Advice on Buying Your First Deer Rifle

One of the things I want to prepare myself and others 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.