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Leon's Blog

Video: The top three firearms choices for beginner outdoorspeople

Video: The top three firearms choices for beginner outdoorspeople

 A consistent ” Where do I start?” firearms question keeps coming in from beginner outdoorspeople/preppers/survivalists. If you don’t have any firearms, what should you buy and what do you need? Here are my top three choices.

by Leon Pantenburg

I like and enjoy shooting anything that goes “boom,” with a special affinity for traditional blackpowder long rifles. I  support the National Rifle Association and the Second Amendment. Every year, time permitting, I hunt elk, deer, upland game, waterfowl and whatever else I can legally pursue.

These three long guns are good, reliable choices for the beginner with no experience.

The Ruger 10/22 (top), Remington 870 pump action shotgun and Remington 700 bolt action rifle are good choices for the beginner. (Leon Pantenburg photo)

But I try to stay away from writing about firearms. There is so much of it, good and BS, on the internet, that anything I contribute will be adding another drop  to an already overflowing bucket.

But readers keep asking. So,  here’s my top three long gun choices for people starting out. You need a .22 caliber rifle, a shotgun and a centerfire hunting rifle. You can worry about handguns, black rifles and tactical guns later, once you get the basics.

Also, variations of these firearms are easy to find. If you shop around and watch your sales, you may be able to acquire all three of the suggested firearms for under $1,000.

Here’s were to start with building your prepper/survival battery:

.22 caliber rifle: Everybody needs a .22. A beginner needs a manageable rifle to start out with, one that doesn’t belt them in the chops every time they pull the trigger. A .22 allows a person to learn the basics of marksmanship, which will transfer over to centerfire rifles. For the beginner, a .22 is perfect. It  has no kick, low noise, and ammunition is on sale all the time.

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In addition to target practice, a .22 could be used for self-defense. In the hands of a cool marksman who places his shot correctly, a .22 rifle can take deer or larger game. Pick the action you like best, but some experienced shooters recommend getting the same action in  your .22 as with your centerfire hunting rifle, so the muscle memory and training carries over.

Shotgun: A shotgun can be a close range weapon and a tool for harvesting small game. But properly loaded with buckshot or a slug, a well-aimed shotgun can put down any big game animal in the western hemisphere. For the newcomer, the choice of gauge narrows down to 12 gauge or the smaller 20 gauge. Any of the less common gauges might make it harder to find cheap ammunition.

Bolt action centerfire rifle: I like bolt action rifles and have hunted with them all my life. Even in the thickets of Mississippi while hunting deer, I never felt handicapped with the slower operating bolt action, as opposed to a pump or semi-automatic.

The bolt action is the choice of many top snipers and marksmen, and in addition to being a fantastic hunting rifle, the bolt action also tends to be very accurate.

My personal choices for the beginner battery are the Ruger 10/22 .22 caliber semi-automatic, a 20 or 12 gauge Remington 870 pump shotgun, and a scoped, bolt-action Remington 700. Here’s why.

Ruger 10/22: I bought my Ruger in 1966, when I was 14, at Red Fox Sporting Goods, in Boone, Iowa. The Ruger cost $54, and I worked 54 hours, chopping corn out of  beanfields to buy it.

The Ruger 10/22 is a rugged, reliable .22 caliber semi-automatic rifle.

The Ruger 10/22 is a rugged, reliable .22 caliber semi-automatic rifle. I’ve had this one since 1966.

Since then, I have shot tens of thousands of rounds through that little carbine. Plinking at targets was one of my favorite past times when I was a kid. I also shot rats at the dump and hunted small game extensively.

While I frequently rely on iron sights on other  traditional-styled rifles, I like a four-power telescopic sight  on my .22. In brush, the magnification allows you to see holes to shoot through. The scope helps you place your shots more accurately, making for more efficiency.

Remington 870: If I could only have one gun (Perish the thought!) it would be a 12 gauge Remington 870. Properly loaded, this gun can put down anything from flying doves to big bears.

It would be my weapon of choice in virtually any close range gunfight, and it is  the weapon I reach for when things go bump in the night.

This classic American-made pump shotgun has sold over four million copies, and is the standard for many law enforcement and

The Remington 870 Wingmaster 12 gauge is a good choice if you could only own one firearm.

I bought this Reminton 870 Wingmaster 12 gauge initially to use for deer hunting in thick brush.

military agencies. A 12 gauge is the standard, but for small framed people a 20 gauge might be a better choice.

In 1982, I bought my first 870, a 12 gauge, for hunting deer with buckshot or slugs in the thick brush of Mississippi. That gun got used hard during all hunting seasons. It was also my waterfowl gun, and never failed in the mud, water, cattails and swamps. I liked it so much, I later bought a 20 gauge 870 Wingmaster for upland game. Then I bought a synthetic-stocked 870 12 gauge for my son. He can use any of my guns for hunting, but prefers the black one because of the looks.

There are any number of aftermarket upgrades that can make the 870 look badder and more tactical. But as a perpetrator deterrent, nothing quite matches the 870’s signature “slicky-slick”of a round being chambered.

Remington 700:  This bolt action rifle uses the same basic action as the U.S. military’s M-24 sniper rifle. I own a model BDL in 7mm-08 for deer, and a synthetic Remington 700 in 7mm Remington Magnum for elk and everything else.

This Remington 700 synthetic 7 mm is my bad weather rifle and has been carried extensively elk hunting in the west.

This Remington 700 synthetic 7 mm is my bad weather rifle and has been carried extensively elk hunting in the west.

I also own other bolt actions, including a  Ruger Mark V in .223. A Winchester 670 went through my hands a few years back. My brother Mike’s Winchester pre-64 Model 70 remains one of the most accurate 30.06s I’ve ever fired.

No American manufacturer can afford to make a shoddy, junky bolt action centerfire rifle. If you have a favorite major manufacturer, stick with them and you won’t go wrong.

As far a caliber goes, find one you can shoot, and that the ammunition will be easy to find. The.308 and .223 are military rounds and the ammunition is common and cheap. A 30.06 is never a mistake.

For a slight framed person, the light kicking .223 or .243 will be good calibers to start with.

I’m sure my personal list will cause debate (and isn’t that half the fun?)

But I believe we can all agree on this: Before you buy any firearm, get some training so you are able to handle it safely. Have the means to secure the firearm in your home, and always treat every gun as if it  loaded!

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View Comments (10)


  1. Leon

    05/10/2016 at 18:48

    You should be able to handle a .308 with no trouble at all. The .308 is a great deer cartridge, and with the right bullets, could handle about anything in the lower 48.
    I’m 5’10” and 185 pounds, and I’ve shot a 7mm Remington Magnum for 25 years. A well-designed rifle – like the Savage – should be just fine in .308. Get some cheap ammo and practice!

  2. Adam

    05/09/2016 at 08:45

    Great article, very insightful. What would you reccommend for beginners? I’ve shot from .22 LR, 9mm handgun, .357 revolver to .223 and 5.56 from an ar-15. But I’ve been interested in basic deer hunting and bolt action, so should I start with .223? I was looking at Savage Axis II XP in .308 because it can fire 7.62×51 nato as well. Is that too powerful for me? I’m about 6’1″ 180 lbs.

  3. Leon

    12/17/2015 at 16:35

    I go with 2×7 variables on both my Remington 700 rifles. I find I use the 2 power in low light, brushy conditions a lot. Of the 13 deer I’ve killed with my 7mm-08, most were under 100 yards away, and the scope was on the 2 setting. I shot a whitetail buck at dusk with my 7 mag, scope on 2 power, at 198 paces. I think people tend to use too high powered scopes when they might be better served with a lower powered sight.

  4. Leon

    12/12/2015 at 13:03

    I can’t give a recommendation on products I haven’t tried. I’ve had great success with Leupold, Nikon and Burris scopes.

  5. Dallas

    12/03/2015 at 23:21

    May I ask You for advice, Leon! If I like the Remington 700 synthetic 7 mm, what of these riflescopes http://perfectriflescope.com/ be more suitable for this?

  6. Leon

    09/30/2014 at 07:19

    LOL – that used to be the case with .22 ammo. Now, I look around, and know to shop early on certain days at certain stores. Stock up when you have the chance.
    The 30.06 vs .270 debate has been going since Jack O’Connor started using a .270 for virtually everything in the 1930s and writing about it in outdoor magazines. Either is a fine cartridge, but the ’06 has the edge when it comes to bullet weights. Personally, I use a 7mm-08 for deer-sized animals, and a 7mm Remington Magnum for elk on up. I’ve been very happy with the 7mm family for more than 25 years. Like knives, you can’t have just one!

  7. Brian G

    09/29/2014 at 12:09

    I agree that the 30.06 is a great round, but I prefer the .270 Win. It seems to have a milder recoil than the 30.06, and you can hunt just about any large game in North America with it. I have a Ruger American in .270 Win., topped off with a Nikon Prostaff scope–a very accurate package for a reasonable cost. By the way, where do you find .22LR ammo “on sale all the time?”

  8. Leon

    09/21/2014 at 20:01

    Good info – thanks!

  9. Leon

    09/12/2014 at 05:58

    These three will do just about anything you need a firearm for. Of course, I’d hate to be limited to just three!

  10. Pete M

    09/11/2014 at 15:43

    I like your picks Leon. Good advice about picking common calibers of ammo. It doesn’t take much for a shortage to occur. Surplus ammo is readily available most of the time but it is important to know that your weapon can handle the high chamber pressures before you buy. Example: a new .223 that can fire military ammo will be marked 5.56mm.

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Leon's Blog

Leon Pantenburg is a wilderness enthusiast, and doesn't claim to be a survival expert or expertise as a survivalist. As a newspaperman and journalist for three decades, covering search and rescue, sheriff's departments, floods, forest fires and other natural disasters and outdoor emergencies, Leon learned many people died unnecessarily or escaped miraculously from outdoor emergency situations when simple, common sense might have changed the outcome. Leon now teaches common sense techniques to the average person in order to avert potential disasters. His emphasis is on tried and tested, simple techniques of wilderness survival. Every technique, piece of equipment or skill recommended on this website has been thoroughly tested and researched. After graduating from Iowa State University, Leon completed a six-month, 2,552-mile solo Mississippi River canoe trip from the headwaters at Lake Itasca, Minn., to the Gulf of Mexico. His wilderness backpacking experience includes extended solos through Yellowstone’s backcountry; hiking the John Muir Trail in California, and numerous shorter trips along the Pacific Crest Trail. Other mountain backpacking trips include hikes through the Uintas in Utah; the Beartooths in Montana; the Sawtooths in Idaho; the Pryors, the Wind River Range, Tetons and Bighorns in Wyoming; Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, the Catskills in New York and Death Valley National Monument in southern California. Some of Leon's canoe trips include sojourns through the Okefenokee Swamp and National Wildlife Refuge in Georgia, the Big Black River swamp in Mississippi and the Boundary Waters canoe area in northern Minnesota and numerous small river trips in the Midwest and Pacific Northwest. Leon is also an avid fisherman and an elk, deer, upland game and waterfowl hunter. Since 1991, Leon has been an assistant scoutmaster with Boy Scout Troop 18 in Bend, and is a scoutmaster wilderness skills trainer for the Boy Scouts’ Fremont District. Leon earned a second degree black belt in Taekwondo, and competed in his last tournament (sparring and form) at age 49. He is an enthusiastic Bluegrass mandolin picker and fiddler and two-time finalist in the International Dutch Oven Society’s World Championships.

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