For decades the .22 long rifle and .22 WMR were the go to rimfire cartridges for small game hunters. To this day it is hard to think of anyone I know who doesn’t own at least one .22. But .22 is no longer the only rimfire.
In 2002, Hornady introduced an entirely new rimfire chambering. The .17HMR. This is quite a bit more powerful than a .22lr, and much greater velocity than the venerable and classic .22WMR. For many years, I thumbed my nose at this round, as just another rimfire. I was wrong, dead wrong. It is very effective on rabbit, woodchuck, fox and even coyote (not the best round, but it will work). The .17 is now more than just the other rimfire, its is a accurate round with a flat trajectory making it ideal for longer range small game shooting.
Of course, the .22 is still a very viable, and popular chambering that will never be replaced. Honestly .22s will still kill more game yearly than .17s just because of the sheer number of rifles in circulation. It is also cheaper.
For today’s small game hunter, choosing a rifle in either of these calibers fills a vital niche. The small game rifle. Here are my choices such rifles. These are not plinkers, not target rifles, but are fast pointing, quick reloading, and reliable woodsman’s firearms.
Ruger 10-22: I recently mentioned this is an article about the best .22s. This will be mentioned again. It truly has earned a place in the heart’s of America’s hunters as the King .22. The 10-22 is a 50 year old carbine design that has not, nor will not for the foreseeable future, be going away. Quick to point, fast to shoot, and fast to reload with its detachable magazine. The 10-22 is the perfect rimfire for squirrel as they often require a second shot after you miss. Toped with a decent rimfire scope, it is just a little slice of firearm heaven.
Marlin Model 60: The other semi-auto. Equal in popularity to the 10-22 from Ruger, the Model 60 has vied for the top for decades. The rifle feeds from a tubular magazine, which can be a drawback compared to the Ruger’s detachable box magazine. I have found the Model 60 to be a reliable plinker and small game rifle. Less expensive than the 10-22, it fits the bill for the squirrel hunter or target shooter.
Remington 572: Again, another recent mention. The 572 is a masterpiece. The finest pump rimfire I have ever shot. They are not competition guns, but for the hunter you can’t get much better. Longer than the 10-22, the 572 is still a fast rifle. Older examples have well broken in pumps with a slickity-slack smoothness you find on old pump shotguns. The rifle is a bit heavy, but the reliability makes up for it. Best used to just open iron sights, this is a great little rabbit gun, and can hold its own when you are pursuing a chattering squirrel.
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