Buying a rifle, especially if it’s your first one, is a big deal.
There are so many awesome types of rifles to choose from, so many different calibers to consider.
Overwhelming, right? Don’t worry, everything will start making sense once you factor in a few simple modifiers to your selection process. Here’s what you should know before getting a new rifle.
Any rifle can, in theory, be used in any scenario, be it hunting, home defense, or something else. However, that doesn’t mean it will be the right tool for the job. Your first order of business is to figure out what purpose your new rifle needs to serve?
Hunting is an awesome hobby, especially if you go looking for elk up north. A hunting rifle needs to be light and pack enough heat to drop an animal with one shot if you do your job right. There’s a reason why hunting bolt action rifles feature that slim, often synthetic stock. It’s all about weight. No one wants to lug a 15 lb Gucci AR10 up a mountain for 2 days.
If you’re looking for a hunting rifle, you need to make it light unless you’re doing static hunting and four-wheeling your way up to your stand. In that case, you can use anything you want as long as it’s ethical and legal in your state.
Home defense is a whole different beast. Despite many self-proclaimed firearms experts insisting that shotguns are the way to go for home defense, rifles are still the best choice.
If you’re looking for a home defense gun, your best bet is to get an AR. Whether it’s one of those lower cost AR-15's or an expensive gun from DD and BCM, they will all get the job done. That being said, there are a few things to look for on a home defense AR.
For one, barrel length matters when you’re trying to clear rooms. Just ask the Marine Corps how well those 20” M16A4s handled the tight doorways and narrow hallways of Fallujah. Spoiler alert — not well at all.
For a home defense gun, a 16” barrel is a good starting point, although you can definitely go shorter. Muzzle velocity doesn’t really matter when you’re dealing with intruders standing just 20 feet away.
Calibers are such an awesome subject and one that can be discussed for days. Choosing the right caliber, or more specifically the right cartridge is essential. Again, what you intend to do with the rifle makes all the difference here.
For hunting purposes, gas guns in .223, .308Win and even fast-moving 6mm cartridges such as 6.5Creedmore or 6mm BR will all take care of a deer. Big game requires larger pills. Even though most of the listed cartridges have enough speed, something like a .300 Win Mag still packs more kinetic energy, and that matters.
Home defense is a slightly different story. The cartridge you use for home defense needs to reliably stop any threat, but it also needs to reduce the risk of over-penetration.
Using a heavy round, like a .308 or a 7.62x39, will get the job done, but you’re running a very real risk of sending a round through 3 sets of walls and potentially harming an innocent person — family or otherwise.
Going with a .223 or 5.56 (they are similar, but not the same), is a happy medium between kinetic energy on target and reduced over-penetration. Your average .223 will actually punch through fewer walls than a 9mm round fired from a handgun. That has been confirmed many times.
AR15 is the LEGO of the gun world. There’s no doubt about that. However, building an AR, at least one that works flawlessly, isn’t as easy as it sounds. If you’re getting your first rifle, and you need it to punch holes on demand, do yourself a favor and get a premade, quality gun from a trusted brand.
On the other hand, if you’re on your second or third rifle, why not play with different bolt carrier groups, maybe even take on a piston build? After all, with M27 IARs reaching the Corps, the DI gang is slowly opening their eyes to alternative ways of moving the bolt carrier.
If you’ve stuck around with us this far, you’ve probably starting to realize that there’s a lot to choosing a rifle. Put your needs and wants on a piece of paper, throw in your budget and see what comes out the other end. That’s the only way to find a rifle that you’ll be happy with.