When a fresh kettle of squirrel stew is on the menu, hunters reach into the gun rack for any number of options. Rimfires, centerfires, shotguns, and even handguns are all fair game when the target is the tree-climbing, branch-jumping, barking bushy-tail prey. Exactly which guns are the best for these wily and light critters? Guns.com breaks down the top choices, from classic to modern and everything in between.
If we took a poll, it’s certain that the lowly .22 Long Rifle rimfire round has taken more small game than any other chambering. There is no more popular or instantly recognizable .22 LR long gun than the semi-automatic Ruger 10/22. Perhaps the greatest thing about the 10/22 is its availability both new and used. In production since 1964, the number of 10/22 rifles in the hands of hunters today is measured in the millions. Grab the most basic model off the store shelf, and you’ll still bag bushy tails.
Those who prefer to tinker can also customize that action with heavy barrels, carbon fiber or tactical stocks, and much more for the ultimate small game rifle. Heck, even the takedowns are awfully appealing for those who backpack into more remote hunting country. While the Marlin Model 60 and its offshoots are quite similar and will do just fine, there’s nothing more iconic in the squirrel woods or on the range than the 10/22.
The joy of picking squirrels from the treetops with a lever-action rimfire is a purely American pastime that brings great joy to the heart and plenty of game to the table. Depending on your type of hunting and terrain, any of the rimfire Henry’s will do plenty fine. A .22 LR chambering means much cheaper and more readily available ammunition. The .17 HMR will do considerably more damage, but it also allows you to chase other game like varmints and even predators.
We’ve recently been impressed with the build and performance of the new Henry Magnum Express chambered in .22 Winchester Magnum Rimfire. It has an 11-round magazine tube, American walnut stock, and the included Picatinny top rail pairs nicely with the Monte Carlo-style stock. If having the option for suppressed hunting sounds appealing, Henry’s Frontier with the threaded barrel offers a suppressor-ready solution.
Some guns exude class, and that’s certainly the case with Winchester’s Model 37 single-shot shotgun. While you can’t run out and buy a new 37, lovely specimens still grace the used racks of many gun shops. Winchester started building the 37 after WWI with an exposed, abbreviated hammer and ejector. The singles were built of steel and walnut and could be had in just about every bore.
Many Model 37s, especially the “red letter” era guns, now have excellent collector value in good condition. However, because they were utilitarian guns, many were well used, but they’re still perfectly shootable today. Production ended in the early 1960s, though we’d love to see a remake of the 37. Grab a full-choked Model 37 chambered in the tiny .410 bore for serious old-school bushy-tail hunting delight.
All the recent rage has centered around Savage’s introduction of the Impulse straight-pull, bolt-action hunting rifle. But how many of us have been punching out targets and squirrels from trees with the straight pull Browning T-Bolt .22 LR for decades? These classic rimfire rifles are fast-cycling, accurate, and plain elegant.
The 10-round magazines sit flush, and the rimfires are instantly recognizable with that straight bolt handle. Whether choosing one of the older classics with both collector value and hunting pizzazz or a new remake like the Composite Sporter, the T-Bolt is a small game dream. If we had our choice, an early Belgian-made T-Bolt, either T1 or T2, would be a welcome addition both in the woods and in the gun safe.
You don’t need a sweet trigger and target-quality gun to shoot squirrels – but it sure increases the fun. CZ’s American line of bolt-action rimfire rifles are both stylish and incredibly capable. When that elusive squirrel sticks its head out behind a heavy branch, the CZ ensures that the projectile will be right on point. Choose one in .17 HMR if you plan to do more extensive varmint hunting, or you can just go with the old standby .22 family of LR or WMR for hours of fun.
While we most appreciate the standard models with Turkish walnut, the latest suppressor-ready synthetic has its benefits as well. The company also introduced a sweet Varmint Precision Trainer rimfire version of the 457 that would certainly have squirrels heading back for their treetop dens. There’s even a Pro Varmint with a threaded barrel for suppressors and a scout variant with a shortened length of pull for smaller-framed hunters.
If you hunt small game with a handgun, there are many solid choices in both semi-auto pistols and revolvers. That includes the Browning Buck Mark, Ruger single actions, and Ruger’s decades-old Mark-series of semi-automatic rimfire pistols. But when Ruger introduced the Mark IV Hunter, the game changed.
While any of the Mark IV models will get the job done, the Mark IV Hunter is the hands-down best choice. With a 6.88-inch heavy-fluted bull barrel, fully adjustable fiber-optic sights, and finger grooves in the target grips, this thing is a small game machine. There’s a 10-round magazine capacity, and it boasts a simple one-button takedown that trumps previous Ruger Mark pistols. We’ll still give bonus points to those who continue to hunt with and treasure their earlier versions.
Savage builds affordable and accurate rifles, and even the rimfire family is no exception. Though their B-Series of bolt-action rimfires are fantastic, we love the reliability and accuracy of the A-Series for quick shots on moving targets like squirrels. These rifles can be had in .22 LR, .22 WMR, .17 HMR, or even the rarer .17 HM2. The delayed blowback action ensures the gun reliably cycles hot rounds like .17 HMR, while features like Savage’s adjustable AccuTrigger help it punch out bullseyes.
The rifles can be had in synthetics, laminates, camo, heavy barrels, sporters, and even a precision version. Our favorite has long been the A17 Target Thumbhole, which has taken countless squirrels, prairie dogs, and other vermin. That said, any of the dozens of model variants will more than fill your pot with squirrel. Choose your caliber and options, and Savage will do the rest.
Raise your hand if you like American-made firearms. Keep it raised if you dig custom-quality rifles, carbon fiber, and some of the most accurate semi-automatic rimfires on the market. Still waving? You’ll need to shoot the Magnum Research Magnum Lite semi-automatic on the range. It’s almost cheating in the squirrel woods.
Magnum Research builds the Magnum Lite in both .22 LR and .22 WMR. With a threaded barrel, they’re certainly not the cheapest, but they are certainly in the running for the most accurate and eye-catching rifle. They offer an integral optics rail and a skeletonized thumbhole stock in a variety of materials and finishes. Plus, they’re a joy to carry with some models just over 4 pounds. Not only is the bolt handle ambidextrous, but so is the stock.
Keystone Sporting Arms is one of the leading producers of firearms for beginning shooters. All Keystone Sporting Arms guns are made in the U.S. Though they produce other models, it is their pint-sized Crickett bolt action, marketed as “My First Rifle,” that has gotten many youngsters hooked on safe shooting and small game hunting. The Crickett is available in dozens of synthetic colors and hydro-dipped patterns. They also offer both laminated and thumbhole stocks, with options in either blued or stainless metalwork.
The Crickett is manually cocked using the mechanism at the rear of the bolt. The rifle has an 11.5-inch LOP. With a 16.125-inch barrel, it weighs an even 3 pounds empty. There is an adjustable rear peep sight and fixed front sight, though the Crickett is drilled and tapped for scope mounts.
For many of us, author included, a single-shot scattergun was our first “real” firearm. Two longstanding and affordable brands were Harrington & Richardson, H&R, and New England Firearms, NEF. Mine was a .410 bore NEF with a fading case-colored finish and a fixed full choke. That gun took plenty of squirrels and other small game. Over the years, these simple singles could be had in almost every shotgun bore, with the majority wearing fixed chokes.
There were numerous models, including the Topper, Pardner, and 88. There were compact youth models along with wood and synthetic options. For squirrels, almost any barrel length in the .410 chambering is the best choice with a full choke to keep patterns tight. Though these brands have been yet another casualty of the recent Remington-family dispersion, we can only hope for a future return.