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hunter looking to buy first new rifle/scope

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hunter looking to buy first new rifle/scope

Old 01-14-2018, 12:46 PM
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Default hunter looking to buy first new rifle/scope

Hi guys,

I’m 38, and I occasionally hunt deer with my uncle in NH (near VT) and with my cousin in VA (Southwest, near the national forest). I always borrow their rifles because my job keeps me moving, and I don’t actually own my own hunting rifle. I’m currently working in a country which ranks a full tier below the “sh**hole” level of Haiti. It sucks, but I’m making some money. I want to get a deer rifle and scope as my little gift to myself, and the more I research and think about it, the harder it gets to narrow down the choices.

I’ve already figured out what I basically want, but still, the choices are overwhelming. Thanks to danger/hazard pay, the realm of custom rifles and high-end scopes isn’t off limits to me. I know many deer are taken with a Ruger American and a $100 scope, but I’m not spending a year of my life in this place to worry about money for my first rifle. So I’m leaning toward “high end” rather than “low end.”

About the type of rifle I am looking for, the NH and VA woods I hunt in are generally thick (not impenetrable swamp brush, but relatively dense woods) and somewhat hilly. I don’t recall being in a position we ever hunted in where I could have made more than a 75 yard shot (maybe 100 yards max). One thing that has influenced me is the time I shot a button buck with my cousin’s .270 at about 20 yards and gut-shot the heck out of him (thankfully the bullet went off a rib and hit his lung). The rifle was sighted in, so we figured the relatively-light .270 bullet deflected off of a twig or branch. So I’m wanting a “woods gun” with a heavy bullet and enough oomph to drop deer in their tracks. The way we hunt, I’ve never had to carry a rifle more than half a mile or so, so it doesn’t have to be a light “mountain gun.” It can be a bit heavier (9 pounds altogether or so), especially to tame a thumper caliber. On the subject of “thumper,” I don’t live in Michigan or Indiana, but I’ve been reading about the .450 Bushmaster and how much it has grown on folks there.

I know some might think I’m crazy for even considering a .450 Bushmaster bolt gun (not the AR variant) since I hunt in NH and VA and have the choice of any rifle caliber I want, but it’s on the list of calibers I am considering. I’m not dead-set on it. I’m just thinking about it. Seems the market has responded well to the new rules out there, and there appear to be some custom rifle smiths in Michigan making some really nice .450 Bushmaster bolt guns that people are loving. Lever actions are also on the list of possibilities. 30-30 is a possibility, although I’d probably lean toward .44 magnum or 45-70.

Let me say that my cousin and friends usually hunt with high power rifle calibers (30-06, 300 WM, etc.). Unfortunately, I’ve seen them turn enough deer meat into deer jelly. I see a lot of value in a heavy, slower caliber that drops a deer quickly, but in a different way… Now they say they can hit stuff at 600 yards, and I believe them, but I’ve never seen them hunt at those distances.

Regarding scopes, I’m debating between topping my “woods gun” with a fixed-power 2.5x or 4x scope or a “tactical” 1-4x or 1-6x scopes. You can pay whatever you want for one of those, but I’m willing to go up to $1,500. Of course, a fixed 4x Weaver costs $200, and the fixed 4x Leupold costs $300. I’m looking hard at the Weaver tactical 1-5x at $700. Nikon also makes a good one in that price range. I would like my “woods gun” to be an absolutely reliable tack-driver at 100 yards that can drop Bambi (or his dad) dead in his tracks. It doesn't matter to me if things drops off precipitously at 200 yards, so I don’t need a caliber or scope capable of 200+ yard accuracy -- but within 150 yards or so, the performance of the equipment (assuming I’m doing my part) must be perfect, and I’m willing to pay for it. If it helps, my budget is probably $3,000 to $4,000 at the high end for the entire thing (rifle, scope, mount, rings). I’m not hell-bent on spending that much, but I am willing to spend that much, if that makes sense.

Even having a pretty good idea of what I want, when I start looking at calibers and builds and custom makers and options, it gets overwhelming. I’m thinking I should just pick something up my alley, order the darned thing, and enjoy it. Any thoughts or suggestions? Am I way off in my thinking about calibers? About scopes? Any testimonials or suggestions?

I figured I could come here and get some guidance and suggestions before just pulling the trigger. Any feedback or advice is highly appreciated. Thanks.

Last edited by MG1911; 01-14-2018 at 12:48 PM.
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Old 01-14-2018, 01:36 PM
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If you are referring to what some people call a brush gun, don't be misled into thinking a slower heavier bullet will stay on course if it hits a branch. You just got very lucky with the .270 and a 30 caliber probably would have resulted in the same ending. There have been test done and they have shown that the slower heavier bullet fares worse that the lighter faster bullet does when it hits something between the gun and the intended target. I am sure you have watched a football game where an opposing player tipped a pass and the ball wobbled and did not go to the intended target. Same principle with a bullet.
Forget that fallacy and look for a caliber that you can use for multiple applications and for multiple species. and don't try to shoot through brush.
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Old 01-14-2018, 04:36 PM
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given the info stated above ,Id be looking for a
browning blr in caliber 358 win
and a Nikon scope, you could pay more but that combo would allow you to kill anything you could reasonably hunt out to 300 plus yards, my late hunting partner used one for decades with zero problems too, and killed 16 elk in 30 plus years using the 250 grain speer bullet, is a health chunk of lead, and a load of 44 grains oh IMR 4064 and a fed 215 primer.

decent quality optics are mandatory

match that BLR to a high quality optic and you have a very lethal combo
I've used a similar BLR 358 win for a few years and there's not a thing I can find wrong with it for hunting thick timber
learn to hand-load that 358 win ammo and the cost of ammo drops by at least 50% or more

Last edited by hardcastonly; 01-15-2018 at 01:16 PM.
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Old 01-14-2018, 06:09 PM
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Given the short ranges you're hunting, the level of accuracy you want, and your budget, I'd suggest a Sauer S100, or for a step above the S101.
The bolt lift is only 60 degrees; the barrel is only 22" on regular cartridges, 24" for magnum (unless you get the 20" S101 model).
There's an affordable synthetic-stocked model of the S100 that you can find in big-box stores, but you might have to special-order the wood stock if you want it---and prepare to pay big money.

Here's the page the S100:

For the S101:
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Old 01-14-2018, 07:34 PM
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Not one to condemn anyone for wanting a high end rifle but with your description, you certainly don't need one. First off, it's your first rifle. Second, you won't be shooting past 150 yards. Higher end rifles tend to be engineered for distance accuracy. And most that own them don't buy factory ammo but roll our own to squeeze every bit of performance we can get out of those high dollar investments. I own quite a few lever guns and a couple of them would surprise the best shooters on the planet. One of them, a lowly little Marlin .30-30, will print one tiny little clover leaf at 100 yards 5 shot group as long as I do my part. Never missed with that little rifle. Just about any factory rifle will meet or even exceed your demands these days. Since you are going to be out in thick woods, you really don't want to be out beating up a $3k+ rifle do you? Get yourself a sturdy rifle that you won't have a heart attack if it gets a scratch on it.

Now as to the cartridge choice, there is no such animal as a cartridge that will plant a deer. That is all placement. I can drop a deer with a little .243 just as fast as the next guy with a .338 Lapua Mag at your range requirements. It's all in where you hit them. Bullet construction is also a key component in hunting bullets. You get a cartridge with a bullet made for Moose and hit a little whitetail with it you will more than likely see caliber sized entry and exits. You need a bullet constructed for the thinner skinned side of the big game scale. Reliable expansion is a key ingredient for quick kills.

Most important, whatever you decide to get, practice with it at the range. First, bag it and run several different types of ammo through it till you find the one it likes the most. Every rifle has it's own personality and some can be pretty picky about what they like to eat. Then, after you have got it all dialed in, start practicing from field positions so you will be able to get accurate out hunting.

As far as scopes are concerned, at the distances you are talking about, I would go for a good quality glassed 1-4 or 1-7 variable powered scope. Fixed powers are great for some cases but I have found those 4x fixed scopes to be a pain in thick woods. They can be really hard to find the deer in on close in shots. Keep the vari power at it's lowest and if you spot a deer at 100 you can always turn it up.
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Old 01-14-2018, 08:03 PM
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As much as I like spending someone else's money...

You could get a marlin .45-70 and good (any quality glass from leupold, Nikon, any number of makers) glass for $1,000. And it would serve you very well.

There's nothing wrong with spending more. But with your limited range, the marlin would do everything you ever needed.

A little "Nicer" lever option would be the browning BLR as hardcast mentioned.

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Old 01-15-2018, 04:55 AM
Nontypical Buck
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I live in VT and have hunted here for 40+ years. The woods and terrain is the same as NH. I started out with a 30-30, then went to a .270 then a 30-06. Have kill many northeast deer with these calibers.

I must admit, I think a .450 would be a mistake. Have you ever considered that you might want to hunt other places in the future? Elk, Mule Deer, Antelope, even western whitetails? You could be faced with 200-400 yard shots or longer and a .450 would be a challenge at those distances. The most important thing in hunting is shot placement and waiting for the clear kill shot. If you Force a shot with any caliber it can deflect.

With your budget, there are many options. 3k-6k will get you into many custom rifles. You can also get into a Weatherby Vanguard Series 2 topped with a Swarovski Z3 4-12x50 for $1,400. These are guarenteed sub minute of accuracy out of the box. With a 30-06 you can get a wide array of bullet weights to suit your needs. If you reload, even more choices. If you still want bigger, a 300 Win Mag or 300 short Mag would be an excellent choice. Both still offer many options with bullet weights.

Best of luck in your decision.

Last edited by Rob in VT; 01-15-2018 at 05:02 AM.
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Old 01-15-2018, 09:40 AM
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Hey guys,

Many thanks for the thoughtful responses! I hope I get even more perspectives and advice here in the next days and weeks. I still have a while to go before November, and that's plenty of time to think some more and still have time to order a custom gun (if I go that route).

Two people suggested the Browning BLR, and I was actually already thinking of that. Except I was thinking of getting one in .308 WIN. Now I'm reading about the .358 WIN and it seems to be quite the hidden gem. There appear to be only a few factory rounds out there, but people seem to really like them and to get great accuracy and deer hunting performance out of them, i.e. non-handloaders seem very happy with the available choices. I did some math, and altogether -- with a trigger job, top-notch scope base and mounts, an extra mag or two, and a Weaver Tactical 1-5x scope -- I'd “only” be coming in around $2,000 for a BLR stainless lightweight setup. Very nice, and I don’t doubt it would serve me very well. In fact, I’m leaning that way now.

I got quotes from a few custom rifle builders, all of whom have fantastic reputations. For the specs I was considering, I've gotten quotes from a little over $2,000 to nearly $4,000. All within my range, but I have considered the words I have read here carefully, and I accept the well-worded argument that I can't really take advantage of all that precision, given my rather humble requirements and the fact that I don't reload.

In only six responses, I've gotten a pretty varied degree of suggestions, which I expected from a group of experienced and knowledgeable hunters with very different experiences. I appreciate your post, Rob in VT, and respect your obvious experience with hunting, but the rifle you are suggesting is the exact opposite of what I'm looking for. A high-power optic on a high-power rifle caliber is not what I want, at all. You are right in saying that I might eventually want a rifle for other terrains and game, but for the foreseeable future, it's going to be the hunting conditions I mentioned in my post. I work overseas and only get to come home for deer season and Christmas (if I’m lucky), and I have to stick to family in NH and VA. I'm not going to be shooting Western Whitetails at 500 yards anytime soon... if ever. Unless... what are you saying? Do I hear an invitation? So a 14x scope on a 300 Win Mag is not something I am considering.

That said, I really liked your post. I'm curious to understand your genesis and evolution from 30-30 to .270 to 30-06. If you have the time and interest, I’d love to hear the story. Sounds like a good story with a lot of great wisdom in the journey.

Oldtimr, you got it. I won't take shots through brush anymore. That was indeed bad on me, and I am indeed lucky that that little button buck dropped like a rock. I'd like to say I'm a skilled shot, but I certainly didn't intend for that .270 bullet to deflect off a twig, hit him in the gut, deflect off a rib, and clip his lungs!

I looked at the Sauer rifles. They are gorgeous and obviously very high-quality, made-in-Germany guns. I like the S101 Alaskan and found some stateside around the $2,000 mark. Definitely in my price range, and something for me to consider. Although, as mentioned above, I'm now seriously leaning toward the BLR in .358, which should check all my boxes and serve me very well (and allow me to put the savings into ammo, range time, and gear).

Hunters life, I appreciate your wisdom on scopes. I actually envisioned exactly that scenario you described (trying to get a 4x scope up on a close deer and having difficulty determining where I am pointing at on a mass of fur and trunks and leaves). Good to know that there are real-life experiences that confirm my suspicions. I guess if I can afford good 1-4x to 1-7x glass, then that's the way to go. I appreciate your post a lot.
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Old 01-15-2018, 12:21 PM
Nontypical Buck
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Not much of a story for my progression through the calibers. The 30-30 and .270 were rifles my Dad let me use while growing up. The first rifle I purchased, and still have, is a Winchester Model 70 in 30-06.

The suggestion of 300WM or SM was purely because you mentioned big chunks of lead like the .450 or 44 Mag. I do have a 300WM that I use for elk and moose and really like it. I still believe the 30-06 is one of the most versatile calibers around. According to my Nosler reloading book, you can load from 110 grain all the way up to 220 grain. Plus a bolt action rifle is one of the most accurate actions around. The mention of a 4-12 scope was just an example and a scope that I use. Optics are as important, if not more, than the rifle itself. The point is that for your budget you can get a Swarovski scope in the power you want (3x9 perhaps) and put it on a versatile rifle like a 30-06 that will last you a lifetime and allow you to pursue almost any big game in North America with exception to the big bears. There is something to be said for having a firearm that is accurate and you are confident with.

In the end, only you know what will suit your needs and hunting style. Best of luck in your pursuit.

. . . Rob

Last edited by Rob in VT; 01-15-2018 at 01:34 PM.
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Old 01-15-2018, 02:36 PM
Nontypical Buck
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Check out Steyr, I shot one of their budget rifles, the Pro Hunter, not long ago. It is every bit as accurate as most of their higher end rifles, just less bling.

I was shooting 1.5 inch groups at a hundred yards, without adding butt spacers or setting the scope relief to my preferences. If I fitted the rifle a little better, one inch groups are likely.
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