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!
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.
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.
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.
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