The idea of the citizen-rifleman is lodged in the American soul. From the shopkeepers and farmers of the American revolution to the doughboys of WWI and heroes of today’s conflicts, Americans understand that a culture of marksmanship produces sharpshooters. The rifle holds this revered spot in our history partly because it can do so many things. Rifles have a myriad of uses, from defending home and hearth to putting food on the table and so much more. This wide range of functions makes it a bit hard to talk about rifles for beginners. It’s my goal to give you an idea of what rifles are out there, what they are used for, and which ones might be right for you. 

Starting Out With A Rifle

I, along with many other American gun owners, fired my first shots with a rifle. In my case, it was a semi automatic Marlin 60 in .22LR. Rifles are the #1 firearm used for hunting in America, and they’re also a popular competition gun as well. America’s military and law enforcement relies on rifles for protection, and they are an excellent home defense weapon. Finally, (and probably most important, rifles can be a lot of fun to shoot, just for the sake of shooting. Rifles are a great way to spend a lazy summer afternoon pushing tin cans around or for impromptu shooting competitions at your local range. 


Now that we know what we can do with a rifle, let’s talk about the types of rifles for beginners. All firearms have an action, a mechanism that they use to move cartridges in and out of the gun. All of the actions listed here have one thing in common: Only one bullet is fired when the trigger is pulled. Any gun that fires multiple bullets with one pull of the trigger is considered to be a machine gun and is very hard to own. Got it? Let’s move on. 

Where The Action Is

In general, the action on a rifle can be broken into five different types.

  • Semi-automatic: This action uses the energy from firing the gun to eject the spent cartridge and load a new one for firing. 
  • Bolt-action: A manually-operated knob on the side of the rifle ejects the spent round and loads a new one.
  • Lever action: A (you guessed it) lever on the bottom of the gun feeds rounds in and out of the gun. 
  • Pump action: These kinds of rifles are somewhat similar to lever action rifles on the inside, but they use a pump under the barrel to feed rounds in and out of the gun.
  • Manual/Single Shot: Ammunition is inserted and then removed from the rifle by the operator.

Which action is best for you? Well, there is no one right answer to that question. On average (and this is a wide generalization), bolt action guns are more accurate at longer ranges, but are slow to operate. Semi-automatic guns are great for putting a lot of rounds on target, but are subject to more laws than other kinds of rifles. Lever guns and pump action rifles can shoot quickly, but can have limited ammunition choices. Manual and single shot guns can handle powerful big game rounds, but forget about firing them quickly. 

Guns And… Ammo, Of Course

centerfire vs. rimfire

The centerfire .308 Winchester (L) round is much more powerful than the rimfire 22 LR round (R).

Speaking of ammunition, there are essentially two kinds of ammo for rifles. Rimfire ammunition such as .22 LR and .22 WMR, and centerfire ammunition, which is pretty much everything else. Centerfire ammunition is much more powerful than rimfire ammunition and can reach out to ranges far beyond what rimfire can reach. However, it costs more (sometimes much more) than most rimfire ammo and has much more noise and recoil than rimfire ammo.

I’m making some sweeping generalizations here again, but for the most part, the bigger the cartridge is, the more power it has, and the more recoil it will have when fired. What cartridge is best for beginners depends on a number of things. In my opinion, it’s hard to beat the ubiquitous .22 LR cartridge for first-timers. It’s inexpensive, accurate and has almost no recoil. Choosing a centerfire caliber is a more complicated process and depends a lot on what you want to do with your rifle, especially when it comes to hunting. So, we’ll circle back to that topic on a later date. 

Best Rifles For Beginners

Now let’s talk about specific brands and models that might be good for beginning shooters. There are many different guns from a variety of manufacturers in each of these niches. These are my suggestions, so consider them to be a starting point for your own journey into the world of rifles for beginners. 

Rimfire Rifles for Beginners 

As I said in the previous article on guns for beginners, it’s really hard to beat the Ruger 10/22 as a rifle for people just starting out. The magazine release might be a bit clumsy, but the ecosystem of accessories for this gun staggers the imagination. 

When it comes to other kinds of rimfire starter rifles, the Ruger American Rimfire is a great choice if  you’re looking for a bolt-action rifle that’s chambered in a rimfire round. The main reason why I don’t own one is because I shoot rifles left-handed, and Ruger doesn’t make a left-handed version of this rifle. I shoot a Savage B-22 instead. This rifle would also be a good choice for a beginner, albeit with a slightly smaller range of available accessories. 

S&W M&P-15 22

It looks like an AR-15, but the S&W M&P-15 22 is actually a 22 LR rifle.

If you’re looking for something that looks more modern but still shoots 22 LR ammunition, the Smith & Wesson MP-15 22 is the go-to gun that looks like a centerfire AR-15 but still shoots 22 LR ammunition. With the same controls and accessory rails as its larger cousin, it’s a great gun to practice with if you’re looking to save some money on ammo. 

Centerfire Rifles for Beginners 

When it comes to centerfire rifles, there are literally thousands of different combinations of brands, actions and calibers to choose from, so again, please treat these as (very) loose suggestions rather than absolute must-haves.

The AR-15 is one of America’s most popular guns, and any collection of rifles for beginners should have at least one AR in it. I’ve mentioned that I like the Smith & Wesson M&P-15 Sport II as a beginning AR, and if you’re looking to upgrade a bit, the ARs from Aero Precision have become one of my favorite lines of modern semi-automatic rifles. 

Savage bolt action rifle

The author’s Savage 110 left-handed bolt-action rifle in 308 Winchester.

If you’re looking for a centerfire bolt-action rifle, I really like the value and performance of the Savage 110 line of rifles. They’re relatively inexpensive, have terrific triggers and are available in a wide range of styles and calibers. 

The centerfire lever action rifle is a viable alternative for self defense in places where a semi-automatic rifle might cause legal issues, plus it’s a terrific hunting rifle at short to medium distances. I’ve been a big fan of the Marlin lever guns, and I’ll probably add one to my collection in the very near future. 

Relax And Just Enjoy Your New Gun

Selecting the best rifle to begin with is no easy task. There are thousands of rifles to choose from, which can make a difficult task even harder. Start with listing out your reasons for buying a rifle. Are you interested in hunting? If so, what animals do you want to hunt? Are there regulations about what rifles can be used for hunting in your state? Is self-defense important to you? What about just going to the range and shooting for the sake of having a good time? Your answers to these questions will guide you along your quest through the world of rifles for beginners and lead towards more enjoyment of the shooting sports and the armed lifestyle.