a shot is fired, the spent cartridge is ejected, and a fresh cartridge is chambered without manual intervention. This allows for rapid follow-up shots without the need to manually cycle the bolt between shots.
They excel in allowing controlled rapid fire without the need to manipulate a bolt between shots. Despite being slightly less accurate than bolt-action rifles, semi-automatics still offer sufficient precision for most hunting situations.
- Ruger 10/22: Lightweight and great for small games
- Remington Model 742 Woodsmaster: A classic choice
- Browning BAR MARK III: Powerful and reliable
- Benelli R1: Overall versatility, great for big game
They are uncomplicated and lightweight, allowing for only a single shot before reloading. With just one round available, hunters develop the skill of making the initial shot count, making them ideal for beginners. This approach benefits not only single-shot hunters but also those transitioning to other types of firearms.
Single-shot rifles are often more affordable than bolt-action, semi-auto, or lever-action guns. Brands like Henry Repeating Arms offer quality single-shot rifles and shotguns at reasonable prices. Their designs are more compact due to their break-action or falling-block mechanisms. In tight spaces like hunting blinds or dense brush, maneuverability matters. A single-shot rifle or shotgun is easier to wield without sacrificing effectiveness.
When selecting a rifle for hunting or shooting purposes, it’s essential to think about the intended use and the specific category of rifles tailored for different applications.
Here are the two categories of rifles and their intended uses:
- Big Game Rifles: These rifles are specifically designed for hunting large animals such as deer, elk, and bear. They are typically chambered in calibers that provide sufficient stopping power and range to ethically and effectively hunt big game.
- Varmint Rifles: Used for hunting small predators and pests, these rifles are optimized for accuracy and precision at longer ranges. They are often chambered in smaller calibers that minimize pelt damage and are well-suited for targeting animals such as skunks, opossums, groundhogs, and other varmints.
When considering the barrel length, it’s important to understand how it can impact the rifle’s performance in various hunting scenarios.
Short-barreled rifles are often favored for close-quarters hunting in dense brush or when maneuvering in confined spaces such as hunting blinds or thick forests. The compact nature of short-barreled rifles enhances their maneuverability, making them well-suited for quick and precise shots in environments where visibility and shooting distances are limited.
Rifles with longer barrels are known to offer improved accuracy. While long-barreled rifles may be less maneuverable in tight spaces, they are often favored for hunting scenarios that involve shooting at extended distances or when engaging game that requires precise shot placement.
Versatility in Barrel Length
Some rifles offer interchangeable barrels or modular designs, allowing hunters to adapt the rifle’s barrel length to specific hunting situations.
Material and Features
When choosing the material and features of rifles, it’s important to understand the impact they can have on the rifle’s performance and durability.
These rifles are renowned for their classic and timeless aesthetic appeal. While a wooden stock may require more maintenance to preserve its appearance and integrity, many enthusiasts appreciate the character and warmth that it brings to a rifle. Additionally, some hunters value the balance and feel of a Wood-stock in their hands, finding it conducive to steady and comfortable shooting.
Synthetic-stocks are valued for their durability and weather-resistant properties, making them well-suited for hunting in diverse environmental conditions. Hunters who prioritize low-maintenance firearms often opt for synthetic stocks.
Stainless Steel Barrels
Rifles equipped with stainless steel barrels offer exceptional resistance to rust and corrosion, making them ideal for hunting in damp or humid environments.
Fluted barrels feature precision-cut grooves along the length of the barrel, which serve multiple purposes. These grooves not only enhance the surface area for improved heat dissipation, aiding in barrel cooling during sustained firing, but they also contribute to reducing the overall weight of the rifle.
Hunting Rifle Calibers
When purchasing hunting ammo, the first thing to note is the caliber, which measures the bullet’s diameter. It’s crucial to use the exact hunting cartridge stamped on your rifle to avoid injury or damage. The style and construction of the bullet are also vital, depending on your rifle type and the size of the game being hunted.
The construction of a bullet varies based on the size of the game being hunted. Varmint hunting requires a bullet with a thin jacket and soft core for rapid expansion, while bullets for larger North American wild game feature a thicker or tapered jacket for deep penetration. Additionally, many popular bullets now include a polymer tip to prevent deformation and damage to the soft lead bullet.
Whenever possible, opt for premium grade ammunition. While it may be more expensive, it offers higher-quality components and tighter quality control tolerances, making it well worth the added expense.
How to Choose the Best Hunting Rifle and Caliber
Choosing the right hunting rifle and caliber is important for a successful hunt. There are a few key factors that every hunter should consider when making this important decision.
First and foremost, think about the game you’ll be hunting. If deer are your primary target, you’re already on the right track. Avoid the common mistake of choosing a rifle that claims to take down all North American big game. Instead, focus on a caliber suited to your specific needs.
If you’ll be navigating dense forests, a long-barreled rifle designed for long-range accuracy may hinder your movements. Conversely, if you need precision at a distance, a short-barreled lever-action gun won’t suffice. Tailor your choice to the terrain.
Brand and Budget
Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you absolutely need an expensive Weatherby rifle. Brands like Marlin can also perform just as well. Focus on how the rifle feels in your hands rather than the logo on it, and pick the one your budget allows
Reach and Comfort
While no rifle suits every situation, find one that provides options. If you’re unsure, the .30-06 is a classic choice that covers a wide spectrum of hunting scenarios.
A reliable hunting rifle should be versatile. Look for a firearm that can handle various cartridge sizes. Different games require different stopping power, so having the flexibility to switch between cartridges is essential.
One of the most popular all-around calibers is the .30-06, known for its impact velocity and suitability for big game hunts. Another excellent choice is the .308, which offers deadly accuracy for medium-sized targets.
The energy transferred upon impact matters. Too small an impact won’t effectively kill the animal, while too large an impact could ruin the meat. Keep in mind the game you’re hunting and choose your caliber accordingly. .30-06 and .308 both strike a good balance in this regard.
- .30-06: Widely used worldwide, this cartridge excels in versatility and impact velocity
- .308: Deadly accurate, making it suitable for smaller or medium-sized games
- .300 Winchester Magnum (known as .300 Win Mag): Ideal for larger game like moose and grizzlies in northern regions
10 Most Popular Hunting Rifles
Selecting the best hunting rifle is akin to choosing a loyal companion for your outdoor adventures. While personal preferences play a significant role, certain rifles have stood the test of time and gained widespread acclaim.
Here are ten of the most popular types of hunting rifles, each with its own unique application:
- Remington Model 700:
- Caliber: Available in various calibers, including .30-06 and .308.
- Application: A versatile bolt-action rifle suitable for deer, elk, and other medium to large game. Known for its accuracy and reliability, it’s a favorite among hunters
- Ruger 10/22:
- Caliber: .22 LR (rimfire).
- Application: Not your typical big-game rifle, but the 10/22 shines for small game and varmint hunting. Lightweight, easy to handle, and great for plinking
- Savage Model 110:
- Caliber: Available in various calibers, including .270 Winchester
- Application: A budget-friendly bolt-action rifle that delivers consistent accuracy. Ideal for deer, antelope, and similar-sized game
- Winchester Model 70:
- Caliber: Classic cartridges like .30-06 and .270
- Application: Known as the “Rifleman’s Rifle,” the Model 70 suits all-around hunting. From whitetail deer to mountain goats, it’s reliable and accurate
- Browning X-Bolt:
- Caliber: Multiple options, including .30-06 and .300 Win Mag
- Application: A modern bolt-action rifle with a smooth action. Excellent for long-range shots on elk, mule deer, and other large game
- Marlin 336:
- Caliber: .30-30 Winchester
- Application: Lever-action goodness! Perfect for brush hunting and close-quarters encounters with deer and hogs
- Weatherby Mark V:
- Caliber: Various, including the powerful .300 Weatherby Magnum
- Application: For those seeking magnum power, the Mark V handles big game like moose, elk, and bears
- Tikka T3x:
- Caliber: Multiple options, such as .270 and 6.5 Creedmoor
- Application: Lightweight, accurate, and reliable. Great for mountain hunts and precision shooting
- Sako 85:
- Caliber: Various, including .308 and 6.5x55mm
- Application: A high-end rifle favored by discerning hunters. Suitable for any game, from roe deer to African plains game
- Ruger Gunsite Scout:
- Caliber: .308 Winchester
- Application: Based on the scout rifle concept, it’s handy, rugged, and versatile. Perfect for stalking games in diverse environments
With so many types of hunting rifles, it can be tricky choosing the right one. By reviewing your intended use, terrain, caliber versatility, and key features like material and barrel length, you can select one suited to your needs.
Choose wisely and your rifle will be a trusty partner that you can always count on.