The best types of rifles for women are an interesting subject. 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.
Best Types of Rifles for Women
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 men might not be ideal for women. 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. There are different types of rifles that make sense here.
Basic Bolt-Action Rifles
We’ve been blessed in recent years because firearm manufacturers have recognized that women are the fastest-growing segment of the shooting market. 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.
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.
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. It 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.
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 and can allow you access to a lower-powered, more comfortable load to shoot when you don’t need the extra knockdown power.
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-action rifles in the new .308 Marlin and .338 Marlin Express. Meanwhile, Browning rifles are chambered for almost all popular calibers.
Modern Sporting Rifles
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. It can be, and often is, used on deer-sized game, feral hogs, and coyotes, but always remember that good shot placement is critical.
Effective loads for deer-sized game are now available from several manufacturers 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. They are an excellent choice in AR-platform rifles.
A Modular Platform
What makes AR-platform sporting rifles so attractive is their fully modular construction. They allow you to buy upper receivers and use the rifle for almost any purpose up to medium-sized game.
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. However, they are accurate, more powerful, and still easy to shoot and operate.
Final Thoughts on Different Types of Rifles
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 types of rifles work for women without alteration, the industry noticed that there’s a market for guns, ammunition, and accessories specifically designed to work better for us.