Shopping for the hunter on your list? Here are some tips for buying firearms

FILE- In this Sept. 19, 2017 photo, the sales floor is seen at a Bass Pro Shops store in Council Bluffs, Iowa. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik, File)
FILE- In this Sept. 19, 2017 photo, the sales floor is seen at a Bass Pro Shops store in Council Bluffs, Iowa. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik, File)

Over the holidays many sporting goods stores drop prices on rifles and shotguns for gift givers buying for youths and adults with a new interest in hunting. Trying to muddle through all the calibers, gauges, actions and accessories can be a true endurance test for people who are not in the know about the latest firearms choices.

Grant Tomlin, assistant chief of education for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission who oversees shooting range development and shooting sports programs, says buyers should pay most attention to the fit and function of the gun rather than the price tag.

“There are some good deals out there, but you really need to make sure the firearm fits the purpose, and fits the hunter,” Tomlin said. “If the firearm does not fit then it won’t be as accurate or enjoyable to use.”

Two main categories of firearms, rifles and shotguns, cover the vast majority of hunting needs. Each has its strengths and weaknesses which make it shine in certain situations. Shotguns excel at hitting moving targets, and are required for hunting game birds such as doves and waterfowl. Rifles provide one projectile at longer ranges with more precision, making them perfect for squirrel or deer hunting.

“A shotgun is going to have more room for error for first-timers shooting at squirrels as well, and you can get slugs to use for deer hunting with a shotgun, so it is more versatile, but you sacrifice distance and accuracy,” Tomlin said.

Tomlin suggests first-time hunters who are interested in duck hunting, turkey hunting and small game to start with a pump-action shotgun. Go with a 20-gauge for youths and 12-gauge for adults.

The pump-action is an affordable and extremely functional firearm for all sorts of conditions, Tomlin said. Semi-automatics do soak up a little recoil from the gun, but have more moving parts that could fail in bad conditions and can be less safe in the hands of a new shooter.

If the person is going to hunt deer, a good rifle is an excellent option as well. Again, the choices are nearly limitless, which can be daunting to someone looking for their first gun.

“For a youth, I would stick to a solid, bolt-action rifle in either .243 or 7mm-08 calibers,” Tomlin said. “It’s legal to go with a .223 in Arkansas, and it will work on deer with the right shot placement and proper bullet type, but I would suggest someone start with a caliber at least as large as .243 to give them a little more room for error. Or you could choose a lever action rifle in a .30-30 like what many of us started with decades ago. There’s still nothing wrong with that gun as long as you keep your shots within 200 yards or so, which is more than enough range for almost all first-time hunters.”

Whether you are looking for a first-time shotgun or rifle, Tomlin says the most important thing is to make sure the firearms fits the user.

“We could go on and on about this brand or that brand, but the most expensive rifle won’t shoot well if it doesn’t fit the shooter,” Tomlin said. “It’s best to take the person you’re shopping for with you to let them hold and shoulder the guns before you decide on one.”

Another strong suggestion from Tomlin is to shop at stores that specialize in hunting firearms.

“The person behind the counter of a good gun store or sporting goods store is going to be able to help you out with the right sorts of equipment,” he said.

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