You're ready to take the plunge and purchase a firearm. Congratulations. Local gun shops and ranges are willing to help sort through the options, but it'll be easier if you have an idea of what you're looking for first.
We spoke with Mike Stroff, the host of Savage Outdoors TV. Here's a list of Stroff's top firearm types as well as their common applications. This will give you a better idea of the firearm — or firearms — you're after.
Pistols are small, handheld firearms that are chambered in both rimfire and centerfire cartridges. Most rimfire pistols are chambered in .22LR (Long Rifle). They make great starter pistols due to the lack of recoil, low noise and affordable ammunition — three key factors when learning to shoot.
As great tools for plinking, skill building and small-game hunting, rimfire pistols are a phenomenal first purchase. But having a solid shooting foundation is the key to success.
"A lot of people don't talk about this," said Stroff. "In today's shooting world, everyone wants things to be quick and easy. Shooting is an acquired skill. Learn the proper technique, control your breathing and master trigger control. These essential skills will make such a difference as you graduate to different firearms. They will make you a better shooter."
The other type of rimfire is the rifle. A rifle is loosely defined as a firearm with spiral grooves in the barrel that's designed to be fired from the shoulder. Great examples of these rimfires include Savage's bolt-action Mark II in .22LR, the semiautomatic A17 in the .17 HMR, or the bolt-action 93 Magnum in .22 WMR.
As a big-game hunter and father of two, Stroff is a fan of Savage's Rascal. "Savage's Rascal in .22LR is probably one of my favorite little guns for new shooters," said Stroff. "The first thing you shoot should be an iron-sighted, single-shot rifle. Learn how to shoot that, and you can shoot anything else on the planet. You'll learn that one shot is all that matters."
Few things beat the versatility of a centerfire pistol, which can be used for self-defense, target shooting, competition and hunting. There are many different options, but it's best to start small. Semiauto pistols in .380 or 9mm are easy to handle and relatively cheap to shoot. Once your technique and firearm handling is solid, consider graduating to larger calibers for different applications, such as big-game hunting. For this, Stroff's choice is a .44 Magnum revolver.
"My favorite centerfire handgun hunting cartridge would be the .44 Magnum," Stroff said. "It's fun to shoot and has enough knockdown power for the big stuff. It's also pretty accurate within 100 yards."
Lever-Action Centerfire Rifle
Lever-action rifles are an American classic: the rifles that won the West. But don't think they are obsolete — quite the opposite. Lever action rifles are still popular for close-range hunting, plinking and Cowboy Action shooting.
Stroff likes the simplicity of lever actions. "There isn't a lot to go wrong," Stroff said. "The basic design has been with us for 150 years, the actions are simple to use and the rifles often wear iron sights. A testament to their longevity is the fact that many ranchers or cowboys out West still carry one on their saddle."
Bolt-Action Centerfire Rifle
The bolt-action centerfire has been America's favorite rifle since our Doughboys returned from the Great War. A century later, the bolt action is still hard to beat for most uses. For target practice and most hunting, the bolt action is ideal, as it accepts an optical sight and fires streamlined bullets at high velocity. This results in a flat trajectory and high impact energy.
"With all the options they give you, Savage makes the perfect bolt action," said Stroff. "And it's still the most accurate factory rifle available today due to features like the AccuTrigger and AccuStock, or the fact that Savage still hand-straightens their barrels."
Stroff isn't a huge fan of the .243 Win. for beginning hunters. "I recommend something with a little more knockdown power. I'm a giant fan of the 7mm-08, which Savage chambers in a lot of guns, such as the AXIS Compact. It's flat shooting, accurate and produces tolerable recoil. The 7mm-08 is a great choice for beginners."
Semiautomatic rifles fire a round with every pull of the trigger. This type of rifle is growing in popularity every year, but they aren't new. The design dates to the 19th century, and even the AR-15 — which stands for Armalite, not assault rifle — goes back over 50 years.
"For personal protection or just plain fun, it's hard to beat a semiautomatic rifle," Stroff said. "Hunters are also using them more. I grew up in North Carolina, and a lot of those hunters use the AR-style rifle. It works very well if they need to send another round downrange quickly."
Unlike rifles, which fire a single projectile, shotguns are designed to fire multiple projectiles. These pellets are used to hit flying objects, such as clay targets or game birds. Shotguns come in many types, but the most popular is the pump action that feeds and ejects shells by sliding the front handguard.
Stroff recommends the affordable Stevens 320 12 gauge for a first shotgun. "Savage makes the Stevens line of shotguns," said Stroff. "The 320 series is reliable and affordable, and nothing beats a pump action shotgun for versatility. This type of firearm can be used for small game, big game, waterfowl and upland hunting. Pump actions also work well for home defense, especially the shorter barreled variations."
For the sportiest of shotguns, look no further than the over/under, which consists of a top and bottom barrel. This design is simple yet elegant, great for bird hunting and ideal for trap or skeet shooting. The break-open action is also very safe. If you are in the field or at the range with a new shooter, it's easy even from a distance to confirm that the gun is in a safe condition. In Stroff's mind, the Stevens 555 is as good as it gets.
"If you want to head to the range and shoot a round of trap, skeet or sporting clays," said Stroff, "the over/under Stevens 555 works great. Available in 12, 20 and 28 gauges as well as .410 bore, the Stevens 555 throws up fast and patterns beautifully."
Savage's 42 is a break-open combination firearm with a .410 shotshell barrel mounted beneath a rifle barrel. Because it's a rifle and shotgun, the Savage 42 is the pinnacle of versatility. Chamberings are available in either .22LR or .22 WMR. A barrel selector lever, mounted within the hammer, selects either the upper or lower barrel to fire. The rifle's matte black synthetic stock features a soft and effective recoil pad for shooter comfort. The Model 42 includes adjustable sights mounted on the barrel and receiver.
Stroff considers the Model 42 an excellent value for young shooters. "For small game and targets, you get two guns in one," said Stroff. "My little boy has one, and once we start rabbit and squirrel hunting, he's going to wear that thing out."
Stroff's Ammo Tip: Federal Fusion
Mike Stroff travels the world hunting big game, and for most situations, his go-to ammo is Federal's Fusion.
"The first time I bought the Fusion ammo," said Stroff, "I was surprised at the price. It's not the most expensive ammo on the shelf. But when I got to the range and shot it, I was amazed. This is some of the most accurate and best performing ammo I've shot. I shot a sheep with the 150-grain .270 Federal Fusion at 650 yards from Savage's Lightweight Hunter, and I was shocked at how well the ammo performed."