Every Shooter Needs A Universal .22 LR

I’m always surprised when a hunter asks if he “really needs” a .22 Long Rifle rimfire. Of course! Every shooter should have a .22 LR! This little rimfire should be the busiest rifle in your battery. It’s the easiest to shoot, the least expensive to shoot, the easiest to master, the best for learning trigger control, the go-to for stopping a flinch, and ideal for small game/pest hunting.

Two generations ago, every farm and every farm kid had a .22. These little rifles were do-it-all workhorses, hired to terminate four-legged prowlers, prepare the hog for butchering and defend the manor. Poachers even used .22 LRs to shoot deer and turkeys.

In today’s suburban world, there are fewer opportunities and less need to grab a .22 and shoot a rat, woodchuck, fox, skunk, crow, or fox. But it’s still easier to get out and shoot a box of .22 LR ammo than any centerfire. The “bang” from a .22 is quiet enough that it can be fired in relatively settled areas without alerting all the neighbors. For this reason alone it makes a great practice rifle!

A scoped .22 LR rimfire and a box of cartridges are the perfect tools for fun, educational, inexpensive shooting, training and hunting.

But low cost also makes .22 Long Rifles superb practice guns. Figure about 6 cents a shot. And there’s no recoil. You can stand, sit, kneel or lie prone to practice all the standard positions. You can concentrate on a smooth, clean trigger break and follow-through without fear of recoil, without flinching, without jerking. Smooth and precise is easy with a .22 LR.

Targets can be as basic as a soup can, a plastic soda bottle filled with water, rotten apples, pine cones and even dirt clods. (Don’t ever shoot at targets on water because .22 LR bullets are notorious for skipping off water.)

The ultimate fun for .22 LR shooters has got to be tree squirrel hunting. Here we combine fine, precise shooting with all the elements of a deer hunt: reading sign, listening for moving game, hiding from it, stalking close and maneuvering for that one, precise shot, a head-shot that kills instantly and ruins none of what is some of the best tasting meat in the woods. Squirrels used to be the second most popular game animal in North America behind cottontails, another great quarry for a .22 LR. But these days everyone is so preoccupied with whitetails that squirrels go largely unmolested in many states. This results in abundant populations of saucy, cocky squirrels with almost no one hunting them. Farmers are more likely to grant permission to hunt tree squirrels with a .22 LR than anything else, especially if the rodents are gnawing into barns and grain bins.

Fox squirrels are the perfect game for a .22 Long Rifle hunt.

Finding squirrels is easy. Just get into the trees, watch and listen. You’ll hear them barking or see their furry, gray or red tails flicking amid the limbs. Sneak close or simply wait until they come near. Find a nut tree and watch its branches. Or sit where woods meet cornfields. Buy a squirrel caller and bark with it to bring curious squirrels closer. Wear camouflage where legal because squirrels are supposedly one of the few mammals we hunt that have good color vision.

Zero your .22 LR at 50 yards and you should be able to hold dead-on a squirrel’s head out to 65 yards before the bullet drops beneath it. Figure 3 inches of drop at 80 yards, 6 inches at 100 yards. Inside of 50 yards an open sight should work fine, but a scope will help you make more precise shots, particularly if targets are partly obscured, such as a squirrel just peeking over a limb. Most .22 LR shooters use a 4X scope, but I find a 3-9X more versatile, especially if it includes a parallax adjustment, which precisely focuses the scope, much like a camera lens. This lets you focus down to 50- or 25 yards at high magnification for the ultimate view of that tiny squirrel head nearly hidden behind bark or leaves.

Shoot a variety of ammunition at paper targets from a solid rest to determine, which brand is most accurate in your rifle.

Most .22 LR rifles shoot accurately with standard or high-velocity ammunition shooting 36- to 40-grain bullets 1,150 to 1,250 fps. There’s really no need for or advantage in the hyper-velocity rounds. Because you’re taking head shots, hollow points are no more deadly than solids. Choose whatever brand and bullet type shoots most accurately in your rifle. Determine this by test shooting several varieties from a solid benchrest.

Buy a .22 LR and you’ll quickly discover it to be one of the most used guns in your collection. Throw in squirrels and you may discover some of the most satisfying hunting of your life, too.

Shop Sportsman’s Guide for a great selection of .22 LR Rimfire Rifles!

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16 Responses to “Every Shooter Needs A Universal .22 LR”

  1. Capn Jack

    How old is this article? This may have been the truth before the last administration change. Now the supply of .22lr rimfire in this country, has virtually dried up and what is available…..I can hand load and shoot several of my center fire rifles for less. I’m surprised that even some that are manufactured “out of country”, like ARMSCOR have become unavailable.

    I think Ron Spomer should look at the “REAL” world.

    • Tom Kacheroski

      Capn Jack: I’m sorry I’m not privy to the .22 ammo supply and pricing in your area. I base my advice on MSRP of .22 ammo and advertised prices at major retailers. With .270 Win. ammo selling for $30 to $50 per box of 20, I have a hard time believing .22 LR would be more expensive. If indeed it is, I commiserate with you. If you are hand loading, I’m glad you are able to find primers, powder and bullets for sale. Those ingredients are hard to find out our way. Let’s all hope the hoarding ends soon and govt. agencies stop over purchasing, too.”

  2. krwkenny

    Cap’n Jack I do not agree with you at all!!! I need you to reload center fire rounds for my 3 kids. I doubt you can reload rounds of center fire if you can find the rounds to do so for 8.5 cents per round, can you?

  3. jim

    I have a Nylon 66 that I bought in 1988 and a Springfield 22 that I got In about 1979. I just got a Smith and Wesson M&P 22. Ammo is not as cheap as it used to be, but it’s still available and fun to shoot. my grandkids (10 and 14) both love to shoot the 22s. And they are both becoming expert marksmen. Yep….everybody needs at least one 22..

  4. MrVJP

    I would agree with everything this article states. I could never go without a .22 LR in my rifle battery. I used to have 3 or 4 at a time, but these days a single Kimber Hunter in .22 LR fills all the needs I have for a .22 LR. However, I still find a Ruger M77 .22 Magnum has advantages on bigger or more distant game. The cost of the .22 mag ammo is much higher though.

  5. David McDonald

    Dont forget the quiet little CB round! Accurate within reasonable
    distances and its low report allows for multiple shots.

  6. Mike Brosch

    I must also add;
    I had a couple of pellet rifles, but with the subsonic .22 stuff these days, the rim fire has gotten so quiet and effective my CZ Lux now sits behind the door and causes the varmints that come round to be far less challenging to hit than before.

  7. Jim Goude

    I have many rimfire rifles and love shooting them all. The 22lr. is the one I go to when I want to just sit and practice marksmanship, and not be concerned with how much it costs. My CZ 455 varmint rifle is so much fun to shoot because of it’s precision and accuracy. After much trial and error looking for a bullet that the rifle likes, I found Geco 22lr. semi auto for a great price and stocked up on it. I hope to have many range days ahead and will enjoy each and every one.

  8. William Arthur Kenworthey Sr

    Bought a marlin 60sn 4×20 scope and went to the range… What fun 68 years old haven’t fired one for 50 years… What have I been missing. WOW! Great fun… Thanks Bill

  9. David K

    Great article. My single shot Sears 22 was my best friend growing up. Squirrels didn’t stand a chance.
    I don’t hear much anymore about 22 shorts. Do they still make them?

  10. George A. Thomson JR

    Still using my Winchester Mod. 67A single shot bolt I got for Christmas 1959. My three kids and 5 grandchildren all learned to shoot with it. Still whack a red squirrel now and again with it, although open sights are a bit more of a challenge than they were 60 years ago. Back when every town had a “dump” used to get a lot of target practice shooting rats, was tons of fun too.

  11. karl

    Another thing to keep in mind now is using a suppressor on your squirrel rifle, it makes your .22 sound like a quiet air rifle and the game cannot tell where the shot came from. They work very well

    • Sam

      I love my 22’s. I have a Henry 22 that I bought at Walmart in 92. Sweet shooting rifle, also an Springfield single shot(not sure how old, Ned to look it up), I bought at an auction. Had Mossberg but traded it awhile back. Hate I got rid of it. They are great to go out and shoot. No complaints

  12. Daniel Swierczynski

    I am glad to see this article reprinted. Yes, looking at the comments it has been a while, but ammo prices are now at near record lows. I am picking up great .22lr brands for under $3.00 a box and everything in this article remains true. Thanks for revisiting this great piece of writing. I am inspired to take out one (or two) of my plinkers this afternoon.

  13. Gary Hewlett

    When i was 12 yrs old ,my friends and i would ride our bikes down to the missouri river bottoms to hunt Squirrels. We would take a tarp to sleep under,minimal gear and a good 22 rifle,ammo and fishing pole. We would cook up fish and squirrels all weekend! Growing up in missouri by the river was great to learn skills i use today,55 yrs later!

    • Mark Anderson

      It’s amazing how good the Australian soldiers were in WWI with a rifle. A large number of the soldiers that went to fight in Europe, Egypt and Turkey came from Australian farms where learning to shoot at a very early age with a 22 cal rifle is what everyone did. You have to wonder how well the soldiers of tomorrow are going to do when they’ve never fired a gun in their lives. (As a 15 year old at a military range, I watched in amazement a soldier shooting a 303 from the hip, hitting tin cans at 40m. The Dude was GOOD!!!)