Deer Hunting: Buying Guide for Rifles

Guns, Ammo and Accessories: Whats Needed For A Successful Hunt

Choosing the right deer hunting rifle isn't as simple as strolling into Academy Sports + Outdoors, picking up one that looks good and calling it a day. It's a lot more involved than that, and if you intend to become a regular hunter, it's essential that you get the basics right.

The most successful deer hunters base their rifle choice on a combination of the technology necessary for the hunt and personal preference. Use this guide to figure out the best rifle, caliber, ammunition and firearm accessories for your needs. 

Choosing the Right Deer Hunting Rifle: It's About More Than Style

You definitely get bonus points for choosing a great-looking rifle, but there's much more to consider when you're shopping for a gun that brings home the bacon - the venison bacon, that is.

Part of choosing the right rifle involves knowing what you need. You need something powerful enough to kill the game you're hunting and priced within your budget. Ultimately, you want something that's built well, operates smoothly, and is both rugged and reliable.

Since the full selection of hunting rifles at Academy includes a range of firearms designed to fit all three of these requirements, how do you narrow down your choices? You'll want to start by considering a few other factors, including the rifle's range, the type of stock you'll be most comfortable with, and the materials, finishes and coatings you'd prefer.

Range in Deer Hunting Rifles

Every rifle has a different range, which means some may be "too much gun" for a deer hunting excursion - some cartridges can fire up to five miles! A Remington 700 ADL .243 Winchester bolt-action centerfire rifle, for example, has a different max effective range than a Marlin® 336W .30-30 Winchester lever-action centerfire rifle, so it's best to narrow your choices based on the range you need to hunt effectively from your blind before you zero in on the best rifle.

This chart created by The National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) and the Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers' Institute (SAAMI) explains how far bullets from different cartridges can travel under ideal circumstances:

Types of Deer Hunting Rifles

Every hunter will have his or her own preferences when it comes to style, grip and other variables - but before you get to style, you need a firm grasp on the differences between the kinds of rifles that are used for deer hunting. The four major types are bolt-action, lever-action, break-action, and semiautomatic.

Range in Deer Hunting Rifles

Skill level: Beginner, Intermediate, Expert

Bolt-action rifles, like the Mossberg® Patriot Bantum .243 Winchester, are the most commonly used in deer hunting. That's because generally, guns like these allow hunters to mount a scope that increases accuracy and distance - a buck that's 300 meters away isn't as challenging to hit in the right spot if you're peering down the barrel through an amazing scope.

How Bolt-Action Rifles Work

You manually operate this type of gun's bolt by opening and closing the barrel with a handle. The bolt seals a cartridge into the chamber, where it waits until you squeeze the trigger. Squeezing the trigger releases the firing pin and shoots the cartridge toward your target.

You'll have to reload a bolt-action rifle between each shot and then cock it before you can shoot again. That can slow down your response time if you need to make a follow-up shot, which is something to consider if you're new to hunting. The upside is that bolt-action rifles are highly reliable and, sometimes, you only get one shot at BBD, or "big buck down."

Common Bolt-Action Cartridges

Benefits of Bolt-Action Rifles

There are several reasons that bolt-action rifles are the most commonly used in deer hunting. Their manual operation can be more intuitive for novices, and there are youth models and options designed for people with smaller frames. Bolt-action rifles also:

  • Combine easily with optics
  • Support distance shooting
  • Have a variety of available cartridges
  • Offer several styles and easy modifications
  • Almost never misfires

Lever-Action Rifles

Skill level: Intermediate, Expert

Lever-action rifles, such as the Marlin® 336 Compact .30-30 Winchester lever-action rifle, are usually used as "brush guns" in deer hunting - they're ideal for heavily wooded areas and close shots. While you can fit them with optics so you can make humane mid-range kills, lever-action rifles are known for their accuracy with just iron sights.

How Lever-Action Rifles Work

Lever-action rifles use a lever to move cartridges from the magazine into the chamber. That same lever cocks the hammer so you can fire the gun. This type of rifle isn't always best for beginner hunters because the only way to uncock the weapon is to hold the hammer and squeeze the trigger.

Lever-action rifles also use heavier, slower rounds than the other deer hunting rifles covered in this guide. That's why they're best for close-range hunting.

Common Lever-Action Cartridges:

  • .30-30
  • .35 Rem
  • .45-70
  • .444
  • .44 Mag

Benefits of Lever-Action Rifles

Although their rounds may be heavier, lever-action rifles are designed to be light and convenient - but that doesn't make them easier to use than bolt-action or break-action rifles. Lever-action rifles are usually best for intermediate and experienced hunters. Those who do use them appreciate their unique benefits, including:

  • Ease of use when you're on the move
  • Hands can't slip off the bolt handle because you're using a lever
  • Lots of variety in .45-70 rifle cartridges, as well as other cartridges
  • Great for brush shooting and close distances
  • Flat receiver design

Break-Action Rifles

Skill level: Beginner, Intermediate

Break-action rifles, like the CVA Hunter .243 break-action rifle, are flexible weapons. They can use a wide range of cartridges, but they require you to load a round every time you want to fire. Break-action rifles are ideal for youth hunters who don't have much experience, for two reasons:

1- They're usually smaller and lighter than other types of rifles.
2- They can be simpler to load and shoot than other types. 

How Break-Action Rifles Work

Commonly called hinge-action rifles, break-action rifles are typically easy to open and close. You simply push a release lever, hold the stock and push the barrel down to expose the chamber. Once open, you can easily load or unload the rifle.

Break-Action Cartridges

Break-action rifles usually work best with rimmed cartridges.

Benefits of Break-Action Rifles

Break-action rifles are great for inexperienced hunters, people with smaller frames and those who want simplicity when they're on the hunt. Other benefits of break-action rifles include:

  • Easy inspection
  • Easy loading
  • Lightweight design
  • Low recoil

Semiautomatic Rifles

Skill level: Intermediate, Expert

Semiautomatic rifles, such as the Windham Weaponry SRC .308 semiautomatic rifle, can be the perfect choice for intermediate and expert hunters. They're highly compatible with optics for improved accuracy, and you can shoot follow-up shots quickly because they're powered by a gas system. The catch? These rifles aren't legal to use for deer hunting in all jurisdictions.

Check state and local laws surrounding the use of semiautomatic rifles before buying one for deer hunting in your area.

How Semiautomatic Rifles Work

A semiautomatic rifle, which is commonly called an SLR (self-loading rifle), fires a single round each time you squeeze the trigger. You don't have to reload the rifle between shots or re-charge the weapon each time you want to shoot. Instead, a spring-loaded magazine pushes a round into the chamber, and it's ready to fire again immediately.

Common Semiautomatic Rounds

  • .243
  • .270
  • .223
  • .308
  • .30-06

Benefits of Semiautomatic Rifles

People who use semiautomatic rifles typically choose them because of the speed at which you can reload and shoot - the magazine reloads the gun for you, and dropping an empty magazine to replace it with a full one just requires the push of a button - but they have other benefits, too:

  • Great shooting distances with high levels of accuracy
  • Customizable options
  • Adding optics is easy - they typically just attach to the rails
  • Fast rate of fire
  • Often have less recoil than bolt-action rifles

Lining Up Your Shot: Rifle Accessories

While all of the deer hunting rifles you'll find at Academy Sports + Outdoors are ready to go when you are, there are some accessories that can enhance your entire hunting experience.


Having the right scope on your hunting rifle can increase your accuracy exponentially. If you're a winter hunter - or if you regularly hunt at dusk or dawn when visibility is low - you might find thermal scopes incredibly helpful, which can give you a significant advantage on the hunt.


Nothing helps you spot your target like a good pair of binoculars. For long-range hunters, binoculars are a must-have. Depending on your hunting style, you might prefer long-range prism binoculars or 10 x 50 optics. It's worth trying several pairs to settle on the right one - you'll be glad you did.

Laser Range-Finders

A laser range-finder uses a laser beam to determine how far away a certain object is. They're particularly helpful for hunters who need to carefully line up the arc of a shot to ensure a humane kill.


The right apparel can make a huge difference on your hunt. Deer have dichromatic vision, which means they can pick up shades of yellow and blue (less so reds and greens). And they cannot distinguish between subtle shades of the colors they do see. Camouflage is essential to help your body blend in with the animal's natural environment. Check out our Deer Hunting Camo Guide and extensive selection of hunting camouflage.

Scent Protection

The sight of you isn't what usually alerts a deer to your presence - it's your smell. In fact, deer can smell a hunter a mile or more away! Scent protection is an essential component of a successful hunt. While it may help, you don't have to use scents to attract deer. You do, however, need to mask your own scent as much as possible in order not to scare them away in the first place.

Hunting Boots

You're out the door before the sun comes up and you won't come back until it's down. You need comfortable, well-ventilated and (in many cases) water-resistant hunting boots. You can't stay still if your feet ache, and staying still is the key to this game.

If you happen to think about taking off your boots while you're still out hunting, remember the lesson of the previous section: Scent Protection.

Backpacks and Bags

Stash your MREs, water bottles and whatever else you need to bring on the hunt in a camouflage hunting bag or backpack. You need something you can carry comfortably that has enough room for all your gear, like game calls, stools and chairs, and ammunition.


You don't want to stomp through the woods in the dark, tripping on every loose twig and conking your head on every low-hanging branch. You need a high-quality, hunting-compatible flashlight to bring along, which will also come in handy if you're tracking a deer that almost got away.

Ammunition for Deer Hunting

The ammunition you choose depends on the type and size of the rifle you're using. Gun manufacturers typically list compatible ammunition in their rifles' user manuals, and any expert you talk to at Academy or your local firing range can give you additional guidance on what to buy based on your needs.

Ready to Go?

Keep These Pro Tips in Mind

  • Skill level is important when choosing a rifle. Break-actions and bolt-actions are best for beginners, while lever-actions and semiautomatic rifles are best for intermediate hunters and experts.
  • Scopes and other optics can increase your shooting accuracy.
  • Camouflage clothing and a good pair of hunting boots are must-haves on any hunting trip.
  • Don't leave the house without scent protection, because a deer will smell you long before it can see you.

Finding the perfect deer hunting rifle has a lot to do with personal preference. Want some help? Stop by your local Academy Sports + Outdoors. We'll handle the technical end and help you choose a deer hunting rifle that's right for your specific needs and experience. That way, you'll walk out with a gun that you're not only comfortable carrying, but also - and more importantly - one that you're able to shoot.

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