The basic question when choosing your first long gun: what do you want to do with it? Hunting, plinking (fun), skeet, trap, target shooting or self-defense? Never mind trying to choose action type, caliber, barrel length, manufacturer, price or any of the dozens of other variable facing a first-time long gun buyer. It’s bewildering. The trick is to . . .

Try before you buy. I’m not  talking about the gun. I mean the various type of shooting options. Go shoot someone else’s gun(s) and explore all the shooting possibilities: skeet, trap, hunting, target, plinking and self-defense. Once you know what you like, you can begin to educate yourself on the technology and narrow down your purchase options.

There are plenty of ranges which provide inexpensive training for beginners in all areas of interest (including hunting). And most people who know and love firearms are happy to share their long guns with newbies. Warning! There’s a tendency to fall in love with the first long gun you put in your hands. That works! I want that one! Resist the urge to choose the known over the unknown – at least until you know more.

It may seem like a piercing glimpse into the obvious, but specialized guns are better for particular pursuits. A self-defense shotgun makes a lousy trap gun and it’s not the best choice for plinking; if nothing else it can beat up your shoulder (depending on caliber) and the targets don’t last very long. By the same token, ANY long gun can be used for self-defense. But some are better suited to the job than others.

Confused? Stay with me . . .

You can easily spend thousand of dollars on a gun (and accessories) that does one thing very, very well. If you’re not entirely sure what floats your boat ballistically speaking or money’s too tight to mention, you can buy a long gun that fills more than one role. The semi-automatic AR-15 is America’s favorite long gun because of its versatility. Plinking, target, hunting and self-defense? Check. Skeet, trap or duck hunting? That would be a long-barreled shotgun. By the same token, a lever gun can do everything an AR does – with style!

Think of it this way . . .

A long gun is a tool. Discover what you want to do with that tool before choosing one. Keep in mind that your favored shooting pursuit should be convenient and affordable. You may LOVE your initial go at skeet or long-range rifle shooting, but if it’s inconvenient or too expensive, you’ll end-up wasting your money on a purpose-driven long gun.

Once you’ve figured out what you want to do with your long gun, and thus what kind of long gun you want, hit the ‘net. Read gun reviews (especially ours). Gun stores employees are generally good at steering customers to appropriate firearms but the old maxim “what’s in the back room goes out the front door” applies. Think of your initial visits to a gun store as fact-finding missions. Bring your phone. Google an interesting long gun right then and there.

Bottom line: your first long gun is an introduction to the shooting sports/long gun-based self-defense. If you choose well and like your first long gun, you’re highly likely to want another long gun that can do something that your first gun can’t. That’s a good thing, not a bad thing. Start saving now.

54 Responses to Guns for Beginners: First Long Gun: Rifle, Shotgun or Lever? [VIDEO]

  1. OK, I see what you’re doing there, RF–but still, “Rifle, Shotgun,or Lever”? IIRC, other than the odd “mare’s leg”, “lever guns” are either rifles or shotguns, just like bolt-actions, pumps, semi-autos, etc, etc…

  2. Daisy Red Rider , Umerex pellet , 20 gauge break barrel youth shot gun , 10/22 , 223 Mossberg Predator bolt , 308 or 30.06 bolt , and finally a 12 gauge and magnum cal. rifle . WV TRADITION .

  3. Funny, I really don’t consider too much the use of the gun before I buy it. I’m on a mission to experience rifles. So it’s more about a (bucket) list than anything else. Yes I have guns suited well to hunting or competition, but it’s more about the experience to me. My childhood first rifle was a Marlin 80DL. A great target rifle. Anyone got one you want to sell? Mine was lost in time. But my favorite type is lever guns. And that’s my long list of must gets. My dream room is no wall space left for the next lever gun. This is as close as I get to having a fetish with guns.

  4. Nice idea, but it takes more than a few sessions with different types of guns to figure out what will be a shooters focus. Get something you think you will enjoy shooting, so you shoot it alot. Over time you will discover what you want to buy next.

  5. One nice thing about a lever gun for newbies, especially on in pistol calibers like .357 or .44, is you can shoot different levels of ammo without worrying about having to cycle an action. Lightly loaded .38 or .44 specials make an excellent low-noise plinking round, then you can load it up with hot magnums for hunting or self-defense. And pistol ammo is generally cheaper than rifle ammo.

    If you go with a .22, the same applies. Everything from CB caps to shorts to high-velocity ammo will work just fine. Shooting Super Colibris through my Henry is quieter than a pellet gun.

    They’re also way more fun than just about any other rifle type, if you ask me. Everybody should have at least one .22 lever gun.

        • TO THE PERSON WITH THE HENRY IN 22WMR. IT IS PROBABLY QUITE HIGH, BUT YOU CAN FIND 22MAG RIMFIRE AT “gunbroker.com”. JUST AN FYI. I AM QUITE THANKFUL 22lr IS NOW AVAILABLE AGAIN. “FREEDOM MUNITIONS” HAS A SUPPLY AND IS NOT LIMITING YOUR PURCHASE AMOUNT, PLUS THE PRICE IS REASONABLE.

      • I was just thinking about one of those a couple days ago. I was looking at a Remington 572 “shotgun” (.22 smooth bore with a bead sight) on the used gun rack, and as I worked the action, I was thinking “I could get used to this.” It’s such a short travel, it seems like it would be extremely quick to cycle and easy to keep on target. The Henry model, with the octagon heavy barrel, has such a classic “shooting gallery” look.

      • Another Robert – Henry pumps are available in both .22 and .22 mag. I rarely see them in stores, but the big online retailers seem to have plenty.

  6. I went with a Marlin 795. Cheap, so you can move to your next gun (a “real” gun) quickly. Semi auto, magazine fed. Accurate and reliable. Good for plinking, target shooting, varminting or small game hunting.

    Very excellent introductory rifle.

    • I would recommend the Marlin model 60 over the model 795 … the model 60 has a tube magazine which is easier for new shooters to learn and use. Don’t get me wrong, the model 795 is also a great choice … we are definitely splitting hairs here.

      • The reason I gave the nod to the 795 is because of the magazines actually. With the 7, 10, and aftermarket 25 (the only good magazine ProMag makes) magazines, you can do shooting drills with reloading and stuff. Granted the reload is pretty crappy because the mag release is not a one-handed affair unless you have freakish thumbs.

        My brother-in-law has a XT-22 with the tube magazine, and that would be my second choice. Working the bolt is a great way to force a new shooter to pay attention to their shots.

        Hell, they’re so cheap you can just get BOTH!

  7. ALWAYS!!! make your first long gun a .22lr!!! Whether you are an adult or otherwise. Why? Cheap (even now) ammunition allows for plenty of practice. The practice (should) teach basic firearms safety, how to maintain your gun and how to secure it against unauthorized use. Always, always, always!!! First long gun = .22lr!

  8. If I am going with a center fire gun I’m looking towards a pistol caliber carbine or a rifle probably; a 9mm AR if you have to have an AR otherwise something else. This varies by shooting location but in suburbia it’s easier to find a range that will let you shoot pistol caliber rifles. Getting into a hobby means a low barrier of entry to me, and the other advantage is that 9mm is cheap to shoot and even cheaper if loaded with cast bullets. That being said for someone that doesn’t need a semi auto, a lever gun in .38 spl or .357 mag is an awesome option. To me .357 and the ability to use .38s makes it one of the most versatile cartridge lines ever made and can be used to hunt, defend ones self or have paper punching/plinking action. The bad part is that the ammo is at least 25-30% more than a 9mm unless you reload (then it’s actually really 9mm cheap overall for plinking ammo.)

  9. Personally, for a first long gun, I lean towards a .22 bolt action, not the ever poplar 10/22, for the simple reason that, young shooters in particular, will burn through ammo fast without learning trigger and breath disciple (because blasting away is sooo much fun). And they can be bought cheaply.

    • Then I’d suggest a different program than nilly willy burning up brass to where plan is to actually INSTRUCT the varmint in marksmanship. I’ll recommend an Appleseed. And like church TAKE him/her not drop off. You’ll have a blast together.

      A bolt is not a great choice for an Appleseed unless you already know very well what you’re doing. For a novice (or better) get a good peep site semi .22LR.

  10. Whenever I have the opportunity to take a newbie to the range for their first time, I being out 3 rifles; the Winchester Model 1906, an SKS (a Navy Arms Norinco sans bayonet), and my CETME (or M1 Garand, depending on the newbie).

    I always put the pump-action .22 in their hands first, and on several occasions we never got around to shooting the SKS or CETME.

    That old Winchester by itself has brought several previously fence-sitting, firearm-naive individuals into our fold, and it normally does so in 5 shots (or less); after which I’ve had to fend off serious attempts to buy it. Those that fell in love with that rifle have all ended up buying their own pump .410s or lever-action .22s as their first rifle.

    • I always ask my newbies what they want to shoot, and that helps me choose what to bring out, but one of my most popular choices (or the go-to if they’re undecided or timid) is a Sig 522 w/ a holographic site and a flip-to-side magnifier. At 50 yards, anyone can shoot this rifle well and feel like a champ, and it helps break down barriers and misconceptions about “evil black rifles.”

      Plenty of my friends are less timid, and an AR vs. AK showdown has been another popular theme for (adult) first timers.

  11. Savage MkIi bolt action in 22lr. affordable, good trigger, rugged and accurate. If you want to eventually go hunting you can learn good bolt action shooting techniques like keeping your eye on target as you work the bolt before graduating to a centerfire rifle.

  12. My first gun was a Sears (mail order) single shot .410 shotgun in bolt action when I was maybe 12. This was my Father’s idea. He liked this model because the safety engaged automatically when the bolt was worked, so that if fired and reloaded, the safety was already back on. I wanted a shotgun for pheasant hunting. Learning to actually knock down a pheasant with a small-gauge scattergun took some time, but I got there. Some authorities say young bird hunters should be started out on bigger bores, so they don’t get discouraged. They may have a point. For rifle use, I had access to Dad’s .22 Remington Sportmaster (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Remington_Model_512_Sportsmaster), which was a heck of a good gun.

  13. My first firearm, ever, was a Savage Arms Mark II in .22lr.

    My first shotgun, second firearm, ever, was a 12 ga. Remington 870 Marine.

    My first handgun, my third firearm, ever, was the unofficial/official handgun I saw illegally in the Bahamas, my native land, which was the Argentinian Bersa 90 in .380, which, in the time of my youth that I hazily recall was for the gangs there, a Bersa 383/83 or older.

    I don’t even own these guns now for various reasons but they were good starting points.

    I would say versatility is the factor that matters. What weapon can you always put your hand on in your critical time of need?

    A handgun, I’d say, is probably it, that is, if you are 21 and over.

    However, thanks to infringements, I’d say if you are 18, you’d probably only be able to get a rifle or shotgun first, sad to say.

  14. My first shooting experience was my dad’s break action Winchester .410 shotgun. I still have that gun.

    But, IMHO, for true learning and practicality, it’s hard to beat a Marlin .22LR, preferably a tube fed model. Simple, reliable, fun and easy to shoot, and an excellent gun to get your feet wet. I still have one of them too.

  15. First long gun? That implies an inexperienced shooter, so unless you’ve got squirrel fever it should be a rifle. And unless you’ve got buck fever it should be a .22 LR. Bolt or semi? My recommendation is bolt or pump.

    My first .22 rifle was a Remington 572 BDL. I must have put a million rounds through it, and sent thousand’s of turtles in grand dad’s pond to their reward (fish food, basically).

    There’s nothing quite like a .22 when you need to learn marksmanship and weapons handling on the cheap.

    Charlie

  16. .22lr bolt action rifle if you can find ammo for it. .223 bolt action Vanguard rifle if .22lr ammo is not available. Maybe Weatherby SA-20 for a shotgun. Mossberg 500 in 20 gauge for a pump gun. Sometimes some nice used Fudd guns are laying around some of the gun shops.

  17. The 1st gun I shot was my dad’s bolt action 22. And a 20Ga. shotgun. Can’t remember the brands but it was EZ to hit the target. I’d go with any 22 for ease, availability and getting started cheap. And anyone from little kid,gal or old fart can handle it…

  18. The consensus (so far) seems to be .22 LR rifle. In my hands the manual action (pump, lever or bolt) proved to be the better trainer, and assuming that our prospective buyer is a newbie I’d lots rather see them with a manual action.

    Charlie

  19. If possible, a .22 bolt is great for new adult shooters. It’s much easier to teach initial muzzle discipline with a rifle.

  20. I’d go for an affordable long gun that catches your eye, chambered is a popular and affordable caliber. In the long run, ammo costs will exceed the initial purchase cost of the gun. Note also that optics can be a big cash outlay, so plan accordingly.

  21. My first rifle was an Ithaca single-shot .22 lever action. Purchased by my Dad in around 1967, it cost $25.00 from Sears. (The tube-fed repeaters cost $50.00.)
    In those days you could buy .22lr for about a penny a pop.
    Simple, rugged and reliable, I think it is a fine choice for a first rifle.
    I recently passed this rifle along to the next generation, and see no reason why it shouldn’t last another 50 years.

    RIP, Dad. And thanks for everything.

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