How To Choose The Best Deer Hunting Rifle
If you’re new to hunting and want to know what the best deer hunting rifle is and the features you need to look for.
You’re in the right place!
As a beginner, when you’re looking for the best hunting rifle you’re going to find filtering through all the information available a bit overwhelming.
It’s easy to be confused by the various pros and cons of the calibers, projectiles, ballistic coefficients (BC) and powders you should use.
This task will be made even harder because everybody and I mean everybody has an opinion on what they believe to be the best deer hunting rifle for you.
In this article, we will silence all that noise and simplify things. We will explain to you the 3 features your rifle must have. It really is that simple, only 3 things.
We will also touch on a few other features that are less important for your first rifle but are handy nonetheless. Then to finish off we will reveal what brand and calibre of deer rifle we believe is the best deer hunting rifle for someone that’s just starting out.
Tikka T3 Lite in Stainless Steel
Most Important Hunting Rifle Features
1# Rifle Weight
My first deer hunting rifle was a blued Weatherby Vanguard .270. It had some great features such as a good half cock and a brilliant 5 shot internal magazine. Because this was my first rifle I didn’t know any different.
As I became more successful at finding and shooting deer. It quickly became evident how cumbersome and heavy my rifle was compared to others on the market.
Of all the hunting gear you will own, your rifle will be the one piece of kit that will go everywhere with you. It won’t matter how far you’ve hiked to get to your spot X, or how heavy your pack is now its loaded with venison. You will still have to lug that hunk of steel back out with you!!
Because of this, we believe that your first consideration when choosing a deer rifle is how much it weighs.
What Is The Best Weight For A Hunting Rifle?
When you’re just beginning deer hunting, choose a rifle that weighs under 6 ½ pounds excluding scope, rings, sling.
If you can afford to go lighter do. You won’t regret it.
New Ultra Light Arms sell the lightest factory rifle we can find weighing in at 4.75 pounds. These retail at approximately $3500.00 (USD)
Kimber, Sako also have mountain rifles that come close to the New Ultra Light Arms and if you’re lucky you may even be able to pick up a Forbes (the predecessor to the NULA) second hand.
2# A Good Half-Cock or Safety
REMEMBER! When the Half-cock or safety is being used. These are mechanical parts and consequently can fail.
Although it is important to know how they work and how to use them properly, there is no substitute for the most basic rule of firearm safety:
ALWAYS keep the gun pointed in a safe direction.
Half – Cock
Some of you will hate the idea of hunting with your rifle on Half-Cock. I totally respect this point of view. This is the way that I learned to hunt early on and it has suited me to this day.
The habit of hunting with your rifle on half-cock came about from the days when rifle safeties couldn’t be relied upon. Back then there were many incidents of safeties failing and people being shot.
Thankfully, as times have changed so has the design of safety mechanisms.
Today it’s more common for hunters to rely on their safeties when hunting in the tight cover or situations where you don’t have the luxury to load and then shoot.
When you’re looking at your first rifle you will notice that not all half cocks are created equal and because of this sometimes you won’t even have this as much of an option. I know with a Tikka T3 they are almost non-existent.
I have lost count of the times I’ve had my rifle briefly over my shoulder while in halfcock only for the slightest of knocks to the bolt resulting in the bolt disengaging and ejecting the bullet out onto the ground.
If this is how you roll then make sure you’re familiar with your specific safety and its location on the rifle. Don’t be scared to have a play with it (unloaded of course) and get really familiar with how to engage and disengage the safety to the point you can do this without having to look.
You don’t want to be pulling the trigger on that prized stag only to realize the safety is still engaged. As tempting as it might be, safeties are not designed to be engaged for the duration of a hunt.
In most cases, RED MEANS DEAD! If you see a red colour dot, your safety is off and your firearm is ready to fire.
There are 4 main Variants of the safety but our favorite is the pivot.
A push-button safety is located on the trigger guard. It blocks the trigger or the hammer when engaged and may have a visible red band when the safety is in the OFF position.
Slide or Tang Safety
A slide safety features two positions of operation. In the ON position (a green-colored dot or the letter “S” may be visible) it blocks the firing mechanism of a rifle or shotgun. In the OFF position (a red-colored dot or the letter “F” may be visible) it enables firing of a cartridge or shot shell.
A tang safety, found on some shotgun models, is engaged when the letter “S” is visible on top and in the back of the receiver.
Lever or Pivot Safety
Located either on the bolt or just behind the bolt handle on the frame of the receiver, a lever safety blocks the firing pin when engaged. For some firearms, the lever safety located on the bolt will have three positions.
The back position (towards the shooter) does not allow the bolt to be opened, and the firearm will not fire. The middle position allows the bolt to be cycled, but the firearm cannot be fired. In the forward position, the safety is OFF, and the firearm can be fired.
Other safeties feature only two positions: ON and OFF. These types of safeties are marked either with green and red dots or with an “F” for fire or an “S” for safe.
Hammer or Half-cock safety
The hammer safety is less common than those listed above. It is typically found among lever action and break action firearms or antique and replica firearms. In the half-cock position, the hammer does not rest on the firing pin and the trigger is locked. When the hammer is pulled all the way back into the cocked position, the firearm can be fired. Be sure to check the owner’s manual as some manufacturer’s firearms are only safe when the hammer is in the “fully forward” position.
3# Blued Or Stainless Steel Barrels?
This comes down to personal preference and won’t affect your ability to shoot a deer. In our experience where possible we would choose a Stainless Steel barrel over Blued any day.
There are a few reasons for this, the main ones are they are far more forgiving in when it comes to their care. Blued rifles tend to need a lot more care and attention to prevent rust. If you ever decide to complete any modifications to your rifle you will always incur an additional cost of having to get the thing re-blue.
What Is The Best Beginner Deer Rifle?
With all this information you will have your work cut out for you trying to find a rifle that will check all the boxes.
To summarise the main things to look for are:
- Rifle weight
- Good safety or half cock depending on how you like to hunt.
- Stainless Steel Barrel
What one hunter or shooter likes, the next think’s is entirely inadequate. You could spend months wrestling with this. Whenever we get asked this question we always recommend a deer rifle like the Tikka T3 Superlite in 7mm-08.
These offer exceptional value for money and are incredibly accurate straight out the box. They tick “most” of our boxes (the half-cock is to light) and there is still plenty of scope to reduce more weight through fluting the barrel and bolt.
What Is The Best Deer Hunting Caliber?
Calibre selection is a very personal thing. If you’re looking for one calibre that will do everything it’s hard to go past the 7mm-08.
The 7mm-08 factory ammunition is easily accessible and affordable. You can find these in a whole variety of gn weights. Because of this you can shoot anything from small fallow right up to elk and know it will get the job done.
What Is The Best Deer Hunting Rifle?
We know there will be some hatters that won’t agree but truthfully 7mm-08 Tikka T3 Superlite is an excellent entry-level rifle and is the best deer hunting rifle for someone beginning their hunting journey.
If you want to share your thoughts we’d love to hear them. Perhaps you have a different view on the 7mm-08 or maybe you think there is a better rifle. Either way, let us know in the comments below.
For Gun Saftey, you can also check out our review of the Best Long Gun Safe