Range sessions with firearms should be fun—even when you’re practicing critical self-defense skills. Nothing quite fulfills that mission like a rifle that’s both affordable and comfortable to shoot. With hundreds of options across the new and used firearm markets to choose from, how do you know which one will serve you the best? Here are a few features to consider in your search for a recreational rifle.
Ammunition used in the firearm is a primary consideration primarily because of cost. Send 100 rounds downrange in one of the more exotic or rare cartridges and it can quickly get expensive. That volume of shooting may sound excessive, but when accompanied by a spouse and two friends (or kids) it’s only 25 shots each. That’s barely warming up when behind the trigger of a fun-to-shoot recreational rifle.
Bear in mind, too, dealers have no control over the variety of factors that affect ammunition prices and availability. Historic trends, however, indicate rifles chambered in .22 Long Rifle and 5.56 NATO are the best long-term bets for economy. One of the new carbines in 9 mm is also a great choice, especially if you have, or intend to purchase, a pistol in the same chambering. All three are available in bulk packs and the cost savings can be significant.
There are some awesome deals right now in a wide variety of other cartridges, though. Should their popularity diminish, prices and availability will change, so consult with our firearms experts at Triangle Shooting Academy for their recommendations. They monitor current industry trends and are ready to share their knowledge prior to your purchase.
Burden to Shoulder
Recoil is probably the second factor to consider in a recreational rifle, although it may be No. 1 for many new enthusiasts. The small stature of the .22 LR reflects the slight push to the shoulder it gives when fired. In fact, shooters rarely perceive much recoil if any at all from this rimfire.
The 5.56 Rem. and 9 mm generate more recoil, but how much of that energy transmits to a shooter’s shoulder depends on a variety of factors. Remember, the laws of physics apply, whether it’s a novice shooter or experienced marksman who may claim there’s no recoil behind the trigger.
Perceived recoil typically drops as rifle weight increases. Pushing that added heft around bleeds off some of the cartridge’s energy before it reaches a shooter. Be careful before buying a 40-pound behemoth, though. You have to transport and shoulder the rifle, and then store it once you are home. Unwanted and unnecessary bulk is the enemy when it comes to recreational rifles.
Both the 5.56 NATO and 9 mm are comfortable to shoot in even lightweight configurations. Take them for a test drive before deciding on something so painful to carry that you’d rather leave it home.
Semi-automatic firearms soak up some of the perceived recoil as their bolts and bolt carrier groups cycle. Bolt-action firearms are not painful at all, but there’s a solid scientific basis in stating gas-operated firearms transmit less energy to your shoulder and hands.
If you’re looking for recoil mitigation, recoil pads will cushion the blow. However, in the .22 LR, 5.56 NATO and 9 mm chamberings, a recoil pad is probably overkill. Still, there are psychological advantages to having one when a young or new shooter shoulders a rifle.
Most stock recoil pads work well, but there are also a variety of aftermarket versions that offer improved effectiveness. Keep in mind, though: put one on that’s a little too tacky and the odds are good it’ll annoyingly grab and stick to shirts and jackets.
Keeping the Pace
Bolt-action rifles, on average, deliver slightly better accuracy, but with today’s precision manufacturing, that’s not always the case. Working that bolt manually slows things down, and when you’re next to shoot, the lethargy can take the “recreation” out of recreational rifle.
Along the same line, magazine capacity is another consideration. Why sacrifice time at the range to long reloading pauses? Invest in some spare magazines and consider using the higher capacity versions.
Reliability and Cleanup
Today’s AR-15s are reliable, a fact due in part to improved manufacturing processes and fine tuning since the model’s 1959 introduction. Its direct-gas-impingement operating system runs relatively clean, minimizing range-side concerns. Piston-driven versions of the rifle collect even less fouling. Field stripping of both versions is fast and intuitive after a few sessions.
The .22 LR semi-autos available today run on a blowback system of operation and it’s dirty. Field stripping to get to the grime is usually slower than on an AR-15. However, bolt-action cleanup is almost effortless.
Regardless of the recreational rifle you select, ensure you understand proper maintenance and are willing to perform the chore. It’s the best way to maintain the firearm’s accuracy and reliability. When in doubt, consult one of our experts at Triangle Shooting Academy.
If you intend on mounting a scope, ensure the rifle has a rail or is tapped for optic anchoring. The Picatinny top rail on an AR-15 makes installing one easy and it’s usually the same on .22 LR rifles that mirror the AR style.
Rails and anchoring points on the sides or bottom mean you can add lights, lasers or bipods, if you so wish. That latter is a nice touch if informal competition is on the agenda.
A firearm chambered in 5.56 NATO can safely shoot .223 Rem. cartridges. The opposite is not true. So a rifle in the former chambering effectively increases potential ammo supplies as well as versatility.
Don’t Rule Out Other Calibers
Although .22 LR, 5.56 NATO and 9 mm are the chamberings mentioned here, it would be a mistake to exclude others from consideration. Some of the most popular and readily available cartridges today include the .30-’06 Sprg., .308 Win. (7.62 NATO) and the venerable .30-30 Win. Recoil could increase—depending on the rifle’s configuration—along with cost of ammunition, but don’t rule out the dozens of others from which to choose.
Stop by Triangle Shooting Academy today and consult with our experts. Let them know you’re looking for a recreational rifle tailored for firing-line fun and then consider renting one for a test drive on our range.