The question of what is the best .22 rifle is one of those perennial debates that never goes away. Though the humble .22 is often eclipsed by “full-sized” rifles on many review sites and blogs, the truth is that rimfire .22 ammunition is still by far the most fired ammo in America.
More people use .22 rifles on a daily basis than any other type of gun, everything from teaching a son how to shoot to bagging squirrels for the pot. With such a broad range of uses, it is extremely difficult to come up with a list of the best .22 rifles. People use these weapons in such a wide variety of ways that what you are looking for in a .22 rifle depends hugely on what you want to do with it.
Today, we’re going to take a look at some of the best .22 rifles for just about everybody. Whether you’re hunting, target shooting, or just looking for a reasonably priced (and fun) rimfire rifle, we’ve got you covered.
What to look for in a .22 Rifle?
We’ve prioritized price, reliability, ease of use, and comfort because that’s what we think the majority of people are looking for in a .22 rifle. Before we start, though, I know there are a lot of people out there who are still a bit dubious about .22 rifles, so let’s take a look at why you should get one, whether you are prepping for survival or merely want to go out plinking in the yard.
Why Buy a .22 Rifle?
.22 rifles are often sneered at by people who claim that they are really into guns, who say that .22 caliber weapons simply don’t have enough power to be serious weapons. This is simply wrong.
Of course, if you want to look dangerous, a .22 is not going to intimidate many people. For the majority of us, however, a .22 rifle is just a great tool for many purposes.
For hunting small game, a .22 is hard to beat. Significantly lighter than larger caliber rifles, you can carry a .22 all day without getting tired, and this ultimately improves your hunting effectiveness.
.22s don’t have the power to humanely kill large game, and don’t have the range for duck hunting, but for taking rabbits, squirrels, and possums it delivers more than enough power.
.22 Rifles for Survival?
Survivalists and preppers also swear by their .22 rifles. While having an AR-15 for personal defense when the SHTF is a good idea, and while a .22 is not going to drop any attackers, in a survival situation the most important activity is feeding yourself and your family. A .22 is perfect for this. If you find yourself surviving off the land, in reality the majority of your sustenance is going to come from exactly the types of small game that the .22 so excels at taking.
.22 Rifles are Great for Teaching Beginners to Shoot
Still not convinced? Well, even if you are not going to use a .22 for hunting any time soon, these rifles also have another advantage – they are perfect for teaching people how to shoot before they move up to larger calibers. The relatively light recoil of these rifles means that even a child can use them, given the right supervision. If you want to get your son into guns at an early age, getting a .22 rifle (or pistol) is absolutely the best way of doing this, providing many hours of fun shooting at cans in the back yard.
What To Look For in a .22 Rifle
As I said, what you should look for in a .22 rifle is largely dependant on what you are going to use it for. As with any gun, accuracy, reliability, and longevity should be your primary concerns when looking for a .22 rifle.
That said, there are a few key features to look out for that can really affect your choice of .22 rifle.
.22 Rifle Magazine Capacity
The first is magazine capacity. Most of the rifles we are recommending today incorporate a rotary magazine under the stock of the gun, and this magazine is normally capable of holding anywhere between 5 and 35 rounds. Realistically, when out hunting you are not going to need any more than 10 rounds, because if you can’t hit that squirrel with 10 rounds you are never going to hit it.
That said, having a large magazine can save you time reloading, and for this reason alone some people like to fit after-market magazines to increase their capacity. Just be careful that you stay within the legal limitations of your home state.
.22 Rifle Sights
A second factor to consider are the sights you are going to use with your .22. While I deeply respect those who only use the iron sights on their rifles, nowadays most people will be shooting through some kind of optical system.
Which systems work best with which rifles is something we don’t have time to go into today, but just make sure that your favorite sighting system fits the rifle you have chosen.
.22 Rifle Price
Lastly, don’t get fooled into thinking that more expensive rifles are necessarily better. Some of the rifles on our list below have stayed essentially the same for more than a century, and cost less than $200.
While having the extra features of a “premium” rifle is great if you are going out hunting every weekend, in truth the difference in accuracy between a $200 .22 and a $1000 one is negligible, and far more dependant on your skill than anything else.
So, with all that in mind, let’s take a look at our favorite .22 rifles at the moment.
For those who already own this classic .22, it won’t come as a surprise that it is our favorite rifle today. Though the design of this rifle is not the oldest of the rifles we are reviewing today, it’s history goes right back to 1964, and so in getting this rifle you are still investing in a true American classic.
It’s been a favorite of hunters ever since it was introduced, and this popularity shows no sign of reducing as the years go past. Originally designed with practicality in mind, the 10/22 can be maintained in the field with a handful of generic tools.
Every part can be replaced, including the barrel, and so you never have to worry about parts of the gun running out. Also this means there are no end to ways it can be customized.
Ruger 10/22 Tech Specs
As for the technical details, you get a basic and reliable set up. The standard 10/22 is fed from a ten-round rotary magazine that is nicely compact, and sits directly underneath the main action. Rugeralso makes a 5-round magazine for states with more restrictive firearm legislation, and a 25-round box if you want to maximize your capacity.
Perhaps one of the best things about this gun, though, is the capacity for modification that it offers. There are a huge range of after-market accessories available for the rifle, from huge magazines to tactical stocks that can really improve your hunting efficiency.
This means that you can set up the rifle as a wide range of different guns, from a short range rapid fire weapon for controlling rats, through to a precision sniper rifle that will drop small birds at a hundred yards.
Overall, this weapon remains popular for its reliability and adaptability. If you are looking for a weapon that will allow you to make the most of .22 ammunition, this is the one.
This is another classic .22 rifle that has a history almost as illustrious as the Ruger 10/22. In fact, there is very little to choose between the two rifles, and ultimately your choice should be more informed by how these weapons feel to you than by any “advanced” features the manufacturers try and sell you.
That said, a bug advantage of this Marlin rifle is that it is actually one of the least expensive .22s available. For around $200, you get a rifle that has stood the test of time, and that with proper care will last for many years.
In fact, the action and design of this rifle is so simple and robust that it can be serviced by any half-competent gun smith at home.
Marlin Model 60 Features
The standard model 60 comes with a 15-round tubular magazine which sits under the barrel, though larger magazines are also available. The system is somewhat slow to reload, but it’s unlikely that you are going to want rapid fire with a .22 rifle.
Another great feature of this magazine is that it is composed of brass, which not only looks great, but also offers great corrosion resistance.
The barrel continues the simplicity and good build quality that characterize this rifle as a whole. The 16-groove micro rifling is a technology normally only found on much more expensive rifles, and makes the gun inherently accurate.
All in all, this is a great .22 rifle that represents amazing value, and will be able to cope with most of the demands made of it.
A new rifle with a similarly modern sounding name, the XT-22 is one of Marlin’s most recent offerings in the .22 caliber, and is designed to show off some new ideas when it comes to these guns. Since going on sale in 2011, this rifle has become hugely popular because of its straightforward design and accuracy.
Though the XT-22 is essentially just a conventional bolt gun, it’s a great one. Every part of the weapon is well made, from the precisely machined action to the ergonomic stock.
The standard version of this stock is walnut, and this looks great, although it is also possible to get this weapon with synthetic stocks that are more hard wearing and also available in camo.
The standard sights are open type, and are actually surprisingly effective. I would assume that most of you will fit an after-market optical system on to this rifle, but I also urge you to give the standard sights a go first, because they are actually pretty good at hitting critters at close range.
The XT-22 can be ordered with a variety of different magazines, both removable and tubular. To my mind, the one to go for is the seven-round box magazine, which is legal in all states and provides enough capacity for hunting trips.
XT 22 Accuracy
The micro-rifling on this gun also makes it very accurate. This type of technology is becoming standard on Marlin .22 rifles nowadays, and it is not hard to see why – it makes these guns lethally accurate, and greatly improves their performance as hunting rifles.
While it is possible to get more accurate rifles than the XT-22, they are going to cost you a lot more money than this rifle, and you will only be able to take advantage of the extra mechanical accuracy if you are an amazing shot anyway.
In summary, this is also a great rifle, yet to prove itself in the field and yet showing all the signs of being a classic one day. If you are looking for a simple, dependable bolt action .22 rifle, this is the one to go for.
When you need to go with a .22 rifle to complement your AR-15 as a training piece, one of the best options to consider will be the Smith & Wesson M&P15-22.
The M&P15-22 is essentially the .22 caliber version of the regular 5.56 M&P15. The M&P15 is already considered to be one of the best budget AR-15s on the market, being built to a professional standard with mil-spec parts.
The M&P15-22 is simply the .22 caliber version that is built to that exact sale level of quality. The magazine, barrels, and chamber are all different from the normal M&P15, but virtually everything else remains the same size and dimensions.
.22 LR ammunition is cheap, easy to find, and can be bought in bulk. Today, when there are big ammo shortages including with 5.56, this can be a major godsend.
Having all of the same controls as the normal M&P15, the M&P15-22 is literally the perfect training weapon to use during this ammo shortage.
It’s also reliable, accurate, and can be accessorized with just about anything that you could add onto a 5.56 caliber AR-15.
Thompson Center has gained a reputation for making quality firearms on a budget, and the TCR22 is no exception.
This rifle basically combines modern day innovations with older technology, being very similar to .22 rifles made by Marlin and Ruger.
One of the best aspects of the TCR22 is the Magpul composite stock that it ships from the factory. This stock has an olive drab finish with a pistol grip design, molded swing swivel studs, and an M-Lok attachment points.
The receiver looks very similar to the Ruger 10/22, and is built out of 6061 aluminum with a Picatinny rail to add sights.
In fact, the TCR22 is actually compatible with numerous 10/22 aftermarket parts, which is a major bonus the 10/22 already is one of the easiest firearms to accessorize to your liking due to the massive array of aftermarket parts.
The TCR22 also comes with 10 round rotary magazines just like the 10/22, has a last round bolt hold open feature, and a threaded barrel that is ready for you to add a suppressor if you so choose.
The Henry .22 Lever Action is a fun little rifle, and a great way to feel like you’re shooting a gun from the Old West while still being able to shoot on a budget.
The .22 Lever Action from Henry loads its rounds individually in a magazine tube right under the barrel.
The rifle, as with all Henry rifles, has a very high quality and glossy finish for both the bluing on the gun and the laminated wood. The action is very smooth and the trigger is very lightweight. For these reasons alone, the Henry is very fun to shoot.
Despite it being a lever action, the Henry can still be quite a practical little rifle. It can be used for casual target shooting, for small game hunting, or for general homestead use for example.
Plus, as a lever action the Henry is very lightweight and narrow. Without a detachable magazine protruding from the rifle, it is very easy to wield around in tight corners (or to travel with in a car or an ATV).
Remember, however, that with this rifle you are investing in the best build quality there is, and also in a gun that will last many generations if you look after it.
Best .22 Rifles – Wrap Up
No guide can ever tell you which .22 rifle to get, of course. As the most popular caliber in the US today, .22 rifles are used for such a variety of purposes that what you need in your gun will depend on what you plan to do with it. Another option is to get an air rifle, or you could even go with a slingshot if you wanted to.
That said, any of the rifles I have recommended above should serve most peoples’ needs pretty well. Any of these guns will be able to take down small game, as long as you put in the practice yourself. Beyond that, you need to consider how much you are willing to spend on a .22 rifle, and how accurate you need it to be.
For those looking for a .22 rifle to teach their kids about shooting in the back yard, or even for occasional hunting trips, a cheaper .22 rifle like the Marlins I’ve mentioned should be more than enough.
For those who take their hunting more seriously, it is worth investing a bit more money to get a gun that will maximize your effectiveness.
And lastly, make sure that once you have your new .22, you look after it. If properly maintained, these guns will last for years, so before too long you might hear your Grandkids asking to borrow your “vintage” .22!