Newbie question solved : What to buy for your first gun?


Portrait of a happy gun shop owner
Your first firearm could be a make or break factor for you to appreciate guns. By getting a perfect first buy, you’ll be enthused to pack your stuffs, go to the range or the woods and hone your skills.

On the other hand, acquiring a wrong gun could mean high ammo cost, high recoil leading to bad fundamental and getting bored of the sport.

Fortunately buying a suitable gun is not a difficult feat, as long as you know what to look for.

This guide is made for people who has never shot a gun before, or had shot a gun but on very rare occasions.

Ideal characteristic of your first gun

For a newbie, your first gun should be:

  • Able to give you a healthy amount of practice
  • Light on recoil
  • Reliable, Simple to operate, Easy to clean and maintain
  • Low on price, both in terms of firearm and ammunition
  • Ammo easily available
  • A rifle? A handgun? Or a shotgun? : .22 bolt action rifle is the best for starting out
  • Action type : Suggest bolt action
  • Weight and size
  • Buy popular brands for reselling value

Additional tips

  • Test by renting guns at the range before you buy
  • If you’re a lefty, find out if there is a left handed version
  • Don’t buy used guns

Recommended firearms for beginners

.22 bolt action rifle

  • Savage Mark II G Bolt-Action Rimfire Rifle
  • Marlin XT-22 Bolt-Action Rimfire Rifle
  • Marlin XT-22R Bolt-Action Rimfire Rifle with Synthetic Stock
  • Ruger American Rimfire Standard Bolt-Action Rifle

.22 Semi automatic rifle

  • Ruger 10/22 Carbine Semi-Auto Rimfire Rifle
  • Mossberg Blaze Semi-Auto Rimfire Rifle

.22 handguns

  • Walther P22® Series Semiautomatic Rimfire Pistols

.410 Shotguns

  • Mossberg .410 590 Shockwave

20 gauge Shotguns

  • Remington Model 870 Express Pump-Action Shotgun

Able to give you a healthy amount of practice

To become an expert marksman, one of the key factor is the amount of practice you put into shooting.

Location

One of the thing you need to determine is where you will practice. Some shooting ranges allow only handguns while some are dedicated to shotguns only. So, check out the availability of shooting ranges near you.

In an extreme case, your nearest rifle or shotgun range could be more than 40 miles away, rendering your trip to the range time consuming. Furthermore shotgun ranges are generally more expensive than handgun and rifle shooting ranges.

My favorite tool to check nearby shooting ranges is https://www.wheretoshoot.org/. This free tool by NSSF (National Shooting Sports Foundation) gives you Location, Contact information, Facility details and Services.

After making sure that there are shooting ranges nearby, choose your gun accordingly so that you can practice often.

This is a non-issue if you can shoot in the woods or your own outdoor places. (If you do that, make sure you followed the safety rule of knowing what’s behind your target.)

 

Light on recoil

According to Newton’s third law, “Action = Reaction”, the stronger your gun shoots, the stronger the recoil.

Felt recoil is how much kick do you actually feel. It is a combination between caliber, gun weight and gun design. If every other thing is equal :

  • Caliber – A bigger caliber gives higher recoil.
  • Gun weight – A heavier firearm absorbs more recoil, thus giving less felt recoil.
  • Gun design – Some gun designs absorb more recoil than others.

The idea of accurate shots is not to flinch at recoil. However, by taking too strong kicks early on, your body might instinctively develop a flinch to brace for recoil, thus messing your point of aim.

My childhood friend Carter Wilson didn’t know this fact and started shooting with his uncle’s 12 gauge browning when he was 11. He enjoyed shooting and hunting, but he was never a good shot. Whenever we go to the range, he’d always performed below average. It’s not until he discovered that he had instinctive flinch and worked hard to get rid of it that he became a better shooter.

This recoil thing is a hard-to-solve problem even for many long time shooters. Using high-tech digital tool like the MantisX to track gun movement while shooting reveals that many long-time shooters do have flinching problem.

Since human is a creature of habit, these things tend to be very hard to change once the habit kicked in. So it’s best to prevent flinching from happening in the first place.

You can prevent this recoil flinch by firmly building your fundamental with low recoil rounds. .22 LR is recommended. Airgun is also a possible choice.

Note that you also need to train with high recoil rounds. But that comes after the fundamental.

Looking for a scope for your AR-15? See Best AR15 Scope.

 

Reliable, Simple to operate, Easy to clean and maintain

Reliability – When you start learning to shoot, you want as minimal hassle as possible. Dealing with ammo jam, failure to eject, loose bedding screw or the like are just another fact of shooting. But you want to postpone that to a later time.

Also, you’ll want a gun with decent accuracy. Suppose you practice using a gun with lower accuracy, such as an AK, you wouldn’t know whether it’s because of the gun or your shooting skills when your shot group gets bigger.

Simple to operate – Similar concept to reliability, we want to keep things simple for beginners. Take a Derringer for instance, it’s reloading process is different to the point that if you treat it like normal handguns, you risk shooting your fingers out.

Easy to clean and maintain – Another big part of shooting is taking care of your firearm. This habit should be planted early on and the best way to do that is to start with your first gun. Make sure that your first gun is easy to clean and maintain. If possible, you should also learn how to take apart your firearm by asking the seller or consulting a manual.

 

Low on price, both in terms of firearm and ammunition

For your first practice firearm, you shouldn’t need to invest a huge sum of your savings into it. A .22 rimfire rifle will do just fine.

Just like any skills, you’d have to devote your time and energy to become good at it. The amount of time you need to spend differs from people to people. Some say they take 1,000 shots to become sufficiently good. While others might take more than 2,000 shots. Of course this is an arbitrary number, and we haven’t define “sufficiently good” yet.

According to Jerry Miculek’s facebook page, one of the world’s many records holder, he has shot 1.5 million rounds of ammunition, which equals approximately to 20 tons of lead.

What happens when your ammo price is high?

A breakdown of ammo costs if you’re going to shoot 2,000 rounds.

Caliber Price per round Price per 2,000 rounds
.308 Winchester $0.35 $700
.223 Rem 55 Grain FMJ $0.2 $400
9mm Luger 115 Grain FMJ $0.15 $300
Federal 22LR 40 Grain $0.038 $76

As you can see, .22 is one of the cheapest rounds around. You can spend just $80 for that 2,000 shots. It certainly is not powerful as other rounds. But destroying power is not our goal in the first place.

If you’re interested in shooting long range but don’t have a long range scope, see Best Long Range Scope and Long Range Scope on a Budget.

 

Ammo easily available

Choose ammunition type which you can easily find in your area.

.22LR used to be harder to find during Obama’s administration. Funny to think about it, but the reason for ammo shortage was not Obama’s policy. It was caused by the concerns that Obama administration will try to restrict the purchase of firearms and ammunition.

I heard of a guy who stock up more than 100,000 rounds of .22LR during the period. Not sure whether the guy was trying to make a profit speculating on .22LR price.

Either way, now .22LR is easy to find. If you’re taking my advice of .22 rimfire rifle, then you’re good to go. If not, make sure that your ammo is easily available. Don’t pick not so popular rounds like 8mm, .263 Express or something of the sort.

 

A rifle? A handgun? Or a shotgun? – .22 bolt action rifle is the best for starting out

Now that you know the general criteria, let’s further choose what type of firearm you should buy.

Even though there are a lot of fine marksmen whose first guns are handguns and shotguns, I’ll make my case as to why .22 bolt action rifle is the best choice for you.

*Note that if it’s not convenient to practice with a rifle in your area, don’t pick .22 bolt action rifle.

Let’s go over the pros/cons of each type of firearm in terms of your first gun.

Rifle

.22 rimfire rifle is one of the best choice for beginners as it is easy to aim with practically no recoil. It is also very affordable in terms of both firearm and ammo.

Pros

  • With .22 LR , the recoil can be very mild
  • .22 LR cartridge is one of the cheapest out there in the market.
  • .22 Rimfire rifles are not expensive.
  • Your shoulder is used to stabilise your rifle, improving accuracy.
  • Long sight radius (distance between front sight and rear sight), thus improving accuracy.

Cons

  • Shooting ranges that allow rifles are a bit rarer than handguns’.
  • Fees for shooting range are sometimes higher than handguns’.

Handguns

Handguns are the hardest to train with, due to shorter sight radius and shooting stances with no shoulder support. The good point is that handguns shooting ranges are easy to find.

Pros

  • Lots of handgun ranges, making it easy for you to practice.
  • Handguns are lightweight, compact and perfect for carrying.
  • Can use .22 ammo, which is very cheap and has very low recoil.

Cons

  • Shorter sight radius, making precision aim harder.
  • Handgun shooting stances have no shoulder support, making precision aim harder.
  • Age restriction higher and more paperwork compared to rifles and shotguns.
  • Handguns are rather expensive.

Shotguns

Ok, so many people are going to disagree with me on this. I don’t really recommend shotguns as your first gun. Please note that many people use shotguns as their first gun successfully. For first time buyers, you should avoid the normal 12 gauge shotguns due to high recoil and blasts. That leaves 20 gauge and .410 bore shotgun. However these ammo are not as easy to find nor as cheap as .22 ammo.

Pros

  • Can shoot at moving targets at skeet and trap range, which is going to be more fun and challenging.
  • Shotguns are not expensive.

Cons

  • 12 gauge shotguns, which are the most common, have higher recoil and blasts.
  • Low recoil option of .410 and 20 gauge are possible but they’re not as cheap 12 gauge shotguns
  • Practice range are a bit harder to find compared to handguns.
  • Practice range fees are higher than handgun and rifle fees.

Using purpose to help determine

The purpose of your gun can help you decide what gun you should buy. You can use an easy rule of thumb like this.

Purpose Types of most suitable firearms
Home Defense Shotguns, Handguns
Hunting Rifles, Shotguns
Target shooting Handguns, Rifles, Shotguns
Carry Handguns
Concealed Carry Small handguns
Beginner’s Training .22 Rifle, .22 handgun

Home defense – Rifles tend to be too powerful and you run the risk of bullets penetrating walls and hit your family/neighbours. Also rifles are not as easy to carry around in tight space.

However, a .22 semi-automatic rimfire rifle is ok for home defense if you don’t run into armored burglars. A study has shown that .22 cartridge is lethal enough for most home defense. The bullet will penetrate into human body and ricocheted inside causing serious injury. Read more details of this at Graywolfsurvival and Buckeye Firearms Association.

Hunting – For hunting, your gun will mostly be determined by what kind of game you hunt. Handguns tend to be too low-powered for most hunting.

Target shooting – Target shooting is highly dependant on what kind of target and distance you shoot.

Carry & Concealed carry – Handguns are the best choice for carrying. Smaller and more compact handguns are nice for concealed carry.

For a total beginner

If you’re a total beginner, take a .22 bolt action rifle. However if your nearby shooting ranges do not allow rifles and you have no open space to shoot, take a .22 handgun instead.

Just as a point of reference, let’s look at what various famous shooters have for their first gun.

Famous shooters and their first guns

Check out what these famous people used as their first practice guns.

As you can see, rifles dominate this list. Thus, a .22 bolt action rifle would certainly be a good choice for you.

 

Action type : Suggest bolt action

For rifles, there are many types of action to choose from, such as :

  • Bolt action
bolt action
Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license., Author : Meniscus at English Wikipedia, Subject to disclaimers.
  • Semi automatic

Semiautomatic M1 Garand

  • Lever action

Lever action-Spencer_Carbine

  • Pump action

pump action Remington_760

  • Break action
break action shotgun
A break action shotgun, Author : Commander Zulu at English Wikipedia.
  • And more

I’d personally suggest a bolt action for your first gun. Bolt action rifles are easy to operate and reliable. You can easily check if the rifle is loaded or not, and they’re also popular, making them easy when you want to sell.

That said, every other action is fine if you preferred others. The differences are not critical. If shooting pump action gives you the thrill, then just do it.

Note that if you choose the semi auto ones, you should practice by loading just 1 cartridge at a time until your proficiency improves. This is to both train the reloading process and to prevent accidental discharge.

Looking for a great hunting scope? See Best Hunting Scope and Best .308 Scope.

 

Weight and size

As dictated by the laws of physics, with the same caliber, a lighter firearm absorbs less recoil energy, thus it would kick more compared to a heavy firearm.

For .22, recoil is very mild and you can get away with lightweight rifles.

For other calibers, however, recoil absorption and your activity comes into play. The higher recoil the heavier firearm you’d like and vice versa.

For example a concealed carry handgun, which is smaller, would kick more and would be harder to control than a full size handgun.

Your activity is another thing to consider. Do you carry your firearm a lot? Do you hunt in a hilly terrain on foot or hunt by waiting in a stand? Do you shoot prone or standing?, etc. The more you walk or travel, the more you’d prefer lighter firearms.

Size

Many firearms have second-market parts to adjust for various users size, like a thicker grip, an adjustable buttstock or higher cheek weld. But as a beginner, you’d want things to be as simple as it can. Thus you want an out-of-the-box size that fits you.

Check whether you can grip the firearm comfortably in your shooting stance. For rifles, make sure that your stance is comfortable when you seat the rifle into your shoulder.

Also make sure you can easily squeeze the trigger and your finger squeeze lands on the optimal spot between your trigger finger tip and your first joint.

Note : Things rarely 100% fits out-of-the-box. So choose the ones that you’re okay to live with then adjust the parts later on.

 

Buy Brands for reselling value

One tip is to realize that no matter how perfect you pick your first gun, your need is going to change in the future.

Examples of why you might want to upgrade :

  • You handle recoil better and want a gun that pack heavier punch.
  • You decide to get into hunting
  • You’re interested in semi autos
  • Etc.

Whatever the reason, buying a gun with the ability to sell at good price is favourable.

Even though a low price Chinese brand might attract you, it’s generally wiser to go with a reliable brand. A transferable reputable manufacturer’s warranty goes a long way in this regard.

Reselling value of some of the popular brands

I checked Armslist and Gunbroker website at the time of this writing. Note that prices do fluctuate, and it also depends on condition of the gun, so this is more of an approximation.

Model New price Used price
Savage Mark II G Bolt-Action Rimfire Rifle $199 + shipping $159 + shipping
Savage® Arms B-Series Bolt-Action Rimfire Rifles $249.99 + shipping $170 + shipping
Ruger® 10/22® .22 LR Semiautomatic Rimfire Rifles $269.99 + shipping $200 + shipping
Marlin Model 60 Semi-Auto Rimfire Rifle $179.99 + shipping $139 + shipping

As you can see, you can buy, train then sell for just $20-$70. A good deal I think.

Want a good scope for plinking? See Best .22 Scope and Best Rimfire Scope.

 

Additional tips

  • Test before you buy at the range
  • If you’re a lefty, find out if there is a left handed version
  • Don’t buy used

 

Test before you buy at the range

Even though you do adequate research, as long as you haven’t really used it, there’s a possibility that you don’t like the gun. The solution is to go “use” it before you buy it.

A popular method is to rent guns at the range. Most shooting ranges offer rental service to attract customers and you can test out several guns within minimal costs of $10-$25. A very good deal, I say. Because you can try out many different guns to your liking.

Note that some shooting ranges require you to buy ammo from them at a marked up price. But consider the fact that you can try out guns before you buy, it’s cheap.

Be it your first gun or your fifth gun, it’s always good to try it out first. Whenever I plan to buy a gun, I check out my nearby shooting ranges to see if I can get my hands on before spending money to buy.

It’s the surest way to know if you like the grip, the sights or other parts of the gun.

Another viable and free method is to borrow from friends and families if they have the guns you’re interested in.

 

If you’re a lefty, find out if there is a left handed version

The truth is many firearms are not ambidextrous nor left-handed friendly.

In some cases, there are both right-handed and left-handed versions. But you may have to order and wait for the left-handed version.

So, if you’re a lefty, you need to check whether it’s left handed friendly or not. It’s also a good idea to try them out before buying.

Looking for a scope for your AR-10? See Best AR10 Scope.

 

Don’t buy used

With local gun shops, forums, Armslist.com and Gunbroker.com, you can easily find a second-hand gun model of your liking at a discount. However in second hand market, it’s important to be able to verify the condition of a gun or whether the gun’s warranty is intact.

While it’s possible to spot these imperfections, you should leave those work to someone with more experienced. There are also many tales of people getting duped in a second-hand firearm transactions.

Unless you have a friend/relative who is an expert on guns and would help facilitate your transaction, you should be better off buying a new gun.

If you still want to save some bucks and buy used gun, you may want to check out this video from Iraqveteran8888.

 

Example of suitable .22 firearms for beginners

.22 bolt action rifle

  • Savage Mark II G Bolt-Action Rimfire Rifle
  • Marlin XT-22 Bolt-Action Rimfire Rifle
  • Marlin XT-22R Bolt-Action Rimfire Rifle with Synthetic Stock
  • Ruger American Rimfire Standard Bolt-Action Rifle

.22 Semi automatic rifle

  • Ruger 10/22 Carbine Semi-Auto Rimfire Rifle
  • Mossberg Blaze Semi-Auto Rimfire Rifle

.22 handguns

  • Walther P22® Series Semiautomatic Rimfire Pistols

.410 Shotguns

  • Mossberg .410 590 Shockwave

20 gauge Shotguns

  • Remington Model 870 Express Pump-Action Shotgun

 

Conclusion

For beginners, I suggest a .22 bolt action rifle to be your first gun for you to first focus on the fundamental. That’s because it’s easy to train with and both the ammo plus the gun are very affordable.

However, before you commit, please check out target shooting ranges near you. Some shooting ranges allow only handguns. So if it’s difficult to find a place to shoot, you’d be better off taking a .22 handgun.

Also, it’s wise to rent guns at the shooting range first, and see guns you like.

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Hi there. We are a group of shooting/hunting enthusiasts. Our goal is to make shooting/hunting popular again by making things easier for beginners.

 

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