Rifles and Cartridges for Smaller Hunters

By Chuck Hawks

Ruger M77 Compact

Illustration courtesy of Sturm, Ruger & Co., Inc.

Not everyone, even in North America or Northern Europe, is large of stature. Women are, on average, smaller and lighter framed than men, as are youths of both sexes. And, of course, there are small adult men. It does not take a giant to pull a trigger, and hunting is a great sport that should be available to anyone.

Some arms makers understand this, and produce rifles specifically for smaller, or youthful, hunters. Some of these rifles are listed in my articles "Recommended Rimfire Hunting Rifles" and "Recommended Centerfire Rifles." The former can be found on the Rimfire Guns and Ammo Page and the latter on the Rifle Information Page.

Recommended rimfire rifles include the Marlin 915Y, Marlin 915YS, Savage CUB, and Savage Mark I (all bolt actions), plus the Stevens Model 30G "Favorite" (falling block action). These rifles are chambered for the .22 Long Rifle cartridge, which should be the caliber everyone learns to shoot with. It is also the natural choice for small game hunting.

For the aspiring big game hunter we have a larger assortment of recommended rifles. These include the Browning A-Bolt II Micro Hunter (bolt), Marlin Model 336 SpikeHorn (lever), NEF Handi-Rifle Youth (break-open), Remington Model 7 Youth (bolt), Ruger M77 Compact (bolt), Savage Model 10GY Youth (bolt) and 11FYXP3 Package w/scope (bolt), Weatherby Vanguard Compact (bolt), Winchester Model 70 Classic Compact (bolt), and Winchester Model 94 Ranger Compact (lever).

Some of these, such as the NEF, Savage, and Winchester 94 Ranger are no frills economy models. Others, such as the Marlin Spikehorn, Browning Micro Hunter, Ruger M77 Compact, and Winchester M-70 Compact are fully equal to their larger brethren.

One key to enjoyable shooting with any rifle is a stock that fits the shooter. If the youth or compact rifles on the market don't appeal, the stock of a standard model can be shortened, bent, lowered, or simply replaced by a custom stock. However it is accomplished, the goal is to create a hunting rifle that fits the shooter properly.

Of course, the cartridge for which such a rifle is chambered is also important, particularly for the beginning hunter. Excessive recoil (kick) is poisonous to accuracy. Remember that it is bullet placement, not raw power, that is the key to killing power with any hunting rifle.

Physical size alone is not a reliable indication of recoil tolerance. Petite Osa Johnson, a woman that could not have weighed more than 100 pounds, was shown in many early televised 1950's hunting programs knocking over pachyderms and such with powerful, big bore elephant rifles. She was a cool and deadly shot with these shoulder cannons.

On the other hand, most inexperienced shooters are somewhat intimidated by hard kicking rifles. And the fact is that most CXP2 class game, in particular deer and antelope, can be humanely harvested using rifle cartridges of moderate recoil.

Old and new favorites among such rifle cartridges include the .243 Winchester, 6mm Remington, .25-35, .250-3000, .257 Roberts, 6.5x54 Mannlicher-Schoenauer, 7-30 Waters, .30-30, and 38-55. According to the "Expanded Rifle Recoil Table" on the Tables, Charts and Lists Page, all of these deliver less than 12 ft. lbs. of recoil energy in a 7.5 pound rifle. The mildest of these, the .25-35 and .250-3000 are in the 6-8 ft. lb. range. Anyone who intends to hunt CXP2 game should learn to deal with at least that amount of recoil.

Smaller and lighter calibers, such as some of the .22 centerfire cartridges, are technically legal in some jurisdictions, but are not powerful enough to guarantee quick, humane kills on North American deer size game. Even where legal, they should be avoided for use on game weighing more than 50 pounds.

By far the most popular of the above mentioned cartridges are the .243 Win. and .30-30 Win. Both are used wherever antlered game is hunted and have compiled long and satisfactory records in the field. Where shots will normally be within 200 yards I prefer the .30-30; where shots will often exceed 200 yards I prefer the .243. Hunters who take the time to learn to shoot will not find either lacking.

For small to medium size CXP2 game (pronghorn antelope and whitetail deer, for example) I like a 150 grain bullet in .30-30 and a 90-95 grain bullet in .243. For larger CXP2 game I would go with a 170 grain bullet in .30-30 and 100-105 grain bullets in .243.

Since accurate bullet placement is critical for quick kills, hunting rifles--particularly those of moderate recoil (and thus power)--should be equipped with optical sights. Usually this means a fixed power scope of 2x to 4x or a variable scope somewhere in the 1-4x, 2-7x, or 3-9x ranges. Such scopes provide an adequate field of view at the lower magnifications and all the power you will ever need for big game hunting purposes.

Low magnification scopes are fast to align, and all optical sights put the target and the aiming mark (crosswire) in the same optical plane. The latter (far more than high magnification) is what allows accurate bullet placement.

Today we are truly blessed. Practically anyone, regardless of age, sex, or stature, can find an adequate hunting rifle in a price range that suits them. A bespoke rifle, desirable as they may be, is no longer necessary to participate in the great sport of hunting.

Back to the Rifle Information Page

Copyright 2005, 2016 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.