The Best .22 LR Rifles

The Best .22 LR Rifles

Choosing the best .22 LR rifle is like picking the “best” flavor of ice cream. We can all agree that pistachio is terrible, but all the other flavors? It’s a matter of opinion. The MeatEater Crew has never been short on opinions, so we polled a few of the guys to share with you some .22 LR rifle options to fit every budget and hunt.

What We Look for in a Good .22 LR Rifle

We’ve fallen in love with these double-deuce rifles, but they aren’t the only rimfire guns capable of bringing home small game. If you don’t see anything on our list that suits your fancy, you should consider these criteria before making a decision:

  1. Cost
  2. Accuracy
  3. Trigger
  4. Reliability

We’re looking for a relatively inexpensive rifle that still delivers in the accuracy department and features a crisp, clean trigger. Reliability is one of the most important criteria. A cheap gun isn’t worth the savings if it jams, and a nice trigger and great accuracy won’t do you much good if you can’t send rounds downrange.

The .22 LR Rifles We Use

You’ll have a hard time finding a more passionate and experienced crew of small game hunters than the guys at MeatEater. You might decide that a lever-action Henry Golden Boy or a semi-auto AR-type rifle is more your speed, but if you go with any of these four options, they won’t let you down.

What Makes a Good .22 LR Rifle

Double-deuce rifles are inexpensive and easy to find, but who wants to spend more than they have to? Not us. That’s why we use these four criteria whenever we’re thinking about pulling the trigger on a new purchase.

1. Cost

You can spend as much or as little as you want on a .22 LR rifle. We’ve seen guys at competitions with custom, tricked-out setups, and we’ve seen killer squirrel hunters using bargain-bin rimfires from pawn shops. The key is to determine your budget and make sure you’re getting a good deal. To research the market values of virtually any rifle, look it up online at a website like GunBroker or a big dealer like Drury’s Guns. For more details on purchasing a used firearm, click here.

2. Accuracy

Accuracy is important if you’re planning on making head shots on small game, but don’t get too bent out of shape on this point. A rifle that shoots a one-inch group at 50 yards is probably more accurate than you’ll need in the squirrel woods, and even less accurate rifles can get the job done. You usually won’t be able to verify a rifle’s accuracy before purchasing it, but any new rifle from a major manufacturer will more than likely be accurate enough. One pro tip: Try different kinds of ammo to maximize accuracy. Different bullet weights, velocities, and manufacturers can have a significant impact on your gun's accuracy.

3. Trigger

Unlike accuracy, triggers can be tested before making a purchase. You’re looking for a relatively light pull and a clean break without grittiness or mushiness. You can be successful with a so-so trigger, but it’s easier to keep shots on target when your trigger doesn’t feel like squeezing a wet sponge.

4. Reliability

If cleanliness is next to godliness, the .22 LR is a real delinquent. It’s an infamously dirty cartridge, which equates to gummed up actions and missed opportunities. Bolt, lever, and pump-action rifles can mitigate most of this potential unreliability, but be careful when selecting a semi-auto. Even the much beloved Ruger 10/22 can jam if not properly cared for, and cheaper semi-autos can be extremely picky about ammunition. If your rifle jams frequently, try switching to a different kind of ammo. Often, jacketed .22 LR will run better than lead-nosed options.

Field notes from the MeatEater Crew

CZ 457 American
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You can buy more expensive rimfire rifles, but there’s a good chance they won’t shoot better than a CZ.

10/22 Sporter
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This classic Ruger model is rugged and accurate.

Model 34
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Haggle a bit and find yourself a gun that needs some love.

B22 F
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If you’re on a budget but still want a new .22 LR rifle, check out Savage’s B22 lineup.

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