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Dave writes:

I’m shopping for a deer rifle–I’m an older dad of young boys, never hunted before, no family tradition, high time I started, et c. et c. Midlife deal, whatever. Anyway, I’ve been researching for more than a year now and have come to a few conclusions:

  • 30-06 is my preferred load for whitetails. I’m new, I want something with a soft recoil.
  • Marlin is making a bunch of affordable, quality rifles right now. Like the X7 and 336W. But they seem to have a bewildering variety.
  • The Tikka T3 Lite looks awesome, but is not commonly available chambered in 30-06. Maybe .243? That’s supposed to be light

Care to provide any guidance for a fellow car Jew who doesn’t want to spend much over $500 and wants to put meat in the freezer? I am–forgive me–prepared to pull the trigger on buying one after the new year.

So what you’re looking for is an accurate firearm for under $500? I think you’ve come to the right place.

Let me stick a caveat in here real quick: I’ve been hunting a grand total of once in my life. I am by no means an expert on hunting, but I understand the issues and mechanics involved with firearms in that environment and based off that assessment I offer the following opinions on the matter. I’m always open to suggestions and alternate firearms, so please feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments section.

First and foremost your firearm needs to conform to the legal requirements set forth by your state. In Texas you can use anything you darn well please to hunt deer, but other states like Pennsylvania and Illinois restrict the firearms by requiring a “manual” action instead of semi-auto capability or restricting hunting to shotguns only. I’d make sure to take a peek at your local gun laws and check with your friendly neighborhood taxidermist to see what people in the area are using.

When you’re looking for a deer rifle (once you’ve determined a rifle is your firearm of choice) there are four criteria you need to consider when selecting the model and caliber.

  • Accuracy
  • Stopping Power
  • Weight
  • Rate of Fire

Accuracy is the most important feature of a hunting rifle or any rifle in general. A rifle that can’t hit where you’re aiming is of no use whatsoever, and especially with live and moving targets the ability to accurately place your shots is the key to ethical harvesting. While you don’t necessarily need to run out and get a 1/2 MoA rifle you should preferably make sure that whatever you get will give you no more than a 2 MoA spread at the distances you’re intending to shoot (2 inches at 100 yards). Anything more and you start risking shots veering off target and maiming instead of killing or rupturing the digestive organs and ruining the meat.

Stopping power is another word for muzzle energy, which is a factor of muzzle velocity and bullet weight. The muzzle energy of a firearm will tell you how much force you’re exerting on a target downrange, and generally more is good. The more energy that impacts the target the greater the hydrostatic shock will be and the greater the internal injuries for the animal. In an ideal world the animal should drop instantly after being hit but more often than not they like to run into the woods, and the greater the internal injuries the sooner they will stop running. Something over 2,000 ft/lbs of force is highly recommended.

Weight is another major concern. For my Texas hunting trip I had both my Weatherby Vanguard Carbine and the Weatherby Sub-MoA TRR available to me, and while the TRR would technically be more accurate I chose the carbine instead because it was much lighter. You’re looking for one or two precision shots from a cold barrel, and as long as you’ve sighted your rifle for that cold barrel it doesn’t matter as much how heavy a barrel you have. And your body will thank you for choosing not to lug around the extra steel that you never really use or need.

Rate of fire is the final consideration. What if you miss that first shot but you still have a deer staring you in the face? What if a pack of wild hogs comes out of nowhere and you get the opportunity to take a shot at them? Break action single shot firearms are great for accuracy (and sometimes the only option available to hunters for legal reasons) but being able to put more rounds on target is never a bad thing as long as its done accurately.

For me, that narrows the field to bolt action and lever action firearms that fulfill all four requirements while still staying in the “under $500” range. If you want to consider something a little above your price range you might want to look into a Remington 7600, one of the more historically popular pump action deer rifles.

Let me give you some recommendations for bolt and lever guns which meet your (and my) criteria for a good deer rifle. These firearms have either been fired by me or someone I trust and I’ve linked to their reviews for quick reference:

  • Weatherby Vanguard Carbine (~$400) — Have I mentioned the Weatherby? Because I like the Weatherby. Especially with the new Series 2 coming out in 2012 the price on these older models will be dropping pretty rapidly in the coming weeks and months.
  • Mossberg 100 ATR (~$350) — The 100 ATR is an “okay” rifle that can’t be improved much. The Weatherby has some room to grow if you make adjustments, but the 100 ATR isn’t going to get much better than factory condition. Nevertheless it’s $50 cheaper and comes with weaver mounts on the top as well as iron sights and a free floated barrel.
  • Marlin 336W Lever Action (~$380) — Marlin has a bit of a spotty track record here at TTAG, what with their guns having a propensity for being broken or otherwise crappy looking when coming straight from the factory. Nevertheless I do like their 336W lever action rifles, and so does Ryan Finn.

If you’re looking for the “perfect” lever action firearm, the Marlin 1895 XLR is in my mind the perfect gun. It’s beautiful, takes the straight walled .45/70 Government cartridge and packs quite a punch. Not really something that meets your criteria for “cheap and low recoil” but I thought I’d throw it out there for consideration.

As for ammunition, I would highly recommend you reconsider your choice. The Springfield .30-06 cartridge would require a long action instead of a short action, and ballistic performance at greater distances isn’t nearly as good as the smaller and more efficient .308 Winchester cartridge. .308 is generally more widely available, cheaper, easier to reload, and “reduced recoil” or “managed recoil” hunting ammunition for .308 is widely available from Remington and other manufacturers and according to the local gun stores quickly sells out the weekend before hunting season every year.

In short, depending on local laws you can definitely have a high quality hunting rifle complete for under $500. Any of the above firearms with an okay scope (like this one) and a sling will still be below the $500 mark yet give you accurate shots and comfortable hunting. My recommendation is to stick with a bolt action rifle in .308 Winchester, lever action and pump action firearms are also available and accurate.

If you have a topic you want to see covered in a future “Ask Foghorn” segment, email [email protected].

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  1. A lot of states in the East and Mid-West only allow black powder guns, shotguns, pistols, or carbines in pistol calibers for deer hunting.

  2. They had an article on this at Randy Wakeman Outdoors. Most decent rifle calibers will take down a deer as they are not heavily built. A .243 with heavier bullets would work and would not have heavy recoil. Bolt action guns abound. Stevens has an entry model that I have heard good things about.

  3. Or you may want to shop around for something used. I have a Remington 760 in 30-06 that I bought for $350 about 3 yr ago and with factory loads it’s a 1.5 moa shooter, and with handloads it’s inside 1 moa. Remington replaced it with the 7600, and most comments I see on gun forums are that the 760 is superior to the 7600. I like the pump because both hands stay in position when I’m cycling in another round.

  4. IMHO, a 30.06 on whitetails is complete overkill. I don’t hunt much anymore, but when I did, the .243 Win was my preferred load. Light recoil, good ammo availability, combined with good accuracy and adequate stopping power, make it ideal for small deer like whitetails.

    During hunting season, you can usually get a Howa 1500 with a Hogue stock and a decent Nikko-Sterling scope on sale for $429. Hard to beat that deal if you are on a budget.

  5. I like the shorter cartridges .308 and it’s ilk (.243, 7mm-08, etc) of these the .308 is going to be the most ubiquitous. There is always going to be .308 on the shelf (this is also true for 30-06). It’s easy to reload for. It’s powerful enough for anything on this continent. It’ll be cheaper than a lot of other calibers for the same load (ie Rem Core-loks are going to be cheaper in .308 than 25-06, etc). Up here the 7mm mag is very popular, I think it’s overkill.

  6. depending on the state your in and the engagement distance I have had great results with my scoped 336 in 30-30. keep the game to under 150 yards and youre good to go.

  7. The Springfield .30-06 cartridge would require a long action instead of a short action, and ballistic performance at greater distances isn’t nearly as good as the smaller and more efficient .308 Winchester cartridge.

    In fact there is a whole family of rifle cartridges based on the 308 brass. In ascending order of caliber they are:

    243 Winchester (6.1 mm)
    260 Remington (6.5 mm)
    7mm-08 Remington (my favorite)
    308 Winchester (7.8 mm N.B. 7.62 mm = .300 inches)
    338 Federal (8.6 mm)
    358 Winchester (9.1 mm)

    I’ve not shot all of these. No doubt the recoil increases as the caliber increases. I’ve read that the 338 Federal is still under the dotted line of magnum level blast and recoil. The 7mm-08’s accuracy reputedly is excellent at the long ranges of the 308 but with less recoil and better bullet flight due to a longer bullet for a given weight.
    Similarly the 260 Remington is said to be capable of duplicating the trajectory of the .300 Winchester Magnum while generating significantly lower recoil.

  8. No love for the Savage 110 series? My savage 30-06 was my first deer rifle and it is more accurate than I am and tough and inexpensive to boot. For a $500 budget I’d buy a Savage 110 in whatever caliber you want and then get a nice Redfield scope, say the 3-9×40. In .30-06 this is the perfect setup for ma and its capable of dropping any big game animal you’ll find in North America. It would even be a good light Africa rifle if you ever get the urge to go on a safari.

    • The Savage AXIS XP package includes a 3-9×40 scope. In many popular calibers it lists for under $500. I just Googled and found an AXIS XP in 308 for $317 shipped.

    • I’ve been hunting with a Savage 110 in 30-06 with a 3-9 scope for over 30 years & have been quite successful. I’ve shot deer in Wyoming at 400+ yards using the mil-dot sight. Bought both my sons Savage 30-06 rifles when they graduated from high school and both have been successful hunting deer all over northern Minnesota. Its a tough rifle and extremely accurate. Sure a 30-06 has some kick, but you never have to worry about a clean kill like you do with some other smaller calibers.

  9. The Ruger American Rifle. Jeff, over at has his review, but the specs are: 30-06 bolt gun, weighs 6.25 lbs, free-floated 22″ sporter profile barrel, adjustable trigger, 4 round detachable rotary mag, MSRP $445, and Jeff said his worst 3 round group was 1 MOA. Keep in mind that Mr. Quinn’s never met a gun he didn’t like, (or at least never reviewed one) but it still might be something to look into.

    • I agree with you there – I like Jeff and his reviews, but he NEVER finds fault with any gun he tests. Perhaps I’m too finicky, but I rarely find a gun that I absolutely love. Heck, even some of my most favorite guns have something I’d change! Of course, this doesn’t mean that I don’t love those guns for what they are 🙂

      • The unfortunate reality is that professional gun writers are not supposed to find fault in the guns they review. Their job is to promote guns for the manufacturers. If a professional gun writer criticizes the “powers that be” too many times, he will no longer have a job.

        • Jeff at GunBlast is charismatic and he does provide some additional information on gun models. Yet, his site is sponsored with ad revenue from Ruger and others. In gathering information on a model; I go to the manufacturer, GunBlast, and other small blogs that don’t appear to have a money relationship and that do seem to know what they are writing about. Heck, I’ll even go and read reviews written at the larger gun websites.

  10. I’d add that the environment in which you’ll be hunting plays a big role. For a central- or West-Texas trip with lots of wide open places, I guess I’d go with a 30-06, although my old shoulder won’t count that as a “low-recoil” in any of these modern lighter rifles. (I like a heavier gun because of the diminished felt-recoil in a heavier caliber. My favorite being my late fathers’ old Springfield full-military stock 30-06.)

    However, in some heavy East Texas woods, an old “thuddy-thuddy” lever action will get the job done just fine, and be a lot easier to aim around. I still have my old Winchester 30-30 from three decades+ ago, and it still puts a good round down-range at East Texas distances.

    Of course what your state will allow plays a role. But in most Southern states you’ll be ok with either caliber. As for which manufacturer, I’d say it’s much like any other gun – who makes one in your price range that fits your own body? Pull and drop play as much a role in long-guns as in shotguns in being able to aim and shoot the thing comfortably and quickly.

    YMMV, of course.

  11. Weatherby, Mossberg, and Marlin are the three top choices for a cheap hunting rifle? Seriously? Nick likes Weatherby’s, so obviously they will make the list, but the ATR and Marlin, even after giving the disclaimer of “an OK rifle” and “spotty track record”? This is the equivalent of giving three car recommendations, but warning that two of them break down weekly and the door jambs don’t line up!

    I’ve hunted since the day I turned 14 (literally) and grew up poor, so I will give my insight about “cheap” hunting rifles. First, the .30-06 is overkill for whitetail, although I used a .30-06 for every hunt after my 16th birthday (guess what I got on my 16th birthday?). I’ve cleanly taken large buck at almost 150 yards with a .30-30 Marlin with open sights. Dave wants something with moderate recoil, so the .308 recommendation is a great one, although the .243 is also a very useful round on whitetail out to 500 yards.

    Secondly, the “rate of fire” nugget doesn’t apply to 98% of hunters, so any bolt action rifle will suffice. For bear, hog, or coyote, a semi-auto or pump gun may suit you better, although they are far from a necessity. Dave is new to hunting, so the ease-of-use, ease-of-maintenance, and general familiarity with bolt-action rifles make the most sense. I loved my Marlin, but drop it in the snow once and see how fun it is to get all the snow, ice, and water out of all the nooks and crannies.

    I don’t recommend single-shot guns unless they are required by law in your area. Single shots are accurate, but can be cumbersome to operate in cold temperatures. They also have smaller stocks and actions, which makes them lighter and easier to carry, but significantly adds to felt recoil. On that note, I have a .22-250 single shot that has sent dozens of gophers to that big dirt hole in the sky. It is small, light, and was always kept in reach when working at the golf course.

    My recommendations would be:
    1) Savage Axis (MSRP $410 and comes with 3-9x scope)
    2) Remington ADL – I just saw two at Wal-Mart (in .243 and .308) for $397 and they come with scope and sling.
    3) Howa 1500 – great guns and easy to find used… get a .270 and be able to hunt everything but grizzly or moose.
    4) A used Remington 700 BDL, Savage 10/110, or Sako.

    The advantages to getting the ADL or Howa would be if Dave wanted to “build up” his rifle, parts are easily sourced and are some of the cheapest around. The Axis made my number 1 because it is the best “bang for the buck” (talk about a great pun!), although it is nearly impossible to modify as most of the 10/110 parts wont interchange.

  12. Coincidence?
    Ruger just came out today with a new bolt action rifle. It is “The American” rifle and comes in .243, .270, 30-06 and .308 calibers. I don’t know why they named it “The American” as all Ruger rifles are made in America. MSRP is $449 and retail is usually lower than MSRP. Weight is 6.25 lbs or less .

  13. How about a mosin nagant? Deer rifle for under 100$. People put waaaaaaaaaay more thought into what it takes to kola whitetail than is necessary. I would not feel bad with a mosin. Unless of course your one of those guys who try’s to take 500yard shots on deer and gives hunters a bad name.

    Also, I don’t know who told you that 308 is more powerful at long ranges than .30-06 or that it has “soft recoil”. But that person is crazy. .30-06 and .308 use the dame bullets, and -06 has a couple hundred FPS on 308. Therefore -06 will always be slightly more powerful than 308, and that power will transfer downrange just the same for both. .30-06 is notorious for it’s recoil, unless your used to shooting stuff with a 20mm.

    • The problem with the NM is that hunting ammo can be hard to come by, although I know for a fact that many hunters overseas successfully use the NM for all sorts of game…You are also correct – the 06′ has more energy downrange than a .308. At hunting yardages, the .308 has ~10% less energy and ~20% less reoil.There are two reasons that many long-range guys shoot the .308 instead of the 06′. Other than the .308 being adopted by NATO and the international sniping community, the .308 was (is) picked because of better consistency. I recall reading something about the longer casing of the 06′ not lending well to consistent ignition and that the standard deviation of round-to-round velocity (even custom/hand-loaded) is almost double of what a .308 is. Sounds like something I should test…The second reason the .308 is often picked is also tied to velocity. While the 30-06 has more muzzle and downrange velocity, it requires a longer barrel to maximize ignition and its peak pressure-wave. The .308 can get away with shorter barrels (within reason). From the limited quality testing that I’ve seen, the 06 requires a 24″ barrel to get claimed velocities, where the .308 can get away with 22″ or even a 20″ barrel depending on bullet weight. Shorter barrels means lighter guns and typically happier hunters.

      • The shorter action length of the .308 shaves a few ounces, also.

        Facing a similar decision a few years ago, I chose the Ruger M77 Mk. II All-Weather in .308. The rifle itself cost less than $500, but the Leupold scope I installed on it easily broke that budget.

        I love everything about this gun except the trigger (the Hawkeye trigger is MUCH better, so even this is a moot point, nowadays.) But in the heat of the moment, I never seem to notice the trigger while shooting at game – it’s only at the range that you might hear me grumble a bit.

  14. I would go with a savage axis in .270 win cheap and accurate as hell i get .5 moa out of mine not the best for recoil due to its light weight

  15. This is Dave the original questioner here.

    FYI: I’m in Vermont, and can expect to be hunting at all ranges. On the one hand we have 30 miles of huntable wilderness literally out our door, where everything will be close; on the other, I’m walking distance to power lines through the woods, so 300 yards is definitely a possibility.

    These are genuinely helpful comments, I’ll definitely widen my possibilities to include .308s–ammo cost is definitely a consideration, as I expect to be expending a lot of practice rounds next summer.

    I saw that new Ruger, I’ll look for it to turn up at retail.


    • ammo cost is definitely a consideration

      308 may be the least expensive to shoot overall compared to 30-06, 270, 243 et al. due to available of bulk FMJ for practice if nothing else.

      AK-fuel, 7.62×39, is much cheaper still. Unfortunately its modest 30-30 like ballistics combined with the high prices of hunting rifles for it e.g. the Ruger Mini-30, Savage 10FCM scout or CZ-527 make it problematic.

  16. Many great comments here, especially Patrick Carrube’s. One thing that has not been mentioned is the list of requirements by Nick. I sort of agree with weight being a concern, but even that depends on the type of hunting that is being done. Accuracy has far more to do with the shooter than the gun. I am not as accurate as my guns (nor am I as fast as my motorcycle). Shoot, shoot often, and make yourself the focus of the accuracy issue.
    Stopping Power is a bit of a red herring. Almost any well-placed round from a center-fire hunting rifle will bring down a whitetail quickly and humanely. One does not need a 30.06 to take a deer. One quick question: what is wrong with a 20 or 12 gauge shotgun with a slug barrel? Unless you are shooting at game over 100/150 yards, a shotgun is deadly. And you then have a “second” gun that you can use to go fowling.

    • My specific issue with a shotgun is purely from a meat loss point of view. I admit, there are a ton of hunters with shotguns around here, but that’s a big damn hole in my deer.

  17. A quality bolt action in .243 is hard to beat. Mild recoil, great accuracy and reasonable ammunition prices. Practice ammo can be had from Prvi Partizan for $15.99 a box.

    An extremely fine deer round that is worth a look is the 6.5×55 Swede. Midwayusa lists 36 different available loads and Howa chambers it in their quality Model 1500 (which is the Weatherby Vanguard) for a bit over $500.

  18. “ballistic performance at greater distances isn’t nearly as good as the smaller and more efficient .308 Winchester cartridge”

    Nick, I don’t quite follow what you’re meaning here. An ’06 will beat the .308 by around 200 fps with 150, 165 and 180 gr. pills. An extra 200 fps means less wind drift and less drop i.e. better ballistics.

    • There’s kind of a complicated calculation for me to make, isn’t there, between .308 and 30-06? On the one hand, I want to hit what I’m aiming at and put it down fast, arguments for the 30-06. On the other, I’m expecting extensive practice–which means I like the lighter recoil and more affordable .308.

      I’ve looked at all the guns mentioned here, and I’m still leaning toward the Tikka. I stopped in to visit some buddies this morning, all of whom are serious meat hunters. When I mentioned it, there was kind of an “Ooh! That’s a good gun!” moment. They seemed to lean toward the .308.

      Remember–Vermont. Boar are not going to happen, nor am I anticipating going after bear or moose. I want to put maximum meat in the freezer for minimum work.

      Incidentally, this will also be my sheep and pig stunning gun. Right now I have a cop buddy come over with his service pistol…it’s not always pretty.

      • @Dave… can you explain “On the one hand, I want to hit what I’m aiming at and put it down fast, arguments for the 30-06?” for me? The .30-06 and .308 have near identical power levels, especially out of hunting rifles with “short” barrels. At shorter distances (100-200 yards), the .308 (with slightly lower velocity) may actually be less damaging to meat than the .30-06.

        In the parts of Vermont that I’ve been too, I couldn’t image you taking a shot farther than 200 yards, with 300 yards being the absolute longest shot. I think new hunters often mistake how far 300 yards is in the woods. At the range, hitting a 6-8″ steel target at 300-yards is a challenge for most hunters with standard hunting rifles, particularly in common “hunting positions” (i.e. kneeling, tree stands, etc). In the woods, getting a 300-yard line of sight is near impossible, unless you’re a field hunter. Even if that were the case, I doubt you’ll be shooting prone with a bipod and sandbags. You’ll be in a tree or kneeling and hopefully with a shooting-stick or large bipod. Before hunting season, I remind myself how challenging a kneeling 300-yard shot is off of a shooting stick. If you do plan on taking shots at these distances, I would suggest at least a year’s worth of practice before attempting. Don’t forget to wear all of your gear and hunting gloves.

        My first choice would be the .308, but I would seriously consider the .243 as well, since your biggest worry (other than price) is protecting edible meat. At short distances, the .308 may save more meat than a .30-06, but it is still devastating. I took a doe with a .308 with a low shoulder/chest shot and around 90 yards (I peaked over a hill on the way back to the cabin and there were 4 doe just waiting for me). I was using 150-grain Core-Lokt’s and let me just say that the blood spatter looked like something out of a Tarantino movie! She (the doe) was healthy sized and dropped instantly. After gutting/skinning, there was so much bone bits in the front shoulders that my jerky output dropped in half! I should have taken a neck shot, but it was getting dark and none of the doe were broadside to me. I picked the largest doe that presented the best shot b/c sometimes that’s all you get!

        • Well…don’t forget, this is new to me, so I could be completely talking out of my ass here. I can only go on what I’ve learned from Field & Stream and hanging out at the general store.

          300 yards: The power lines are lousy with deer, and if I’m at the treeline on one side, 900 feet is just a slight angle across to the other side. I’d certainly prefer to be closer. If I find I can’t make that shot in practice, I’ll try not to take it in the field.

          I mean, everything is a compromise, right? I suppose the ideal meat-taking gun would be a laser. Non-ballistic–just sight on the heart and cauterize a hole through it. It’s possible I might was just a little more sport than that.

          • Do you plan on hunting in a tree stand? 300 yards is quite difficult from the ground in winter. Even moderately high grass (6-8″ tall) can be problematic, let alone 6-8″ of snow. If you place yourself down wind, you can easily work your way up to the deer for a better shot.

            On a turkey hunting trip, I’ve walked as close as 30-yards to a deer. The rain started coming down heavily and I gave up on turkey hunting. I spotted some deer on the other side of the field and wanted to get a closer look. I simply walked at a moderate pace out to about 100-yards from where they were. Then I crouched down a bit and took my time. I made it to the end of the treeline and the deer where 30 yards away from me in the field. The rain obviously masked my scent and noise. Even though I went home empty, it was one of my favorite hunting memories. It was quite enjoyable to just sit there and watch them interact.

            Of course, during other turkey hunts, I’ve had many deer get within 10 yards (or less) of me. It is amazing to see how a docile, normally unapproachable doe can get insanely protective when her babies are around. I’ve been stomped at, snorted on, and stink-eyed by a half-dozen doe. One time I even slide the safety off and shouldered my 12-gauge. With full camo, a low-blind to cover my legs, and some well placed shrubbery the deer just thought I was a funny smelling tree.

    • A shorter case means powder burns more completely, consistently and efficiently, lower recoil means fewer “pulled” shots, and cheaper ammunition means more practice time on the range. All three factors increase long range accuracy.

      • Dave. With factory ammo, .30-06 and .308 are close enough to be practically the same. .30-06 starts to shine when you reload because of it’s higher case volume, so you can stck more powder in it. But as others have said, the higher case capacity is also a downside to to inconsistency caused by the powder sloshing around in the case.

        As long as you actually practice shooting and build your skills(most hunters don’t), you can take anything in north America with the .308.

        Whitetail can easily be had with a simple .30-30 or 7.62×39 or .300 blackout. Remember they aren’t even as big as some people, so they don’t take a canon to bring home.

        Whatever you go with, have fun!

      • Ok, I see where you’re coming from. The ease of a new shooter gaining good accuracy with a .308 would likely come sooner and cheaper than an ’06. Ballistics however still favor the ’06 even down to a 20″ barrel especially when handloading and a medium burn powder can be used. If a fella has no intention of handloading for a short barreled rifle then the .308 makes all the sense in the world.

        One can’t help but note that U.S. snipers found the 30-06 more than satisfactory through two world wars, Korea and Vietnam. The honored Mr. Hathcock did his best work with it. The current highest scoring U.S. sniper employs a .300 Winchester Magnum and a .338 Lapua, the point being that a dedicated shooter can become proficient with most any caliber.

  19. Been there done that..Savage 110 in 7-08. Lighter gun..good wife n young boys shoot shot kills to 480 yards. Rifle was on sale for 298.00 scold is a Mueller 8x 25 Mildot for 200 bux.I have massive mules and whitetails on the walls for this gun. Kids n wife just love shooting it. Balistically a very very good round

  20. Dave, if you think a 12 guage slug makes a big hole in a deer, you’re in for a rude surprise when you see what a 308 or 30-06 does to the offside of a deer. Expect to lose 2-5 pounds of meat, possibly more if you break both shoulders. The quintessential “clean shot through the lungs” is a rare shot indeed. However, as you describe your hunting environment, a 12 guage is likely to not be the best choice.

    No matter what, recognize this, that every choice will be one of compromise and there is no perfect solution. A 308 will cut a deer in half at woods ranges, (45 yards on average) but will make act very like a 30-30 at 300 yards. There are no perfect solutions in this, only compromises that best suit specific needs.

    After some 35 or so years at this, I’ve come to settle on the AR15 in 223. It kills like a 30-30 but doesn’t destroy both sides of an animal like 308. I’m in Alabama and a woods hunter so this fits my needs perfectly. In other locations, this would be a lousy choice. Were I where you are at I’d look heavily at a 7mm-08 or 260 Remington. Both these offer plenty of juice, are not shoulder pounders and won’t render the front half of your deer into blood pudding.

  21. Marlin 336W has been a great gun for me, either at 20 yards or 200 with the Hornady Lever Revolution round. I have knocked down so many deer with that rifle. I love it!

  22. If you don’t mind buying used your options will broaden quite a bit. There’s a ton of Marlin 336 rifles floating around used that still have a lot of life left in them, and they can be had for dirt cheap.
    You can normally find a bolt action 30-06 from Remington or Savage used for pretty cheap too. I’d probably go for a slightly shorter barrel (20 inches or slightly more) and a polymer stock if weight is a big issue.
    You can generally get a good deal on value Nikon scopes like the Prostaff too. So if you find a used rifle that fits your taste and you top it off with something like a ProStaff you could have a good shooting rifle with optics for well under $500.

  23. Step One: Take a local Hunter Education class. It’s probably required to hunt anyway, and you’ll meet other folks who hunt locally and can give you some hints on how to. Hunter Ed instructors (I are one) are a pretty cool bunch as well.

    If your kids are older than 11 or so take them with you. There will be other teenagers in the class, as that seems to be our primary audience.

  24. I killed a forked horn Blacktail buck last year the morning of Tuesday, October
    4th here in Southern Oregon near the Jackson/Klamath County line. This deer
    was dropped with one shot using my late dad’s .300 Savage: Model 99 EG
    lever action rifle with iron sights. Range about 40 yards. In my opinion the
    .30-06, though certainly perhaps among the most versatile caliber for
    North American big game, is more than necessary for most deer. Though
    not nearly a popular as it deserves to be the venerable, versatile, and historical
    7mm Mauser (7×57) is reputed to be perhaps the finest dual purpose deer/elk
    caliber in existence. The 7mm Mauser was originally developed in 1892 and
    was formerly the military caliber of Spain, Mexico, Central America, and half
    of South American governments (Armies). I still feel the average American
    hunter remains over gunned anyway. Both the .300 Savage and 7mm Mauser
    provide ample killing power for most sensible shooting whether for deer or elk.
    Bullet placement, not caliber, is the key. The advantage to the .30-06 of course
    is ammo is readily available anywhere, unlike the .300 Savage and 7mm Mauser.
    We already have 5 times too many high power rifle calibers than needed. Many
    of these overlap and duplicate one another. An example would be the .270
    Winchester and .280 Remington. These are my sentiments. Others may agree
    or disagree.

  25. I’m right with you on the .308 for deer – load it with a 110gr bullet for the small species & up to 168 or 180 for the bigger ‘uns.
    It’ll push a 150gr bullet at close to .270 or 30-06 speeds, so shots out past 300yds are well within the cartridge’s capabilities, IF the shooter is proficient enough to take longer shots.

  26. Marlin XL7 in 30-06 with 165 grain Nosler Ballistic Tip, Federal Premium. 3/4″ groups with a Tasco 3X9-40. Great trigger, excellent recoil pad. As for wasting meat, don’t shoot the large muscle groups- duh! I’ve used .308 and 30-06 for 30+ years from 15 feet to 300 yards without wasting meat. Chest or neck shots. PRACTICE!

  27. What the hell is a ‘car Jew’?
    My Orthodox friends dont hunt as its not kashrut.
    I am a ‘treif’ Jew as I love hunting.

    • Hah, I originally sent the email to Farago, who I know from my current and his previous car life. The comment just stuck around for the ride.

  28. im glad you didnt say a rem 710 or 720 would make a good first gun they are a piece of junk, coming from a great company like remington

  29. Okay, a few observations about this article I thought I might mention.

    1. Dave mentioned in his question that he was looking for a 30-06 preferably, and wanted a gun that did not kick much. Every shooter is different with regard to recoil tolerance, but most hunters who only shoot a few times a year sighting in and hunting find that the 30-06 is the max recoil they can tolerate. Many won’t admit to that, but it is true. I grew up in the industry with my father running a gunshop since I was 10, and I’m now 34, so I have had opportunities to observe quite a few types of shooters and their responses to different guns. The recommendation of the 308 comes into play here as well. It is typically built on a shorter, lighter action. Combine that with a lightweight, cheap injection molded stock, and it will kick as bad as most 30-06’s will. My point is that for someone wanting a starting hunting rifle, a 30 caliber is not necessary, perhaps even too much gun for simple whitetail hunting. I would suggest something lighter such as a 243 or 25-06. If those aren’t manly enough there is the 270 win, 7mm-08, amongst others, but I would stick with the first too. Both are widely available. Realize you forgot your ammo after you drive several hours to hunt, if there is a Wal-Mart nearby, they will have those. Both are more than enough for whitetail. My most used deer rifle is a 25-06 on an old Husqvarna HVA action. Whitetail don’t require the big guns to bring down.
    2. As far as superior ballistics for the 308 over the ’06, I would disagree. Some factory loads might seem superior since some ’06 loads are kept a little more moderate, but in truth the 308 is little more than a shortened ’06 case. Loaded to the same pressures and with same bullets, there is no doubt that the ’06 is superior. Simple put, more powder behind the same bullet even if a touch less efficient. As far as availability goes, I don’t know of many calibers in this world that are more available from as many companies, in as many combinations as the ’06. The 308 is widely available as well, but the ’06 certainly doesn’t lag behind it in any way.
    3. I would not recommend a lever-action for the first gun over a decent bolt-action. Simply put, levers are not as accurate. I’m not saying that because I dislike them. I have owned several. But simply put, they have too much attached to the barrel to have the same quality of harmonics as bolts do. I know, I know…leverolution ammo and what not, but the harmonic issues caused by the magazine tube are not negated by that. If you must have a non-bolt, I would recommend one of the cheap Remington pumps. The autoloaders are 500 shot guns, but the pumps are much longer lived. They are generally more accurate than lever guns can be. I had an old 760 in 30-06 as a woods gun, and while it looked rough it could hold just over minute of angle. It has been replaced with a newer 7600 in 35 Whelen.
    4. One thing I did not see mentioned (unless I just missed it) was a used gun. I would highly recommend starting with one of those than a cheap new one. If Dave looked around some I am sure he could find a nice used gun of better quality than the new ones. Perhaps even cheaper. There is nothing wrong with older guns. Most of my deer rifles I routinely use are older than I am (my 25-06 HVA – $400, 30-06 Remington Model 30 Express (factory sporterized 1917 Enfield for those that don’t know) $400, 35 Whelen Remington 7600 $350, 8×57 Mauser on a sporterized military 98 $300 into it) and as cheap as any mentioned here plus they are nicer controlled feed guns (aside from the pump gun). To get a good deal requires some research and patience but there are many like that out there.
    5. Almost forgot this. As far as the Tikka goes, I would not recommend it as a first gun. Not because they are bad guns at all. I have been eyeballing a true short action Tikka T3 in 243 at my dad’s shop for a while, and I keep saying I ‘ll buy it if no one else does. My hang-up with them is that they are modern European guns. European makers have a bad habit of changing models or parts, and all replacement parts like magazines (which the T3 has a removable plastic magazine) become unavailable except on the used market of what is already here. Old models such as 98 Mausers have more parts than one can dream of for them since there are so many guns out there. Just some food for thought there.

    As I said just some stuff that caught my attention about the article.

    • @Brion, some counterpoints if I may…

      I agree that the 30-06 is typically more gun than most “weekend” hunters can tolerate effectively and certainly very few will ever admit it. However, saying that the difference in weight of the 30-06 vs the weight of a 308 is sufficent to make the 308 feel like a 30-06 is misleading. Looking up the specs to the Remington 700 SPS, the 30-06 version weighs in at 7.375lbs. The 308 weighs only 0.125 lbs less, or around 2-oz (7.25). Two ounces in a deer gun is the equivalent of 0.2-oz in a handgun… you’ll never notice the weight advantage (or disadvantage).

      On the topic of recoil still, the .270 is far from what I (and most other) hunters would consider “light”. It isn’t far off from the recoil of a 30-06 and is certainly greater than a 308. The following link is helpful for those who aren’t familiar with relative energy levels and recoil velocity –>

    • Brion, very thoughtful. Thanks. You bring to mind an old saying among photographers: “The best camera is the one you use.” Meaning it doesn’t matter how good it is if you don’t like it.

      Used guns are definitely on my radar, but it doesn’t seem like much savings, at all. I do have a potential loaner arranged, which I get the feeling may be a little like a man “loaning” out his wife. The guy who suggested it–really good hunter, good friend–was kind of…weird, about it.

      I never thought about obsolescence. I just kind of assumed it would all last forever.

  30. Savage in .270 replaced the crappy scope with a $150 Nikon still around &500 accurate and light enough to carry all day….you don’t really feel recoil when you have fur in the crosshairs

  31. Savage in .270 replaced the crappy scope with a $150 Nikon still around $500 accurate and light enough to carry all day you don’t really feel recoil when you have fur in the crosshairs

  32. I turned 60 on Nov. 5th. I’ve been shooting centerfire rifles since I turned eight on 1960. I’ve never thought that an .’06 kicked. On the two African Safaris that I’ve been on, with Professional Hunter Soren , I used an .’06 for all antelope, with Eley-Kynoch 220 grn soft points. All kills were with one shot.
    Have Americans gone soft in this manner on top of all else? Sad. Shot placement is everything. If one does not know that, stay home.

  33. The venerable .30-06 is NOT a mild recoiling rifle cartridge and I would not recommend it for a first time hunter or shooter. There are many factors that affect felt or perceived recoil: stock design, stock material, recoil pad or lack there of, weight of rifle when setup for field use ( bi-pod, scoped or iron sights, sling, loaded with ammunition, etc. etc. Whitetail hunting: the ’06 has plenty of power to spare; however the .30-06 is just about an ideal rifle cartridge for the guy looking for a single big-game rifle for all North American game (the 7mm Rem. Mag. and .300 Win Mag. also fit this bill), granted recoil isn’t an issue. Ammunition: abundant supply and selection, in fact it makes the top 10 in sales annually. Range: adequately capable of dispatching game at any range that the average hunter has any business shooting at game. Very, very few hunters are capable of accomplishing extreme range shots and requires expensive precision equipment the average “joe” can’t afford along with tons of practice. I have shot a variety of firearms from revolvers to rifles to shotguns in a variety of calibers and gauges from mild to “thumpers”. Action type: Bolt action… the reasons: safest action type for a first time user, reliability ( fewer moving parts to break with the exception of single shots), easier to clean and inspect bore for obstructions ( always remove bolt and look down the barrel NEVER the muzzle), weighs more than a single shot (which produce stout recoil in comparison to other action types in the same calibers/gauges… fire a magnum turkey load or slug down the barrel of a single shot 12ga or 10ga with a plastic recoil pad wearing just a T-shirt and your teeth will rattle, lol.) I recommend a standard weight rifle of approx. 7 and 1/2 to 8lbs… stay away from “feather-weight” and “ultra-light” firearms in hard recoiling cartridges unless you can handle the recoil without affecting accuracy. Holds more than one round IF a back up shot is needed… do your part and only take shots that are appropriate and ONE is all you will need. Every whitetail I’ve shot has been killed with a single shot; in fact all but one situation required a clean first shot because a 2nd shot wouldn’t have been possible due to dense cover. There is one cartridge that comes to mind that would best fit Dave’s situation. The .243 Winchester… it fits into everything I’ve mentioned above with the exception of being an ideal choice for all North American game. Mild recoil – check, abundant supply/selection of ammo – check, falls into top 10 list – check, capable of taking game at all ranges the average hunter is able to – check, variety of bolt action choices – check. Dave, if you like the Marlin X7 go for it… “Field & Stream” (Dec. 2012-Jan.2013) gives it the “Best of the Test” award for “$500 Rifles” with the Ruger “American” taking the “runner up” spot. “F&S” tested 6 different rifles in this test. I personally would lean towards the Weatherby Vanguard Series 2 or the Howa Hogue M1500, especially if you insist on the .30-06. The additional weight along with the soft recoil pads will help greatly with recoil. My Remington has a plastic recoil pad… it was manufactured prior to them installing the soft pads on that model, so the only thing going for it in that department is weight. And with stout loads such as Hornady’s original “Light Magnum” the rifle scope will “kiss” my eyeglasses on occasion! Stock design means a lot when it comes felt recoil. I once owned a Browning Stainless Stalker chambered in 7mm Rem. Mag. and it was more pleasant in the recoil department than my Remington BDL LSS .30-06. I’ve also owned a Ruger in .300 Win. Mag. and it was unpleasant to shoot, but the scope never “kissed” me either. If you have any friends that own “deer rifles” see if they will let you shoot’em if you buy the ammo and pay the range fees. Actual range time with a variety of calibers will provide you with knowledge and experience that you can gain know other way. Finally, stick with popular, time-tested and proven cartridges… you will be glad you did when it comes to buying ammunition as well as rifles. If your looking for an “economy” rifle because of tight finances, then don’t go out and buy a Weatherby Vanguard Series 2 chambered in a Weatherby cartridge unless you are willing to plunk down big bucks for a box of ammo.

  34. SKS – Super Cheap, Super Reliable, good deer rifles out to at least 100 yards. Cartridge ballistics are basically equiv to a 30-30. Very light recoil, great for a young shooter or smaller person. Super cheap ammo (although I would avoid Milspec ammo for hunting) I have a number of co-workers in N Wis who swear by them (and bring home plenty of deer)

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