So, after I got my firearms license ("RPAL") the question was which firearm to buy?
The use of handguns is much more legally restricted, so I decided to postpone that purchase for when I become a member of a club where I can practice with a handgun. That leaves unrestricted "long guns", i.e rifles and shotguns.
I don't think shotguns are good first firearms unless that's the only type of firearm I'm going to shoot (and it's not :) ).
I briefly considered an SKS - the same rifle I carried in the Yugoslav Army in the early eighties. It's affordable, reliable, fun to shoot, fires relatively cheap ammo and I know it inside and out. However, only Russian and Chinese versions are currently available in Canada and I wanted the Yugo one (with the grenade launcher). Also, this rifle is quite long, which lead me to a major practical consideration:
At this stage, I need a rifle that would fit in the hard case on my motorcycle. That way I can carry it inconspicuously, safely and legally anywhere I ride, and I want to to ride to target practice and enjoy both of my passions at the same time. So, the length limit is set at about 50cm.
There was also a question of caliber. The bigger the bullet, the more it costs, and I want to be able to afford a lot of practice. Surplus 7.62x39 ammo (the kind SKS and AK47 use) can be found for about 25c a pop if you buy the whole crate of 1,500 rounds. Not too expensive, but still too big and heavy to carry enough of it on a motorcycle, let alone in a backpack (the question where/why would I carry it in a backpack will be answered with a future post).
Also, my 50cm length limit falls well under the minimum length for an unrestricted firearm (I believe it's 66cm, but don't quote me on that). The rifle needs to be classified as unrestricted because of my intended use (again, the answer is in a future post).
That all left me with take-down models - rifles that can be easily disassembled for transport and reassembled at the range. Long story short, the choice quickly narrowed down to two: Ruger 10-22 takedown or Henry U.S. Survival Rifle. Both are .22LR caliber which is cheapest and most abundant ammo on the planet (can be found for under 10c per bullet). They are both easy to disassemble, but that's where the similarities end. Try to guess which one I've chosen before you read any further :).
Ruger is a better rifle in almost all respects. It's more accurate, it looks and feels like a real rifle and is infinitely customizeable. You can easily turn a plain-vanilla $400 10-22 into a $2,000 gunsmiths showpiece just by adding/replacing its parts. It's a proven design too - tens of millions were sold over half a century. It comes with it's own backpack for transport and storage when disassembled.
AR-7 (Henry) has equally long and even more interesting history - it was designed by Eugene Stoner, the famous father of M16. It had a pretty poor reliability record until Henry Repeating Arms took over the brand, but is now rock solid. It looks and feels like a toy, for better or for worse. There are almost no aftermarket accessories for it, not even higher capacity magazines (it holds 8 rounds per mag). I have to say that it doesn't inspire confidence, Henry's stellar support record notwithstanding. It's considerably cheaper than Ruger, and for a reason. It's also much lighter (only 1.6Kg) and packs in it's own stock, so you can carry it in any bag. It floats on water too, at least for a while.
So, the AR-7 won. I like to think the main reasons are it's practicality/utility and the fact that it will have a purpose even after I move on to something else. The fact is that it won with it's coolness factor and affordability. After all, it's only my first firearm - Ruger will get it's turn eventually.
Fast forward several months and I haven't regretted my choice. I've fired almost 10,000 rounds through my Survival Rifle so far. It works flawlessly with all types of ammunition and it cycles well even with subsonic rounds that many semiautomatic rifles have problems with (very nice, because I love subsonics). The rate of malfunctions (misfire, failure to feed, failure to eject, stovepipe, etc.) is about one per thousand. All of them can be attributed to inconsistent .22LR ammunition and are easily cleared in the field without tools.
The rifle is as accurate as I need it to be, which translates into consistently hitting a cantaloupe at 50m offhand and with mechanical sights. I'm not going to hunt with it, but can if I have to.
A backpack with my rifle, a few hundred rounds, a cleaning kit and a bunch of other things easily fits in the top case on my bike(s) with room to spare. A perfect recipe for a fun day, but more about those later :).