My First Rifle

Dan Rogersby Dan Rogers
Guns and Gunsmiths Contributor

I saw a comment in the comments section the other day that kind of prompted me to tell the story of my first rifle. A reader had alluded to learning about rifles and the differences and what calibers were most useful for what purposes. All of these are excellent questions for the novice to seek good information on. It made me think of when I was a novice rifleman and beginning my journey of honing my high powered rifle skills.

The story of my first rifle plays out a little something like this. One would think that since my father was a veteran of the Army Rangers and the Aircav and my grandfather was a WWII Army veteran with 5 campaigns in the Pacific Theater of Operations under his belt, that by the time I could walk I should know all there is to know about rifles, calibers, and their uses. Though they taught me firearms safety, shooting, and field craft at a very early age; we did not own any center fire rifles. As I came into my early teens that was about to change, I wanted to become a deer hunter. My dad began letting me hunt with his friends and borrow their 30-30 lever guns.

I found the 30-30 easy to shoot and the lever guns light, handy, fast pointing rifles. I further learned that although I preferred the lines of the Winchester 94, the Marlin 336 shot better and was easier to contend with when optics were mounted on the rifle. At this point my only experience with a centerfire rifle was a 30-30. I had however come to the conclusion that as a caliber the 30-30 sufficed for my purposes. I also concluded that lever guns are cool, but I REALLY want a bolt action. I reasoned that bolt actions are sniper guns I want to be as cool as the snipers! I was totally ignorant that there were more calibers than the two I knew of at the time. I had heard other hunters and friends talk of deer calibers and the only ones mentioned were the 30-30 and the mighty 30-06. I decided either caliber would do for me just so long as it was a bolt action.

Naturally my dad and I set out on our quest without the first clue of what to get me. We ended up finding me a Springfield model 840 series E. Neither of us had the first clue about the rifle–all we knew was it was a 30-30 bolt action. I still do not know much about this rifle. I know that it is a cousin of the Savage 340 bolt action. I am also reasonably sure the Springfield 840 was available in 222 and 30-30. At the time I could care less because I had my very own rifle and it was my beloved 30-30 and by golly it was a bolt action too! The rifle felt very special to me because it was my first rifle, and no one else I knew had a 30-30 bolt action. 30-30 bolt actions are more an anomaly than anything else. I began honing my shooting skills and testing ammunition of different companies and different weights. I got my best results with Winchester Super X 150 grain hollow points.

In the years that followed I spent many an hour afield with my 30-30. I never really grouped the rifle except for checking it on paper at 50 yards on occasion. It always clustered the shots nearly touching one another and nearly exactly the point of aim. I took a few deer with the rifle, and it served well as a general purpose woods and farm rifle. The rifle probably has won me more cokes, ice cream cones and the like from “betcha can’t hit that from here” shooting bets over the years growing up than it has brought meat home. It has also dispatched many a four legged pestilence around the farm and on camping trips.

Now I know what some of you are thinking. You think he was not successful in killing many deer because a 30-30 is an anemic outdated cartridge. The 30-30 is certainly a cartridge that has been greatly praised and greatly criticized. I have read accounts of 30-30’s harvesting moose, and I have also read of people saying it is not fit to take a coyote at 60 yards. I certainly would not advise the 30-30 for moose! Apparently some Canadians are just that crazy. As for the coyote, I have personally taken a 110 pound doe at 75 yards with my 30-30 with the greatest of ease. Whether moose or whitetail doe the most important key to success hinges on 3 things they are shot placement, shot placement, and err uhh shot placement. The 30-30 is an excellent cartridge fit for up to deer and black bear sized game out to about 150 yards. When kept within its capabilities the 30-30 serves admirably. My problem was finding deer that walked out within the 125 yards I was confident of reaching with my iron sighted Springfield 30-30.

While studying my beloved 30-30 on ballistics tables I discovered other cartridges. Then one Christmas my dad got me an M1 Garand, so I started cutting my teeth on the mighty 30-06. I started talking to other shooters and hunters about their favorite calibers and how they performed. I also started learning about all things rifles. I learned about different actions, companies, cartridges, constructions, and configurations. I began learning about optics and how they worked. I also learned about a process called reloading where a shooter can make ammunition to his specifications and needs. I came to the conclusion there was much more to rifles that I wanted to learn.

By the time I graduated high school I had saved enough money and done enough research I felt I could purchase another rifle. I bought a Remington 700 BDL stainless in 30-06 from my uncle. This rifle was the first rifle I accurized. It was my first 30-06 bolt action, my first scoped rifle, my first trigger job, and the first rifle cartridge I learned to reload. I still own both of these rifles. They have both served me extremely well. I have since collected more and more rifles through the years. The 30-30 served as my 30 caliber gateway drug, I jumped from it to the 30-06, added a 308 to the mix and have owned and loaded both the 300 WSM and 300 win mag.

My first rifle served as a spark to kindle a love of shooting and knowledge of rifles and cartridges. It has become an old friend to me. It has never failed to do anything I asked of it. It served to make me go research and find what rifles, configurations, and cartridges served my purposes best. I believe in choosing a rifle one must first take into consideration the purposes for which the rifle will be employed. Someone living in Oklahoma shooting paper and ground squirrels would most likely find my 30 caliber choices a bit much. Someone shooting long range matches may desire a cartridge more ballistically efficient than the calibers discussed here, say something 7mm, 6.5mm, 6mm or something else entirely. Also a shooter’s preference comes into play. A quick handy lever gun may be exactly what the shooter wants. Another may prefer an autoloader or a single shot. These reasons are why the rifle holds such mystique with me. It is a weapon of high velocity and power that can deliver rounds with accuracy over distance that can be tailored to the shooter’s preferences and purposes.

If I had the whole experience to do again I would still want my Springfield 840 30-30. At the time my father got it for me it served my purposes and it was the type of action I wanted. To this day I can still count on it to do everything I need it to do within its capabilities. The rifle made the perfect rifle for a youngster to learn on and continue his shooting education. If you are in the market for your first rifle do yourself the favor of determining what rifle and cartridge combination would best suit your needs. Buying a rifle just because you like it or like the cartridge is never a bad idea in my opinion. If you like your rifle then you are more apt to take the time to learn to shoot it well, care for it, and understand how it works. You too may find your first rifle sparks a chain of learning and rifle collecting, or you may find you never buy another one because your choice serves you so well there is no need for another. I hope this is helpful and if not maybe it at least made a good story. Happy shooting and stay safe.

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