Choosing the Firearm That’s Right For You
When speaking to prospective new gun owners, this is a common question or topic of discussion. So many things go into this very personal decision that it’s just not an easy question to answer. Let’s see if we can help clarify the multitude of things to consider before laying down your cold hard cash on a firearm. The goal is to get you a firearm that not only meets your needs but is enjoyable to shoot and gets out of the safe and fired occasionally.
In my opinion, the first thing you need to consider is what you will use your firearm for. It’s easy to get excited about going out and buying an AR-15 or Modern Sporting Rifle (MSR), as it is the most popular firearm in the US right now. But does something like that really meet your needs? Do you have a place to shoot it that will allow you to enjoy it and really hone your skills? Let’s look at the most common reasons people purchase their first firearm.
The most common reason that someone decides to purchase a firearm is for self-defense. Generally, they want a gun in the house in case the worst happens. Sometimes, they want to be able to open or carry it concealed to extend their feeling of safety beyond their property. I recommend that someone in this situation consider buying a handgun. If this is your purpose for purchasing a firearm, well, there you go, easy, right? Self-defense = handgun! Okay, maybe it’s not that easy. It gets a little more complicated, as you’ll soon find out upon your visit to the gun shop. Do you want a semi-automatic? A revolver? What safety features are important to you?
Historically, hunting is why our great-grandparents had firearms. While a crack-shot may be able to hunt with a 9mm handgun, they’ll probably go hungry more often than not. To effectively hunt, you’ll need a rifle. You’ll also need to make sure your rifle is the correct caliber for what you are trying to hunt.
Do you want to take down that big whitetail buck? You’ll probably want to get at least a rifle chambered in .308 WIN, as a .22 caliber projectile is just not going to cut it. How about squirrel hunting? The .30 caliber projectile in a .308 WIN cartridge will take out small game, like squirrels, prairie dogs, or rabbits, but won’t leave much behind. Can you hunt with an AR-15? Despite what you might’ve heard, of course, you can.
Do you need a rifle capable of semi-automatic fire to effectively hunt that deer? Probably not. Honing your skills and getting your rifle sighted in properly is paramount. Once you have that done, you’ll find that most hunters use a bolt-action rifle chambered in their preferred caliber of ammunition. Bolt action rifles tend to be more reliable than any MSR out there due to how the round is chambered.
Okay, this one should be quick. Trap and skeet shooting both use clay pigeons (frisbees) launched at varying angles and speeds. Trying to hit a bird or a clay pigeon with a single projectile fired from a rifle or a pistol is very challenging, not to mention extremely dangerous. Depending on the trajectory, a rifled projectile can travel for miles, and you’ll probably miss the bird or clay pigeon. For this reason, a shotgun is your best choice.
Loaded with birdshot, a shotgun sends a barrage of pellets, a.k.a. shot, toward the target. The larger number of projectiles greatly increases the chances of taking down that bird or turning a clay pigeon to dust. Also, shot pellets generally don’t travel much faster than 1250 fps and have a relatively short range.
To me, this is where the fun begins. I thoroughly enjoy heading out to the range and plinking steel targets. There is something satisfying about hearing that steel ring. Even if you’re shooting pop cans or paper targets, it’s still satisfying to watch them all fall or see that super tight shot grouping on paper. You can do this with any of the above firearms, and it can really help with your proficiency and skillset in nearly all of the situations mentioned above.
What about AR-style firearms? What are they for?
I know, I know. I started off this article talking about how the MSR/AR platform is the most popular firearm in the US right now but didn’t call it out in any of the cases above. The beautiful thing about modern sporting rifles is their adaptability. You can use them for almost any of the scenarios above. Okay, for the sake of efficiency and safety, maybe not trap/skeet shooting or bird hunting.
Right out of the box, they can do it all, but not exceedingly well. Choosing your MSR configuration can change it from a Jack-of-all-trades to a purpose-built MSR that can compete with the other firearms mentioned above. Want a self-defense MSR? Look at Personal Defense Weapons (PDWs). They usually have shorter barrels, fit into tight spaces, and can be found in popular handgun calibers.
Hunting? Selecting the appropriate caliber, adding a longer barrel, and adding attaching a properly powered scope can be crucial. Plinking and target shooting? Maybe add a short-range optic like a red dot. Accessorizing your MSR (adding furniture) can help customize the rifle for your needs. As most AR-style firearms have picatinny rails or Magpul Industries M-LOK attachment points, the possibilities are nearly endless. Scopes, red dots, iron sights, handgrips, lasers, flashlights, bipods, and just about anything else you could think to mount on your firearm can be done easily. They are also very easy to learn to operate and have been proven by militaries and civilians across the planet to be reliable and adaptable.
The Zombie Apocalypse
In this scenario, when it comes to survival, anything is better than nothing! It also depends on the type of zombies and how many you’re dealing with. Surrounded by slow-moving The Walking Dead-style zombies? Stealth is the way to go; no firearm required. Arm up with a machete and go to town on those small groups. Being chased by aggressive, fast-moving The Last of Us-style zombies? Tactical nukes are definitely the way to go.
The Walking Dead (AMC)
The Last of Us (HBO)
Anyway, this is just one man’s opinion and the advice I give to folks when they ask me what kind of firearm they should get. What do you think?
MEET THE AUTHOR
With over two decades of experience in both civilian and military marksmanship programs, Teeps has developed a profound passion for shooting. Not only does he find great joy in introducing newcomers to the sport, but also continually seeks to expand his repertoire in the pursuit of shooting excellence.