Guns > Rifles

My Favorite Hunting Rifle: Steven Rinella

After years of lugging around hand-me-down rifles, the author learned the value of shooting his very own gun with the purchase of a custom 7 mm Rem. Mag.


Like most hunters, I grew up shooting hand-me-down rifles. Some of these guns had been handed down so many times that it was no longer clear where they originally came from. My first .22 was a Remington bolt-action that my dad bought from a guy who’d picked it up at a sale when a nearby summer camp discontinued its marksmanship program. From there, the rifle served a stint as my older brother Matt’s first .22, and then it took a turn as my older brother Danny’s first .22. By the time it came to me when I was 10 years old, my dad had realized that I had a dominant left eye. He made me learn how to shoot the right-handed rifle using left-handed form. He explained that the 30-06 he intended to give me was right-handed, too, so I might as well get used to it.

Thus began years of shooting rifles that weren’t necessarily suited for me. I hunted with that same old 30-06 for the next decade. When I finally did upgrade, it was because my dad passed away and willed to me yet another right-handed bolt-action 30-06. This one had a thin, whippy barrel that tended to overheat after just a couple rounds. But if my previous experiences with firearms had taught me one thing, it’s that shooters can’t always be choosers. Put another way, I always just figured that rifles find you—you don’t find rifles. You get what you get.

This philosophy stayed with me even more tenaciously than hand-me-down guns. Even when I finally purchased a rifle on my own, I still let fate guide my decisions. I went to the local gun dealer and perused the racks of used rifles, paying more attention to the price tags than the makes and models. In the end, I walked out with the rifle that most closely matched the amount of money that was in my pocket. I didn’t ask a single question, or even explain to the dealer what I might be looking for. Only later did I realize that some previous owner had allowed the rifling to become pitted. It was hardly usable.   

Of course I would hear guys talk about custom rifles, but this subject seemed about as applicable to my life as the subject of pedicures. It just seemed like something that had to do with other people, people I didn’t know. I may have gone on thinking like this forever if I hadn’t one day found myself talking with a custom riflemaker from South Carolina. He was asking what I’d like in a gun, and I started explaining the perfect rifle in the same dreamy and unrealistic way that you’d describe the perfect day’s weather. That is, it was something that I’d like to see, even though it was probably impossible. It would be coated with a substance that could handle the most brutal weather, I said, even a little saltwater exposure now and then; it would have a nice, heavy barrel, but not too heavy; it wouldn’t have any shiny parts that threw glare; it would be chambered in an all-purpose caliber that could shoot flat, something that would be appropriate for everything from antelope up to elk; it would be ugly, but the kind of ugly that’s actually beautiful; it’d have a light trigger pull and for God’s sake, it would be left-handed.

Oh, and one last thing: It would shoot like a laser.

I more or less forgot about this conversation, until one day David sent me a breakdown of how his company, Carolina Custom Rifles, could build me a rifle that would fit my exact specifications. We talked it through, and in a moment of feverish optimism, I placed my order for a 7 mm Rem. Mag. with a fluted barrel, a synthetic stock and a Teflon coating. 

When the gun was ready a few months later, I drove several hundred miles to pick it up. I fretted and worried the whole way there. It reminded me of how I felt when my wife was pregnant, how I selfishly wanted my boy to turn into a good, respectable kid for the simple reason that it would reflect well on me. If this gun didn’t turn out, I worried, I wouldn’t have anyone to blame but myself. After all, I’d explained specifically what I wanted. In a way, I actually started to miss those days when I could blame my firearm problems on whoever it was that decided to buy the thing in the first place.

The similarities to parenting did not end when I saw the gun. I plucked that thing off the rack with all the pride of a new father—ignoring the fact that someone else had actually done all the work. Then I promptly took it to the range and had the bizarre experience of firing a rifle that was meant to be fired by me. It felt somehow familiar. The stock fit my shoulder and arm. The trigger fit my finger. And, for crying out loud, the bolt was on the left side of gun. I sat down and shot a tighter box of rounds than I’d ever shot in my life. I’m sure the mechanics and specifications of the rifle had a lot to with that. But so did the fact that I, for once, had a keen sense of ownership over my hunting rifle. It was like the difference between trying to cook in someone else’s kitchen and cooking in your own. I knew right where everything was.

Rinella's custom 7 mm Rem. Mag. from Carolina Custom Rifles

Since then, I’ve taken that rifle on a bunch of successful hunts, for black bears and deer and even mountain goats. Things have gone extremely smoothly. You pull the trigger, it goes bang, the critter falls. Along the way, the rifle has absorbed a few nicks and dings and scratches. But instead of looking at these imperfections and wondering about some bygone person’s carelessness, I look at them and remember my own slips and falls. It’s almost like the rifle is a diary that’s never been written on or even read by anyone but me. We’re engaged in a private relationship, which is refreshing. Right now I can’t say how long I’ll keep this thing. I’ll at least hunt with it for the next decade, until my baby boy grows old enough to chase big game. It’s already obvious that he’s right handed. I can’t wait to hand him this lefty’s hand-me-down and tell him to get used to it.

What is your favorite hunting rifle and why? Tell us your story in the comments.

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6 Responses to My Favorite Hunting Rifle: Steven Rinella

Bill Wright wrote:
February 12, 2015

i am another left-handed-left eye dominant shooter. I shot borrowed rifles as a navy brat on military bases. Of course all were right handed in the sixties. When i joined the military, i was forced to shoot right handed. I started purchasing lever actions before finally discovering the Weatherby store in southern Calif. in 1970s. They setup the perfect 7mm that i still own and love. I also love the Ruger # 1 as a great ambidexterous rifle.

Gerry James wrote:
December 13, 2014

Favorite rifle is an A-Bolt Stainless Stalker in 30-06 in 1989. I got it because Browning actually made left handed versions of their better rifles, and because the people I knew who had one were well pleased. The rifle fits me as close to perfectly as a factory rifle can and it functions flawlessly. I got a 30-06 because it is quite simply the best all around caliber there is, and you can get ammo anywhere. It puts down meat with indisputable authority anywhere in its range. As for the dire warnings about recoil, though I'm not UFC material, I find it pleasant to shoot. This is the rifle that's brought home 95[%] of my venison. I'm so fond of this weapon I even named it.

Scott Anderson wrote:
January 08, 2012

I have shot rifles for years, some good – some not so good. With the onset of producing an outdoor program I was by all standards suppose to shoot what ever rifle the sponsors wanted me to shoot. We are now in our ninth season and will air our 200th original show. There has been changed over the years and with that comes experience and knowledge. I now use the products I believe and trust in, we do the show to fit our needs and work with sponsors that have products we use day in and day out. Our show is about adventure travel, regions, people, culture and the different species and how you hunt them. We educate, and entertain and at the end of the day if I have educated or entertained a viewer or simple let them get lost in our ½ hour show and away from the day to day stress then I have accomplished. For the first time in my life I am looking at a custom rifle, one that I can call mine. BUILT FOR ME! At first I looked at this as being selfish and then I realized I have worked my butt off and for once deserve the best. The reason I feel this way is that I firmly believe that you owe it to the animal to be the very best that you can be. One shot one clean ethical kill. MY goal: I want it to be lightweight, shoot accurate, feel like it is part of me and foremost be able to trust my life to it. In my research I crossed paths with CCR and am seriously looking at this to be my next weapon of choice! Glad you like yours! Scott Anderson BackLand Experiences Host

Kevin wrote:
December 29, 2011

Yes savage as well as s few other companies make left handed rifles, and are very affordable.

Ernie wrote:
December 20, 2011

I too am left handed & I never had or even knew there was a left handed gun of any kind. Can I buy a use left handed rifle for I can't aford a custom one?

Ronnie wrote:
December 15, 2011

I am extremely familiar with your dilemma,I am a self taught shooter,and had never heard of the dominant eye thing before.One day I just picked up a right handed rifle (handed down to me)and placed that sucker right to where it felt comfortable(my left shoulder)and fired away.My first hunt I was laughed at and taunted for shooting wrong,and asked constantly "are you sure you're not left handed?"to which I would reply "no,I am most definitely right handed" It wasn't until many years later on a bow hunt that someone told me about eye dominance,and all became perfectly clear,I wasn't shooting wrong,I was just left eye dominant,and since have purchased my rifles ,and bows accordingly,Man what a difference.