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Choosing a firearm for the homestead: the .22 rifle is tops.

Let's face it, sooner or later some type of wild animal will probably cause some mischief on your property. You reach for a firearm to dispatch the culprit. In most cases your best choice of weapon will be the .22 caliber rifle. It doesn't matter if it' s a grey squirrel chewing on every type of electrical wiring it can find or a woodchuck snacking on the cucumbers in your garden, the .22 rifle will easily take care of these pests. While it may be true that a heavier caliber firearm would be needed if encountering problems with bears, mountain lions, wolves or coyotes, most of the time the problem animals will be a lot smaller. Now you could use your 30-06 rifle in the situations I've mentioned but that would cause substantially more noise and the bullet has the potential to cause a fair amount of destruction at very long distances. What about your 12-gauge shotgun? You will look silly with the main electric line to your house cut in two because of a few stray pellets. Likewise, how many cucumbers and other vegetables will be peppered with shot and ruined? Let's look at some other factors in favor of the .22 rifle.


Introduced in the 1890s, the .22 Long Rifle (LR) cartridge has always been very popular with small game hunters. Today it would be safe to say that at least nine out of 10 hunters who are using a rifle for small game are using a rifle in .22 LR caliber. This means you can find .22 LR ammunition just about anywhere, from the large chain department store to the small rural morn-and-pop general store.

Another plus for the .22 rifle is the low cost of the gun and ammunition. A bolt action or semi-automatic .22 LR rifle from Marlin, Remington, Ruger or Savage will cost you anywhere from $120 to around $250 at one of the mega-marts. A lever or pump action from Henry, Marlin, Remington, Ruger or Taurus will run somewhat more. If you're knowledgeable about firearms, you could look for a used .22 rifle and save a few bucks. A box of 50 rounds of .22 LR high velocity ammunition with hollow point bullets will cost about $3. This is the most useful of the different types of ammunition.

Because of its relatively light weight and barely noticeable recoil, the .22 is very easy to shoot. These qualities make it a great gun for a beginner. Anyone can learn to shoot a .22 rifle well in very little time. Another advantage of the .22 rifle is that the sound of it being fired is mild compared to the sound of a high powered rifle or shotgun. The sound of a gunshot from a .22 rifle should cause little disturbance to you, your family, your livestock or your neighbors.

The .22 rifle is capable of dispatching all of the smaller varmints that might be encountered on your homestead such as gophers, ground squirrels, cottontail rabbits, jack rabbits, tree squirrels, woodchucks, raccoons, possums and foxes. Winged pests such as crows, magpies, starlings and pigeons can also be taken with the .22 rifle. Check your state's hunting regulations to find out which of these animals are considered varmints, non-game or unprotected. Generally that means that these can be shot anytime with no limit. Other wildlife like the cottontail rabbit, raccoon and tree squirrel are considered game and have specific seasons and bag limits. Some states have laws that allow protected wild animals to be killed if they are destroying personal property. In this case, personal property could be your garden, livestock, home or outbuildings. I wouldn't recommend using the .22 LR rifle for any wild animals larger than the ones listed. Although I'm sure the .22 LR has dispatched coyotes on occasion, it just doesn't have the power to take the larger animals consistently.


There are three types of .22 LR ammunition that are very useful around the homestead. All have hollow point bullets. The .22 LR high velocity hollow points have been the preferred ammunition for small game hunters for most of the last century. Produced by all the major ammunition manufacturers, this loading utilizes a 35 to 38 grain bullet with a muzzle velocity of about 1,300 feet per second (fps). This combination of bullet weight and velocity will produce clean kills on all of the above named pests. Maximum range is about 75 yards.

Hyper velocity ammunition is very effective, especially on the larger critters. It's similar to the high velocity load using a lighter 30 to 34 grain hollow point bullet at around 1,500 to 1,750 fps. The lighter, faster bullet means quicker kills and an increase in the maximum range to about 100 yards. The downside is that it costs more than the .22 high velocity hollow points and isn't quite as accurate.

The third type of ammo that fits a need on the homestead is called subsonic. High velocity and hyper velocity .22 bullets are moving faster than the speed of sound, which is 1,088 fps. This accounts for the load "crack" when fired from a .22 rifle. Subsonic ammunition uses a 38 to 40 grain hollow point bullet moving at just under the speed of sound at 1,050 to 1,070 fps. Because the .22 bullet isn't breaking the sound barrier, it is somewhat quieter. There may be times when you want to make less noise. The best way I can describe the difference in noise levels is that high velocity .22's sound more like a gunshot. Subsonic ammo can sound like a loud noise that might be considered something other than a gunshot. *

Try out several different brands and types of .22 ammo in your rifle. Find out which are the most accurate. It's not unusual when you are shooting at a paper target to have one brand consistently hit the bulls eye and another brand be all over the target. Only use the most accurate ammo for varmint control on your homestead.

I have specifically recommended using only hollow point bullets for two important reasons. First, hollow point bullets will produce quick, humane kills on all of the varmints discussed previously. Plain, round nose .22 bullets will go right through an animal without causing much damage. The result is a wounded animal that runs off and dies later. The second reason for using hollow points is that round nose bullets can ricochet if they hit a hard, flat surface such as rock, packed down earth, and sometimes even water. This creates safety concerns for anything downrange at a considerable distance. If a hollow point bullet hits the same hard surface, it will most likely break up into pieces which will not go far. For practice only, with a safe backstop, you can use the bargain priced high velocity ammunition with plain round nose bullets at a cost of around $1 per box of 50.


There is one other type of .22 LR ammo that may come in handy in the right circumstances. This is the shot cartridge. It is loaded with tiny #12 shot instead of a solid bullet and can best be described as a very small shotgun shell. The maximum effective range is about 15 feet. Varmints of approximately gopher size are the largest that should be taken with the shot cartridge. Traditionally, the uses of the .22 shot cartridge are to eliminate snakes and mice or rats. That's why it's sometimes called "rat shot." The principle advantage of this ammunition is that it lacks penetration. That means you can dispatch mice or rats in a barn or dwelling without leaving bullet holes in the floor. The shot can bounce off hard surfaces. Always wear shooting glasses when using shot cartridges.

The "iron sights" that are mounted on your .22 rifle's barrel, usually a bead or blade front sight and an open 'U' notch rear sight, are perfectly adequate for shooting small targets at close range, under 20 yards. If you expect to be shooting beyond this distance, you might want to consider putting a scope on your rifle. The magnification of the target image and the precise aiming point of the scope crosshairs make it easier to hit your target with a scope-sighted rifle. With iron sights, you have to align the rifle's front sight, rear sight and the target. Also the front sight will completely obscure a small target like a ground squirrel at ranges approaching 60 or 70 yards. With a scope you just have to put the crosshairs on the target.

You can choose a fixed magnification scope or a variable. The variable scopes are very popular with three to nine power being the most common. It is handy to be able to change the magnification but I like the typical four power fixed magnification scope. For years, I used variable scopes until I realized that in the field I preferred the scope to be set at three to four power. The only time I ever used a higher setting was at the target range. With a scope set at a high magnification, you have a larger image of your target but a greatly reduced field of view, the amount of terrain you see in the scope. The larger the field of view, the easier and faster it is to find the target initially. Your target is not going to give you much time to make the shot. The fixed four power scope is also less expensive and less complicated. In my experience, usually less complicated means more rugged and reliable. Stay away from the ".22 scopes" that sell for $20 or less at the chain department and sporting goods stores. Good quality variable and fixed power scopes can be found in the $30 to $60 price range. Bushnell and Simmons scopes usually provide good quality for a reasonable price.

I've never needed anything more powerful than the .22 LR cartridge for pest control on my property. The largest varmint that I had to kill was a woodchuck, about medium size, that was sampling the cucumbers from my garden. I may own other firearms but my .22 rifle has always been the most useful.


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Title Annotation:Homestead firearms
Author:Cournoyer, Dave
Publication:Countryside & Small Stock Journal
Date:Nov 1, 2007
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