Beginners Guide to Choosing Your First Rifle
September 26, 2022

Need Help Buying Your First Rifle?

Rifles are extremely useful for a variety of uses. Whether you want a rifle for self-defense, hunting, or purely for recreational purposes, you’ll want to make sure you choose one that’s right for you.

If you’re thinking about buying your first rifle, you’re probably wondering how you’re going to choose one out of the many different options available today. In this beginner’s guide, everything you should think about such as intended use, rifle caliber, and budget to choose your first rifle will be covered.

Also included will be a few examples of beginner friendly rifles to help you know where to begin.

Why Do You Want a Rifle?

The first and most obvious thing you’ll want to consider is why you want to buy a rifle in the first place.

Rifles are long guns that fire a fast-moving projectile that can be accurate to long ranges. Some precision rifles in the hands of experienced long-range shooters can be accurate to a mile or more.

The most common motivations for owning a rifle are for self-defense, hunting, or recreational shooting. Most often, the reasons people buy rifles will fall into a combination of two or all three of these reasons, and they’re all equally valid.

These reasons include self-defense, recreation shooting/competition shooting, and hunting.

Take some time to think about why you want to get a rifle and what your primary motivation is. This will inform your choice more than all else.

Choosing your Rifle Caliber

There are hundreds of different rifle calibers available today. For your first rifle, don’t choose an obscure caliber because it will make finding ammo difficult and expensive.

Your primary use for a rifle will also determine what caliber will be best suited for you. Having the wrong caliber for the job will make things difficult and limit what you can accomplish.

Here are some calibers and general guidelines for choosing a caliber for your first rifle:

  • Rimfire Calibers – .22 Long Rifle, .17 HMR, .22 Magnum. Great for small game hunting (squirrel, rabbit, varmint) and recreational target shooting, a.k.a “plinking”. Rimfire ammunition is inexpensive compared to centerfire ammo, allowing for more practice time without a huge expense.
  • Small Calibers.223/5.56 NATO, .243, .270. These smaller caliber rifle calibers offer low recoil shooting, while still being capable of accurate and longer-range shooting. .223/5.56 is the most popular caliber for the AR-15 platform used for self-defense. .243, .270, as well as .223 are excellent choices for hunting mid-size game such as deer and wild boar.
  • Mid-sized/Longer Range Calibers – .308/7.62 NATO, .30-06, 6.5 Creedmoor, .300 Win Mag. These larger sized calibers offer much more power due to a larger case size and larger projectile. These calibers are also proven for long-range shooting up to and beyond 1000 yards. Along with long range target shooting, these calibers are also well suited for hunting larger game such as deer, elk, moose, and caribou.

Choosing a Rifle Type

Along with choosing a rifle caliber, your next step to choosing your first rifle is the rifle type or action type. There are three main types of rifle actions commonly available today. They can be configured in just about any caliber and include:

  • Bolt Action – One of the most common actions for modern rifles. After each round, the bolt-action is manually cycled by the shooter to chamber the next round. Bolt action rifles are mostly used for hunting and long-range target shooting. Because bolt action rifles often have a low ammo capacity and slow rate of fire, they are not ideal for self-defense.
  • Semi-Automatic – After each round, the gas system cycles the next round. The rifle will fire one round and cycle the next with each trigger pull until the magazine or clip is empty. The most common example of a semi-automatic rifle is the AR-15. Semi-automatic rifles can be used for hunting, self-defense, or target shooting.
  • Lever Action – A lever style mechanism is used to manually cycle the next round into the chamber after each shot. You may recognize lever action rifles from western films, as they were first introduced in the late 19th century and were widely used in the American western frontier. Lever action rifles are still useful today for self-defense, hunting, and target shooting because they are dependable and a great choice for left-handed shooters.


The next thing you’ll want to consider when choosing your first rifle is your budget. A quality made rifle can cost a few hundred dollars, or as much as several thousand. It will just depend on the specific rifle and whether its new or used.

For your first rifle, you’ll want to buy a quality firearm, but at the same time don’t think you have to spend thousands of dollars. If it turns out you don’t like rifle shooting, you will feel like you wasted your money if you spend a lot on your first rifle.

For a few hundred dollars, you can get a good quality bolt action rifle that comes with a scope, which may be all you need for target practice and hunting. If you’re in need of a self-defense rifle, you can save some money on an AR-15 rifle if you’re willing to build your own.

Lastly, many firearms dealers usually have an inventory of used rifles for sale, which can be outstanding deals. Often when people sell rifles to gun stores, they are lightly used, and they only get rid of them because they don’t use them.

Beginner Friendly Rifles

Below are a few examples of beginner friendly rifles. If you’re unsure of where to start with your first rifle, these options are easy to operate and maintain, even for the inexperienced.

  • .22 Long Rifle Lever Action – Great if you just want a rifle for small game hunting or recreational target shooting. Lever actions are easy to use, dependable, and visually appealing. .22 LR is also easy to find and inexpensive, making it great for plinking.
  • .30-06 Bolt Action Rifle with Scope – This is a great choice if you want to dip your toes in long range shooting as well as big game hunting. .30-06 is a time-tested caliber that’s easy to find and available in a variety of different loads.
  • .223/5.56 AR-15 – The AR-15 is probably the most popular rifle in America. There are few better choices for self-defense than the AR-15. With the hundreds of different parts and accessories available for the AR-15, you can customize yours however you desire. Due to the popularity of .223/5.56, ammo is widely available and relatively inexpensive, especially if you buy in bulk.


Choosing what to get for your first rifle doesn’t have to be complicated. At the end of the day, there is not a one size fits all rifle for everybody.

Think about why you want to get a rifle and what caliber and action will help you achieve that. Once you’ve done that, have a budget in place to help you narrow down your final choice. If you’re really stuck, the above beginner friendly examples are a great place to start.

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