How to Select the Right Deer Rifle

Whether your preview the traditional tried and true or are looking for something new and different, selecting the right rifle for your next trip to deer camp is an important part of the hunt.

Of course, a well-maintained rifle will last you a lifetime – several lifetimes, actually – but from time to time, we do find ourselves in the market for a new rifle.

“The first question you have to ask is what caliber you want,” said Ken Howard.

Howard knows a thing or two about hunting rifles. He’s the principal spokesman for Winchester, a company that has been making hunting rifles and shotguns since well before the West Was Won.

“There’s such a great variety of good, quality weapons available out there, it can be both fun but kind of a challenge to decide on which rifle you like best,” he said.

A favorite of Howard’s is Winchester’s relatively new 325 Winchester Short Magnum, or WSM. That gun, ideal for large game, recently was honored as a 2005 Editor’s Choice Award winner by On Target Magazine.

The 325 WSM is a good weapon for going after larger game, like elk or moose or more dangerous game, like bear. It probably packs a bit more of a kick than the average deer hunter would care for, but it is still a great weapon.

Howard said older, traditional choices in calibers, such as the .270 or the 30.06, are also enjoying a resurgence in popularity in recent years.

Hunters who want to get double-duty out of a rifle for use with whitetail and varmints or predators, such as coyotes, may want to consider a Winchester 25 Super Short, Howard said from Winchester’s East Alton, Ill. headquarters. The Super Short features a shorter barrel and a very mild kick.

So how do you start narrowing down your own choices at your local gun or hunting supply store?

When selecting a rifle, you should consider how it fits, the sights, how heavy it is, plus its action and caliber. A properly fitting gun will help you fire a more accurate shot. The size of a weapon is something you particularly want to keep in mind if you are outfitting your son for his first deer trip. While your current rifle may be perfect for you, it may have too long of a stock or too much kick for your son or daughter to properly handle.

Another consideration is the weight of the rifle. Most rifles used for hunting weigh between six and nine pounds. Lighter guns are much more comfortable to carry, but the heavier guns generally kick less. The heavy rifles are easier to hold steady and are better for stand hunting and long range shots. So how you hunt is a consideration.

One great option for selecting the right rifle for a son or daughter is to hand down one of your existing guns, after it has been adjusted by a quality gunsmith. A gunsmith can easily change the length of a stock to adapt to a new individual’s size. If you don’t know a local gunsmith, your local gun shop may employ one or be able to recommend someone.

Remember when you are handling a rifle and considering it for length, you should wear a coat or heavy shirts, like what you will be hunting in.

The next consideration is the action. This is as much about personal preference as anything, but different actions do impact how quickly and smoothly you can get off a second shot, when needed. Howard says he prefers a bolt action, but that various rifles feature single shots, lever actions, pumps and semi automatics.

“I find that using a bolt action seems to help me develop a rhythm in my shooting, but its like anything else: you need to practice with the rifle until you become comfortable with it,” he said.

Perhaps the best selling bolt action deer rifle of all time is the Remington Model 700. Even though the Model 700 has been around for decades, it is still a good, quality rifle, said Dave Jaworski, a Michigan deer hunter.

Before hunting with any rifle, you’ll want to spend some time at the range, zeroing the aims.

“Really, I’d say you have to shoot at least a couple boxes of bullets, at a minimum, with a new rifle before you take it out into the field,” said Jaworski, who is also a retired Navy senior chief petty officer and spent more than 20 years working as a weapons expert in the military.

“All rifles have their own characteristics and so does every hunter. You need to get in sync with your new weapon so you have a feel for how it will perform,” he said. “I’ve been firing guns professionally and as a sportsman for my entire life and I still consider range time to be a part of the hunting process.”

10 Tips For Gun Safety

Gun safety should be the first rule of every hunter, says a veteran sportsman.

“If you treat every weapon as if it were loaded and respect the power of every loaded weapon, you’ll have a much safer experience,” said Dave Jaworski. Jaworski is a lifelong deer and small game hunter and is also a retired firearms expert from the U.S. Navy.

“I used to tell our young sailors the same thing I tell kids in hunter’s safety class, you have to respect the capabilities of the weapon,” Jaworski said.

Here are the National Rifle Association’s basic rules for firearms safety:

1)Always keep the gun pointed in a safe direction.
2)Always keep your finger off the trigger until you are ready to shoot.
3)Always keep the gun unloaded until ready to use.
4)Know your target – and what is beyond the target.
5)Know how to use the gun safely.
6)Use only the correct ammunition for your gun.
7)Wear eye and ear protection as appropriate.
8)Never use alcohol or over-the-counter, prescription or other drugs before or while shooting.
9)Store guns in a safe, secure place.
10)Make sure your gun is properly cleaned after use.

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