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.
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
The 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.
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
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: