A versatile shotgun will prepare you for 90% of North America’s small game hunting opportunities. If you want to bring that up to a virtual 100%, look no further than the simple and ubiquitous .22 LR, more affectionately known as the double-deuce.
There are many, many benefits to owning and shooting a .22. Dirt cheap guns, you can find great .22s, particularly used models, for under $200. Dirt cheap ammo, even with today’s inflated ammunition prices, .22 ammo can still be purchased for pennies a round.
You can practice the fundamentals of marksmanship as much as you’d like, without having to worry about the high costs of ammo. This keeps you honed for big game season, when you need to make shots that really count.
A .22 is also a great meat-saving tool. Shotguns can destroy a lot of meat on critters such as squirrels and rabbits, but a .22 won’t damage an ounce of usable flesh if your keep your shots where they belong, in the head.
In my opinion, there are two ways to go with a .22 purchase, you can prioritize accuracy or you can prioritize weight. The tack driver pictured below is a Ruger 10/22 topped with a Vortex 2-7×32 scope. The lightweight .22, which can easily be slipped into a backpack, is TC Hotshot. Though suited only for short-range shooting, this rifle is capable of taking a wide variety of small game when in the right hands. It weighs under 3 pounds and measures just 30 inches in total in total length. It is fitted with an easy-to-use peep sight, perfect for young shooters.
.22s are discreet, they are perfect for those hunting opportunities that might be described as “fringe.” I’m talking about quietly solving a friend’s rabbit problem in their suburban vegetable garden and answering your own problem about how to source the primary ingredient for wild rabbit hasenpfeffer.
A .22 rifle is also a great way to secure camp meat on backcountry ventures, particularly when weight is an issue. By packing an ultralight .22 on backcountry trips, I’ve supplemented an otherwise bland diet of freeze-dried backpacking food with a variety of wild meats such as squirrel, rabbit, quail, grouse, and ptarmigan.