by Rick Rappe (email@example.com)
A source of endless debate among hunters and shooters is "What's best?" for any given type of game or hunting situation. Of course it's difficult to reach even a definition of "best", let alone factor in the extreme loyalty many shooters have for a particular caliber or model of gun, regardless of objective criteria.
Certainly one can hunt rabbits with a .44 Magnum, or elephants with a BB gun, but these aren't logical choices. So let us begin with the aknowledgement that there is rarely a "best" for hunting situations, and a divergence of opinion based on an individual's circumstances and experiences. Still, there are very many situations where there is a "better" choice and universally, there are poor choices.
Our next problem is one of organization of the information. I've chosen to focus on categories of game type and size and mention gun and caliber choices as a subset of the game being pursued.
Lastly, we face the challenge of brevity. Long and detailed articles could be written on each of these topics. The purpose here is to give solid guidance, and each reader is encouraged to do further research; ask questions and make his or her own informed decisions.
Small Game and the .22 Long Rifle vs. the Shotgun
In this category of game (cottontail rabbits, squirrels and such), the choice is between the .22 rimfire and the shotgun.
The shotgun owner gains some versatility as he also has the ability to pursue various game birds. (See the section on bird hunting.)
The .22 user gains cost efficiency with ammunition in the $.03-5 range per shot versus a single shotgun cartridge (called a shotgun shell in America) at upwards of $.20.
The shotgun user can more easily hit a running rabbit for example, but is limited to killing distances of approximately 40 yards or less. A good shot with an accurate .22* can more than double the range at which game can be taken.
Thus on balance, the .22 recieves a higher recommendation than the shotgun because of ammunition cost and the effectiveness over greater distance.
.22 rimfire ammo comes in a variety of types. While specialty ammo, from small shot loads, through .22 shorts and hyper velocity loads all have applications; (and all will fire from a gun chambered for the .22 Long Rifle (LR) except that most autoloading models may not cycle all types); for our purposes we are talking about the .22 LR.
The .22 LR comes in solid and hollow point bullets, standard velocity or high velocity. Neither has an inherent accuracy advantage. Solids are preferred when penetration and destroying less meat are more important. Hollow points, which expand on contact, penetrate less, offer greater shock impact, but tend to destroy more edible meat.
Both the .22 rifle and the .22 pistol/revolver can take small game cleanly. The rifle is easier to use, and because the longer barrel allows the bullet to reach a higher velocity, does have a power advantage over distance.
When one moves up in game size or greater shooting distances (jackrabbits, raccoon, fox, etc.), the .22 Winchester Rimfire Magnum (.22 WRM or .22 Magnum) becomes a consideration.
The .22 WRM offers a substantial performance boost over the .22 LR, but at an attendant increase in ammunition costs. While it is arguable that certain centerfire cartridges are better choices than the .22 mag., this cartridge fills the gap between the .22 LR and the others. In many juristictions, the hunter of game just a bit too large for the .22 LR is still limited by law to rimfire ammo, and the .22 mag fits well here.
In an accurate .22 mag rifle, game taking range is extended a bit beyond 100 yards, and at shorter distances is sufficient for animals up to 25-30 pounds.
Which brand or model of firearm is a better choice is an especially difficult topic because of the very many excellent models from which to choose. Limiting ourselves to American models currently manufactured helps some.
In .22 LR rifles, we have semi-automatics, single shots, bolt actions, lever actions, and slide action models. None of these action types has any accuracy advantage over another.
Single shots and bolt actions are most often recommended as beginner's guns because of the safety aspects of having to take one's hand/finger from the trigger to work a bolt before another shot can be fired.
Lever actions and slide actions also require the shooter to "do something" before another shot is fired, but with practice can be manipulated very rapidly.
Semi-automatics, or autoloaders will fire once at each trigger pull until empty and are better suited to game situations such as a running rabbits where several quick shots may be needed.
Note: There is a solid argument that the autoloader user might indulge in the poor practice of substituting multiple shots for skilled shooting. It is outside the scope of this document to comment on this logic. There are small game situations in which the ability to fire several rapid shots is an advantage, and others where it has no bearing. A semi-auto shooter can always shoot slower, but a bolt action user can't shoot much faster.
Telescopic sights, in general, are recommended. There are situations in which it is unnecessary, such as quick shots at a close and moving target, but the scope's advantages in precision aiming, and with practice a shooter learns to shoot quickly at running game, outweigh any disadvantage. There is however a caveat: The small tubed inexpensive .22 scopes are difficult to see through and have a narrow field of vision. They are not recommended. Scopes designed for big game rifles are factory adjusted to be parallax free at 100 yards, and so may cause slight aiming errors at shorter distances (not enough to be concerned about when shooting at a large animal, but important when shooting at very small targets.) There are quality scopes specifically meant for .22 rifles that offer wide fields of vision and good optical clarity that are not too expensive. A good example is the Simmons 1022 ".22 Magnum" model. In 4X, it offers good optics, and is often found priced around $40.
Some good choices:
Rifles: Ruger 10-22, Marlin 39, Winchester 9422M (magnum)
Pistol/Revolver: Ruger Mk II (either standard or target), Smith & Wesson K-22 (mdl 17 or 617)
* There is a quote attributed to Col. Townsend Whelen, a firearms expert of note from the first 1/2 of this century: "Only accurate rifles are interesting." In the context of .22s and small game hunting, accuracy is a strong consideration. There are many brands and models of .22 rifle and pistol perfectly adequate for casual use, but may not have the inherent quality of trigger action and barrel to satisfy a serious hunting requirement. In rifles, a somewhat arbitrary standard is all shots within a 1 inch group at 50 yards. With pistols, 1 inch at 25 yards might suffice. Many models, and especially "target grade" ones easily exceed this level.
.22s are each individuals, and the shooter should try several brands of ammunition to see which works best in a particular gun. A favorite brand that works well in gun A might be a mediocre performer in gun B.