• Leon Pantenburg | Survival Common Sense


Video: The top three firearms choices for beginner outdoorspeople

These three long guns are good, reliable choices for the beginner with no experience.
600 295 Survival Common Sense Blog | Emergency Preparedness

 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 black powder 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.


.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.

Get your young folks, girls and boys, wives and sisters, brother-in-laws and uncles out in the fields and teach them safety and respect for this dangerous piece of survival equipment. Enroll them in NRA safety classes and help them build confidence to last a lifetime.

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. (Here is the story of my favorite deer rifle.)

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 and weeds out of bean fields to buy it. (Read the complete story of my 10/22.)

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. I would get out of school, grab my .22, a Stockman pattern pocket knife and my Zippo lighter and head out for a late afternoon rabbit or squirrel hunt.

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 Remington 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!                                      

Please click here to check out and subscribe to the SurvivalCommonSense.com YouTube channel – thanks!



  • Jum

    Very practical information, especially for beginners. With the exception of a maybe adding a handgun, the three firearms in the article are all anyone really needs. If you had to have only one, by far a 12 gauge shotgun is the ticket. Slugs,bird shot and buck shot will cover all grounds. They are great for self defense too.

  • Bestbushcraft

    Thanks, for the great and very informational article What would you recommend 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.

  • Leon

    I think a .223 is too light for deer hunting, and it may be illegal to use on big game where you live. You would be better served with a .243. You should have no trouble shooting a .308 – it’s all a matter of learning how to shoot correctly and practice.

  • William

    Thanks, for the great and very informational article What would you recommend 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.

  • Leon

    I also strongly recommend to anyone considering buying a gun – get some training. There are concealed weapons course in every community, and the basic hunter education classes are excellent also.

  • Alex Sutton

    This is great! Thank you for sharing Leon! Being new to the world of hunting and rifles, I’ve heard a lot of advice from others about starting with the same rifles you are recommending. I’ve shot a BB gun a couple of times for fun, so I’m hoping that, as you said, that will help give me the basics as I look to move onto a bigger gun. Thanks again!

  • Leon

    I have a Marlin 39A .22 that is one of my favorites, and my Dad’s Remington 511 bolt action .22 gets regular use. But my choice for a .22 is the Ruger 10/22 semi auto. The rest of the lineup depends on personal preference. The key point is getting firearms you’re comfortable using, and practicing regularly!

  • Scott D.

    I’ll buck the trend and claim a little variety is more important than having two rifles with the same action.

    For a.22, I’ll go with a lever action Henry – cycles all variants quite nicely (other than WMR – unless designed for it).

    I’m with you on a pump 12 gauge – 870, Mossberg 500, or even the cheaper Maverick 88.

    And, I’ll go with a .270, .308, or .30-06 simply out of personal disdain for the metric system (no offense to 6.5mm or 7mm rounds – just a preference call on my part).

  • Wally1

    Greetings, Very good article. I agree with all three choices. Primarily with the Ruger 10/22. These rifles are made in any configuration you can imagine and they are reliable, accurate and easily one of the best firearms made. The 10/22 is the ultimate SHTF weapon. One person can easily carry 2000 rounds in a backpack. Used with a suppressor it is so quiet all you hear is the bold cycling. Every family should have a 10/22, or two. .

    For a higher powered rifle, most manufactures produce quality bolt action rifles. caliber? .308 or 30-06, because these calibers are readily available just about any sporting goods or hardware store in the northern hemisphere.

  • Leon

    Good choices! You always have to adapt any suggestions to your personal situation. That .177 sounds like a good idea!

  • John

    Great article.

    I’m just starting and what I’m leaning towards are the following:

    I have a break-barrel Ruger Blackhawk .177 which in California is legal for small game and even Wild Turkey

    Shotgun: Maverick 88 or Mossberg 500 with both a Field barrel (with a set of chokes) and a 18.5″ barrel. Maverick is basically the same gun except the safety and forearm which bring the cost down.

    Rifle: I’m leaning toward the .308 Ruger American. Savage Axis II XP looks like the best deal, but the American has a better bolt mechanism.

    Debating whether I need a .22, if I do get one it will likely be the Marlin 60 – especially since in California the tube magazine allows the gun to have more than 10 rounds legally.

  • Leon

    Good points! I use a 20 gauge for most of my hunting – my 12 gauge is used for ducks and geese and deer. My favorite hunting caliber is the 7mm-08.

  • Ken

    I have a 10/22 and I love it, but a Remington or Rossi pump action will let you shoot 22 short (quiet) and even though I’m a gun nut I still think a gun that doesn’t automatically reload after each shot is safer for people who are new to gun handling.

    I have 2 Remington 870 (both 12 gauge) and they’re great too. 20 gauge would be better for someone new to shooting, and a Mossberg would probably be as good a choice as the Remington.

    My 2 bolt guns are a Remington 600 Mohawk (243) and Savage 110 (6.5 Creedmore). I like both, but the design of the Savage means you can work on it yourself (including replacing the barrel if you need to). The Rem is prettier, but the ability do fix anything that goes wrong with the Savage makes it a better choice for me.

    @Adam – using a 223 to hunt deer is a dumb idea unless you get perfect shots all the time AND have such accurate aim that you get perfect shot placement every time. You won’t have any problem handling the recoil of a 308. If you’re worried about it, get the same rifle in 243. It will kick less than the 308 but give the deer a quicker kill for those times when you can’t get the “perfect shot” or deliver less than perfect shot placement.

  • Joe

    I lean toward reccomending an AR-15 if someone is looking for one rifle to do it all and a 700 if someone is looking for an entry level hunting rifle.

  • Leon

    I started with BB gun, and learned the basics. I thought I had a real big rifle when I moved up to a .22!

  • Ian Johanson

    I can remember getting my shooting merit badge as a boy scout. The rifle they taught us with was a .22, and I loved using it. However, for real beginners, I might even start with a BB gun. It is not glamorous, but I think it is great for teaching the basics before moving to the .22.

  • Leon

    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!

  • Adam

    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.

  • Leon

    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.

  • Leon

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

  • Leon

    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!

  • Brian G

    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?”

  • Leon

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

  • Pete M

    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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.