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What Should You Check Before Choosing a Firearm for Hunting?

What Should You Check Before Choosing a Firearm for Hunting?

“What should you check before choosing a firearm for hunting?”

It’s one of those age-old questions that may get you very DIFFERENT answers depending on who you’re asking.

You might ask your buddy what they think is the best firearm for hunting.  Suddenly, you have a whole influx of people telling you what they think is the best firearm for hunting.

Well, the truth is there isn’t a perfect gun for hunting.

So what should you check before choosing a firearm for hunting?

We’ll go through a list so you won’t be asking what should you check before choosing a firearm for hunting when you go out to buy one.

What Should You Check Before Choosing a Firearm for Hunting? — Hunting Firearm Safety Guide

You’re trembling in excitement as you decide that today is the day you’ll buy your very first hunting gun.

Well, hold your horses and don’t be too excited yet.

There are several things you must do and check before choosing the right hunting gun for you.

#1 Get Your Education

Get Your Education Icon

Before you can start hunting, check the requirements of your state and see if you need to get a hunter’s education. This is MANDATORY in most states’ requirements before you can get a hunter’s license.

You can easily go to Hunter-ed and browse through courses applicable to most states. Hunter-ed classes are highly informative and affordable. These courses will help you build your skills in hunting and handling firearms in general.

Even if you’re a veteran hunter, you might want to take these Hunter-ed classes. This way, you’ll be able to refresh your memory on lessons you might have forgotten and ask questions you might have.

While you learn more about hunting, you can also gauge if hunting is really for you. That way, you won’t have to set yourself back on hunting rifles, ammunition, and other hunting gear.

You can’t expect to have a good first hunt if you don’t even know how a firing pin strikes inside a gun’s mechanism, right?

If you do decide to take a course on hunting, enroll early BEFORE hunting season starts. Late enrollees often find themselves scrambling to find a class with vacant slots.

#2 Check the Law

Check the Law Icon

If you think you can just hunt in any area with any kind of gun like a rifle for instance, or any kind of ammunition, you’re dead wrong.

You have to check your state’s Fish and Game hunting regulations before heading out to shoot some game.

No amount of sweet talk is going to get you out of this mess if you fail to do a proper fact-check about your state’s regulations.

Check what calibers you can work with, what kind of firearms and cartridges, as well as what animals you can hunt in the land you’ll be on.

#3 Find a Firearm

Find a Firearm Icon

Save yourself the trouble and buy hunting guns from a trusted source. Imagine the nightmare of accidentally buying a rifle and handgun only to find out the components were loose, damaged, or rusty!

When it comes to what should you check before choosing a firearm for hunting, we’re sure we can all agree buying from a trusted source is a crucial aspect you can’t neglect.

Branded guns should follow industry standards and safety regulations so you don’t fall into harm when hunting.

Make sure you have all the PROPER PAPERWORK if ever your firearm needs maintenance or if you have plans of bringing it to a shop for a general inspection.

#4 Checking Your Gun’s Features

Checking Your Gun's Features Icon

What’s an ill-fitting gun going to do to help you?

Before you go, make sure your firearms are a good match for hunting. A self-defense gun isn’t going to do wonders if you plan on shooting game that’s far away.

You’ll also have to make sure your ammunition is appropriate for hunting. Is that cartridge or shotshell the right choice for the animal you’re hunting?

If not, get a new one before going out to hunt.

Choosing Hunting Guns

Now that you know what actions you’re required to take before choosing a firearm for hunting, let’s talk about the firearms themselves.

Why?

Because guns aren’t all the same. They come in different kinds, each with different purposes.

That means it also plays an important role in answering the question “what should you check before choosing a firearm for hunting.”

Most hunters will have a holy trinity of hunting guns to use. The formula is pretty simple.

  • Rifles
  • Shotguns
  • Handguns

Let’s take a closer look at these guns, shall we?

Rifle

You might think a rifle is similar to a shotgun at first. However, a rifle’s barrel is thick and has grooves in it.

The mechanics of a rifle allow you to increase the bullets’ spin so you can shoot from a distance.

Most people use a .22 rifle when they hunt for smaller animals like squirrels.

However, these are best used on stationary targets so don’t go shooting at birds carelessly.

If you’re hunting bigger game, the rifle calibers available will depend on preference. Some of the best large game rifle calibers include:

  • .270 Winchester rifle bullet – easily shoot grizzly bears, Dall Sheep, elk, and even Coues Deer.
  • 6.5 Creedmoor rifle bullet – perfect for thick-skinned and heavy skeletal targets
  • 7 mm Remington Magnum rifle bullet – Strong recoil, but ideal if you want a flat-shooting rifle that hits hard or as to what most refer it to: an all-purpose big game killer

Other great rifle calibers include the .300 Winchester Magnum and the .30-06. These are all excellent picks for larger game.

Finally, if you want a fine piece that can handle small game and average-sized targets (in case you run into one accidentally) like whitetail deer, a 2.43 Winchester is your best bet.

Rifle Scopes

Optics on rifles is every hunter’s best friend. Big game hunters know this very well.

Scopes help you get a clearer picture of the game you’re hunting whether you’re hunting during the morning, afternoon, or night.

This is an important consideration to think about before you go hunting, so don’t forget to buy the best riflescopes for your guns!

Shotgun

The shotgun is a great choice for those birds you’ve been eyeing.

Unlike a rifle, the barrel of a shotgun is smooth and thin to reduce the pressure which would make the ammunition go out in a straight trajectory.

Since the barrel isn’t meant to make projectiles shoot in a straightforward way (Get it? Because it doesn’t shoot straight?), people often use buckshot or birdshot pellets.

It’s for that reason you can easily take on birds, fowl, or smaller animals with this firearm.

Handgun

This type of gun has a similar barrel to rifles since their barrels both have grooves in them to increase the spin of the bullet.

Handguns aren’t as suited for hunting unless you plan to go up close to the animal you’re hunting which might not be the brightest idea.

Even if you manage to use handguns without any trouble when you go hunt, it might either be TOO WEAK to kill the animal effectively or work TOO WELL and damage your game.

Of course, handguns are still useful if you’re planning to use them for self-defense.

Other Firearms for Hunting

While rifles, handguns, and shotguns are types most hunters use when finding their target, these guns aren’t for everyone.

Fortunately, there are other guns you can still use for hunting. For beginners, don’t be pressured to choose a rifle or shotgun for example.

The types of guns we listed below are all great alternative options.

Airgun

An airgun is said to have better accuracy than other guns and they’re relatively quiet compared to most – if not all – firearms.

However, you’ll have to shoot the game at your first shot or you’ll scare the animal away.

One reason why some hunters favor airguns is due to their VERSATILITY. They can easily modify it to fit their needs, from its accuracy, the speed of its projectile, or its recoil.

And don’t worry, the energy produced from an airgun rifle is enough to get the job done for smaller game.

Muzzleloader

You use the muzzle to load your own amount of gunpowder and your cartridge. This makes muzzleloaders a type of single-shot firearm.

However, this makes it difficult for some people to use when hunting.

That’s not to say nobody doesn’t use muzzleloaders. There’s an advantage to using a gun that utilizes its muzzle for hunting, and that’s the earlier hunting time just for muzzleloaders.

Hunters who use a muzzleloader can get ahead of the game and enjoy a relatively more peaceful hunting session.

Other Gun Features to Consider

One-Shot & Two-Shot Firearms

How many shots can you pull off with the firearm you’re choosing? Can it only do a single shot at a time, or can it fire multiple shots without constantly reloading?

So which one should you choose?

Single Shot Firearm

A single-shot firearm is one that only carries one cartridge at a time. Every time you take a shot, you have to refill the projectile yourself with a new one. This is also known as a break-action firearm.

Single-shot break-action firearms aren’t as popular as they were in the past, but they’re still extremely useful.

You might want to take a single-shot break-action rifle if you’re doing long-range hunting. These types of guns are also excellent for getting a clean kill if you use them right.

Repeating Firearm

A repeating firearm is the exact opposite of a single-shot firearm.

If you want to shoot consecutive rounds while hunting so you don’t have to keep refilling your rifle then you’d better take a repeating firearm.

They’re easy to reload and highly popular with hunters.

Different Action Types

To properly use the two most popular hunting guns—hunting rifles and shotguns, you should learn the different action types and what works best to hunt your game.

Bolt Action

Bolt action firearms are highly regarded by all and for good reason.

To fill the chamber with a cartridge using a bolt action firearm, pull the bolt down and raise it again to fill the chamber and expel the shell (this is literally why it’s called bolt action).

Bolt action firearms are easy and fast to load compared to the other action types. This makes a bolt action firearm a great action type to use, especially for BEGINNERS.

Pump Action

The pump action is the simplest action type there is, and maybe the most fun.

To make use of a pump-action firearm, slide the forearm to open the action to make the cartridge enter the chamber and slide it back to expel the shell (thus pump action), and load another cartridge in the chamber.

However, it’s slower to load cartridges in your firearm if you choose to use a pump-action firearm.

Lever Action

This kind of action type is a bit dangerous since it’s constructed as the trigger guard as well.

It’s difficult to tell when a lever-action firearm is loaded. It’s always advisable to keep your fingers away from the trigger when you’re working with the lever action.

You don’t want to accidentally cause an accident with your firearms while you’re refilling your ammo.

Semi-Automatic Action

The semi-automatic is exactly what the name suggests.

Semi-automatic firearms will automatically reload the cartridges for you—but only if you hold down the bolt’s operating handle.

Fully automatic guns cannot be used to hunt.

Other Features to Look For

Caliber

Most rifles and handguns are measured by their caliber. The caliber of a gun will gauge the size of ammo you’ll need to buy for your rifle or handgun.

The caliber you choose to use determines what you can hunt, both legally and physically.

If you choose a caliber that’s far too big for your intended game, you could end up blasting it to smithereens—or just end up with a kill that’s not very clean.

Choke

What you can hunt with a shotgun will depend on its choke. This term refers to the constriction of the barrel of the shotgun.

The choke will not affect the speed of your projectile or the distance it travels. It will only determine how spread out your pellets will come out of your firearm at a certain distance.

There are 4 basic types of chokes; the cylinder, the improved cylinder, the modified, and the full choke. Those are the widest to the narrowest patterns in order.

Gauge

Unlike rifles and handguns, most shotguns are classified by their gauge.

The size of their bore determines the gauge. The smaller the number, the bigger the gauge is and vice-versa.

It’s important to remember you can only use gauge shells that match the gauge of your shotgun. You cannot place a 28-gauge shell into a 14-gauge shotgun because it could jam the barrel of your gun, causing a misfire.

That could injure you and the people around you, which you don’t want to happen.

Recoil

The energy of the recoil your gun produces is also another factor to consider.

If you’re only a beginner when it comes to shooting or hunting, the energy produced from the recoil of your gun could throw you off.  Shooting could hurt you if the amount of recoil of your gun is far TOO HEAVY for you.

Sometimes, though, the amount of recoil might just not be too much for you. Some people prefer heavier recoil energy rather than a light one.

Find a gun that has the perfect amount of recoil for you so you can feel comfortable while you go hunting.

Your Skills

When you start hunting you’ll also have to consider your skill level before choosing a firearm.

Are you a beginner? Then stop looking at guns that are too advanced for you.

You’ll get there one day, but you need to build your confidence first and go through the basics as you start your journey in hunting.

Aside from that, you can always modify your gun and add kits so it can better suit you.

Most manufacturers will host and offer kits for you to choose from so you can change your stock, barrel, scope, trigger, and other components. This goes for your rifles, your shotguns, and any other firearms you want to modify.

What Cartridges and Shotshells Should I Use?

Now that you have your gun, it’s time to find the right cartridges for your hunting trip.

Now, there are a lot of factors and requirements to consider when choosing your bullets, but we’ll look at the most important ones.

Light Ammo

If you have to shoot an animal that’s quite FAR from where you are, a light bullet works. However, make sure the wind is still since a gust can throw your accuracy off.

Remember: consider if the game you’re hunting has thick skin or not because lighter bullets can’t penetrate thicker skin as easily.

Heavy Ammo

Heavy cartridges are made to penetrate animals with thicker skin.

Of course, it means it can’t travel as far as a light bullet. Since heavy cartridges can pierce animals better, it makes for more humane and faster kills.

Full Metal Jacket Bullets

Full metal jackets aren’t well suited for hunting because they won’t expand on impact with the animal you’re hunting.

So unless you can get your target in one go by aiming at the heart, it’s highly inadvisable you choose this kind of ammo.

Hollow Point Bullets

On the other hand, hollow-point bullets expand when shot at your target.

Say you managed to shoot an animal with a hollow point but it ran away. You won’t have to look far EVEN if it manages to get away.

Birdshot

If you’re out to hunt small animals, this kind of ammo is your best friend.

Since there are multiple pellets inside a shotshell, it will SCATTER, unlike a bullet. That’s why these are used for hunting smaller animals like birds or squirrels.

The pellets in it are small which will keep your game intact after shooting.

Buckshot

If you plan on hunting animals like turkey, geese, pheasants, or quails, then the buckshot will you do well.

These are similar to the birdshot, except that the size of the pellets in the cartridges is far BIGGER.

While you could use this on birds and squirrels if you really wanted to, it risks damaging the animal or obliterating it completely.

Slug

If you want to fire something more like a bullet using your shotgun, then we know for a fact that using a slug is your best bet.

Unlike the birdshot or buckshot, there is a single bullet inside the shotshell. Coupled with the size of the slug and the power of a shotgun, taking a shot with this is no joke.

Conclusion

There are a lot of answers to the question: What should you check before choosing a firearm for hunting? But the truth is, there is never going to be a one size fit all answer.

A lot of factors can influence your overall decision in finding the right firearm for hunting from the features of the gun to the preferences of the person handling it. Some hunters will have better luck with this gun, and some might not. It really depends.

So when someone else asks the question you just asked, you can be the person to tell them that the best thing to do is find a gun that will best suit them and their needs.

About the author

Christopher Wade

Christopher Wade is a true outdoorsman. After spending most of his career as a firearms expert and instructor in Nebraska, he retreated to the great outdoors to enjoy retirement.

Christopher’s expertise in handling firearms and hunting gear are what propelled him to create the Shooting Mystery blog. He hopes for all readers to gain useful and practical knowledge for enjoying their time outdoors.