I’d been hunting upland birds for several years, but nothing matched the feeling I had when I watched a buck through the scope on my first deer rifle. It was only four years ago, and I’d hunted birds all over the country and won a regional shotgun title, but the excitement was nothing like this.

We’d been seeing a lot of deer behind our house and our neighbor, knowing that we were shooters and hunters, came by the house to give us permission to deer hunt on his property. At first, I didn’t take the deer hunting idea seriously, but the more I thought about it, the more intriguing it became. My husband gave me a 1954 Winchester Model 70 Featherweight in .243 Winchester. It has a 22-inch, lightweight barrel, a walnut stock, and the bolt works like it’s been greased with butter.

My breath was ragged and I was trembling a little as I lined up the scope. The buck was at the far end of the field, about 250 yards away, so I ran the scope up to 9X and put the crosshairs low and just behind his shoulder. I don’t think I felt the recoil or heard the report—I just remember him taking a few steps and crumpling down. When I got to him, the entrance of the bullet was exactly where I’d put the crosshairs. My first buck was only a six pointer, but taking him was as exciting as anything I’d ever done.

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After that first deer hunting experience, I realized just how much I enjoyed the concept of being able to place a single bullet in a specific spot. It was a huge transition from my experiences with a shotgun and the gratification was entirely different, but I really enjoy shooting rifles.

I recognized from my experiences with shotguns that rifles that work well for a man might not be ideal for a woman. Since we generally have smaller frames, we need lighter-weight, more compact dimensions and less recoil. Assuming the average woman weighs 150 pounds and the average man weighs 200 pounds, we normally need about a 25-percent reduction in weight and size for a woman’s rifle to be proportionate.

Basic Bolt Gun

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A happy huntress on the range with her Savage 11/111 Lady Hunter.

We’ve been blessed in recent years because the firearms manufacturers have recognized that women are the fastest-growing segment of the shooting market, and they’ve responded with some excellent compact guns. I suppose my old .243 Winchester Model 70 Featherweight would have been a precursor to those guns even though it still has standard stock dimensions. Now, almost every major manufacturer of hunting rifles makes compact versions perfectly suited to smaller-framed women. Also available are full-sized rifles in lightweight versions for those of us who can comfortably handle full-sized rifles but still need a lightweight option.

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Of these, probably the most versatile models for hunting are the modern, compact bolt actions. They’re slim and graceful, making them easy to carry. The bolt action is generally considered to be the most accurate of all rifle action types. Almost all the popular current bolt actions feature excellent triggers, convenient detachable box magazines and durable polymer stocks. For those who like a more traditional look, wood stocks are available on most models. Bolt actions are also typically the most economical class of rifles, with many models available for under $400. Many are available in a scope/rifle combination with the scope already mounted to the rifle. All you have to do is sight in and you’re ready to hunt.

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The most celebrated riflewoman in America. Nancy Gallagher Tompkins and her long-range rifle at the National Championships.

Bolt actions lend themselves well in all forms of hunting, but they’re especially suited for longer-range shooting in open country. They come in a wide range of calibers known for a longer range, good knockdown power and moderate recoil. They’re simple to maintain, and mounting optics is a straightforward (no gunsmith needed) process. For deer-sized game, the .243 Winchester is a great caliber and has the versatility to work well for varmints with light bullets and deer-sized game with heavier bullets. Another great caliber is the .260 Remington. Flat shooting and capable of handling bullets up to 120 grains, the .260 has proven itself as a great caliber, particularly in its accuracy.

The 2013 National High Power Rifle Championship was won with the .260 Remington. For larger game, like elk and moose, the .308 Winchester, the round the .243 and .260 are based on, is a proven performer. While these calibers lack the excitement of the magnum calibers, they all work well with the shorter barrels of most compact rifles. Reduced-recoil ammunition in most of the popular calibers is now available. It offers even lower recoil, or can allow you access to a lower-powered, more comfortable load to shoot when you don’t need the extra knockdown power.

Lever Actions

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For hunting where cover is heavy and longer shots are rare, lever-action rifles are a great choice. Almost all are light and handy, easy to load and fast on follow-up shots. Marlin, Winchester, Mossberg and Browning all make quality lever rifles. Most are chambered for the excellent, if somewhat dated, .30-30 Winchester, a caliber that’s probably taken more deer than any other. Marlin also offers lever rifles in the new .308 Marlin and .338 Marlin Express, and Browning rifles are chambered for almost all popular calibers.

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Modern Sporter

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With low recoil, light weight, easy operation and accuracy, the AR-15 platform of rifles make a wonderful choice for women. Many models have adjustable stocks that are easily adjusted to fit anyone. Shown is an LE6920 Series Colt dressed in Muddy Girl camouflage with Magpul furniture.

Probably the most versatile of all rifles are the modern sporting rifles based on the AR-15 platform. They are lightweight, easy to handle and offer more options for customization than any design in the history of firearms. Most all models are available in .223 Remington, but other popular choices are 6.8 SPC, .300 AAC Blackout, 7.62x39mm and .450 Bushmaster. The .223 Remington is an excellent varmint caliber, and it can, and often is, used on deer-sized game, but good shot placement is critical.

Effective loads for deer-sized game are now available from several manufactures due to modern bullet technology. The 6.8 SPC is probably a better choice for deer-sized game, with bullets available from 85 to 115 grains. Premium 110-grain bullets, such as the Nosler AccuBond or Barnes Triple-Shock X, can provide deep and straight penetration and are an excellent choice in AR-platform rifles.

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Equipped with a low magnification variable scope, an AR-15 carbine can provide excellent service for self-defense, recreational shooting, or hunting.

What makes AR-platform sporting rifles so attractive is their fully modular construction that allows you to buy upper receivers and use the rifle for almost any purpose up to medium-sized game.

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You can switch from .223 Remington, an excellent target and varmint cartridge, to .22 LR for economical practice, or go in the other direction to 6.8 SPC for medium-sized game or even .450 Bushmaster for a powerful and effective short-range rifle suitable for shooting in thick cover. AR-platform rifles that are excellent for taking big game are chambered in .308 Winchester and greater. Modern AR 10s are only slightly heavier than AR 15s though most calibers have heavier recoil, but they are accurate, more powerful and still easy to shoot and operate.

As the old Virginia Slims commercial said, “We’ve come a long way, baby.” With women being the fastest-growing segment of the firearms market, the shooting industry is paying attention. While most rifles will work for women without alteration, the industry has noticed that there’s a market for guns, ammunition and accessories specifically designed to work better for us.


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This article is from the fall 2015 issue of The New Pioneer. To subscribe, please visit RealWorldSurvivor.com/subscribe

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