Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Your First Deer Rifle

Since one of my goals in writing this blog is to inform novice deer hunters, I thought that it would be good to have a description of the type of deer rifle that you should get. If you are looking to start deer hunting, then a rifle is one of your necessities.

(You should note that some places do not allow you to hunt with a rifle, and you must use a shotgun, pistol, or muzzleloader during the firearms season.)

You have two main choices when deciding on a deer rifle: bolt-action or semi-automatic.  Both have their advantages and disadvantages.  There are other types of rifles that you could use with success. But if your goal is to shoot deer, and not to be stylish or to make the hunt as difficult as possible, then you'll want either  a bolt-action or a semi-auto.

Bolt and semi automatic are two different types of gun action.  A gun's action is the way a gun puts a cartridge into place (at the breach, or back end, of the barrel) for a shot.  There are all sorts of actions for guns, but either a bolt or semi automatic should be your choice for hunting deer.

Let's look at bolt actions first, because they came first chronologically.

Sporting rifles have generally followed the technology of the military's weapons.  Since the adoption of the Mauser '98 rifle as the German armed forces' official small arm (in 1898) the bolt-action rifle has been the standard big game hunting weapon.  A bolt-action rifle has many advantages over its predecessor, the lever action rifle.  One important advantage is the fact that you can operate a bolt action without removing your eye from your target.  Another advantage is that a bolt-action allows you to use conical (pointed) bullets.  In a lever rifle the cartridges are stored end to end.  And a pointed bullet would have a tendency to fire the cartridge in front of it.  In a bolt rifle the cartridges are stored vertically, and therefore pointed bullets can be used.

The way a bolt action works is: A spring loaded magazine pushes cartridges up from below the bolt.  When you lift the bolt handle up then back the top cartridge in the magazine moves up in front of the bolt.  Then you push the bolt forward to put the cartridge into place for a shot.  Then the bolt handle is rotated down to lock the bolt into place.  These steps are repeated for each shot.
Model 70 Alaskan
Winchester Model 70

One advantage that a bolt action rifle has over a semi automatic is that a bolt action is more accurate.  If you plan on shooting past two or three hundred yards then this may be a significant advantage.  At less than two hundred yards you probably won't be able to tell the difference in accuracy between a good bolt and a good semi auto.

Another advantage is the simplicity of a bolt action.  The fewer moving parts should make it more reliable, although you may not notice the difference so long as you maintain your gun well.

Eventually the U.S. military switched to a semi-automatic rifle as its standard small arm.  Due to the "assault weapon" ban in the '90's many styles of semi automatics were banned from the public.  Since that stupid law has expired there has been a rise in hunters using semi automatics.

There are two main shapes of semi automatic rifles.  But both work the same way.  The big differences between the two are:
  • the tactical version was illegal thanks to the "assault weapons" ban
  • the tactical version shoots smaller bullets
  • the tactical version gives you more places to add "stuff" (like flashlights, etc)
Model 750™ Woodmaster™
Remmington Model 750 Woodsmaster

R-15 450 Bushmaster
Remmington Model R-15 Bushmaster

The way a semi -automatic works is a bit more complicated than bolt actions.  The parts that you should know are: A magazine spring pushes cartridges up against the bottom of the bolt (same as a bolt action).  Instead of a large handle, there is a small tab, or similar, that you pull back as far as possible and this allows the top cartridge to rise in front of the bolt.  Then you let the bolt go and it slams forward and the cartridge is pushed into place in front of it.

Then when you pull the trigger the recoil of the shot pushes the bolt backwards. During this after shot motion the fired (spent) cartridge is ejected out of the side and the next one rises into place in front of the bolt.  Then a spring moves the bolt and the cartridge in front of it forward and back into place.  This process (from trigger pull to bolt movement back to bolt movement forward) is repeated each time that you pull the trigger, until the magazine is empty.

A semi automatic rifle requires a trigger pull for each shot, while a fully automatic rifle can shoot multiple times with one trigger pull.  But otherwise they work the same way.

The big advantage that a semi automatic has over a bolt action is the speed with which you can fire your second shot.  For the most part, while deer hunting, this will not matter because you should only use one shot per deer.  But having a, slightly quicker, second shot at the ready can be useful and it is comforting to have in the back of your mind.

A disadvantage of hunting with a semi automatic is that you need to let the bolt slam forward after each time the magazine is filled.  This is loud and may scare deer.  My dad lost a buck once because he tried to slow the slamming of the bolt and it did not correctly seat the cartridge, and it did not fire.

A non-hunting advantage to a semi auto is if the country descends into chaos once we finally go bankrupt, then it would be a good idea to defend yourself with a gun with more firepower than a bolt action provides.  A bolt action is what you want if you are going to sneak up on your target and only use one shot.  A semi auto or [essentially] illegal fully automatic weapon is what you want if you need to defend yourself against multiple targets.

The Winchester Model 70 is the standard bolt action rifle.  Once it became a success other manufacturers started to make similar rifles with a "7" in their name; notably the Remmington Model 700 and Ruger Model 7.

There are all sorts of bolt action rifles  and semi auto rifles that you can get.  And after deciding on your desired action, the next step is to pick out a gun model.  Many companies make fine bolt action rifles:


Good semi automatic manufacturers:


There are other good rifle manufacturers but  all of these make fine weapons.

I personally like the lightweight Kimber 84M

Kimber 84M

Once you've picked your action, make, and model you'll need to choose your cartridge.

Which I'll look at in another post.

Check out my new deer hunting specific blog Shoot Deer.


  1. Hey Tim,
    Here in Iowa, I use the Savage 220 camo. A very nice shotgun.

    1. I'm afraid that I'm unfamiliar with shotguns.

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