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The 5 Very Best Rifles For Small Game

Image source: smoothingit.com

Image source: smoothingit.com

I have never known a good hunter who did not regularly take to the field in pursuit of small game. Nor have I met many people who don’t like the taste of well-prepared squirrel or rabbit.

In a survival situation, small game could provide fresh meat on a regular basis. But to be able to bring meat home constantly, you will need a good small game rifle and the skill of marksmanship.

I don’t recommend using your AK or your AR to take small game. These rifles should be used mainly for defense and perhaps the occasional dispatching of medium-sized game. To dispatch squirrel, rabbit and even woodchuck, you will need a .22LR, or possibly a .22WMR.  I think of the .17 as more of a varmint round, and so I didn’t include that chambering in this article.

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Here are my personal favorite freezer-fillers for small game. Some are no longer produced but are available at pawn shops, gun shops, gun shows and good ol’ gunbroker.com.

1. Ruger 10-22

Retail: roughly $259 new

For over 50 years, the Ruger 10-22 has graced gun cabinets and pickup truck gun racks, and can be found slung across the shoulders of hunters from Maine to California as they head into the woods in pursuit of squirrel and rabbit. The 10-22’s reliability and accuracy are legendary, and there are more accessories for the rifle than Carter has liver pills. Offered chamberings include the venerable .22 long rifle, and the .22 WMR. The rifle feeds from a detachable 10-round magazine, and aftermarket large capacity magazines are also available. Millions have been built, and Ruger is still producing this iconic rimfire.

Note:  I recommend a classic fixed stock rifle over the take-down variant, as there have been some reliability issues with the 10-22 takedown.

2. Marlin Model 60

Retail: roughly $160 new

raising rabbitsThe main competitor to the Ruger 10-22. The Marlin 60 has outsold its Ruger counterpart by millions of rifles across the world, becoming arguably the most popular semi-auto rimfire across the globe. The rifle feeds from a 14-round tubular magazine that is situated directly under the barrel. I have found that the model 60 is more affordable than the 10-22, but does not have the same reliability. However, you won’t be fighting a war with it, and most hunters can deal with the rare jam of failure to fire that occasionally happens with this rifle. The accuracy is good, as is the quality of build. You will also be able to find a Marlin 60 for much cheaper prices than you ever will a Ruger, often around $70-100 cheaper.

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3. Remington 572

Retail: roughly $570

The iconic pump rimfire has been produced by Remington since 1952. The fire is utterly reliable, quick to point, and fast. Not as fast as a semi-auto, though much faster than any bolt-action rimfire commonly used to hunt with. Quality is superb, and as the saying goes, you will get what you pay for. I have found these rifles to be some of the best rimfire firearms in the world. They do weigh more than many of their competitors, but if you are blessed enough to have one in your gun safe I doubt very much you will mind. The rifle has a capacity for 15 rounds, and feeds from a tubular magazine.

4. Marlin 25 M/N

Used: $150-200

Though out of production now, the Marlin 25 was a solid bolt action offered in the .22WMR (25M), or .22LR (25N). The rifle fed from a detachable magazine and is utterly reliable. I hunted squirrels and small game for years with a Model 25M until I traded the rifle. I still bitterly regret that decision. I have shot more centers out of targets at 50 yards with a model 25 than I have just about any other firearm out there.

5. Mossberg 802

Retail: roughly $150-170

Mossberg’s economical rimfire bolt gun. Reliable, accurate and cheap. What more could a shooter want? This rifle is easy to obtain both new and used, and is quickly becoming one of the more popular small game and plinking firearms out there. If you are on a budget, look no further than the 802.

What rifle would you add to this list? Share your thoughts in the section below:

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33 comments

  1. I have researched this and ended buying an AR 7 Henry 22 LR. It all comes apart to fit in butt of rifle to make it compact and is VERY accurate. It hold 16 rounds of ammo in two magazines (8 each) with slot inside the butt for storage. Who would need anything else ?

    • I agree. Henry advertises the AR 7 as a survival rifle and it certainly fits the bill.
      R

      • Do not plan on using the AR7 for regular use, it will function in a survival situation, but in reality, with regular use it tends to jam

        • I never had any problem with my Henry AR-7 jamming. It was finicky about ammo, and didn’t like any ammo with a plain lead bullet. I functioned best with copper washed bullets. The ammo mine liked best was cheap Federal Bulk packs from wally world. Good luck finding those now, and I bet they are not cheap anymore.

    • Well the AR-7 for all practical purposes is useless

  2. I would add a Remington Nylon 66 22 LR to this list. Lightweight, accurate, and very reliable. Mine is the most accurate 22 I have ever fired.

    • I’ve had one of these rifles since the early 70s and it still shoots great. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I also have a Remington
      Field Master Model 2 or 121…hard to tell as it’s a little worn down, with a serial number under 18,000. Shoots all three .22 cartridges, shorts, longs, and long rifle. I use the shorts to dispatch skunks and feral cats in my yard.

  3. A rifle that I use (but may be harder to find) is an old Remington Targetmaster. Granted, it is no longer in production, but it takes .22 short, .22 long, and .22 longrifle ammunition, giving a LOT more versatility in ammo choice, depending on availability. Although it may be a bit difficult to find, a Targetmaster really fits the bill as a small game gun.

  4. Great article.
    Any suggestions on where/how to obtain ammo?

    • If you are industrious, you can find it online in good quantities. It also seems that supply is now starting to begin to catch up with demand, the local shops are starting to get it back in stock. ammoseek.com is a good resource.

  5. I have two .22 rifles — a Weatherby semi-auto and a Winchester 52. I use the Weatherby most, because it is scoped. It is by far the finest .22 I’ve ever shot, but very expensive (I inherited it from my father, so that wasn’t an issue). I would recommend a tubular magazine, scoped bolt action with a telescopic sight. The versatility of being able to shoot everything from cb caps and shorts to long rifle is worth a lot. At close range cbs will do the job and they hardly make any sound at all, so you can use them almost anywhere and not frighten the livestock — or the next rabbit, for that matter.

    • I agree with you Jim. I have a Marlin model 981t, bolt action .22 rimfire that will shoot any .22 rimfire bullet. It has a synthetic stock and is very accurate. It is scoped with a 6x fixed power weaver scope. This works great for my 60 year old eyes, and works well for any small game.

  6. I have the Remington 572 and a henry lever action in 22 mag both are great with scopes a must to have.

  7. I like my recent our purchase. Remington 597.

  8. The Marlin is very good, especially if you can find one with a heavy barrel. Cheaper still is the Savage 64 which is about as good and uses a magazine rather than a tube

  9. S&W M&P 15-22

  10. I would say the Marlin 795 should be in place of the Marlin 60 especially when comparing against the Ruger 10-22. The 795 is the modern version of the 60. Magazine fed and last shot bolt hold open. The 10/22 has better after market bolt on goodies that make it look like an AR. That and the cost for the base unit is it..I will take my Marlin any day!

    • I like the 795. Not nearly as common as the 60, and I think the 60 can be a fine rifle. They both have the same action, and are almost the same rifle but for the 2 different feeding methods.

  11. I’m disappointed you would toss away the 17 so quickly. The 17 WSM is a fantastic round and can do all that anything you listed. I would strongly recommend the 17 series B-mag from Savage.

    • I think the .17 is a great chambering! That was not the focus of this article. I think I’d like to write a piece on my choices for .17 chambered rifles, thanks for the idea!

    • I agree with the choice of using a Savage BMAG .17 WSM for small game. Mine is very accurate and is my main go to rifle for tree squirrel hunting and an occasional varmint.

      I still own some very accurate and dependable squirrel rifles, including my Marlin 60 rifle. My Marlin was my main choice hunting rifle for many years and the rifle never has failed.

  12. I would say the Savage 22/20 over-under rifle/shotgun combo should be on the list. I don’t remember the exact model name, but irc it would shoot .22 short, long and lr ammo. With the shotgun addition it is extremely versatile.

  13. I had a Marlin 25M years ago. I bought it used at a gun store in Austin, TX. The Marlin had a red rubber Winchester butt pad on it, and the barrel had been cut down to 16 inches. Although loud (the 25M is the magnum .22 round), that bolt gun was supremely accurate. If I did my job right, it was a consistent one-holer.

    I sold it a long time ago, but recently bought a new Savage Mark II bolt action .22, and at 50 years it will put three shots inside a nickel. The stock is black synthetic and when I first opened the box I thought that was the cheapest plastic stock I had ever seen on anything, even a nerf gun.

    But after shooting it a bit and getting used to the rifle, I now love that stock. Its perfect – ultra light, free-floated off the barrel, impervious to any kind of weather, and if I ever want to paint it, it will hold paint really well.

    And that accu-trigger – OMG. Its practically spiritual.

  14. Not having hunted smaller game in a number of years (besides Pheasant, Duck, Goose, etc.,) I don’t know if the comment is relevant. Savage Arms used to make a fine .22/.410 back in the day, which in my mind is the optimal small game gun. However, I used my Marlin Lever Action .22 for Rabbit, Squirrel, and other small game which was unfortunate enough to find it’s way into my sights.

  15. The Rifle can accept a Scope with an accessory Scope Mount and is extremely accurate, probably as much so as my .22 Target Rifles.

  16. Actually, the best small game rifle isn’t even a firearm. I have an adult air rifle that pushes lead pellets at 1000 fps. I haven’t seen a single rabbit or squirrel that can survive a well placed shot from a .177 caliber pellet. More importantly, it is very quiet and that all on its own can be a lifesaver. I still have my .22 rimfires but my air rifle is my new small game weapon of choice. I own an RWS model 34 and would recommend it to anyone. Cheap, quiet, and I can carry 10,000 rounds on my person any time.

    My favorite small game rifle that shoots .22 LR is a vintage Remington ScoreMaster with an aftermarket rear mounted peep. Accurate and deadly.

  17. A bit late to the party, but may I suggest the Crickett .22wmr PISTOL? Sounds odd, but it’s more compact than a .22lr, as foolproof as a firearm can be, lighter, cheap, and still delivers .22lr performance (or better) out of that small package. Obviously, you don’t want to train with .22wmr at today’s prices, but if you need a reliable, light foraging weapon you can get one that delivers .22lr ballistics, is less than 18″ long, weighs about 2 lbs, and costs less than $150 new. With the possible exception of an aftermarket peep sight I can’t think of what else I’d rather have in my “last resort” BOB. With 2 MREs, a bivy sack, a lighter, a Swiss knife, a pilots survival knife, a shell jacket, 50rds of ammo, a 40oz Klean Kanteen, and a hat it’s still only about 10 lbs. I could probably trim some weight off the stock too by boring holes and sanding.
    If the pistol doesn’t appeal to you, a .22wmr Crickett rifle with the stock cut down is a great alternative. .22wmr has greater ft/lbs of energy at 100 yds than .22lr does at the muzzle. Even if that only translates into a 50 yd real life gain, the math for the area of a circle means you can hunt almost TWICE as much ground with .22wmr as with .22lr*. So for the same size/weight weapon, and only fractionally heavier ammo you can double your chances of getting dinner. If you’re gonna carry a rifle to forage necessary calories with, I can guarantee you that your empty belly won’t let you feel smug about saving money on ammo when there’s nothing in the pot.

    *125yd max effective .22lr vs 175yd max effective .22wmr. These ranges are probably stretching it for both cartridges, but with shorter max effective ranges the math favors the .22wmr even more greatly. Also, the .22wmr allows you to take larger game with more confidence, and less likelihood of having to follow it to hell and gone. All round, it’s a much better survival cartridge when cost isn’t a deciding factor.

  18. I’m not sure how you missed the Marlin 39A and the 39M from your list . They are the longest selling 22 in history. it shoots thre variants of .22 caliber ammunition. I own a Marlin Golden 39M, sturdy and spot on accurate.

  19. What makes these “Best”?

    I did not see any quantifiable data to back up claims of “Best”.

    Most accurate tested? What criteria for accuracy?
    Most reliable tested? What criteria for reliability?

    How do these compare to examples such as a Marlin Model 39, or a CZ 452?

    A better title may have been “Here are 5 rifles I like for rabbit and squirrel hunting”.

  20. Well, the writer did say “The 5 Very Best”, so right there you know it’s going to be unsubstantiated opinion! Lots of good comments from the readers however. And for sure, Marlin 39!

  21. I can hunt small game with my Benjamin break barrel 22 cal pellet gun without anyone knowing I’m hunting in the area and this may be necessary in a survival situation.

  22. I’d add the CZ 512 semiautomatic 22lr. It’s a great rifle that is designed to cycle subsonic ammo to high velocity ammo and everything in between. Also I would substitute the 572 for the Henry Pump action 22lr. I find the Henry to be the better of the two. I have been quite disappointed with the quality and accuracy of my Remington 572.

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