Deer season is one of those magical times of years for those of us who enjoy it as a marker of one of the seasons of the year. There are hundreds of gear options you can consider, but one that every deer hunter will have to obtain is a firearm or bow. In this article, we will look at how to choose a firearm, and more specifically a rifle to meet your personal deer hunting needs.
When you begin this process, first you will need to be honest with yourself about three things. One is what the rifle will be used for. I know we are talking about deer hunting here, but the reality is that a lot of hunters will need their rifle to serve multiple purposes. For example, they might use their rifle for hunting whitetail deer and also for hunting elk. Of course one rifle will not serve every need of every hunter. A deer rifle will not likely be the same rifle you use when you hunt turkeys or squirrels. The second thing you should be honest with yourself on is your ability or desire to fire a heavy caliber rifle if you are considering one rifle say for hunting deer and moose. Finally, cost is a limiting factor for many of us. You do not need to spend an excessive amount of money on a deer rifle, but you can if you wish. Having said all of this, let’s go through the factors that will go into your decision.
The caliber of your rifle will take care of a couple of issues. First and foremost, the caliber needs to be suitable for hunting deer. Generally, the 243 caliber is considered to be the smallest caliber rifle commonly used for deer hunting. I do not want to imply here that the 243 is too small. It will handle the job just fine with plenty of muzzle velocity and knock-down power with a properly placed shot. What the 243 will not be very good at is hunting larger big game species. An option that is nice for those who want to mix in some elk hunting, or at least have the potential to do so, is the 270 caliber. It really does not add in much in the way of recoil, and it does offer significantly more knock down power than the 243. If you will be hunting moose or bear (especially brown bear or grizzly), I would suggest minimally looking at a 30-06. These great all-purpose rifles offer such a wide range of factory ammunition that you really can hunt about anything with them. Unless you are of the lightest of frames, the recoil is not so severe. The final caliber I will discuss is the 7mm magnum. This rifle will certainly do the job for deer and is also noted for its flat trajectory due to a high muzzle velocity. The trade-off is that the recoil is sharp and its knock down power is marginal for the largest of the North American big game species. It has been one of the stand-bys for those hunting species where very long shots are required (such as mountain goat hunting). In recent years some other caliber rifles have begun to supplant the popularity of the 7mm magnum.
Another issue associated with the caliber and rifle you choose is ammunition cost. As an example, if you go to your local sporting goods dealer and compare 150 grain deer cartridges from caliber to caliber, you will see an enormous spread in cost. It really comes down primarily to which calibers are very popular and which are less so. For example, 7mm magnum ammunition will be much more costly than 30-30 ammunition. If you will not be reloading ammunition, this is a factor you may wish to consider. Also, for a cartridge like the 30-30, every sporting goods store in every small town will likely have a ready supply. This is not true for some of the less often used calibers.
Another consideration when choosing your rifle is the rifle’s action. We will discuss four of the most common actions available. Most likely, the most popular action for deer rifles is the bolt action. Bolt action rifles are easy to maintain and offer some nice safety features for deer hunters. Bolt action rifles are easy to clean and are easy to bore site at the range. For hunters that Sig Sauer P226 hunt from a tree stand, they add a degree of safety in that you know when that bolt is open or out of the gun, the rifle will not operate. Bolt action rifles are much easier to safely raise via rope to a deer stand when you are in the woods by yourself. The next most popular perhaps is the lever action, most often in the 30-30 caliber. These rifles made primarily by two manufacturers (Marlin and Winchester), have killed a tremendous number of deer. While they do offer a very fast reloading action, they also have drawbacks. They are harder to clean, have some safety disadvantages, and sometimes are harder to scope to name a few. Having said all of this, we have one and I love it. It’s short barrel and maneuverability in the dense woods of Missouri is hard to beat. Given that most of the shots here are 50 yards and in, the typically short barrel length is not much of a factor for aim. With a scope it is even less an issue. Semi-automatic actions are also used some by hunters. Some hunters would question the need for the ability to fire off rounds in quick succession when deer hunting. Other hunters question the reliability of some of the semi-auto actions on the market. Maintenance is also a bit more labor intensive. Finally, some hunting purists believe strongly in the single shot action. Some excellent hunters use these rifles, and develop excellent marksmanship skills so as to make sure there first and likely only shot counts.