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.
Jump to: The .22 LR Rifles We Use
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:
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.
Jump to: What Makes a Good .22 LR Rifle
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.
CZ 457 American
Ruger 10/22 Sporter
Remington Model 34
|Highlight||Most Accurate||Best Semi-Auto||Best Budget||Best Value|
|Capacity||5 rounds||10 rounds||15 rounds||10 rounds|
|Length||38.2 in||37 in||44.5 in||39 in|
|Weight||6.17 lbs||5.2 lbs||5.5 lbs||6.2 lbs|
|Field Notes||Field Notes||Field Notes||Field Notes|
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Hoo buddy. This debate is as old as time, and I’d wager you have your own strong opinions on the topic. If you’re wondering whether to pick a semi-auto or bolt-action .22 LR, you should know the difference between mechanical accuracy and practical accuracy.
Mechanical accuracy refers to the maximum potential accuracy of a firearm without any human inputs. If you put a gun in a vice and rigged it up to fire on its own, how accurate would it be? When folks say that bolt-action .22 LR rifles are more accurate, this is what they’re referring to.
Generally speaking, they’re right. Bolt actions can be built to tighter tolerances than semi-autos, which increases accuracy and repeatability.
However, that doesn’t guarantee that any specific bolt action rifle will be more practically accurate in the field. Practical accuracy refers to the accuracy of a firearm in a person’s hands. Even if you have an expensive bolt-action gun, you still might not be able to hit anything.
I once attended a rimfire rifle competition won by a guy running a Ruger 10/22 (semi-automatic). His rifle had been fitted with all custom parts, but he beat other competitors with equally impressive bolt-action rigs. Maximizing mechanical accuracy is great, but when it comes to the real world, it’s more about the shooter than the gun.
You can buy more expensive rimfire rifles, but there’s a good chance they won’t shoot better than a CZ. Their rimfire offerings have gone by different names, but they all feature the same legendary accuracy and attention to detail. The CZ 452 was replaced by the CZ 455 in 2009, and the CZ 457 American is the latest iteration of the rifle design. This bolt-action double-deuce is a favorite among competitors and hunters thanks to its beautiful stock, quality materials, and pinpoint accuracy.
MeatEater Founder Steven Rinella lightened the trigger and threaded the barrel on his CZ American. The newest 457 features an adjustable trigger, and CZ offers a suppressor-ready version for about $100 more.
“I have a lefty CZ American, which is a rare find,” Steve said. “It shoots a dime-sized group at 50 yards and is an absolute pleasure to handle. It's one of my favorite rifles of all time. When I die, I want them to bury it beneath the place where they dump my carcass in the mountains.”
MeatEater’s Janis Putelis has owned his CZ American for nearly 20 years, and he said the “dents and scratches in its beautiful stock are signs of a well-used tool.”
He bought it to have an inexpensive way to practice using a scoped bolt gun (great advice, by the way), but he’s still found time to hunt squirrels and rabbits with the rig.
It’s tough to point to a more popular or beloved firearm than the Ruger 10/22. It’s been the choice of parents as a first gun for their kids since it was introduced over 50 years ago, and the semi-auto action has proven to be reliable and accurate. Plus, Ruger offers a huge variety of stock, barrel, and trigger options so you can tailor your gun to your hunt. Clay Newcomb might prefer a shotgun for squirrel hunting, but he said he picks up his 10/22 for racoons:
“I’m a Ruger 10/22 man. I like an automatic rifle over a bolt action. I carry a model with a black synthetic stock and a stainless-steel barrel. It’s a utilitarian gun that I don’t even attempt to baby around. I’ve used and abused it over the years raccoon hunting. This classic Ruger model is rugged and accurate.”
(Or Whatever You Can Find in the Pawn Shop)
The used market is a great place to find a quality .22 LR rifle at a steep discount. MeatEater’s Ryan Callaghan recommends pawn shops for finding a rough-and-ready rifle to live behind the truck seat.
“Go to the pawn shop, haggle a bit, and find yourself a gun that needs some love,” he said. "Degrease it, re-blue it, and find the ammo it wants to eat. I have picked up many .22s over the years and have never found a gun that doesn’t shoot.'
Next time you’re perusing the used gun rack, keep your eyes peeled for a Remington Model 34. This old-school bolt-action rifle was only produced between 1932 and 1935, but you can still find them collecting dust among the other old wood-stock rifles.
“My Remington Model 34 is covered rust and old scars, the stock is split and patched, and it still sports the hole some kid drilled through the butt to make his own bailing twine rifle sling,” Cal said. “I'm confident from the amount of powder residue that I was the first person to clean the rifle in several decades.”
Even after all those years of use, it’s still a great shooter. Cal said he recently used it to shoot a blue grouse through the head at 69 yards.
If you’re on a budget but still want a new .22 LR rifle, check out Savage’s B22 lineup. Savage is well known for offering quality firearms at reasonable prices, and the B22 is no exception. It's just $309 MSRP for the least expensive B22 F, but you can usually find them for under $280 in a shop or online. These utilitarian bolt-action rifles still come with Savage’s excellent, user-adjustable AccuTrigger, a 10-round rotary magazine, and a receiver drilled and tapped for scope mounts. MeatEater’s Brody Henderson purchased a B22 after getting priced out of a CZ American, but he’s not complaining:
“A couple years ago I picked up a new Savage B22 F for a couple hundred bucks at a local gun shop. Unlike the CZ, this is not a pretty wood-stocked rifle. It's an ugly utilitarian plinker with a plastic stock and a rotary magazine that's awkward to operate. But the thing shoots lights out no matter what ammo I run through it. We're talking dime-size groups at 50 to 75 yards. And making head shots on squirrels is all I need it do until I get that CZ and give the Savage to my kid.”