How to Choose a Hunting Rifle

Rifle Actions and Materials

A classic bolt-action rifle
A classic bolt-action rifle
Sumngers Graphics Inc./iStockphoto

You can divide rifles up into two lar­ge categories: single shots and repeaters. A single-shot is exactly what it sounds like -- you can fire the rifle once before you have to put a new cartridge into the rifle. A repeating rifle can hold several cartridges at the same time. Rifles have various actions -- mechanisms that eject a spent cartridge and move a fresh cartridge into the chamber.

Some hunters prefer single-shot rifles because they feel the guns tend to be sleeker and more elegant in design. There's also an element of nostalgia with single-shot rifles -- they are similar to historical rifles used in the pioneering days of America. A single-shot rifle also puts pressure on the hunter -- the shooter needs to be careful when taking aim in order to take down game with only one shot.

While many hunters group single-shot rifles into the same action category, they come in many different styles and mechanisms. There are falling-block action rifles, rolling-block action rifles, break-open rifles and trapdoor single-shot action rifles. With each style, there's a different way to load and unload the rifle. Which one you use usually falls to personal preference. In general, hunters say that falling-block action rifles are accurate and work well for left- and right-handers.

Repeating rifles also come in a variety of actions. There are bolt-action rifles, pump-action rifles, lever-action rifles and automatic rifles. Bolt, pump and lever-action rifles require the hunter to manipulate some part of the rifle to eject a spent cartridge and load a fresh one into the chamber. Automatic rifles have a mechanism that ejects and loads cartridges on their own.

If you are choosing your first hunting rifle, you should probably stick with a repeating rifle. While single-shot rifles can be elegant and accurate, they also require a lot of skill and confidence to handle properly.

Rifles are constructed of a variety of materials. The metal on rifles is usually either carbon steel or stainless steel. Carbon steel tends to be less expensive, but is also prone to rusting. Stainless steel doesn't rust as readily as carbon steel, but it costs more. If you're careful to maintain your rifle, rust shouldn't be a problem.

Rifle stocks also come in a variety of materials including wood and fiberglass. Each material has a unique feel and weight to it. Some materials, like walnut, are more expensive than others. You should choose a rifle with a stock that feels comfortable in your hands.

Other factors to take in are the rifle's weight and length. If a rifle feels unwieldy in your hands, you should try a different gun. Hunting requires patience and it's hard to be patient when you're holding a gun that doesn't feel just right.

When choosing a rifle, remember to do your research long before you make a purchase and don't be afraid to ask questions. Talk to other hunters and find out what they prefer. Test different kinds of rifle actions to see which appeals to you and your style of hunting. And always remember to make sure the cartridge your rifle fires will meet your requirements when you go on a hunting trip. Good luck and safe hunting!

To learn more about hunting rifles and other topics, set your sights on the links found below.

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More Great Links


  • Beers, Bob. "Choosing a Hunting Rifle." Guns and Shooting Online. 2006. (Nov. 13, 2008)
  • Bodinson, Holt. "Return of the Single Shots." Guns Magazine. Feb. 2002. (Nov. 13, 2008)
  • Chicoine, David. "Working the Remington Rolling Block rifle." American Gunsmith. Sept. 2007. (Nov. 14, 2008)
  • Hawks, Chuck. "A Critical Look at Modern Hunting Rifles and the Failure of the Outdoor Press." Guns and Shooting Online. 2008. (Nov. 14, 2008)
  • Hawks, Chuck. "Introduction to Rifle Actions." Guns and Shooting Online. 2006. (Nov. 13, 2008)
  • Hawks, Chuck. "Matching the Gun to the Game." Guns and Shooting Online. 2007. (Nov. 12, 2008)
  • Turner, Ed. "The Mystique of the Single Shot Rifle." Guns and Shooting Online. 2007. (Nov. 14, 2008)