Advice on buying your first deer rifle

This is a blog designed to help men–particularly young men–live a life of Godly masculinity. It is not a “survivalist” blog. It is not a “gun” blog. In the past, I’ve tread lightly around these topics to avoid derailing the conversation. So, while comments are welcome per usual on this post, before commenting please ensure you understand not just the comments policy, but also the purpose of this blog.

Now, one of the things I want to prepare young men for is to support a family. But that doesn’t necessarily mean making a lot of money. Food, shelter, and clothing can often be provided at much lower cost that what most people might think. For example, one very simple way to cut food costs significantly is to hunt. A rather small whitetail with a 110 lb live weight will yield 50 lbs of edible meat, which would cost you $371.25 were you purchasing the same amount of beef bulk. All for the price of a bullet and license–or, if you are willing to become proficient with a bow, for nothing more than the cost of a license.

But, unless you are going to jump straight to bow hunting (we’ll discuss bow hunting in a future post, but for now I’ll assume you are not going to start out with a bow), you need a serviceable hunting rifle. So what is a serviceable hunting rife? If you already have a rifle, how do you know if you need to buy another? (Hint: If you own a centerfire rifle, it’s probably serviceable as a deer rifle.)

A serviceable deer rifle has the following characteristics:
-Is of a caliber legal for deer hunting in your state
-Is capable of firing a projectile slow enough to not destroy large amounts of edible meat
-Is reliable enough that you feel comfortable firing it without worrying about it blowing up

If you have a rifle that has the above characteristics, you have a serviceable deer rifle. This advice is not for you. This advice is for the man that has no serviceable deer rifle and is looking to purchase his first rifle for putting food on the table. So what is that advice?

Buy a muzzleloader.

Why do I recommend this?

Several reasons. Firstly, you can’t beat the price. For less than $200 you can get a well-made inline that will last you for many years and put many deer in the freezer. Secondly, you can get that rifle shipped right to your door because the ATF does not consider muzzleloaders to be “firearms.” This means no paperwork or other hoops to jump through. Thirdly, it allows you to hunt a much greater time window. You can use your muzzleloader during regular gun-deer season, and during a special “muzzleloader only” season.

When choosing your muzzleloader, you have a number of options. These options are often grouped into three large categories: “Modern” muzzleloaders, “traditional” muzzleloaders, and “kit” muzzleloaders. “Modern” muzzleloaders feature such items as synthetic stocks, stainless steel barrels, integrated scope mounts, 209 shotshell primer ignition, and in-line primer loading with break-open or bolt-action designs. How many of these features a particular rifle will have varies from all to one or two–for example, you can buy a rifle with a synthetic stock, stainless steel barrel, and flintlock ignition.

“Traditional” muzzleloaders do not feature such modern improvements. They are generally beautiful weapons, with walnut stocks and brass buttplates and hardware, and feature either #11 percussion, musket cap, or flintlock ignition. “Traditional” muzzleloaders are the best looking of the three categories, are legal for “muzzleloader only” season in all states, and are also the most expensive. I do not recommend purchasing a “traditional” muzzleloader as your first hunting weapon, despite their beauty and traditional aesthetic. You are looking for practicality, and paying more money to not have a rubber buttplate or adjustable sights is not practical.

“Kit” muzzleloaders are a great first hunting weapon, if you are willing to put in the work. These rifles usually look much like “traditional” rifles, but come unassembled and usually feature a few subtle–and valuable–modern improvements such as rubber buttplates and adjustable fiber-optic sights. You have to assemble the weapon yourself, and finish the stock and barrel, which allows you the opportunity to personalize your weapon with hand-checkering, engraving, etc. “Kit” muzzleloaders are generally reasonably priced, and almost all are legal for “muzzleloader only” season in all states. This is my general recommendation to young men–the kits are not at all difficult, the cost is low, and you get a sense of ownership and pride in finishing it yourself. If you need a rifle right away, or you aren’t willing or able to put in the work of assembling your own firearm, then you should look at “modern” muzzleloaders.

“Modern” muzzleloaders generally offer the lowest cost and best value, and are also usually the ugliest. I recommend a “modern” muzzleloader as your first hunting weapon if you do not wish to assemble your own, but you do need to exercise care when buying one. You want to make sure that the muzzleloader you choose meets your state’s requirements for “muzzleloader only” season. For example, 11 states outlaw the use of riflescopes during “muzzleloader only” season. So, while you still might buy a muzzleloader that comes with a scope, and even use the scope during “gun deer” season, you will want to ensure that the rifle you buy is actually iron sight equipped if you live in such a state.

Certain other states prohibit the use of 209 shotshell primers in “muzzleloader only” season.  Be sure to check your state’s laws–if you are in one of these states, you will want to buy a rifle that uses a #11 percussion, musket cap, or flintlock mechanism. Basically, you need to familiarize yourself with what is permitted by your state for “muzzleloader only” season before you go out and buy a modern muzzleloading rifle. However, even in Pennsylvania, notorious for only allowing flintlocks during “muzzleloader only” season, you can get a rifle that features other modern improvements while still being legal

With a decent muzzleloader in your hand, you will be able to put much meat in the freezer for many years at a very low cost. If you choose to, you can even lower that cost further by making your own black powder and casting your own bullets. And while a Marlin 30-30 or a Remington 700 in .308 will put the deer away just as well if you have one already, hunting with a muzzleloader to begin with will make you a more proficient hunter.

9 thoughts on “Advice on buying your first deer rifle

  1. I’d just skip the muzzle loader. It was good for the Revolutionary war because they didn’t have aks and ars. Personally I use 308 and it’s more useful then just deer hunting. It’s a great SHTF round as well. If you want an alternative then just bow hunt. It’s silent and modern compound bows are amazing.

    [MN: (sigh) Did you even read the post?]

  2. Thanks for the article. I was leaning on getting a regular rifle, preferrably a Ruger 77/357 Mag, but a muzzle loader looks very interesting. From just doing a little bit of online searching the LHR Redemption in 50 caliber looks pretty good. The 30-30 and the 308 are not legal for deer hunting where I live.

  3. @Jeff:

    Welcome! Remember this advice is specifically for young guys, just starting a family, without much cash and concerned with hunting for meat rather than sport. If your situation is a bit different, be sure to take that into account too–however, I know several very well-to-do hunters who still choose to use a muzzleloader as their primary hunting weapon. It’s practical and economical, but that’s not the limit of a muzzleloader’s appeal.

  4. Why bother allowing comments if you are just going to dismiss them out of hand. You asked what about muzzleloaders and I think they suck. If your state has shotgun hunting then get a good 12 gauge with slugs. You can swap the barrel and use it for home defense as well. Muzzleloaders suck as a defensive weapon compared to any modern weapon even a good hand gun. If you don’t want to hunt with a gun then use a bow. Modern bows are nothing like ancient bows and are silent and lethal. This is hardly the first time I’ve heard this argument for muzzleloaders and the proponents eventually start sounding like militant vegetarians. It’s your choice but if you want others opinions on the matter then don’t expect everyone to agree with it.

  5. If someone has never hunted, but has grown up around guns and already owns a few, how would you suggest they learn how to hunt? Know of any good guides/tips? Of course, I can just google around, but I’m lazy and it sounds like you already have done stuff like this, so I know you (probably) know what you are talking about.

  6. @ Kidd Cudi:

    My first recommendation is to find an Old Guy(tm) to show you the ropes. If necessary, bribe the Old Guy(tm) with some meat, or by buying him a hunting license. You will pick up some hunting tips, but the real value will be if you learn proper skinning and butchering.

  7. My state allows you to use any legal deer caliber during any season as long as you are hunting private lands. Since we are talking about just starting out with your family, I will assume you do not have private lands to hunt. If you have family, they may have land that you can hunt (if you are among the lucky few). I was able to secure about 200 acres from a friend over a decade ago and hunted it for free until insurance prohibited it last year. This past season I paid over 1k to hunt in a club and hated it – and did not harvest a thing. Public lands are by far the cheapest, but also the hardest to hunt. And you will HAVE to use some kind of muzzle loader because they are by definition not public.

    Another change that many states are seeing is the use of an exposed hammer rifle designed prior to 1908 during any “primitive weapon” season. Essentially a buffalo gun. Usually, these are chambered in 45/70, 444, and 35 whelen. 444 being the most popular (IMHO), but the 45/70 being the least expensive and easiest to find. All of these calibers are loaded with smokeless powder and easy to keep clean. And kick like the proverbial mule.

    I find, and it’s anecdotal at best, that what you save on the muzzle loader rifle you give back in the cleaning. Muzzle loaders need to be cleaned after every shot and I have not found any powder that burns clean enough to change that fact. You cannot simply run a bore-snake through it like a Remington .270 BDL (my choice). I use a mixture of 1/3 peroxide, 1/3 rubbing alcohol and 1/3 Murphy’s Oil Soap to clean my muzzle loader and have never found a better cleaner. Oil it well because rust in the barrel is a constant problem.

    To be honest, I like the balance of my CVA (Connecticut Valley Arms) in-line muzzle loader better than any other I own, and if it was a rifle I was forced to use, I would have no problem, but the cleaning makes it the last of the choices I am allowed in my state.

    As for getting into hunting, find the places in your state that have high deer concentrations. You can do this online in sportsman’s forums (your DNR, or Wildlife, Fish and Game department may have its own forum). Every state has at least one forum and most likely several to chose from. Once you locate the concentrations, locate the state and federal wildlife management areas that allow hunting. Guys at work are also a resource. You can sometimes get invited to hunts at really nice camps if you start asking about hunting, and are willing to sit through hunting stories. If you are a guest at a camp, you can expect guest dues. Usually in the $50 dollar range – though the camp I was in last year allowed guest to hunt for free, but had a $75 dollar fee if you killed a doe and $200 if you killed a buck.

    In the end, getting out and tracking, looking for rubs and scrapes, pinch points, traveling corridors, bedding areas and generally knowing the lay of the land you are hunting ( once missed a doe but knew where she was going and was able to cut her off by hustling to where I knew she would try and cross again), are no substitute for even the most knowledgeable guide. Getting it done on your own steam is more of a reward, even if the meat and the in-frequent trophy stand out more in your mind.

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