The Best Rifle for Farm and Ranch
What to Reach for When Chicken Predators Get too Close
Reading Time: 6 minutes
Picking the best rifle for farm and ranch duty has an awful lot to do with personal preference and your unique situation. Sometimes the best rifle is merely the one closest at hand, but if you’re in the market for a new rifle for predator control, there are a few things to consider.
Rifles are useful tools, but you need to be there to use them. If you’re away from the farm a lot, consider livestock guardian dogs, better fences, and other deterrents to keep predators away. It may not be the end-all solution, but it’s worth considering, and it may save you from wondering what killed my chicken?
No amount of YouTube will replace formal safety training, such as a hunter safety course or a National Rifle Association firearms safety class. Please attend one of these, even if your local law doesn’t require it.
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It’s unwise to store firearms in a loaded condition, and in many states, it’s illegal to do so. It’s also illegal in many jurisdictions to leave guns in anything other than a locking container. Be safe, legal, and be responsible; buy a safe, even if it’s just a cheap one.
In the world of firearm terminology, the “action” of a rifle is the mechanism that loads and ejects the ammunition cartridge from the firing chamber. There are several standard action types you should consider.
Bolt action rifles are common in the hunting world, and readily available. Bolt actions are simple to operate, simple to clean, and highly reliable. The downside to the bolt action is the time it takes to chamber another cartridge.
Reload time is exasperated by the fact that most people will lose their target while working the action, making quick follow-up shots harder. The best rifle to learn on is a bolt action, however, so new shooters should seriously consider one.
Lever action rifles are icons of the wild west, and can easily be the best rifle for you. Operation of a lever action is simple, and you can easily chamber a cartridge without losing your sight picture.
Lever actions are a more complicated action than a bolt. Unlike a bolt action, a lever action rifle will require more effort to clean since you’ll likely need to disassemble it with tools. The complicated nature of the lever action also leaves it more prone to malfunctions versus a bolt action.
A semi-auto rifle will fire one cartridge per trigger pull, eject the spent shell casing and chamber a fresh cartridge. Because of this, you don’t need to manipulate the rifle to load a new round, nor do you lose your sight picture in the process, which all means your follow-up shots are much quicker than bolt or lever action guns.
Just like lever actions, semi-auto rifles tend to be more complicated to disassemble and clean. The added complexity of the semi-automatic action also introduces more potential for reliability issues.
There are some amazingly reliable semi-auto rifles available on the market today. If you think the best rifle for you would be a semi-automatic, I won’t try to dissuade you, just be sure to do your homework.
The way in which the cartridge feeds into the action of your rifle is an important thing to consider. Manufacturers have come up with all sorts of feeding methods over the years. However, the most common ways in the market today are tube feed, fixed magazine, and removable magazine methods.
Tube fed rifles are common in the firearms market and are typically associated with small caliber semi-auto rifles, lever action rifles, and shotguns. Tube fed rifles offer a simple and effective way to feed cartridges to an action and have the benefit of not having any protrusions, such as a detachable magazine sitting immediately below the action.
The downfall of the tube fed system is the time it takes to load it and the limitation of compatible ammunition types. Tube fed rifles need to use a flat nosed or specialty cartridge such as LEVERevolution® by Hornady to avoid accidental primer activation.
Fixed magazines are standard fare in bolt action hunting rifles and some old military semi-autos. In a fixed magazine rifle, you need to load cartridges through the open action and push them into the magazine. Some vintage military rifles added a “stripper clip” system to speed this operation up since this is a time-consuming process.
In a hunting rifle, a blind magazine works perfectly well. In a last-moment attempt to eliminate the fox that just stole its fifth chicken from your flock; not so much.
A detachable magazine is the fastest and best rifle feeding method available in today’s firearm market. It’s undoubtedly the quickest way to load an unloaded rifle if you’ve preloaded your magazine.
There are so many calibers and variations of today’s modern cartridges that it would take an entire book to cover them all. There are heated debates across the internet concerning different rounds and their best use, but I’m not about to enter into that area.
Just know that there is a multitude of available chamberings available to you, everything from the tried-and-true to the experimental and from the newest, latest and greatest, to the most esoteric history can conjure. The good news is; many of them will do the job, but here are a few favorite predator cartridges widely available on the market.
The .17HMR is a wicked little round. This round is the smallest commercially available caliber I know of, and I know people who hunt successfully with this cartridge. The .17 is a low recoil round that is super fast and good at felling everything from rats to foxes. The .17HMR tends to be more expensive than others of similar size, but it’s one of the best rifles for common pest and predator control.
The .22 or “twenty-two,” is a tried and true caliber. It’s an incredibly cost-effective cartridge and perfect for training. I wouldn’t use a .22 for anything more substantial than an average-sized fox for fear of wounding without putting down the animal. If your primary troublemaker is a raccoon or weasel, however, the .22 is an excellent choice.
The .223 caliber is best known for its use in the AR15, M16, and M4 rifle platform. The .223 is effective against pests and predators. You can find rifles chambered in .223 with a bolt action, semi-auto, and even a pump action, so you’re not restricted to a military rifle. In a semi-auto rifle, the .223 is a very light recoiling cartridge yet it’s highly effective on pests up to and including large coyote.
The classic .30-30 Winchester is a very popular short range deer cartridge available in a lever action rifle. While imminently manageable, the recoil of this round is a notable step up from the .223 which may be a consideration for recoil sensitive shooters. The .30-30 cartridge is effective on targets up to the size of your average deer, as well as hog and other game. The .30-30 may be your best rifle chambering if you want to be able to hunt with your gun as well, so consider that added flexibility.
The .308 is an excellent all-around cartridge. While a bit overpowered for raccoons and other small animals, it will do the job. The deficit will be the felt recoil, which may be significant to sensitive or inexperienced shooters alike. The .308 is available in semi-auto, bolt, and even lever actions. If you want a utility cartridge that can stop something as big as a bear, then take a hard look at this highly popular round.
The Best Rifle for Beginners
For the beginner shooter, your best rifle will likely be a bolt action or semi-auto .22 with a detachable magazine. Being the quintessential trainer rifle, the .22 should serve you well in that regard, as well as when you’re faced with a small predator problem.
What rifle do you keep on the farm for predator control? What was your thought process behind it? Let us know in the comments below and join the conversation!