Choosing the Right Firearms

Firearms are the most widely used method for harvesting deer. Unfortunately, this most basic piece of deer hunting equipment is also one of the largest investments. As a deer hunter you have four firearm types to choose from: rifles, shotguns, muzzleloaders, and handguns.


Rifles are chosen by the majority of Missouri deer hunters. Hundreds of kinds of rifles are available, and each one is unique. Choose a rifle like choosing a vehicle. You will have to give something up to get something in return. In the end, your choice will come down to personal preferences. Answering these questions and prioritizing your needs will help narrow down your options.

How and where do you intend to hunt?

How much can you spend?

How much is ammunition?

What size rifle fits you best?

How much recoil does it have?

It is now time to make your selection and begin practicing. Make sure to practice until you can consistently hit a 6- to 8-inch target at varying distances from the shooting positions you will use in the field. A good scope can make a big difference on accuracy at longer ranges. 

Just remember, your scope should never be used as binoculars! Practice firearms safety, and never point a gun at anything you do not want to shoot.


Many hunters choose a shotgun for deer hunting. Shotguns come in a variety of combinations, ranging from those used to hunt upland birds or waterfowl to highly specialized shotguns for deer hunting. In Missouri, when deer hunting with a shotgun, you are required to use slugs; slugs are single projectiles specifically designed for large game such as deer. With the correct combination of hunter and equipment, shotgun slugs can be accurately used for long-range hunting, but an average combination is best suited to shots inside of 100 yards. Be sure to practice so you will know your effective range. 

Slugs come in two basic types, rifled slugs and sabot slugs. Rifled slugs are designed to be shot from smoothbore shotguns. It is a good idea to shoot rifled slugs from an open choke, such as a cylinder bore or improved cylinder choke. Sabot slugs are designed to be shot from shotguns with fully rifled barrels or rifled choke tubes. This type of slug has a bullet placed inside a plastic jacket. The fully rifled slug barrel in combination with a sabot slug is the choice of the majority of shotgun deer hunters.


Muzzleloaders are firearms capable of being loaded from the muzzle. Instead of having a complete cartridge as with a rifle, when using a muzzleloader you must load each component separately. The main benefit to choosing a muzzleloader is that many states, including Missouri, have an additional season for their use. This equates to extended opportunities in the field. 

Muzzleloaders are primarily short-range tools, and shots should generally be limited to around 100 yards. Practice will determine your effective range, and many shooters that have spent time finding the perfect load can extend their accurate distance. Another drawback is that muzzleloader hunters are limited to one shot. You must make your first shot count.


Handguns require more skill to achieve proficiency than any other firearm. Even in the best hands, most handguns are limited to shots inside of 50 yards. Getting this close to deer takes a higher level of skill, but this challenge makes hunting with a handgun fun. The theme with a handgun should be practice, practice, practice, and then practice some more. As a hunter, it is your obligation to know your limits and the limits of your equipment to harvest game in the most ethical and humane way possible.