Best Caliber For Squirrel Hunting

Squirrel Hunting

Best Caliber For Squirrel

Hunting Squirrel: 22 Long Rifle vs 22 Magnum

There are many squirrel hunters that prefer the 22 long rifle over the 22 magnum for squirrel hunting and vice versa. Which one is is the best caliber for squirrel hunting? My whole life I hunted with the 22 long rifle. Just recently I purchased the 22 magnum to give it a try. I love close range hunting and even use a .410 lever action Henry when the leaves are still on the trees. However, when the leaves fall the squirrels become much more difficult to sneak up on so I like to be able to extend my range during this time.

Obviously the 22 long rifle would extend my range for hunting squirrels. My decision to add the 22 magnum Savage to my arsenal was for 3 reasons. Flatter trajectory and maybe a bit more range, clip magazine as apposed to tube and the ability to hunt predators as well. There are definitely better calibers for predator hunting I know, but for me it is a good choice. I hunt coyotes very few times a year.

22 magnum vs 22 long rifle for hunting squirrel
22 magnum Savage B22 at the range

There are certainly pros and cons to both calibers. I tried the .17 mach 2 and didn’t like it. It might be the same with the 22 magnum. Sure hope I like it since I don’t hunt predators that often. I do like the 22 long rifle for squirrel hunting. I have a few 22 LR’s so I can always take one for squirrel. If I don’t like the 22 Magnum for squirrel maybe it will be an excuse to predator hunt more in the future. I have been to the range with the Savage 22 mag. Love how it shoots. I’ve not hunted squirrel with the 22 magnum yet, but I plan to do that soon. I’ll add my thoughts on the 22 magnum rifle for squirrel hunting, at the end of this comparison.

22 Long Rifle For Squirrel Hunting

The 22 long rifle has long been the go to cartridge for squirrel hunting across America. The 22 long rifle cartridge is a perfect cartridge for hunting squirrels. As a boy I hunted the Tennessee farm land with a Winchester model 190 22 semi-auto. I loved it and still love to shoot the 22 any chance I get. I later purchased a Henry lever action 22 long rifle to hunt squirrels and it is so much fun to shoot and hunt with.

There are a couple advantages to hunting squirrel with the 22 long rifle. The first being the cost per round. 22 long rifle cartridges are substantially less expensive than the 22 magnum. This reason alone is enough for most squirrel hunters to go with the 22 long rifle cartridge for squirrel hunting. Me included. I have a lot of 22 long rifle bullets laying around and usually pick up a box of 50 every time I go to the sporting goods stores.

The second thing that stands out is the noise. The 22 long rifle is much quieter than the 22 magnum. I have seen where less noise from the shot will help keep squirrels from scurrying to their den or hiding in the treetops for half an hour. I have not hunted with the 22 magnum yet but noticed this when I chose to hunt with 22 shorts one day. The 22 short bullet is much quieter than long rifle and will spook squirrels less and it’s obvious.

The 22 long rifle holds its own in the accuracy department. Head shots at 40 yards are very doable depending on your shooting abilities. If you practice you can easily push those shots to 50 yards and beyond. Head shots are encouraged to retain as much of the squirrels delicious meat for dinner. The occasional stray that gets the shoulder can destroy some meat but there’s still most of the meat left for my favorite fried squirrel recipe. When at the range be sure to practice getting your group within an inch for consistent head shots on your squirrel hunt. Also know your accuracy range. Keep your shots within that range until you are hitting consistently beyond that range. Whatever that might be.

22 Mag vs 22 LR

If you can consistently group your shots within 1 inch at 50 yards then you know it’s safe to shoot squirrels at that range. By practicing at the range and setting up your targets at specific ranges you will also learn to judge distance accurately. You can also carry a rangefinder to the squirrel woods. Ranging your target and knowing your rifle might even help you to increase your range a little more.

22 Magnum For Squirrel Hunting

The 22 magnum may be considered overkill in many squirrel hunter’s eyes. I have actually felt that way most of my life. I never even considered a 22 magnum rifle for squirrel hunting or really any other reason. In recent years, while in the woods, I have seen many more coyotes and bobcats during daylight hours than ever before. It was this reason that I even considered the 22 magnum to hunt squirrels. While there are better calibers for hunting predators I wanted to have a rifle that could take predators as well as squirrels.

The History Of The 22 Magnum Cartridge

The 22  WMR is also called 22 Magnum and was introduced by Winchester in 1959. WMR is an acronym for Winchester Magnum Rimfire. Soon after the new cartridge rolled out, Savage, Ruger, and Smith & Wesson built guns for the new magnum caliber. The 22 Magnum cartridge would fill a void that many hunters wanted. A rimfire cartridge that could extend the range for squirrel with the ability to take predators up to 25 pounds. 40 grain bullets was the original bullet loaded in the 22 magnum and now are loaded with 30 grain and 50 grain bullets for different applications.

Longer Shots On Squirrels

Another reason I purchased the Savage 22 Magnum for squirrel hunting is the fact that where I often hunt is open woods. These open woods makes it difficult to get into close range. The 22 Long Rifle does work when the squirrel is within50 yards but another 25 or 30 yards can make a big difference when hunting big open woods where 125 yard shots are not only possible but common.

About Ken McBroom 307 Articles
Ken McBroom is an accomplished outdoor writer and photographer. Growing up in Lynchburg Tennessee allowed him many opportunities afield as a boy and young man. Later in life, after Desert Storm, Ken’s wanderlust took him to Alaska to live and work and experience the last frontier. Married now with two beautiful children, Ken now calls Kentucky home where he continues to communicate our American outdoor traditions and the lifestyle it offers.


  1. .22 shorts and .22 Long Rile are perfect for squirrel & rabbit hunting depending on the area you’re in. That’s all I ever used.

  2. Hi John. Yea I always used .22 Long Rifle for squirrels. I did buy a .17 mach 2 but it was just too hard on the squirrels and too fast for me. It wasn’t as quiet as advertised so I went back to .22 now I have a .22 Magnum because I see so many coyotes while hunting squirrels so I wanted to be able to take a few of those. I have a few .22’s and would like to get me a nice bolt action but I use my .410 Henry lever action so often now that not sure. It is a challenge in the winter but as a bow hunter I like getting close. Check out this article and my radio interview about squirrel hunting in the winter Thanks for commenting and be sure to sign up for my newsletter. Ken

  3. The 17hm2 is my absolute favorite
    In my opinion of 47 years chasing bushy tails …. my Remington 504 and CZ 452 17hm2 …. are both Incredibly accurate …. with cloverleaf groups …..
    Thanks Jimmy

  4. Hey Jimmy. I agree with the accuracy. I had a Browning heavy barrel Mach2 and loved it but I prefer the .22. I shoot a .22 Mag now only because I see so many coyotes when squirrel hunting and don’t like shooting them with a .22 I have a Savage and love it. Actually my new favorite squirrel gun is a Lever action .410 Henry. I have to get close but that’s OK. I use it in the spring season then in the early fall before all the leaves are gone then I switch to the .22 Mag. Thanks for commenting. Ken

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