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When I was a boy, I lived on squirrel meat. The more squirrels I killed, the more leg quarters and saddles went into the pot. And in those days, the best way for me to make that happen was with a shotgun. But, I soon learned that rimfire rifles allowed me to salvage more meat—so long as I made a precise headshot—and increased the range at which I could kill a squirrel. The best squirrel hunting rifles, coupled with a properly zeroed riflescope, are particularly beneficial in the early season, when leaves are still on the trees and squirrels are cutting on nuts high in the hardwoods

The rimfire is an addictive tool for hunting squirrels because it’s such a challenge. You are  trying to hit a target—the squirrel’s head—that is the size of a silver dollar at distances of 25 to 100 yards (or more depending on your ability). But you also have to quietly move into a position where you can take a clear shot and get a solid rest, which is difficult when the leaves have yet to fall. 

There are a variety of rimfire rifle models and cartridge options for hunters to choose from. And opinions on which rimfire is best for hunters to tote into the squirrel woods are abundant. But there are a handful of bolt guns and semi-autos ideal for hunting foxtails and grays. Here are some of the best rifles for squirrel hunting.

The author's sons after squirrel hunting.
The author’s sons after the hunt. Brodie Swisher

Best Overall:  Ruger American Rimfire Target .22 LR

Key Features

  • Bolt action
  • Weight: 6.7 lbs.
  • Barrel Length: 18”
  • Overall Length: 37”
  • Capacity: 10+1
  • Laminate stock

Why It Made the Cut

The Ruger American is a .22 LR that is lighter than most rimfires in its class, and with the ability to load 10 rounds, you can stay in the action longer.

Pros

  • Lighter weight in a target barrel design
  • 10-round magazine
  • Great accuracy

Cons

  • MSRP is $350

Product Description

I like the 416 stainless steel barrel, bolt, and receiver option on this gun for easy care and maintenance. While some may think it’s too flashy, it stands up better to the abuse dished out while beating through the woods. The gun accepts a variety of magazine options, including the Ruger 10/22 magazine, allowing me to easily switch between my semi-auto and the bolt gun. The Ruger American has an extended magazine release for simple removal of the flush-mounted magazine. It’s a convenient concept that you won’t appreciate until you put it to work. 

Deadly accuracy comes standard with this gun thanks to the free-floating barrel built on the Power Bedding integral bedding block system. Combine this with the Ruger Marksman Adjustable trigger that allows the shooter to adjust trigger weight from 3 to 5 pounds, and you’ll find one of the most dependable and accurate rimfire rifles on the market. The bull barrel with factory installed knurled thread protector also adds to the precision with which this gun was built.

Best Long Range: CZ 457 American Varmint .17 HMR

CZ-USA

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Key Features

  • Bolt action
  • Weight: 7.08 lbs.
  • Barrel Length: 24.8”
  • Capacity: 5+1
  • Turkish Walnut Stock, Varmint Style

Why It Made the Cut

If you’re looking for a tack-driver that can make headshots at longer distances, the CZ 457 American Varmint gun in .17 HMR is tough to beat. 

Pros

  • Long-range accuracy
  • Offered in a combo .22 LR/.17 HMR barrel set
  • Heavy barrel makes it easier to shoot

Cons

  • 5-round magazine
  • It’s louder and has more recoil than a .22 LR

Product Description

If you don’t headtap squirrels with the faster .17 HMR, you’ll damage meat. The CZ 457 American extremely accurate, making it the ideal platform for hunting with the .17, which is the go-to cartridge for accomplished squirrel hunter and writer, Will Brantley.

“The flat trajectory is a huge advantage,” says Brantley. “It’s a great gun for later in the season when shot opportunities and distances tend to get stretched out a bit.”

The CZ 457 is an ideal long range option.
The CZ 457 is a solid long range squirrel rifle. Will Brantley

The CZ 457 American is a beautiful rifle with all the performance you’d ever want in a rimfire. The Varmint model has a heavy barrel that allows you to have better control of the gun thus be more accurate. The trade-off of course is you have to carry a 7-pound rifle. The Turkish walnut stock has a high, flat comb so your eye can find the target quickly once a scope is mounted. An adjustable trigger allows you to customize the trigger for weight, creep, and travel. The 24.8-inch barrel has a 1:9 twist, and the magazine is detachable.

Best Bolt Action: Savage MK II BV .22 LR

Savage

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Key Features

  • Bolt action
  • Weight: 6.74 lbs.
  • Barrel length: 21”
  • Overall length: 39.75”
  • Capacity: 5+1
  • AccuTrigger

Why It Made the Cut

Savage has a reputation for delivering accurate rifles at a great price and the MK II BV is certainly one of them.

Pros

  • Accuracy
  • Less expensive than most guns in its class
  • Easy handling (particularly with thumbhole stock version)

Cons

  • Only five-round magazine capacity
  • Detachable box magazine flawed
The MK II is an accurate squirrel rifle.
Savage’s MK II did the job on these grays. Brodie Swisher

Product Description

When precision shooting is required, this is the gun my kids and I go to. It’s affordably priced, yet offers the function, feel, and performance of a more costly rimfire. You can easily dial in the Savage MK II BV with a quality scope and expect it to shoot flat. Savage rifles draw much of their accuracy from the AccuTrigger system that allows the shooter to adjust the trigger weight and helps eliminate creep, so you make a clean pull.

It has a beefy 21-inch, heavy steel barrel. And while some may shy away from the weight of a heavier target barrel, I like the balance and steadiness that comes with a hefty rimfire. The detachable box magazine is a little hitchy though. It can drop out of the gun easier than most if you graze the release with your finger or set the stock on a tree limb to steady the shot. I typically carry the magazine in my pocket until I am ready to shoot so it doesn’t fall out while I am hunting. You can always keep a round in the chamber and the gun on safe if you need to shoot quickly.

Best Semi-Auto: Ruger 10/22 Carbine .22 LR

Key Features

  • Semi-Auto
  • Weight: 5 lbs.
  • Barrel length: 18.5”
  • Overall length: 37”
  • Capacity: 10+1

Why It Made the Cut

The Ruger is standard issue for any young man or woman that has just started hunting small game because it’s light, reliable, and accurate. 

Pros

  • Light, easy carry
  • Compact 
  • 10-round magazine
  • Accurate
  • Reliable
  • Affordable

Cons

  • Doesn’t come with swivel/studs for sling

Product Description

I received the Ruger 10/22 as a Christmas gift from my wife 25 years ago. It’s killed countless squirrels and small critters over the years. And never failed once, which is impressive since semi-autos are more likely to have cycling issues than a bolt gun. But Ruger engineered the action to perform flawlessly, which is one of the reasons this gun has been in production for 50 years. 

The flush-mounted rotary magazine allows you to load up to 10 rounds. You’ll also find a cold hammer-forged barrel out front that is locked into the receiver by a unique, two-screw, V-block system. The push-button, cross-bolt safety is perfectly placed for easy access when a shot presents itself. Weaver-style and .22 tip-off scope mounts are included.  

Best Lightweight: Winchester Wildcat .22 LR

Winchester

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Key Features

  • Semi-Auto
  • Weight: 4 lbs.
  • Barrel length: 16½”
  • Overall length: 34¾”
  • Capacity: 10+1

Why It Made the Cut

The Wildcat is incredibly light, making it an ideal all-day hunt gun that offers ample accuracy.

Pros

  • Light
  • Pistol grip design for added steadiness
  • 10-round magazine
  • Affordable

Cons

  • Could be considered too light for some shooters 
  • It’s stock is unconventional 

Product Description

Aside from a youth rifle, the Winchester Wildcat is probably the lightest .22 LR option you’ll find. It’s built with a unique stock for better shot placement. The Wildcat has a pistol grip that’s perfectly suited for shooters of most any size, and since it’s only 4 pounds, young shooters won’t struggle to carry or aim the rifle. The Picatinny rail accommodates optics of your choice, and you can customize the length of pull with a clip-on comb riser or length of pull spacer. There is also a rail on the underside of the forearm to attach a bipod or sling mount. The gun has an easy-to load rotary 10-round magazine and includes a bolt stop that locks the action open after the last round has been fired. The lower receiver drops out of the Wildcat with the press of a button, a handy innovation that allows you to quickly clean the bore. If you’re searching for a squirrel gun that can double as a truck or survival rifle, this rimfire is a fine choice.

Best Youth Model: Savage Rascal .22 LR

Savage

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Key Features

  • Bolt Action
  • Weight: 2.71 lbs.
  • Barrel length: 16”
  • Overall length: 30”
  • Single Shot

Why It Made the Cut

The Rascal is the lightest and most compact option for getting a young or new shooter started. It’s also the safest micro-rimfire in production, perfectly suited for the up-and-comer who is learning the basics.  

Pros

  • Lightweight
  • Fits the smallest shooters
  • Unloads while on safe
  • Adjustable trigger
  • Cocks by lifting bolt

Cons

  • Lightweight design can be hard to steady
  • Kids quickly outgrow the gun
The Savage Rascal is a great .22 for kids.
The Rascal is a great option for young hunters. Savage Arms

Product Description

The Savage Rascal was built to address the safety concerns commonly found in youth rimfire rifles. Many models require the shooter to pull the trigger and ease the bolt down, much like a hammer, to unload the gun if it has not been fired. With the Rascal, the shooter can open the bolt and unload the gun on safe. The action is also oversized, so you can drop a round in and chamber it with ease. There is a rear peep sight with windage and elevation adjustment, but Savage also drilled and tapped the receiver to add a scope. The synthetic version of the Rascal comes in eight different colors—there is a wood variant as well—almost all of which can be had in right- or left-handed models.

Best Premium: Bergara BMR Carbon .17 HMR

Bergara

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Key Features

  • Carbon-fiber barrel
  • Threaded for suppressor
  • 1:9 twist rate
  • Five- and 10-round magazines included
  • Weight: 5.5 pounds
  • Barrel length: 18” or 20”
  • Overall length: 36” or 38”

Why It Made the Cut

Bergara is new to the rimfire game, but has been building some of the most accurate and durable rifle barrels for years.

Pros

  • Similar action to the centerfire Bergara B-14 rifles
  • Available in multiple chamberings: .22 LR, .22 WMR, and .17 HMR
  • Threaded carbon-fiber barrel

Cons

  • Price

Product Description

Bergara first launched its rimfire line with the B-14R, a precision rifle built for rimfire competitions. They crossed into hunting with the BMR (Bergara Micro Rifle), though this rimfire is also a capable competition gun as it comes with a five (hunting) or 10 (competition) detachable magazine. The carbon fiber barrel is available in 18- or 20-inch offerings. It’s also threaded for a suppressor, which is a nice feature for hunting and target shooting. The pull weight of the Remington 700-style trigger can be adjusted with an Allen wrench, plus the action is simply a micro version of Bergara’s B14 centerfire platform, which has already proven itself to be reliable in the field. There is also a single-piece top rail for mounting an optic. All of these options do come at a cost: the BMR is the most expensive rimfire on this list at $700.

Best Budget Rimfire: Savage Mark II FV-SR .22 LR

Savage

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Key Features

  • Bolt action
  • Weight: 5.5 lbs.
  • Barrel length: 16.5”
  • Overall length: 35.25”
  • Capacity: 5+1

Why It Made the Cut

The Mark II FV-SR is a no frills rimfire that has plenty of the features and performance you need in an affordable rimfire.

Pros

  • Light 
  • Compact
  • Heavy barrel
  • Budget priced

Cons

  • Five-round magazine capacity
  • Magazine is fairly easy to accidentally eject

Product Description

Despite its light price tag, the Savage Mark II FV-SR offers just about everything you need in a .22 squirrel rifle. The heavy fluted barrel is a short 16.5 inches (threaded for a suppressor) and built into a black synthetic stock. The gun features Savage’s popular user-adjustable Accu-Trigger for a customized trigger pull. There is a top rail to accommodate your favorite riflescope. At times the five-round detachable magazine can be a bit quirky and easily dropped from the gun if you accidentally bump the release.

A limit of Kentucky squirrels.
A limit of squirrels after a morning hunt in Kentucky. Joe Genzel

FAQs

Q: How much does a .22 rimfire rifle cost?

Expect to pay anywhere from $200 for entry-level .22 rifles to upwards of $1,000 for some of the highest priced rimfire rifles for small game hunting. 

Q: What are the most common rimfire rifle cartridges? 

The .22 LR (long rifle), .22 WMR (.22 Mag) and .17 HMR are all popular rimfire cartridges and all work for squirrel hunting. 

Q: What can I hunt with a .22 LR rifle?

The .22 is perfectly suited for squirrels, rabbit, raccoon, groundhogs, or any other small game animal that is legal to shoot with a rimfire. 

Q: How far will a .22 bullet travel? 

The .22 LR bullet is capable of traveling 2,000 yards, or 1.5 miles.  

Q: Is the .22 a good first rifle for a kid? 

The .22 rifle continues to be one of the first guns hunters own from the beginning of their hunting career. It’s a lightweight option with minimal recoil, ideal for kids and beginners. However, anyone who shoots this cartridge needs to be aware of the power and deadly nature such a small cartridge can produce. 

Read Next: The Best Hunting Rifles of 2022

Squirrel hunting is an ideal choice for young hunters.
Squirrel hunting is a right of passage for most young hunters. Brodie Swisher

Final Thoughts

The rifles I’ve listed here are the best squirrel hunting rifles available. Do a quick search, and you’ll discover there are some more affordable options, as well as guns that’ll cost you more than all the guns on this list combined. But the rimfires on this list get the job done—I know because I have hunted with most of them or alongside a friend who has. They have been put to the test on squirrel hunts during spring, fall, and the dead of winter. They are the best combination of hunting accuracy, performance, dependability and affordability.