While some small game hunters prefer the versatility and forgiveness of a shotgun, others stick with rimfire rifles due to their pinpoint accuracy, minimal recoil, and longer range. While you can do some serious damage to meat with a shotgun, hunting with a rimfire rifle helps preserve every ounce on your petite quarry. Cartridges are generally affordable too. For small game hunters who want to stick with a rimfire rifle, these are the best ammo options.
Often considered the gold standard for small game, the .22 LR is ideal for species such as squirrels and rabbits. It gets the job done effectively without causing significant damage to your dinner and can easily take down prey at 50 yards with good shot placement. It’s also versatile enough for hunting bobcats or foxes, but you’ll want to upgrade for anything larger. The guns themselves are usually affordable, and the cartridges are some of the cheapest and easiest to find in a time where ammo is increasingly difficult to get your hands on.
Cartridges within the .22 LR category are classed based on their velocity. Subsonic loads are typically more appropriate for target practice–or scenarios where you need the near-silent stealth at short range. With a flatter trajectory and longer range, standard-velocity, high-velocity, and hyper-velocity loads are better suited for hunting situations. For most small game, standard and high-velocity offer plenty, but .22 LR hyper-velocity cartridges, on the other hand, are a common choice for varmint hunting.
The .17 HMR might do some meat damage to your small game such as squirrels and rabbits, but it’s still an effective option if you can make a solid head shot. It boasts a flatter trajectory than the .22 LR, making it better-suited to longer-range shots at small game. And it will more reliably take down tough squirrels.
The .17 HMR is a solid choice for hunting other critters such as foxes, but you should probably avoid it for predators or any other animals larger than that.
Also known as the .22 magnum, the .22 WMR can be more than necessary for squirrels and rabbits too. If you’re shooting at such small game at close range, it will likely wreck more of the meat than not, but this cartridge is a solid choice for varmints. If you do choose to hunt squirrels with .22 WMR, you should aim for the head to ensure a quick kill or shot or a clean miss.
Further Thoughts on Rimfire Hunting Ammo
While .22 WMR and .17 HMR ammo isn’t exactly expensive compared to many other cartridges, it is a little pricier than .22 LR. Overall, you really can’t beat the .22 LR for small game such as squirrels and rabbits that you intend to eat. Varmint and other game that’s a little bigger? You can probably get it done with the .17 HMR or .22 WMR. Although it’s nice to have a versatile gun that can take down a variety of game with the right ammo, the reality is there’s a different top choice for just about every species you can hunt. If you have the budget to invest in more than one rimfire setup, do it.
And what about shotguns? When should you switch out your cartridges for some shells? If you’re hunting squirrels in a small patch of woods as they leap from tree to tree, switching to a shotgun is a winning strategy. Picking them off from longer ranges? Stick with the rimfire. The best option again is to have both on hand so you can always choose the right option depending on the situation. And who doesn’t need an excuse to add another gun to their hunting arsenal?
READ MORE: Which Gauge Shotgun is Best for Upland Hunting?
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