Not every rimfire rifle has the bull’s-eye chops to knock a squirrel from the top of a tall oak at 75 yards. These guns do. Some rely on time-tested mechanisms that have smacked squirrels silly for half a decade. Others are fresh out of the design room. What they have in common is accuracy and ease of carry. After all, no one wants to lug a 9-pound shooting iron in the squirrel woods.
What You Want in a Squirrel Rifle
When it comes to a squirrel rifle, there is one essential rule: The gun has to be an autoloader. I’ve played the bolt-action game and I’m not going back. Those firearms are just too fast, and they stop too quickly, and give a too-brief split second for a second shot, to worry about racking a bolt. You can have it your way. Autoloader is mine.
After that, it’s all about the trigger and the barrel.
I’ve had a few great rimfire factory triggers. But too few. If your rifle has a smooth, no-creep, crisp trigger pull, keep it. If not, drop in an aftermarket trigger like a Timney Trigger or haul your squirrel sniper to a gunsmith for some spring-and-sear TLC. Few things make a bigger difference when smaller groups are the target.
If you still have a few coins rattling around, you could think about a barrel swap. Tensioned barrels are all the rage, and I love mine. They are superlight, stiffer than a traditional barrel, and can tame vibration that can send a rimfire bullet off track. But there’s definitely an argument for a heavier rifle when it comes to those longer shots. I went too far down that path a few years ago with a heavy-barreled bolt-action rimfire. I dreaded carrying the beast. For now, an autoloader with a trigger crisp as a cold Granny Smith apple and a Voltquartsen THM barrel walks out the door with me every time I hit the squirrel woods.
The 10 Best Squirrel Hunting Rifles
Most of these guns are bolt-action rifles, for a solid bolt lockup leads naturally to tight groups. But there are semi-autos on the list, as well. They all have triggers designed for people who know how to shoot a rifle, and a few have forward-looking features—such as threaded muzzles or tension barrels—that take squirrel shooting to an entirely different level. Whether you like to spot-and-stalk or ease down at the base of a granddaddy oak, here are 10 squirrel snipers for every budget.
Ruger 10/22 Ruger
For some, this iconic semi-automatic is just right, right out of the store: an off-the-shelf squirrel plinker with an easily swallowed price tag. For others, it’s a blank canvas—the foundation on which to build a semi-custom .22 thanks to an entire galaxy of available after-market barrels, stocks, triggers, and other goodies. Either way, it has played hell in the hardwoods for half a century.
The 597 family of semi-autos will win few beauty contests, but they will fill a Brunswick stew pot like nobody’s business. Remington touts its proprietary bolt-guidance system with twin rails as the fastest around, and the bolt, sears, and hammer are Teflon-coated for slick trigger pull and effortless feeding. The Kryptek-clad mode also comes with a treaded muzzle ready for a suppressor, so it’s as quiet as it is deadly.
Savage Rascal FV-SR
Savage Rascal FV-SR Savage Arms
There’s no reason to wait till your kids can shoot a full-size rifle to introduce them to a serious bolt-action rimfire. Weighing just 2.6 pounds, this scaled-down tack driver is built with a 16-inch heavy target barrel with a threaded muzzle and an adjustable trigger for kid-to-kid customization. It’s a dedicated, single-shot, which is perfect not only for safety but for teaching the oft-forgotten basic that the first shot counts.
Ruger American Rimfire Target
Ruger American Rimfire Target Ruger
This bolt-action beauty puts the top-shelf Ruger goodies (Marksman Adjustable trigger, flush-mounted 10/22 10-round rotary magazine) in a package stuffed with next-level accuracy upgrades like a free-floating barrel, laminate stock, and 0.860-inch target barrel with a knurled thread protector. If you’ve been thinking about revisited your glory days in the squirrel woods, this is the rifle that should knock you off the fence.
Marlin XT-22 Marlin
You might consider the XT-22 for the price, which is paltry for an accurate rimfire. Or the wood stock might give you the nod, if you just want to wrap your hands around something warmer than a polymer born in a chemical vat. But after a few walks in the woods, it might be the sheer accuracy that wins your heart. The adjustable trigger puts you in control of the snap, and if you want to go old school with open sights, it’s one of the few bolt-action rimfires with adjustable sights.
Volquartsen Superlite with OD Green Sleeve
Volquartsen Superlite with OD Green Sleeve Volquartsen
A CDC-machined anodized aluminum receiver and THM tension barrel with a carbon-fiber sleeve account for much of the weight savings in the 5-pound Superlite, and a hefty portion of its significant price tag. The rifle sports an integrated Picatinny rail and a threaded 32-hole compensator, and a competition-ready trigger that breaks at 2.25 pounds. It ain’t cheap, but the biggest drawback to a rifle like this is it takes away any excuse you might dream up for a miss.
Steyr Zephyr II
Steyr Zephyr II Steyr Arms
Like a walnut-and-steel phoenix, this Euro-classic rimfire rises from the legend of its predecessor, the original Steyr Zephyr, which was discontinued in 1971. The new iteration is a looker, as well, with its Bavarian cheekpiece, schnabel forehead, and scale checkering. The gun makes a statement in a rimfire world overly saturated with plastic and aluminum, but what it says to the gray-furred tribe is that it’s time to look for a deep knot-hole. The short-throw bolt action makes it quick to cycle for follow-up shots, although a very fine trigger makes it unlikely you’ll need it.
Browning T-Bolt Composite Sporter .22
Browning T-Bolt Composite Sporter .22 Browning
The straight-pull bolt action is similar to those found on competition biathlon guns. It’s very fast to cycle but still allows for a super-accurate bolt lock for long-range shooting. This rifle is drilled and tapped for Weaver-style bases instead of the not-as-solid dovetail mounts on many rimfires, and carries an externally adjustable trigger. The rotary magazine is what Browning calls a “double helix” setup, which puts 10 rounds in an hour-glass-shape configuration that allows the magazine to sit flush with the bottom of the receiver.
Anschutz 1712 Silhouette Sporter
Anschutz 1712 Silhouette Sporter Anschutz
Considered the apex predator of the rimfire world, the Anschutz platform is more than a pretty face. The famed Anschutz 54-action is a bit heavier than the 64-action platform, so this model weighs 7 pounds, 3 ounces sans glass, which is definitely beefy for a rimfire. But if putting your back to an oak tree and dialing down on every tree rat you can find in 10X glass is your thing, then this is your rifle. The gorgeous walnut Monte Carlo stock with schnabel fore end ensures a firm cheek weld, and the 2-stage trigger helps cut bullet groups down to squirrel-noggin size at long range.
You don’t need the speed of a .17 to shoot squirrels, and you sure don’t need the extra report. But we’re not talking need. We’re talking about a rifle that can thread lead through twigs and branches the next county over, and still carry the oomph to separate a squirrel from that white-oak knot where he’s stretched himself flat as a bumper sticker. It’s a stylish bolt action with a Turkish walnut stock and skull-splitting—and I mean that literally—accuracy that lets you dabble in the .17 HMR cult without cashing in a kidney.
Killer in the Oaks: The Ultimate Squirrel Hunting Rifle
A dear uncle gave me my first gun, a J.C. Higgins Model 31 tube-fed .22 semiautomatic. Manufactured by the long-gone High Standard Corp. and sold through Sears, that rifle kicked off a lifelong rimfire romance in which fidelity has never played a role. Over the years I’ve wandered widely. My high-school flame was a Remington Speedmaster, another tubular autoloader, which I will occasionally secrete out of the gun safe like a hidden love letter. I had a serious college fling with a bull-barreled Remington 541T bolt action. Next came steady relationships, sort of, with a succession of factory Ruger 10/22s. Right now, my current rimfire love is the equivalent of a trophy wife with a loyalty card at the plastic surgeon’s office: a pimped-out 10/22 with aftermarket trigger, carbon-fiber barrel, rimfire-specific scope, and a few other upgrades that toll a death knell for squirrels.
So I’ve come to understand that there are two paths to rimfire nirvana. You can buy a highly customizable platform such as the inimitable 10/22, whose screwed-in barrel and straightforward design allows it to be inexpensively tinkered with from butt to muzzle. If that appeals, check out my own Ruger, above, the latest in a years-long evolution, and not so wild looking that you would feel self-conscious unsheathing it at your granddaddy’s farm.
The other route is to dial up the initial investment with a gussied-up firearm from a high-end gunmaker. None of the trio here would qualify as your grandpappy’s rimfire. They are sleek and sultry and sinfully tempting to anyone.
Price: $150website: revolutionstocks.comThere are lots of aftermarket stocks out there, from thumbhole versions to Monte Carlo designs to lightweight configurations with skeletonized buttstocks and slotted fore-ends. With the grain in multiple layers of wood running in different directions, laminated stocks offer high strength, great stability, and resistance to warping. I chose the straightforward Explorer.
Price: $230Website: timneytriggers.comTimney’s new one-piece drop-in trigger is set at a crisp 2 3?4 pounds, with no creep. Machined from 6061-T6 aircraft-grade aluminum, the action houses a trigger, sear, and hammer of heat-treated steel. Replacing the famously unimpressive factory 10/22 trigger is a snap. Punch out the two action pins, remove the trigger action, and swap the entire assembly. The extended magazine release comes off as a bit clunky, but nowhere near as clunky as trying to change magazines with cold fingers. I’ve grown to like it.
Dedicated Rimfire Scope
Price: $150Website: nikonsportoptics.comThe 50-yard parallax setting on the Nikon ProStaff 3–9×40 Rimfire BDC 150 gives a squirrel hunter tack-sharp focus when searching for bushytails squashed tight against a treetop limb. It has a BDC reticle calibrated for .22 Long Rifle ammo, taking much of the guesswork out of those long shots to the back of the woodlot.
Price: starting at $286Website: volquartsen.comAt a short 16 1?2 inches long and just 20 ounces in weight, this Volquartsen match barrel changes the look and feel of a rifle more than anything else. The carbon-fiber barrel shroud is put together with tension at both the muzzle and chamber ends to provide rigidity. For long walks in the squirrel woods, it’s a delight. Such a light front end, however, is an acquired taste.
Price: starting at $35Website: sandstormcustomrifleslings.comI like lightweight slings on my rifles, and Sandstorm Custom Rifle Slings weaves some of the best paracord slings you can find. Choose your color, swivels, and adjustability. Mine is in a standard weave for a supple feel, but the double cobra and king cobra designs are pretty sweet, too.
Shooting Higher and Lower
Higher: Volquartsen Superlite
Built to the Ruger 10/22’s specifications—it accepts standard Ruger magazines—the Superlite bears a CNC-machined hard anodized aluminum receiver, married to a THM tension barrel threaded in for a tight fit. An integral Picatinny rail is ready for optics. Together, the barrel and action weigh less than 3 pounds. Volquartsen offers the ability to build your own rifle from the comfort of your keyboard, so you can doll it up with the stock that suits you. $1,055 for barreled action; volquartsen.com
Lower: Savage 93R17
Just when you think you might own enough rimfires, a must-have like this very affordable .17 HMR winks at you from across the aisle. The cartridge, just a little more than a decade old, is built on a necked-down .22 WMR case and provides twice the speed, more energy, and a flatter trajectory than the venerable .22 WMR. This Savage bolt action features the AccuTrigger, the best factory trigger you’ll find on a rimfire, and a price tag that sweeps away any second thoughts. Starting at $268; savagearms.com