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Deciding on My First Guns (Shotgun, Center-fire Rifle and Rim-fire Rifle)

posted November 21, 2020

Elk on display at retail store

I find I actually feel somewhat self-conscious and embarrassed to admit I have never used a firearm of any kind in my life, I think in part because people who know me know I have some degree of connection to the outdoor-sporting culture, and it just feels like something I should have done by the time I was 23.

Even still, since my early high school years I have really enjoyed Hickok45's informative and entertaining videos, spanning years and countless rounds, comparing and reviewing all varieties of shotguns, rifles, sidearms and so forth.
Hickok45, highly recommended firearm and shooting content

Where My Hunting Plans Are At

I am in the process of reading through Meateater's The Complete Guide to Hunting, Butchering and Cooking Wild Game: Volume 2, Small Game and Fowl. I have read through the majority of the first edition covering Big Game, and based on my lack of experience and everything I have been hearing from these books, articles, hunting forums and the places I ingest opinions on such matters, starting with small game and fowl would probably be the smartest and most constructive move. I briefly considered a Spring turkey or black bear hunt, but I think that might be too soon and I would be in over my head without accompaniment from someone who knows what they are doing.

Unlike with spin-tackle and fly fishing, I have virtually no hunting gear at my disposal, nor any practical experience with any of it if I did. Because of this, I am intent on spending my outdoor sporting time (that where I am not fishing) for the remainder of this year and the first part of the next beginning to actively practice and continuing to learn about vital skills for my first time out. And probably the most vital of these is marksmanship.

The Guns I am Considering

Because I have more or less decided my first hunt will be for small game or fowl, I figured my first gun purchase should be either a rim-fire rifle or a shotgun. As much as I was leaning towards the former, general online opinion I have encountered is really pushing me towards a shotgun. I have not made an explicit decision on which small game or fowl I would be targeting, though I would hate to rule out turkey and waterfowl due to restrictive choice in firearm.


As far as shotguns go, not unlike with pellet grills I have been hearing concerning things about quality assurance in more recent models by established manufacturers. I am not necessarily seeking a gun that will last 50 years, but it would be nice to have one that lasts at least 10 (and has a good warranty). Other than manufacturer, I am having some difficulty deciding between a 12ga and a 20ga, and between pump-action and semi-auto. I browsed through r/hunting on Reddit, and read through some articles with different opinions on the matter, and these are some of the guns I ended up book-marking:

Stoeger M3500

Weatherby Element

Stoeger M3000

Benelli Nova

My biggest concern with a 12ga is whether the advantages offered would justify the relative discomfort of recoil. My concern with 20ga is whether I would be restricted, although I really do not know how many waterfowl hunts I plan to do relative to frequency of targeting other species. With pump-actions I am concerned about disturbed success wing-shooting, and finally with semi-auto I am worried about the maintenance difficulty involved as a first-time gun owner.

Center-fire Rifles (for Big Game)

If circumstances permit, I may have the opportunity to hunt whitetail on private property in a Midwestern state next season. Additionally, if I have progressed to the point of feeling comfortable with the prospect, I might seek a deer and/ or antelope tag here in Idaho as well. With those opportunities on the 12 month horizon, and the practice ahead of me, I do need to be thinking about a rifle for big game.

Having had little to no previous knowledge about guns before taking an active interest in hunting, the volume of and contradictions in opinion I have observed on the topic caliber have been a little bit overwhelming (I have yet to read through this article, but the included chart is helpful). As a beginner I want to stick with what is reasonably common and avoid what is niche, and I have narrowed down the selection to .270, .308 and .30-06, with my inclinations leaning towards the first of those three. Obviously the next step will be to find specific rifles and see what works best for me physically and psychologically, and to that end I will probably want to spend under $500 on the rifle itself and leave some room for a good scope.

I only have a few rifles book-marked so far, and I will be doing more research before committing:

Ruger American

Savage Arms Axis II

Rim-fire Rifles

Once I own a shotgun, and probably not until I also own a big game rifle, I will probably still be interested in adding a .22LR to my arsenal. So far I have only one such gun book-marked:

Mossberg 802 Plinkster


I will most likely NOT be making a purchase during the Black Friday, Cyber Monday and holiday sales, although as emails fly in I may change my mind at the last moment. Otherwise, I plan to continue putting in the necessary work to move forward in this exciting experience.