Skip to main content

Taking Aim at Deer Hunting Rifles

Racks of rifle choices offer something for every hunter

Taking Aim at Deer Hunting Rifles
Louis Janski stands behind the counter at Fort Thompson Sporting Goods. (Mike Suchan photo)

Put a whitetail deer hunter in a gun store and it’s similar to placing a debutant in a jewelry shop, the proverbial kid in a candy store. All those rows of deer hunting rifles, stacks of scopes and assorted accessories, where’s a whitetail freak supposed to start?

So imagine how an inexperienced or new hunter feels. Which caliber is best? Semi-automatic, lever action or bolt action? Long barrel or short? And what’s the difference in all those scopes? They all look the same.Luckily for today’s new hunters, the quality and craftsmanship provided by today’s gun makers is pretty much top notch across the industry.

Louis Janski is the general manager of Fort Thompson Sporting Goods in Sherwood, Ark., one of the region’s most respected and successful dealers in guns and hunting products. Janski says even hunters restricted by a budget can get quality equipment to take into the deer woods.

“Now days, you can spend 300 bucks on a gun and 300 on a scope and have a good setup,” he said. “The first thing I ask people is what their budget is and what they can spend. Then you try to get them in there with their budget with as good of stuff as you can. You don’t have to have a $1,000 gun and a $1,000 scope to go kill a deer.

“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. It depends on what they want to shoot. I don’t really try to steer them away from anything. I just try to see what their select caliber is and try to put them on the right gun, the right ammunition and a good scope.”

Here are four things for a new hunter – or any hunter, for that matter – to consider when purchasing a new deer rifle.

It all starts with the caliber

Everyone has their favorite caliber, and that is usually dictated by surroundings and terrain. What works great in a Mississippi pine thicket is useless on a Montana prairie and vice versa.

“First I ask them what kind of area they’re going to be hunting, if they’re hunting open stuff or hunting timber,” Janski said. “I ask them what kind of caliber they’ve shot or what they’re interested in.”

Some hunters, he added, are just ready to try something different, whether they need to or not.

“You’ve got a lot of guys who come in and say, ‘I’ve got a buddy who shots a 7 Mag.’ They come in and that’s what they’re wanting,” Janski said. “I always try to ask them if they’ve ever shot a magnum gun or anything.

“If it’s an older guy, I always ask them if they’ve ever had any kind of shoulder surgery or heart surgery or anything like that, just to see if they can handle a particular caliber. I just want to make sure they know what they’re getting.”

Some hunters like the smaller calibers that fling bullets at breakneck speeds. Still others are drawn to the larger calibers, which have heavier bullets and create larger wounds.


“Someone will come who’s been shooting a .270 for years and they want to switch to something that’s a little flatter and faster,” Janski said. “You can turn them onto a 7 Mag or a .270 WSM or even a .300 WSM, which are good, flat-shooting calibers.”

Deer rifles, it seems, tend to be a lot like breakfast cereals or beer: everyone has their favorite flavor.

The myth in the brush

One of the most discussed subjects among deer hunters is heavy cover and which rifle performs best within it. Everyone has their tried and true calibers that they swear by.

But, according to Janski, the discussion is a pretty simple one, actually.

“As far as I’m concerned, there’s no such thing as a brush buster,” he said. “If you hit a twig with something, I don’t care what it is, it’s going to deflect your bullet.”

In cover, Janski said he typically hunts with a .308, but he also recommends a .30-06. Still, he said, even those are limited and no special ammunition will help.

“A lot of people think a round-nosed bullet will shoot through anything, but that just don’t happen,” he said. “You have to tell people that, even though that’s what they’ve heard for years. That’s just one of the things you have to school them on a little bit. Once it hits brush, nothing is going to fly like it’s supposed to.”

On the subject of barrel length

Each hunter has his or her comfort zone when it comes to barrel length, but here are a couple thoughts.

A shorter barrel is more maneuverable, allowing for a quicker shot at a streaking deer in heavy cover. A short barrel is also lighter, which helps in rugged and steep country.

However, there is a loss of stability and bullet velocity with the short barrel. A lighter rifle can be more difficult to hold steady, and velocity lost can be more than 50 feet per second for each inch of barrel removed. Lack of velocity is not a problem with a 26-inch barrel, but a snap aim could be a problem.

For most, a 22-inch barrel is a more than adequate compromise.

Scoping out scopes

As important as picking out the correct rifle is, scope selection is even more key.

“I tell guys if you’ve got a budget, get a cheap rifle – they all shoot good – just get good glass on it,” Janski said.

“Nobody shoots open sights anymore. Any gun on the market now days will shoot accurate, it’s just getting the right glass on top of it.”

And, Janski said, finding quality scopes is not as difficult as it once was.

“Now days, the $100 scopes out there are better than what the $250-$300 scopes were 20 years ago,” he said. “When I started 23-24 years ago, the guys who had the money bought the Leupolds and the Redfields. But there are some Bushnells now that have as good of optics as what those old scopes did.

“I’m not much on cheap scopes, but the cheap ones are a whole lot better than they used to be.”

Go to 2013 Deer Camp

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

Recent Videos

Sometimes you have to fish a bait that allows you to cover a lot of water efficiently. When you're on the search for bass that have moved into deeper water off the bank and away from obvious holding spots, a swimbait can locate them.

On the Search with Swimbaits

One of the best imitations of a wounded baitfish is the soft-plastic jerkbait, or fluke. A fluke darting just beneath the surface can be too much for a bass to resist. Rig it and fish it according to water conditions and cover to make this great bait even more effective.

Fun with Flukes

There are three models in SPRO's Outsider crankbait series: 55 (runs 3-4 feet), 60 (7-9) and 80 (19-21). Professional bass angler Jonathan Kelley goes over the specifics at ICAST 2022 in Orlando.

SPRO's New Outsider Crankbait Series: First Look

Professional bass angler Jonathan Kelley highlights the features of SPRO's new lures at ICAST 2022 in Orlando.

New Essential Series Spinnerbaits and Buzzbaits from SPRO

Syd Ribes with Sea Falcon highlights four new lures for saltwater fishing. At ICAST 2022 in Orlando.

New Lineup of Lures from Sea Falcon

Syd Ribes highlights two new saltwater lures from SPRO: Flutter Tail Shrimp and Cannon Ball Jig. At ICAST 2022 in Orlando.

New Saltwater Lures from SPRO

AFTCO's Matt Florentino highlights the features of the new Barricade cold-weather suit, a Best of Category winner at ICAST 2022 in Orlando. With Game & Fish's Adam Heggenstaller.

New from AFTCO: Barricade Cold Weather Tactical Gear

Three-time ICAST Best of Category winner Bubba covers it all with new knives set. With Bubba's Matt Kinamore and Game & Fish's  Adam Heggenstaller at ICAST 2022 in Orlando.

4-in-1 Bubba Multi Flex Cutlery Kit

The innovative landing net will weigh and measure your catch while it's still in the net. Best of Category winner at ICAST 2022. With Game & Fish's Adam Heggenstaller.

Award-Winning Frabill Witness Net 'Keeps You Honest'

Game & Fish Magazine Covers Print and Tablet Versions

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!


Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services


Buy Digital Single Issues

Magazine App Logo

Don't miss an issue.
Buy single digital issue for your phone or tablet.

Buy Single Digital Issue on the Game & Fish App

Other Magazines

See All Other Magazines

Special Interest Magazines

See All Special Interest Magazines

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Get the top Game & Fish stories delivered right to your inbox every week.

Phone Icon

Get Digital Access.

All Game & Fish subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now

Enjoying What You're Reading?

Get a Full Year
of Guns & Ammo
& Digital Access.

Offer only for new subscribers.

Subscribe Now