Choosing your first hunting rifle is a lot like finding your soulmate and starting a long-lasting, faithful marriage. Suppose you consider what’s really important and go about it the right way. In that case, your decision will be with you for the rest of your life for better—hopefully, not for worse. 

Let’s look at some of the most essential things to consider when choosing your first hunting rifle. Now that you’ve passed your PAL, our goal is to help you avoid cold feet and purchase your firearm of choice with complete confidence.

So, you’ve got game?

Choose your rifle based on the type of game animal you intend to hunt. In Canada, we don’t have the luxury of a “medium” calibre serving as an all-purpose rifle. When hunting big game, you need a no-nonsense cartridge that packs enough punch to take down the largest game animals in North America. 

Beware of the various calibre size restrictions for big game hunting across most provinces. In most cases, hunters must carry a rifle chambered in 6 mm (.24) or higher. Familiarize yourself with Canadian laws and check regulations to be sure your calibre is legal. 

Big game hunters want a lot of knockdown power. We recommend .270 (6.86 mm). The last thing you want is a wounded animal leaving a blood trail: you put your game in pain, and you attract other predators. 

If your goal is small game hunting for squirrel, grouse, cottontails or other critters, a solid calibre would likely be a 22 LR (5.6 mm). For long-range shooting, we recommend .17 HMR (4.4 mm).

Get clear on the cost of commitment.

If you’re just getting started as a rifle hunter, having a modest budget is understandable. Most hunting rifles today cost between $500 and $1,000, with premium makes and models priced well beyond $2,000—just an FYI.

Most decent-quality low-level rifle scopes will cost roughly $300 or more, with premium options’ prices increasing. Once you’ve made your selection, remember to account for ammunition costs, too. 

You can browse our selection based on your budget range, stock material, barrel length and more.

Consider your type: bolt-action or semi-auto.

Some experienced hunters may opt for a semi-auto rifle in some instances. Still, your first hunting rifle should probably be a bolt-action model. Bolt-action rifles are much more accurate and less likely to malfunction or jam during operation. Semi-auto rifles tend to be heavier, which is not a great characteristic for hunting the Canadian backcountry.

Weigh your options.

You’ll want a reliable rifle you can rely on when the time comes, especially if you intend to hunt rugged, steep terrain. Bolt-action rifles are almost always lighter than semi-auto models, but different stock materials will impact the overall weight of the gun. 

Synthetic polymer stocks are more lightweight, durable and weather-resistant than wood material. If you plan to hunt areas that are rugged and not easily navigable, it’s wise to choose a rifle stock that won’t weigh you down too much as you traverse your environment. 

We recommend you choose a rifle with a comfortable fit and feel. As the award-winning country music singer and songwriter Rhett Akins once wrote, “A gun is like a woman, son — it’s all how you hold her.”

Aim straight for the perfect barrel.

Gunsmiths use three main types of material to craft barrels, each with its own advantages and disadvantages.

Stainless steel barrels are most common in hunting rifles and best resist corrosion from wet, rainy environments. Chrome-lined barrels are known for resisting the usual wear and corrosion but are said to lack the superior accuracy found in other materials. Carbon steel barrels are touted as offering superior accuracy for rapid-fire weapons.

Your best hunting choice will be a good, old-fashioned stainless steel barrel.

Get attached with the right accessories.

When choosing your first hunting rifle, consider whether you plan to use a support system or bipod. Bipods will add weight to your rifle, but can be especially useful for superior accuracy in long-range shooting. 

You’ll unlikely want to carry your rifle as you traverse the landscape during your hunts, especially when the hike is many kilometres. Find a shoulder strap or a backpack that secures your rifle to your pack. 

Many hunters prefer the added convenience of a detachable magazine. It’s illegal to have a loaded firearm in any type of vehicle, including ATVs. Having a detachable magazine allows you to load and reload much faster and can present a significant advantage when time is of the essence.

Choose a brand and stick with your guns.

There are many rifle manufacturing brands to choose from in today’s outdoor industry. From impressive up-and-comers to well-established household names, finding the right option can involve some shopping around. 

Your first rifle should be one you have unshakable confidence in for a clean, ethical shot with each trigger. Select one of the more well-known riflemaking brands for your starter gun. You can always experiment with other makes and models once you’ve accumulated experience. Browning, Savage, Winchester and other mainstays are ones hunters have relied on for more than a century. 

If you’re searching for a workhorse of a hunting rifle that can be used for any big game in Canada, a .30-06 (7.62×63 mm) is arguably the best choice of calibre. The .308 (7.82 mm) comes in at a close second.

May your days be long and shots be true.

Now that you’re armed with the right information, you should be one step closer to finding the hunting rifle that’s perfect for your next trip. If you’re still not quite sure what your next step should be, feel free to shoot us a line and speak with one of our hunting firearms experts.

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