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How To Choose the Best Rifle for Beginner Target Shooting

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Everyone is different, so choosing “the best” beginner target rifle is a matter of finding what’s best for you. Choosing an accurate, bolt-action rifle that’s comfortable to handle will help you build the fundamentals needed for this discipline. Don’t be hasty, make friends, and enjoy the journey.

In this article, I’ll discuss what makes a good beginner rifle, some tips for selection, and common pitfalls that you should avoid. 

What Makes a Good Rifle for Beginners?

A good rifle for beginners is comfortable, balanced, reliable, and durable. It should fit in your arms comfortably and be the perfect size, weight, and length. Ultimately, you want a rifle that is comfortable and intuitive for you to use. 

What to Look for in a Rifle for Beginners?

Man Aims a Rifle at Gun Counter in a Shop

When shopping a rifle for beginners, you should look for the perfect fit, first and foremost. You should also look for accuracy, price, quality, and bolt action. Last but not least, look for decent accessories.

Look for the Perfect Fit

Everyone is different, so the dimensions of a rifle may work for one person and not another. Look for a rifle that sits comfortably in your hands and is a pleasant weight. Lighter models will mean that you’ll have to handle harder recoil, but make sure that it’s not too heavy for you. 

Some rifles may be more barrel-heavy, which is a struggle to aim with. Ensure that your rifle is balanced before purchasing it. 

Look for Accuracy

Accuracy is one of the primary things to look for when buying your first rifle. You’ll want something reliable. Luckily, there’s a measurable term for this: minutes of angle (MOA).

MOA refers to how off your shot is from where you aimed it. If you’re sitting at 100 yards and your shot is one inch off the bullseye (and you know you aimed properly), then your rifle has one MOA. Two inches off at 200 yards is also one MOA. If you’re shooting three inches off at 100 yards, then you’ve got three MOA.  

If your rifle is sub-MOA, which means that your shots are within one inch at 100 yards, your rifle is considered accurate. 

For a more detailed explanation, watch this video from Copper Jacket TV:

Look for Price

Rifle prices can easily skyrocket, but I wouldn’t recommend spending more than $1,000 on your first rifle and scope

Beginner rifles are meant to be a baby step, so you’re probably going to move on from your beginner rifle once you become more proficient. That’s why staying under a budget will help you save for something better later. 

Look for Quality

Even though you’re looking for something that won’t break the bank as much, it’s still important to get your money’s worth. 

Look for a stock that’s made of laminated wood or synthetics because they are a lot more durable and water-resistant than wooden stocks. 

In addition to durability, you’ll want a clean-breaking, light trigger, and a rifle that’s reliable with ten-round magazines. 

You should also consider maintenance. As a beginner, you might not think about being able to maintain your rifle easily, but having a simple mechanism will help you leaps and bounds. 

Look for Bolt Action

The manual nature of a bolt action, as opposed to a semi-automatic, is actually more accurate. They are also very safe for beginners. 

Deemed tried-and-true by the U.S. Army and U.S. Marine Corps, the M24 and the M40 are excellent examples of bolt action rifles. 

Look for Decent Accessories

The primary accessory you’ll be looking for is your scope, which can easily cost more than your rifle itself. I recommend getting the best one you can afford or going with a 1:1 price ratio between your rifle and your scope. Alternatively, go old school and go for a gun with iron sights. 

Ensure that you don’t overdo the magnification because it distorts the image, and ensure that your scope has adequate eye relief. If you’re shooting at over 500 yards, a 10x scope should be sufficient. For shorter distances such as 100-200 yards, go for 4x or 6x. 

In addition to your scope, you’ll want to get some scope rings to mount to your rifle. For beginners, consider opting for a one-ring option instead of a two-ring option because it’s less of a hassle to line them up. 

You should also consider purchasing a set of maintenance tools to take care of your rifle properly in the long run. 

What Are Common Pitfalls When Choosing a Rifle?

Gunsmith performing checkout of rifle in weapons workshop

Common pitfalls beginners experience when choosing a rifle often occur by being overly excited. Many are too hasty in their decision and tend to get too complicated. Other common pitfalls include failure to receive supervised training and lack of practice

Choosing your first rifle can be pretty daunting, especially if you have no prior experience in target shooting. But take a deep breath because you don’t have to go through it alone. Here are some tips:

Don’t Be Hasty

Finding the right rifle for you will take a good amount of time, so don’t be hasty. It’s exciting to buy the first gun you try, but you might regret it later.

Especially for beginners, it’ll take a while for you to learn what you like, what you don’t, and what you can handle. If possible, get help and advice from someone more advanced than you, and be sure to ask plenty of questions.

Keep Things Simple

When you’re just starting out, it’s best to keep things simple. 

Accessories are great to have, but you don’t necessarily need them. Simple equipment will help you build reliable skills, good habits, and muscle memory, which will serve you well later on when you upgrade. 

If you’re all wound up in the bells and whistles, you might be too distracted to learn proper technique, so don’t feel pressured into buying anything you don’t need. 

Here are some extras that are nice but aren’t necessary:

  • Adaptable bipod
  • Lightweight shooting bags
  • Atmospheric pressure reading device
  • Tripod
  • Ballistics calculator app

Enroll in Supervised Training

Enrolling in a training or gun-safety course is a great opportunity to try new rifles. 

Some training sessions are bring-your-own-firearm, but some allow you to choose from a selection on-hand. With an instructor’s guidance, you’ll find the right rifle for you a whole lot faster. Ask your local range to see what classes they offer.

It’s also extremely difficult—if not impossible—to learn proper technique by yourself. Whenever you’re learning a new discipline, especially long-range target shooting, it’s best to get supervised training and practice from experts who know what they’re doing.

Taking a class will help you avoid bad habits, build community, and learn proper safety guidelines, techniques, and equipment maintenance. 

Practice, Practice, Practice

Once you’ve found the best beginner rifle for you, don’t forget to practice! Shooting rifles is different enough from handguns that you’ll want to take the time to adapt. 

Don’t be afraid to stay closer to the target when you’re first starting out. Any mistakes you make will be amplified the farther you are from the target, so don’t bite off more than you can chew. Instead, gradually increase your yardage as you gain skill.

Dry Firing for Practice

Dry-firing, or practicing technique without bullets, is a great way to gain experience without spending ammo. But before you start, make sure that your rifle is completely empty to avoid mishaps. 

Most rifles are centerfire, which means that the firing pin hits the center of the bullet, so if you own one, it’s completely safe to dry-fire your rifle. 

If your rifle isn’t centerfire, I would strongly advise that you do not dry-fire your rifle. For example, if you dry-fire a rimfire, your firing pin will cause permanent damage to the inside of your chamber, which can cause failures to extract and feeding issues. 

However, more modern rimfires have a built-in firing pin stop, which will protect your chamber. If your rimfire has a firing pin stop, you’ll be able to dry-fire without causing damage.

Two men practicing at a shooting range

My Beginner Rifle Recommendations

There are many great beginner rifle options out there, but I recommend the Remington 700 SPS Tactical or the Ruger American .22LR Bolt Action. 

To make the task of choosing your first beginner rifle a little less daunting, here are some great options to start with:

Remington 700 SPS Tactical 

With the Remington 700, you’ll have no problem building good habits. The recoil is easy to manage, and the ammunition is inexpensive and easy to find. This rifle doesn’t have any frills, but it’s a great beginner rifle to start on.

Remington 700
ProsCons
Softer recoilNo frills
Inexpensive ammo
Accurate
Reliable
See current prices at guns.com

Ruger American .22LR Bolt Action Rifle

This well-made, bolt-action rife is perfect for beginners and inexpensive, too! It’s accurate, weighs around six pounds, and has a free-floating barrel which increases accuracy. Complete with a firing pin stop for dry-fire, you can’t go wrong with this rimfire. 

Ruger American
ProsCons
Great triggerNot perfect
Free-floating barrel
Inexpensive
Accurate
Easy maintenance
See current prices at Palmetto State Armory

Bergara BMR .22LR Bolt Action Rifle

The Bergara BMR is another great beginner rifle. Known for its reliability and quality, it’s not too heavy at five and a half pounds and is great for the field or range. It’s got a 10-round magazine, too.

Bergara BMR
ProsCons
AccurateCarbon barrel is lighter than steel, but it may hurt accuracy
Reliable
5.50 lbs.
10-round magazine
See current prices at Palmetto State Armory

Tikka T3X Lite

The Tikka T3 Lite is accurate out-of-the-box, well-made, and fairly light. It’s got a great adjustable trigger, and it has a detachable magazine. It’s made of plastic, so the synthetic feel of it might turn some people off, but if you don’t mind it, it’s a great beginner’s rifle. 

Tikka T3x Lite
ProsCons
AccuratePlastic Feel 
ReliableHard Factory Recoil Pads
LightExpensive Mags
See current prices at guns.com

Final Thoughts

In the end, enjoy the process. Don’t put yourself under too much pressure to choose something right away or break the bank purchasing frills. 

If you bite off more than you can chew, you’ll make things a whole lot harder than they need to be. Make friends, ask questions, and best of luck on your journey.

For more, check out How To Choose the Best Rifle for Target Shooting.

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