The general consensus is that baseball is officially “America’s pastime,” but you could easily make the argument that it is actually deer hunting.
Heading out into the woods in search of a deer to harvest was a staple of Native American culture long before pioneers showed up here and wild venison has been a major food source for Americans since long before recorded history began.
Deer hunting is so deeply woven into American culture that it’s colloquially tied to the dollar bill which includes a picture of our nation’s very first president. Referring to dollars as “bucks” is still common vernacular and it has been since the 18th century. Back in the day, settlers and Native Americans used to trade buckskins as a form of currency.
According to the Huffington Post, the first time the term “bucks” was known to used as a description for monetary value was in 1748 when a pioneer wrote in his journal that the going rate for a cask of whiskey was “5 Bucks,” which is believed to have been an abbreviation for buckskins.
The U.S. dollar was not officially minted until 1792, but the idea of using buckskins to describe currency persisted after the introduction of cash money. An 1851 entry in a historical journal explained that muskrat skins were equal to a quarter of a dollar, a raccoon skin a third of a dollar, a doe skin a half dollar. A buckskin was known to be the equivalent of “the almighty dollar.”
Historically, there were not regulations in place like harvest limits and hunting seasons, and there were no restrictions on selling venison in commercial markets. In turn, deer populations crashed and by 1900, it’s estimated that only 500,000 whitetail deer remained on the continent. Thanks to conservation efforts launched and funded primarily by the hunting community, there are now more than 30 million whitetails in North America.
With so many people hunting every year, it’s easy to see that Americans are still eating a lot of venison. Most deer hunters are happy to share their harvests too, so way more people enjoy the product of hunting every year than actually go hunting. However, strong arguments can be made that Americans need to be eating even more deer meat than they already do, which means more Americans need to start hunting.
In recent years, the hunting community has placed an increased effort on recruiting new hunters. These days awesome new learn-to-hunt workshops like the National Deer Association’s Field to Fork program have made it easier than ever for new hunters to get started.
The NDA also recently launched an all new Deer Hunting 101 Online Course that showcases all the basic information you need to feel more comfortable as you prepare for your first hunt. The video driven program is the most comprehensive online hunting course ever assembled, and for just $29.99 you can start learning at your own pace from the comfort of your own home.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has also made deer hunting more accessible on public lands than ever before thanks to the agencies commitment to providing Americans with ample hunting and fishing opportunities.
Many experienced deer hunters are happy to introduce friends and family to hunting if they express a willingness to learn, and fish and wildlife agencies in pretty much all 50 states now offer some type of learn-to-hunt programs that get new people out hunting under the guidance of an experienced mentor.
If you’re interested in learning how to deer hunt, then consider reaching out to your state agency and inquire about the hunting programs that they offer. The Council To Advance Hunting and the Shooting Sports has streamlined that process by creating a map with contact information for learn-to-hunt programs in every state.
Though archery equipment is another alternative, the vast majority of deer hunting in America is done with a rifle, and occasionally a shotgun.
If you’re a new hunter looking forward to your first hunt this fall, or if you’ve been hunting a few times and you’re ready to move on from borrowing a gun from friends or family to using your own, then you should buy your gun now so you have time to practice with it before hunting season.
But before we get into specific firearms, it’s important to make sure the type of the gun you select packs enough punch to take down a deer in an ethical and timely manner.
Using a gun that is not powerful enough to do the job could wound a deer and cause the animal to needlessly suffer, so obviously the goal is to avoid that.
10 guns to help you fill the freezer with the original local, free range, organic protein.
These aren’t the only viable options, but here are 7 solid recommendations on what calibers you should use for deer hunting:
.243 – The go to rifle that most dads buy for their kids as a first deer rifle. It packs more than enough punch to take down a deer from up to 300 yards and it doesn’t kick very hard at all. It’s an easy to shoot caliber and while it’s not suitable for anything larger than a deer, it’s an excellent option for deer.
.270 – Similar to the .243 but with a little more knockdown power. This caliber is an All-American deer hunting classic. It does kick a little more than a .243, but the recoil isn’t overwhelming. It’s a flat shooting bullet that has filled plenty of freezers with deer meat around the country.
.30 – 30 – This has been a go-to choice for deer hunters for over 125 years. This cartridge is shot almost exclusively out of lever action rifles, but more on that later. It’s an extremely popular choice for deer hunters in the eastern part U.S. and a great gun for hunting in dense forests and close quarters.
30 – 06 – A caliber that was originally created for the U.S. Army in 1906, its still one of the most popular big game hunting calibers on the market and effective at long ranges. Many experienced hunters will tell you its the premier caliber for deer hunting. Plus it was the preferred caliber by Johnny Cash, so you know it’s got to be good right?
6.5 Creedmoor – One of the newer rifle calibers on the market has quickly become one of the most popular. Its effective at long ranges and at cutting through the wind and it doesn’t have the same recoil that other comparable calibers produce.
.308 – The hardest kicking option on this list, it’s also the most powerful. This gun will drop deer at a longer distance than any of the previously mentioned calibers and its suitable for hunting the biggest of game species on North America including moose and bears. You might ruin a little meat if you shoot a deer with a .308, but you don’t have to worry about it running very far after you pull the trigger.
12 Gauge Slug – Most people would never even consider using a shotgun for deer hunting, and rightfully so. Rifles are far more effective options. But in certain areas of the country you’re actually legally prohibited from using a rifle to deer hunt so you have to use a shotgun. It’s most common in extremely flat and wide open agricultural areas where hunters often don’t have a safe backdrop to stop their bullet in case of a miss. Deer hunting with a shotgun is done with what are called slugs. Slug rounds aren’t filled with a bunch of little pellets like a typical shotgun shell, but rather one big dense pellet. Be sure to check the rules and regulations where you’re hunting for clarity on the firearms laws.
Going to the counter at a gun shop can be intimidating if you don’t know much about guns, but you can actually purchase guns online from Bass Pro Shops and pick them up at your local store to make the process less daunting.
All of the guns on this list provide great bang for your buck, and while you do get what you pay for in terms of quality firearms, all of these options are solid entry level choices for new deer hunters.
These rifles all come in a variety of calibers as well, so no matter which model of firearm you pick, you should be able to pair it with a caliber that works for you.
Bolt action rifles like this are extremely popular for hunting due to their dependability and effectiveness. This American made gun provides tremendous value for the price point. It’s a durable gun that shoots with a lot of precision. It comes highly recommended as a good starter rifle for first time deer hunters.
The gun is available in a variety of calibers, including .243, .270, .30-06, 6.5 Creedmor, and .308.
Another great bolt action rifle, this gun has been taking down deer for decades. The beautiful wood finish on the stock will cost you more than some other synthetic options, but it’s a classic looking gun. With a smooth operating action and an easy trigger pull, this gun might be a little more money than what you want to spend but you certainly won’t regret it if you do.
This is a deer rifle that will last a lifetime. Winchester has been making fantastic guns and ammunition for over a century. The Model 70 comes in several calibers including .243, .270, .30-06, .308, and 6.5 Creedmor.
Something about shooting a lever action rifle just makes you feel like a cowboy. This gun is named after the year it was introduced, so it’s conceivable that this was a popular hunting rifle for real life cowboys back in the day. It’s a tough gun that can handle tough hunting conditions, though it’s not particularly great for long-range shots. This gun is better suited for hunting dense forests and in tight hilly terrain.
The gun is most commonly chambered in .30-30 but it’s also available in .45-70, but that’s more of an old fashioned buffalo gun than a modern deer hunting caliber though it is regaining popularity. The shells eject out of the side of this model, which makes mounting a scope on it possible unlike with some other popular lever guns.
This just might be the most iconic of all deer rifles. A Remington 700 chambered in .30-06 is about as American as apple pie, baseball, and deer jerky. Remington is America’s oldest gunmaker and they’ve been building this model of gun since 1962. There’s a good chance that no other model of gun has shot more deer since then. This is the quintessential bolt action hunting rifle.
Though historically common with a good old fashioned wooden stock, sharp looking synthetic options have become a lot more popular in recent years. It’s an easy to operate gun that’s comfortable to carry in the field and comfortable to shoot. The gun comes in every caliber on the list above except for .30-30, which is a cartridge typically reserved mostly for lever action guns.
Tikka may not have the name recognition that some of the other gunmakers on this list have, but their firearms are just as high quality as the other brands mentioned. Tikka is the name of the brand, but the guns are actually manufactured by Sako, a firearms company based out of Finland. The Tikka line of rifles has been on the market since 2003, but the T3x models were not introduced until 2016. It’s a new age spin on an old school model of gun that’s great for modern hunters.
This is a super light weight option in terms of the actual feel of the gun. This rifle has got a manageable recoil, an easy to operate bolt action, and it puts bullets on target with consistency and ease. The gun is available in several calibers including .243, .270, .30-06, .308, and 6.5 Creedmor.
Originally a Spanish gun barrel manufacturer, Bergara now makes high quality firearms here in the U.S. These rifles are crafted in Georgia and they rapidly becoming a go-to choice for big game hunters all across America. This bolt action model is an efficient and clean shooting piece that is ready made to effectively deliver accurate shots with efficiency and velocity.
The gun is typically available in pretty much every popular deer hunting caliber except for .30-30. This particular rifle chambered in .270 is an absolutely beautiful combination that any deer hunter would be glad to own.
The Browning Arms Company has been making great guns for almost 150 years. The company was founded by John Browning, one of the most brilliant inventors ever. So much so that several of his firearm designs were licensed to a variety of other prominent gun making brands. The company is most well known for their A-bolt and X-bolt rifles, two of the very best bolt action hunting rifles on the market.
Browning also makes a lesser known bolt action model though. The AB3 is a real straight shooter and its priced at a great entry point for new hunters. It comes with a very traditional looking wooden stock that has a timeless feel. The gun is available in a handful of calibers including .243, .270, .30-06, and .308.
Savage makes quite a few different guns that would be excellent choices for an entry level deer rifle. Most hunters prefer to buy their rifles and their scopes separately just to be sure the optics they mount on their rifle are exactly what they’re looking for. But if you’re looking for a low priced combo model that takes the guess work out of choosing a rifle scope, then this is a solid choice.
This bolt action rifle would make a great introductory gun for any new hunter or someone who only plans on using their rifle for just a few days of hunting a year. The gun may not be as durable and dependable as some of the other options on the list, but if you keep it clean and take good care of it then it will serve you well. It comes with a Weaver Optics 3X9X40mm scope already mounted on the gun and in a TrueTimber camo pattern. It is available in .243, .270, .30-06, .308, and 6.5 Creedmoor.
Semi-automatic rifles like this are becoming more and more common in the deer hunting community thanks to the functionality and versatility of the guns. While bolt and lever action rifles have their benefits, a semi-automatic option like this offers less recoil which can improve accuracy and they can easily be modified to better serve specific hunting conditions and needs. It also has an adjustable stock so it can be retrofit to comfortably accommodate different sized shooters.
This rifle is more expensive than other options on the list, but you get what you pay for. Its a highly durable and dependable gun that will last forever. This particular model comes with a Blackhawk trigger system and is chambered in .308.
If you’re hunting in an area where you’re required to use a shotgun, then you can’t go wrong with a Mossberg 500. Pump action shotguns are as durable and dependable as can be. Mossberg has been making great guns for over a century and they offer a lot of great options for bird hunting guns too. This specific model comes specifically set up for deer hunting with a fully rifled barrel and a 2.5 x 20mm scope.
The gun also comes with a second barrel which can be swapped out for hunting turkey and waterfowl. The package includes a set of choke tubes to fit all your conventional shotgunning needs as well.
Most hunters will tell you that you should spend at least as much on your scope as you spent on the rifle. After all, what good is a nice rifle if you can’t hit anything with it?
A good scope will stay dialed in and give you the confidence you need to trust that every time you pull the trigger your shots will wind up on target. However, the technology of these optics has come a long way in recent years and you can now find decent scopes that will get the job done for just a few hundred bucks. If you’re looking for a solid scope with a reasonable price tag then you should definitely look into either Leupold or Vortex Optics.
There are a lot of scopes on the market and picking one can be overwhelming. The numbers on rifle scopes indicate the magnification power of the optic.
The most common scopes for deer hunting will come in a 3×9 magnifications. If you’re mounting a scope on a shorter range gun like the Marlin 1895, then a 2×7 scope is a great choice. If you anticipate taking longer shots then you should consider a 4-12×40 scope.
Below are some great choices for each of those specific magnifications. If you need help selecting a scope, or mounting the scope on the gun then the nice folks at Bass Pro Shops would be more than happy to help you.
There is a lot that goes into the hunting process between the moment you pull the trigger and the moment you’re enjoying a nice home cooked venison meal with your friends and family.
Field dressing a deer can be an intimidating process, especially if you have to do it without the help of an experienced mentor. While many folks pay to have their deer processed and butchered after they’ve field dressed it, doing that work yourself is even more gratifying.
The good folks over at MeatEater are experts on just about all things hunting, and they’ve got some great resources for new hunters.
So check out the series of videos below from Steven Rinella to get better acquainted field dressing a deer in the woods and then butchering it for the freezer. After that it’s time to get cookin’, and MeatEater has a ton of great recipes you can try as well.
Please keep in mind that you are legally required to purchase a hunting license to hunt deer on both private and public land. Always look up the rules and regulations in the state you’re hunting.
The sale of hunting licenses and permits directly funds the conservation of wildlife habitat and public land as well as the development of gun ranges in all 50 states.
Buying a hunting license protects you from potentially being fined, having your gear confiscated, and/or losing your hunting privileges. It’s important to remember that just because you have a hunting license in one state, that does not mean it is valid in another state.
Whiskey mixes well with a lot of things but firearms ain’t one of them. Please hunt responsibly and save the whiskey for the campfire at night.
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