How to Make Your .22 LR More Accurate

How to Make Your .22 LR More Accurate

One of the most popular sporting cartridges ever produced, the .22 Long Rifle still enjoys tremendous popularity among hunters around the world. Part of that popularity stems from the cartridge’s accuracy. Your old 10/22 might not be able to hit the broad side of a bear, but Olympic and competition shooters enjoy rifles that can easily put a bullet in the same hole at 50 yards.

If you’re hoping to replicate their success without spending thousands of dollars, I have bad news. You might not be able to turn your old squirrel rifle into a tack driver without spending more money than the rifle is worth. However, there are several things you can do to make your .22 LR more accurate, which should translate to more success in the small game woods.

What is “Accurate” for a .22?

Only accurate rifles are interesting, but accuracy is also in the eye of the beholder. An Olympic shooter’s definition of “accurate” will be much different than the 12-year-old plinking at six-inch steel targets from 40 yards.

But there are one or two common yardsticks most double-deuce hunters and shooters use to determine how their rifles stack up against others. Much like centerfire cartridge rifles are considered “accurate” if they can post a sub-one-inch group at 100 yards, .22 LR rifles are considered accurate if they can do the same at 50 yards. Many rifles shoot smaller groups, but one inch at 50 yards is a common baseline.

That standard works if you’re thinking about competing in an NRL 22 competition. These competitions mirror the National Rifle League’s centerfire courses of fire, and they rarely call for a target smaller than one inch at 50 yards.

One inch is also a good standard for small game hunting. A squirrel’s head is wider than one inch, but squirrel hunters know that those little critters are tougher than they look. If you don’t put one right through the eye or under the ear, they’re liable to get up after a few seconds and run away. If your gun can shoot one-inch groups at 50 yards, you shouldn’t have trouble dispatching a squirrel quickly and humanely.

Try Different Ammo

Not all .22 LR ammo is created equal—at least, your gun doesn’t think so. If you want to make your double-deuce rifle more “accurate,” find the ammo it shoots the best.

While .22 LR isn’t available in the same bullet weight range as other cartridges, you still have plenty of options. If your rifle doesn’t like the classic 36-grain bulk ammo, try some match-grade 40-grain pills. If that doesn’t work, try some faster 40-grain Hunter Match or the even faster 31-grain small game loads. I’ve had especially good luck with high-velocity match-grade options, like these HV Gold Medal Rimfire cartridges from Federal.

As in all accuracy testing, try to remove yourself from the equation as much as possible. Make sure both the front and rear of the gun are stabilized on bags or a gun rest, take your time, and make good shots. After shooting five, five-shot groups with each ammo type, you’ll know which one your gun likes best.

Clean the Barrel

The .22 LR is a famously dirty cartridge, so if you haven’t cleaned your old squirrel gun in a few seasons, give it a good scrubbing. I know, I know. This is sort of like when you asked your mom about your missing hat, and she told you that “you’ll find it when you clean your room.” Cleaning is never fun (whether gun or room), but Mom knows best.

One hot tip: use a solution that will remove copper as well as carbon and lead, and let the solution do most of the work. Run a wet patch through the bore and let it soak for however long the instructions recommend. After that time has elapsed, take a nylon brush and scrub that crap out. You might be surprised at how much your groups tighten up.

Tighten the Screws

Over time and for a variety of reasons, the action screws that mate a rifle receiver to the stock can loosen. This happens more frequently in large-caliber rifles that generate lots of recoil, but .22 LR rifles aren’t immune to the issue.

Make sure the action screws are tightened to the specifications listed in your owner’s manual. If the manual doesn’t list them, reach out to the manufacturer.

While you’re at it, make sure your scope rings and bases are tight as well. A loose scope doesn’t technically affect a rifle’s accuracy, but it sure does make it tough to hit anything.

Upgrade the Trigger

Upgrading the trigger won’t make the rifle more accurate, either, but it will help you be more accurate while shooting it. Anyone can hold a reticle or iron sights on target. You miss because you can’t keep those sights on target while pulling the trigger. A crisp, consistent trigger can help keep things steady.

If you picked up an old squirrel gun at the local pawn shop, you might have trouble finding aftermarket trigger options. If that’s you, get in touch with your local gunsmith and ask whether they’ll work on your trigger.

If you’ve purchased a newer model rifle, you’ll have more luck. Timney makes triggers for the CZ 457, for example, and there are tons and tons of options for the Ruger 10/22. Of course, many new rifles come with excellent triggers from the factory (I’ve had a great experience with Savage triggers), but you may still want to give yourself that extra edge.

Re-Barrel the Rifle

Recommendations 1 through 4 can be implemented no matter your rifle. Re-barreling your gun is more complicated, but it’s also incredibly effective. Much of your rifle’s accuracy comes from the barrel, so swapping barrels can immediately turn your squirrel gun into a tack driver.

If you have a Ruger 10/22 (or similarly designed rifle), that process is relatively easy. There are a host of aftermarket barrel options available along with a host of instructional videos on how to go about doing it yourself. It doesn’t require any special tools, though you might still want to let a gunsmith do it.

Other types of rifles may present more difficulties. A qualified gunsmith will be able to tell you more about your specific firearm. Some can be re-barreled without too much headache, though it may cost several hundred dollars. Other barrels are impossible to remove without ruining the receiver. In that case, you’ll just have to buy a new rifle (a real bummer, I know).

Don’t Bother: Swap Stocks or Re-Crown Barrel

While upgrading a stock or recrowning a barrel can certainly improve accuracy in extreme cases, it’s probably not worth the time or expense. If your stock isn’t warped or cracked and the crown of the barrel isn’t noticeably damaged, neither upgrade is likely to give you the accuracy improvements you’re looking for. This is especially true of a low-recoiling .22 LR rifle. If you’ve exhausted other options, maybe you look into these two; if not, don’t bother.

Last Shot

If your .22 LR rifle is inaccurate, it isn’t the fault of the cartridge. The legendary rimfire has the potential to be exceptionally accurate, and there are several things you can do to shrink your groups and bag more squirrels. No strategy is foolproof, but even if you try everything and find yourself with a lemon, you’ll still have fun tinkering with your rifle and getting lots of time behind the trigger.

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