There are many factors and variables that can determine which rifle is the most appropriate for an individual. I am going to do my best to provide some general guidance on what caliber and rifle you should buy based on these factors and variables.
As a new hunter you need to build your confidence and skills as a shooter. The only way to develop your skills and confidence is to shoot, a lot. Seeking out instruction from experienced shooters is a critical starting point to learning the basic shooting principles. Once you have the basics covered, you will need to find the time to practice regularly. Ideally, you must enjoy your shooting experience to ensure that you do practice often.
My first rifle was an ultra-light 30-06 rifle. I was a 14 year old, skinny lightweight. My light 30-06 had a heavy recoil and neither my skinny frame nor the ultra-light rifle absorbed the recoil. I instantly became gun-shy after I shot the 30-06 for the first time. The kick of the recoil and the shocking sound of the bang caused me to develop a flinch. I would pull my head back and close my eyes every time I pulled the trigger. Obviously, this didn’t result in confidence building. I did not enjoy the shooting experience, so I did not practice enough to fix my flinch. As a result, I failed to develop confidence and accuracy.
I only recently started to enjoy shooting. This is largely because I purchased a 7mm–08 caliber rifle a few years ago. This is a medium sized caliber rifle and it is very pleasant to shoot. Because I enjoyed shooting this rifle, I practiced more and began having excellent shooting results – which helped me build my confidence as a shooter. I still fight off those bad shooting habits to this day, but I have definitely improved as a shooter since I have built my confidence by shooting a rifle with less recoil. I still find the recoil and bang of my 30-06 and 300 Winchester calibers shocking; however, I have improved my confidence and skills to absorb the recoil, and ignore the bang, in order to consistently shoot accurately with larger caliber rifles.
Recommendation: I recommend that you purchase a medium caliber rifle to develop your skills and confidence as a new hunter and avoid being beat up by the larger caliber rifles. If you weigh over 180 pounds, and have a bit of girth around your shoulders, you may enjoy shooting a 30-06.
To become a confident shooter you will need to shoot a lot, so affordable ammunition is important. The 308 is the most common rifle on the market resulting in 308 caliber bullets to likely be one of the cheapest ammunitions you can buy. A box of 308 ammo is readily available for less than $20 a box, which works out to one dollar per shot. In comparison, the short mag calibers, and 7mm-08, can be as much as $40 a box for ammunition. A new shooter can easily shoot 10 to 20 rounds each time they go practice with their rifle so this could really add up over time, especially if you start to enjoy shooting and want to spend time becoming an expert marksman or markswoman.
Each caliber of ammunition can shoot several different bullet lengths and weights. The amount of gun powder capacity in each cartridge will vary the speed and trajectory of the bullet. The weight of a bullet is measured in grains. A larger cartridge with greater capacity for more gun power will be capable of shooting a heavier bullet, or small bullets faster. A longer bullet will be more stable over its flight. Each rifle will have a specific bullet weight that will produce the best accuracy and versatility for hunting.
To avoid the discussion and debate on the optimum bullet weight for each caliber, I will recommend the following: Choose a 165 grain bullet weight for the 308 or 30-06; choose a 140 grain for the 7mm-08; choose the 180 grain for the 30-06 and the 300 Winchester if you are hunting Moose and Elk. These bullet weights should give you the best all-around performance.
Recommendation: consider the 308 or the 30-06.
The caliber you choose must produce enough bullet energy for the type of game you plan to hunt. Bullet energy is the weight of the bullet multiplied by the velocity that the bullet is traveling when it hits the target. A bullet must have minimum 1500 foot/pounds (ft/lbs.) of energy when it strikes an animal to ensure an efficient and ethical kill. A light bullet, such as a 243, will not have sufficient energy to kill an Elk or Moose at a range of 200 yards. A heavier caliber, such as a 300 Winchester, will impact a deer with 3300ft/lbs. of energy at 100 yard range. At this range there is twice as much energy than is required to kill an animal efficiently. The surplus energy will distribute throughout the muscle tissue and will cause massive flesh damage (blood shot meat). You only need to kill the animal once, and you don’t want to destroy more flesh than necessary. However, at a range of 400 yards, the 300 Winchester would impact a target with 1500ft/lbs. of energy, so it is a practical choice for long range hunting. It is important to pick a rifle that is appropriate to the size of game and the distance that you would expect to find the game.
I use a 7mm-08 caliber for deer and sheep. I could use the 7mm-08 rifle for elk provided I expect to have a shot at an elk at a short range (less than 200 yard). I use a 300 Winchester for all moose and elk hunting. They are larger animals and require more bullet energy to efficiently kill them. I also use my 300 Winchester for sheep hunting because it is an effective long range caliber, and I can expect to only have an opportunity to shoot at long ranges.
My recommendation is to consider the 308 or 7mm-08. The 308 caliber and the 7 mm caliber are ideal deer calibers to a range of 300 yards. They both have enough energy to kill an elk within 200 yards, and likely have enough energy shoot a moose within 100 yards. The 30-06 and the 270 caliber rifle both have plenty of energy to harvest an Elk or Moose out to 300 yards; however, they have too much of a surplus of energy to harvest a deer at short range (less than 100 yards).
Keep in mind that a 300 yard shot requires a high degree of skill and experience. I have never shot at an animal over 250 yard. 90% of the game I have shot has been less than 60 yards away.
The 30-06 is widely considered the most versatile caliber for North American big game. The 270 is widely considered the most accurate long-range shooting rifle. They’re both excellent choices of firearms provided you have the body mass to sustain the recoil.
The 308 and the 7mm-08 are a smaller cartridge than the 30-06 and the 270 and therefore have less gunpowder, produce less bang, and less recoil. If you are primarily going to hunt deer than I recommend choosing one of these calibers and forgo the recoil of the more versatile 30-06. There are also some new 30 caliber short magnum cartridges that produce amazing ballistics. If you are going to be strictly an elk or moose hunter then you must consider the 30-06 caliber the 300 Winchester mag or the 30 caliber short mag. Keep in mind these calibers are not very pleasant to shoot so you may be sore after practicing.
I only recommend purchasing a bolt action rifle. They are safe and reliable. I like a clip, but others prefer a drop plate. A clip allows you to load and unload easily, but you run the risk of losing the clip along the way. A drop plate takes a bit more time to load and unload, but you can’t lose it.
If you have short arms then you should consider buying a rifle with a smaller stock. Savage Arms and Browning both make rifles that are designed specifically for women.
You will have a choice between buying a wood stock or a synthetic stock. The wood stock is pretty and heavier than the synthetic stock. The extra weight can be a good thing for a new shooter since it will help absorb some recoil. It is also pleasant to look at, and you should really like your rifle since you may only buy one or two rifles in your lifetime. Wood stocks and blued barrel need to be dried off after every use and should be oiled regular to keep the rifle from rusting. The synthetic stocks are very practical because they are lighter for carrying around all day. The stainless barrel and synthetic stock will not mind getting wet and will require less maintenance overtime.
The most important factor in choosing a firearm is to ensure that you enjoy shooting your firearm so that you practice more and develop your skills and confidence. If cost is your primary barrier than the 308 or the 30-36 calibers are excellent choices because they both have affordable ammunition. If you weigh less than 170 pounds you should consider the 308 or the 7mm-08. If you weigh more than 180 pounds and you intend to hunt elk or moose regularly than you should consider the 30-06 or the 270 caliber.
Lastly, if you want a wood gun, then I would lean towards the Browning X-Bolt. Browning does a great job of providing numerous and diverse stock sizes; they have some great options for women. If you want a stainless gun with a synthetic stock, than I would check out the Tika T3 Stainless.
Eat well and wild.