View Full Version : Best overall small game firearm

May 3, 2009, 01:05 PM
I've been thinking a bit about small-game hunting, and would like to get the input from people a lot more well-versed in taking meat than myself.

I'm starting from scratch here, never having hunted anything but deer, turkey, and goose. If I wanted to supplement my meals with things like rabbit, squirrel and the like, what would be the idea firearm? I'm interested in terminal effectiveness, as well as durability, weight, compactness (packability?), and price. I've always thought the 10/22 was the standard for small game, but I've never really heard anyone gush about how rugged they are.

But what about pistols? Shotguns? Would I be better off with a .410? Or maybe a .223? I guess that might blow away some meat, but it would also be effective for smaller predators, and other... "midsize" (?) game.

Right now, I'm thinking the new Charger might be good. Seems like it would be more accurate than the average .22lr pistol, like the Mk2 or S&W's 22A, and much more totable than a rifle.

I'm wide open though -- what would you pick to bring home small game?

May 3, 2009, 01:07 PM

May 3, 2009, 01:09 PM
What gauge and load would you use?

May 3, 2009, 01:11 PM
12 gauge #6 shot 1 1/8 ounce shot, pretty much standard field loads.

May 3, 2009, 01:12 PM
great, thanks for the input!

May 3, 2009, 01:18 PM
No prob, good luck.

May 3, 2009, 02:18 PM
If you want a little lighter package to tote all day, the 20 works fine too. For either gauge I like 7 1/2 or 8 for squirrels and 7 1/2 if rabbits are close 6 if they tend to be a little farther out in that area. If you don't mind recoil, or willing to put a nice pad on, and can get good enough at the shooting, A single shot 20 or 12 really is a sweet gun. I hunted for the first 8 years of my life with only a bolt action .410 and the line... "Beware of a guy with only one gun" rung true for me. Squirrel hunting was fun for spotting the buggers but my buddies bragged up my shooting by truly stating "Brent is the only kid we ever seen that could shoot 28 squirrels with 25 shots."
A .22 is fine for a challenge... I prefer the bolt action for the "Big Boy" rifle feel but love a marlin 60 when feeling lazy. For pistols, I know several guys who love their Ruger MK series with scope or "halo" optics for rabbit. Head shots are a must if for the pot. The additional challenge to plan your shot for back stop is fun. For tree rats you have to set up so the bullet enters tree trunk or thick limb every time to feel comfortable about errant projectiles.

May 3, 2009, 02:24 PM
I own lots and lots of rimfires but the best small game cartridge out to 100 yards is the .17HM2. I own 3 rifles in Mach 2 (an Anschutz 1702D HB, a Volquartsen Custom and a CZ 452 Varmint) and they are all deadly on little critters. The CZ is the easiest to tote in the woods.

May 3, 2009, 02:33 PM
that's a great point... I've been spending way too much time here in the burbs, where squirrels are always on the ground! Maybe I should save the rifle/handgun aspirations for when I become a better hunter.

Brian Pfleuger
May 3, 2009, 02:34 PM
I've always thought the 10/22 was the standard for small game, but I've never really heard anyone gush about how rugged they are.

You haven't listened very carefully!;):) The Ruger 10/22 is extremely rugged, especially the older models. Mine is pure workhorse. It doesn't get babied like all my other guns. I've had it for must be 15+ years and I'm not sure it's EVER been cleaned. I've never had a failure of any kind (except some shells that no-bang, but that's not the gun).

Even so, if I was in the market for a similar gun today I'd be getting something in 17HMR. It does everything the 22LR does, everything the 22mag does and some things that neither of them do.

May 3, 2009, 02:34 PM
I've been hearing a lot of good things about CZ lately. Are their rifles as good as their pistols?

Brian Pfleuger
May 3, 2009, 02:44 PM
Are their rifles as good as their pistols?

Their rifles are quite good and their customer service is excellent. The triggers are fairly typical (heavy and nasty) but there are very inexpensive parts available to improve them. If you want a bolt action then I'd recommend Savage.

May 3, 2009, 03:16 PM
Peet, the savage has the protruding magazine. My next bolt action will likely be one of the 981 marlins. Just love a high capacity tube mag and bolt action concept.
But currently I have a Savage tupperware "El Marto del Wal" 99 buck gun...
I have admittedly missed a hand ful of tree rats but not many. Now the freak incident I mention in the scared to death rabbit thread... Dead is dead no matter the route to get there:o

May 3, 2009, 03:49 PM
Just like golf, you can play with one club but better off having choices to fit the requirements. Now that should give you the incentive to buy more than one. Right ?? ;)

However, working with your criteria, I'd have to agree with the 20Ga. in 3". You can even take ducks with one although you would have to get lucky on geese. You will never outgrow a 20Ga. and neither will your kids. :)

Be Safe !!!

May 3, 2009, 04:56 PM
for small game you can do pretty well with .410 caliber in a compact and light package. There are many options out there, you can even find a M6 from springfield it's a over under combo 410/22LR.
I've a good friend who use a winchester 94 chambered in 410 with great results. Slugs in 410 do pretty well and there are some good choices in shotshells :D

May 3, 2009, 08:04 PM
Other than the .17hmr recommendation all are good. And i say no .17 because in va its illegal

May 3, 2009, 08:07 PM
For small game your talkin .22LR or Shotty. Don't get me wrong, I see many advantages to the .22 mag and the two 17's. But if you're gonna use them you had better be dang sure you brain em. Any shots to the body can lead to less than desirable results for table fare. Plus, we are talking small game. You don't need a howitzer to kill em.

The 10/22 is great for small game. Reliable as the sun and accurate enough. I just went 4 for 4 on some starlings.

For shotty's I'll second the 12 and the 20. Ammo is too expensive and rare for the .410. It's not that you can't get ammo for it, it's that your choices are EXTREMLY limited. That and .410's just plain suck.

The big advantage the .22LR has over all the others, especially the shotguns, is that it is the quietest.

Brian Pfleuger
May 3, 2009, 09:36 PM
And i say no .17 because in va its illegal

Illegal to hunt with you mean? I've never heard of restrictions on small game. That's odd.

phil mcwilliam
May 4, 2009, 03:21 AM
Small game for the pot usually means head shots, so I would recommend a quality bolt action 22. I was testing my new CZ 452 Delux fitted with Leupold 2-7x 32 scope on the weekend. I was amazed at the accuracy of this rifle & shot several 5 shot groups under 1 inch at 100 yards using CCI Minimags. It is extremely important to try different ammunition in a rimfire to determine what your rifle prefers, as most other same priced ammo shot groups of up to 3 inches at 100 yards. I owned a Ruger 10/22 for many years & would consider this rifle a rugged & dependable semi-auto. The Ruger 10/22 can be customized with after market barrels/triggers ,but out of the box they don't compare to the CZ for accuracy, nor were they designed to. I found the fast handling Ruger carbine ideal for taking shots on running rabbits, but if I was looking at sniping for head shots the CZ(or other quality bolt action) would be my choice.

May 4, 2009, 06:15 AM
I'm actually surprised at how many folks here don't mind picking lead shot out of their meat. I haven't used a shotgun on rabbits and such in many years.

They're fine for feathered game, and are oft-times the only legal way to hunt them, but not on furred animals.

.22 LR ammo is inexpensive to shoot, lightweight, and very effective on small game. Head shots cause no meat loss on small critters.

There are so many makes and models of rifles chambered for it that it's hard to single one out to recommend. The newest firearm I have that's chambered in .22 LR is 29 years old, but that old Marlin/Glenfield model 60 with the ugly squirrel on the stock has accounted for more than it's share of small game. It's still in fine working shape, and still hits where I aim it.

One .22 pistol I have was made in 1941, and one old Winchester rifle in the late 1930's. Both still function perfectly, and still shoot accurately.

Which goes to show just how hard it is to wear out a decent made rimfire rifle or pistol. With a bit of care, they seem to last forever.

It's jus hard to beat a good .22 LR for small game.


Dr. Strangelove
May 4, 2009, 07:33 AM
Or maybe a .223? I guess that might blow away some meat, but it would also be effective for smaller predators, and other... "midsize" (?) game.

Here in GA, only .22-cal rim-fire or smaller is legal for small game hunting, along with shotguns. I would purchase both, but if I had to choose one, I would go with a 12ga shotgun because it is the most versatile.

I just looked up VA hunting laws - Wow! What a confusing mess. Looks like in some counties, your .223 would be legal for small game, in some you can't fire a rifle at all except at an approved range.

May 4, 2009, 01:31 PM
yeah va has some hunting laws that are crazy in the county i live in 1 side of the east and west has two different bag limits and 2 different seasons we need to do some major politicking to get 1 set of rules

May 4, 2009, 03:16 PM
If your small game includes coyotes or bobcat sized animals you might want to think of the smaller centerfire cartridges, such as the .204, .222, or .223.

Any .22lr will do for bunnies and squirrels. There are a bunch of used ones to choose from. My brother and I shared a Remington Field master as our first rifle. I recommend them highly. But any rust free used .22 that feels good to you will be fine.

I've used a 20 guage shotgun on rabbits. They work great with bird shot, but I pretty much decided that a .22 would do just as well.


May 4, 2009, 03:23 PM
If your small game includes coyotes or bobcat sized animals buckshot will work dandy. I think the shotgun is the most versatile, just tailor the loads/choke combo to the situation.

May 4, 2009, 03:32 PM
with the shotgun you can bring a few slugs along just in case there is some threat from a bear (black in the o.p.'s case) or bad guy.

May 4, 2009, 06:23 PM
If you don't feel like getting too picky about picking lead pellets you can always go with steel shot. Just go up one in your choke restriction.

May 4, 2009, 09:40 PM
If I were mostly into small game like squirrel, rabbit, quail, and dove (which for the most part I am) I would need nothing but my Benelli 20 ga Nova. A 20 ga pump with a 3 inch chamber can handle just about anything you need. 3 inch 1.25 oz #6 will handle a crow nicely, while non-toxic 3" loads are respectable enough to take along if you only hunt waterfowl once a year or so, and the slugs would be enough if you ever got a whim to hunt deer with the gun.

May 4, 2009, 09:51 PM
I really love the feel of a H&R break action 20 gauge. Youth models are a little lighter. You can often find them for 50.00 used or 100.00 new

On the other hand I also have used a saiga 12.. Less fair but as they say "if hunting is a fair fight, you suck at it" :D

I would go the single barrel option (single shot, semi, or pump) as doubles are more weight and a higher cost then they are worth for small game.

May 4, 2009, 10:24 PM
If you are looking for 1-gun solution, a 12 ga pump will take anything in N. America; effectively and fairly inexpensively. You said you have some experience with deer and geese, does that mean you have the guns for those? If you enjoy buying different guns for different purposes like many of us do, than I would suggest a .22lr. I prefer an open sight lever gun and stay within its limits. I also have a scoped Ruger 77 in .17 HMR but, I always seem to grab the .22. The .17 has more range and accuracy but it is not as quick or as easy to carry plus the ammo costs much more.

Death from Afar
May 7, 2009, 01:18 AM
Other than the .17hmr recommendation all are good. And i say no .17 because in va its illegal


May 7, 2009, 09:29 AM
Yes, I do have the guns for deer and goose -- a Remington 700 clone in .30-06 for the former, and my dad's 12ga autoloader for the latter (well, soon... He's twisting my arm to trade for my Mossberg 500 since he needs a home-defense gun). And you're absolutely right, I DO love getting new guns! So it's good to be reminded that my 12ga will take fine care of me, but a .22LR might be on the way anyhow ;).

As for why the .17HMR etc. is illegal here, it's for the same reason anything's illegal anywhere; someone with enough dedication and influence is afraid of it.

May 7, 2009, 01:04 PM
for rabbit's and squirrel and what not?
I'd go with a savage 17. tack driver. but a lot more charge than a 22.
maybe carry a .44 on your side if you've got one.
that's just my opinion. :D


May 7, 2009, 05:50 PM
A 12 guage is probably the most versatile firearm your can have for hunting. but for small game I would go with something more along the lines of a .22 there is not a tree rat or rabbit that will walk away from a head shot. and your won't have to worry about picking shot out oif the meat. personally I won't hunt squirrels with an 17hmr because it will cause more damage to the meat compared to a .22lr just due to the higher velocity. a .17hm2 would be a great choice also. as you can see I'm a big fan of rimfires and there is nothing more fun squirrel hunting with w .22

good luck with your choice!

Brian Pfleuger
May 7, 2009, 07:10 PM
I won't hunt squirrels with an 17hmr because it will cause more damage to the meat

Head shot my friend, head shot.

May 7, 2009, 07:15 PM
Personally I like the 28ga the best for all small game from rabbits, to upland birds, squirrels, any other small pests I need to get rid of. Ammo is hard to find in places and is a little pricey, but I still like this gauge the most out of all my shotguns! Lots of knock down power, reaches out farther than the 410, hardly any recoil at all. If you want slugs they are unavailable though, if you tend to use them I'd go with a 20ga.

May 9, 2009, 12:43 AM
In western Washington, grouse season is around 4 months and I use a .410 shotgun. (Winchester 9410)

May 9, 2009, 01:26 AM
Savage Model 24, 22 over 410.

The first two winters I lived in Alaska, in a little cabin north of McKenly Park, I got laid off.

That Model 24 fed my family.

May 9, 2009, 01:44 AM
If youre talking squirrels and rabbits, theres really no reason for anything more than the .22 LR.

IMO any centerfire rifle is a waste of ammo money on something like a squirrel.

Would you rather pay $1 for a few little pieces of squirrel meat or 3 cents?

If you want to talk frugality, gun costs aside, 20 bucks worth of ammo gets you at least 500 squirrels with a .22 LR, about 20 with a centerfire rifle...assuming you never miss.

Now...if you want to get crazy and shoot at moving game then yeah a shotgun would be much preferred, but otherwise your back to the ammo cost equation.

Personally with some of the punchier .22LR ammo available I also wouldnt hesitate to shoot a Missouri coyote or bobcat, at close range of course.

I guess the only reason I can think of not to use a .22 for small game is if you feel theres a possibility of running into something dangerous, but even then Id rather have a .22 than a pointy stick.

Jack O'Conner
May 12, 2009, 09:49 AM
I've taken many pheasants, rabbits, geese, and squirrels with a plain break open single shot 16 gauge made by Iver Johnson. This gauge is not common anymore but 20 gauge is just as good. New England Firearms makes new shotguns like this configuration but used shotguns are commonly found.

I'd avoid a lightweight 12 gauge due to painful recoil and excessive meat damage.

Good hunting to you.


May 12, 2009, 10:02 AM
Agreed, plus if you wanted to bring a few slugs along "just in case" the 20 gauge rifled slugs would do the trick on a black bear.

May 15, 2009, 02:18 PM
I'd avoid a lightweight 12 gauge due to painful recoil and excessive meat damage.

Try some blackpowder shells. Modest recoil and great patterns, deadly on game. Break open shotgun barrels are a cinch to clean. Newer ones (steel shot compatable) are chrome plated, offering more corrosion resistance. I also made an insert for my NEF 12 gauge to convert it to muzzle loading. That was fun but I enjoy the BP shells more.

I feel 12 gauge meat damage is over exagerated. Take a head shot or let'em get a little further away, same applies to any shot gun.

Agreed, plus if you wanted to bring a few slugs along "just in case" the 20 gauge rifled slugs would do the trick on a black bear.

Or if you come across Mr. piggie.:D

My daughters 20 gauge NEF is a tack driver with Remington rifled slugs. Also a very nice shooter with shotshells.

May 16, 2009, 02:05 PM
I almost always use a NEF 12 gauge on small game. It has a fixed full choke and I use low brass 5's and 6's. Patterns great and low recoil.

May 16, 2009, 02:40 PM
My philosophy on handguns has always been that you 'live with the gun' if you want to master it. To that end, I have almost always been able to develop a small game/pest load for them, including the .45 ACP (http://sargesrollcall.blogspot.com/2008/08/why.html#links).


May 17, 2009, 07:40 PM
nice, is that a 1911 .45 A.C.P?

May 17, 2009, 09:49 PM
howdy, new member but i say shotgun. using #4

May 18, 2009, 09:04 AM
My Ruger Bearcat has more blood on it than any gun I own.
Ammo cheap.
Easy to pack.

May 18, 2009, 09:52 AM
To those of you who hunt small game with a handgun, how far out do you shoot? It sounds like the rifle guys routinely shoot 50-100yds. All of my handgun shooting this far has been solely focused on defensive handgunnery, so I'd need a heck of a lot of practice even getting a two-inch group at 25yds, I'd imagine.

James R. Burke
May 18, 2009, 06:44 PM
If your thinking shotgun I would go with a 20ga. If money is no problem I would go with a Browning o/u. If you are thinking rifle there are a few good one's Ruger 10/22, Browning 22 auto takedown, Browning 22 BLR short throw my favorite. Pistols there are alot of good ones Ruger, Smith, etc.

May 19, 2009, 01:34 AM
I've bagged a few squirrels and rabbits with a .22 revolver while checking the trapline. Most of my shots were about 15-20 yards at most.

W. C. Quantrill
May 21, 2009, 01:27 AM
Look for one of the Savage O/U's. Rifle on top, shotgun underneath. They come in a variety of combinations, 20ga/.223, or other calibers. They pretty well cover the small game needs nicely with either a rifle or shotgun available to you. If you need, you could shuck in a slug also..............That's what I would do.

Flipper 56
May 21, 2009, 04:42 AM
Look for one of the Savage O/U's. Rifle on top, shotgun underneath.

Good Advice! I have always enjojed the company of my Savage 24P while strolling through the woods.

Tex S
May 21, 2009, 10:19 PM
17hmr rocks! Alotta power in a little package. Exceptional accuracy as well.

srt 10 jimbo
May 24, 2009, 11:22 PM
Have a savage 93fv 22wmr that works pretty well:)

May 25, 2009, 06:00 AM
I have a Savage 17HMR with a heavy barrel. This round will destroy squirrels and rabbits. At seventy yards it is deadly accurate.

May 28, 2009, 08:17 PM
Lots of great advise.Small game hunting is about what you enjoy.What are your priorities?

I sold it,but I made a .36 muzzleloader with a Douglas bbl that shot ragged hole groups at 50 yds,patched round ball.

Right now in rifles,I have an Anschutz Jr Varminter that is a real nice .22.

I have a Brno/CZ semi-auto 22 WMR with a 6x Burris compact on it.It is nice.too
I just bought a little Chipmunk in 22WMR.Its small,but I think it will be fun.

The target grade Ruger semi-auto handgun with one of those mini optic sights might be great.

I have a Ruger single six,Bisley grip,adj sights in .32 H+R.The Fiocchi 32 S=W wadcutter loads would be great on small game.

An old Marlin 39 lever rifle might be fun,

The one that was a prize,a Remington 513-S model.Like a 513-t but a 27 in heavy sporter bbl.They only made 3000 some back in the50's.It had a Weaver K-4 on it.

I gave it to my son-in law with this condition.

When you and my daughter have children,you will raise them in the tradition of the second ammendment.Sure is a rabbit head popper!