A good friend of mine recently, after years of talk, finally went through his hunter’s safety course. We’ve been talking about hunting together for as long as I’ve known him, but like many people I know, he found the idea interesting and exciting, but didn’t have a lot of follow through. After a few drinks we’d romanticize the hunt, dreaming of the trips we’d take and the meat we’d bring home, always to have the memories fade come morning, and the real world creep back in and occupy all of our time.
But now he’s through and I finally have a hunting buddy. He is, however, deficient in one important area: he doesn’t own a gun. This post is for him and anyone else looking to get started hunting.
Nearly everyone’s first gun is a .22 caliber rimfire rifle, and it is the ideal first gun for a new hunter. The .22 is a good starter rifle for a few reasons: the rifle is cheap, ammo is cheap, and it is good for small game. I know a lot of people consider a 30-06 or a 30-30 for their first rifle because they are primarily interested in bringing down deer or elk. If you’re one of those people, let’s see if I can convince you.
Why a .22 should be your first rifle:
The biggest reason for a .22 to be your first rifle is cost. If you’re just getting into the game of gun ownership and hunting, odds are you don’t want to spend a ton of money on your first gun. And once you have that first gun, you are going to need a lot of practice shooting it, which can be quite expensive with a higher caliber rifle. You can pick up a solid .22 for a few hundred dollars, and the ammo I run through mine for target shooting and small game only costs around $0.06 per round. The affordability of the rifle and the ammunition makes it easier to get out and spend time learning about riflery and marksmanship, something you really ought to do before you go out and start trying to hunt.
But once you’ve put that time in learning to shoot, this is the ideal tool for small game hunting, where most people start as hunters, and where I think most people should start. Small game hunting is low risk, low reward. The license is cheap and there are probably plenty of places to do it nearby, but you also aren’t likely to bring home a whole heap of meat–especially when you’re first starting out.
Small game hunting teaches many of the skills that you will need when you move on the larger game. It teaches you how to read the woods and see signs of all the animals moving around that you may not have noticed before, it teaches you to find your quarry and safely dispatch it, and it teaches you how to clean and prepare an animal. All of these skills picked up hunting rabbits and squirrels will pass on to hunting larger game. The seasons are also typically longer for small game, so rather than condensing all your hunting for the year into one trip, it is possible to get out and hone those skills over months. And those rabbits and squirrels you bring home are great in the pot.
It seems like there are two really good starter rifles that everyone chooses between: the Ruger 10/22 and the Marlin Model 60. Both are semi-automatic .22 rimfire rifles.
This was my choice when I faced this dilemma. It is a bit more expensive, but for under $300, it is still a very affordable first rifle. In everything I’ve read, it is always suggested that this rifle will be with you for the rest of your life. You may buy yourself a nicer .22, but the Ruger 10/22 is a reliable rifle that will always be there in your closet for small game and plinking.
I put a cheap simmons scope on mine and find that it shoots quite well. I primarily hunt small game in the forest, which rarely leads to shots much longer than 40-50 yards. But when I do take it out on the plains I have found it to be quite accurate at much longer distances as well.
From what I understand, though this is not my wheelhouse, the Ruger 10/22 also has many aftermarket options for upgrades.
I have had one issue with my Ruger. I use the 10-round rotary magazines, and I have had endless problems with them. It is possible that all I need to do is open them up and play with the spring tension (going to give that a shot later today), but out of the box they have tons of issues with feeding. I regularly need to pop the magazine out and bang it on the side of the rifle a couple times to feed the next round. Not ideal.
All in all, I am very happy with my Ruger, and have suggested it to my friend for his first rifle.
This was my brother’s first and only rifle. I’ve shot his a few times, it is a good rifle. It runs a bit cheaper than the Ruger, which is a draw for many. Additionally, the barrel magazine means that the stock rifle has a larger capacity at 14 rounds.
Similar to the Ruger 10/22, the Marlin has many diehard fans. It is impossible to tell if it is the actual quality of these rifles or simply nostalgia and love for your first rifle that places these guns so deeply in people’s hearts. But there are certainly a lot of very strong opinions out there. Marlin fans say all the same things that Ruger fans do–it’s a solid, reliable rifle that will stick with you for your entire life.
For me, there are a couple things that stand out as big differences between the two. Personally, I don’t like the barrel magazine. I like being able to very quickly empty the rifle by dropping the magazine and ejecting the shell in the chamber. With a barrel magazine, there is no quick and easy way to do this. Additionally, the Marlin has fewer available aftermarket upgrades, which I know is a turnoff for many gun owners.
Either of these rifles will do you well. They are cheap to buy, cheap to shoot, and good for working on riflery as well as hunting small game. I can’t really speak to one being better than the other, but I can tell you that I am very happy with my Ruger and I suggest it to anyone looking to buy a first rifle.