How Do I Choose Which Rifle to Buy?
So you have decided to buy a rifle, but the big question still remains: Which rifle should you choose? There are many options and this can make the choice intimidating for some, especially when you start to consider the high cost of some rifles. No one wants to get a bad deal, but making a smart buy is difficult when you aren’t quite sure what makes one option better than the other. This happens to me every time I am unfortunate enough to find myself in a home goods or furniture store.
The good news is (for you rifle shoppers, at least) there is a great deal of information about firearms, and rifles specifically, available online and elsewhere. Actually, just ask any random person and they will likely have an opinion about the pros and cons of firearms. This leads me to the bad news: a great deal of the information out there about firearms is incorrect. As with any research, you must consider the source of the information and decide whether or not you trust it enough to allow it to influence your decision. With that in mind, I will provide you with some general guidelines you can use to help orient yourself in your search to find which rifle is best for you. I will use the five F’s – fit, function, finances, F’ing trigger mechanisms, and final thoughts – in an effort to break the process down into understandable sections.
If you want to buy a rifle and you intend to use it at some point, it is important you are able to wield it safely and effectively. Firearms manufacturers want to sell their products, so firearms tend to be designed in a manner that makes them comfortable to hold for most people. However, there are still decisions to be made. Rifles come in a variety of forms, but there are three main parts of any rifle that you will need to hold in order to use it correctly. They are the stock, grip and forearm.
Other rifles have a slightly different, more modern look. The main differences as far as fit is concerned are the potential for an adjustable stock, and the pistol grip in front of the stock, instead of the more traditional upper/lower tang configuration.
When deciding which rifle is best for you, I highly recommend a visit to a gun store or training course (such as the Aegis Academy Familiarization Course) that will allow you to hold various styles of rifles. Make sure you can fit the stock against your body, around your shoulder area and rest your cheek against it. This serves as an important reference point for you to use when looking down the sights of a rifle. Also make sure you can place your hand around the grip and easily reach the trigger with your index finger. Your remaining hand should be able to reach forward of the trigger guard and hold the forearm, to support the front end of the rifle. If the rifle is too large for you to hold in this manner, or if it is too heavy for you to lift and hold roughly parallel to the ground while shouldered, it is likely not the model for you. Shooting a rifle is never really comfortable (it’s a machine that channels explosions, after all) but it shouldn’t be a challenge simply to point it at your target.
Trigger control is one of the most important aspects of marksmanship, and the mechanical function of the trigger in your firearm can have a big effect on how you move your hands (and sometimes the gun) when you pull the trigger. While this can get very technical and complicated, for the new rifle owner, it is less of a concern when compared to other factors. The decision is much easier when compared to buying a pistol, for example. I would still recommend trying out various rifles and feeling the triggers to get an idea of what you are dealing with. Make sure that you can firmly hold the grip of the rifle (not a shaking white knuckled grip) and reach the trigger with your index finger. The webbing of your hand should be pressed against the rear of the grip and centered, for the most part. If you have to slide your hand to reach the trigger, the grip of the rifle may be too large for you. A good rule of thumb is to be able to place the trigger in the center of the outermost digit on your index finger. Just make sure you can reach and pull the trigger comfortably.
This is generally where I start when deciding if I need to purchase a rifle, and then to decide which rifle I should choose. There is such a wide variety of rifles available, and many are highly specialized for specific tasks. To get the most bang for your buck (pun absolutely intended) deciding what you will actually use the rifle for is critical. To help you along, here are a few common reasons for rifle ownership. Is the rifle meant to be used for hunting, defense, sport, education or target shooting? These categories are not mutually exclusive, and in an effort to save money, I try to make my purchases satisfy multiple categories.
For example: an effective hunting rifle can also sometimes pull additional duty as a defensive or sporting rifle. When choosing which rifle to hunt with, start by researching the animal you want to hunt. Find out what caliber you will need to reliably and efficiently kill the animal, what range you will likely have to shoot from, and use those factors to help narrow your choices.
For defensive reasons rifle caliber is also very important, but concerns such as magazine capacity, action type and ease of use are also critical. I almost never recommend a rifle for self-defense purposes, for most people a shotgun is a vastly better choice.
A sporting rifle’s requirements differ based on the type of event. Some very general research into the type of game you wish to participate in will point you in the right direction. If the rifle is meant to be used mainly for education or basic target shooting/plinking then the caliber of the rifle is a big factor, although for different reasons. If the rifle is meant to be used with new shooters, consider a smaller caliber that may be less intimidating, such as .22 LR or something similar. Ammunition in calibers such as .22 LR can also be significantly cheaper. Ensure the rifle is size appropriate for whoever it is you may be educating or target shooting with. Some manufacturers sell youth models of their firearms specifically for this purpose.
The financial aspect of buying a rifle is probably the first factor most people consider when trying to choose which rifle is right for them. Rifle quality is generally reasonably reflected in its cost, but that does not mean you have to spend a great deal in order to meet your personal needs. All too often new gun owners will pay too much and buy a rifle that is well in excess of their requirements. In the same way a more expensive guitar doesn’t make you a better musician, a more expensive rifle won’t improve your marksmanship. I recommend adding the frills only after you understand what you are buying, and whether or not you really need them.
The cost of a rifle varies widely based on what it is designed to do. If you are looking for a basic hunting or target shooting rifle with a bolt action, you can get a quality firearm from a reputable manufacturer in the $300 to $400 range. If you are just looking for a basic rifle for educational purposes in .22 LR, you will likely be able to find something in the $200 to $300 range.
If you are more interested in a tactical style rifle, like some variant of an AR-15, expect to pay a little bit more. A quality AR variant in .22 LR will likely cost between $500 and $600. An AR variant built to fire higher pressure rounds such as the 5.56 x 45mm or the .308 Winchester will be more expensive. Prices for AR variants in these calibers can sometimes be as low as the $600 to $700 range, but scale up quickly and can easily cost thousands.
Of course if you are willing to spend more, the sky is the limit. There are other factors to consider when pricing a rifle. Ammunition is the most important. All rifles need ammunition in order to function, and very rarely is rifle ammunition cheap. Ammunition prices have increased dramatically in the last few years, and rifle ammunition is often more expensive than shotgun or pistol ammunition. Consider how often you will be firing the rifle and the average cost of the ammunition, and then factor this into your research.
Choosing which rifle can be a difficult decision, but you’ve made a great start by researching before you buy. The more you take the time to research your purchase, the more it will suit you, and the less likely you are to pay for something you don’t need. Remember, the fancy looking rifle isn’t always the best shooting one. It all comes down to what you want to be able to do with the rifle.
I have made some broad assertions and simplifications throughout this article. By all means dig deeper, and feel free to stop by the community library for more information. I also encourage you to speak with a local instructor, and try out various rifles at a local range before you buy. Choosing which rifle to buy can be an intimidating choice, but it is also a rewarding one. Good luck and enjoy your new rifle!
~ Joshua Neill