When we’re talking about varmints, small and often fast-moving targets come to mind. Critters like squirrels, prairie dogs, jackrabbits, ground squirrels, and rock chucks define the category, though many more troublesome vermin abound.
To efficiently eliminate these nimble targets, calibers should be flat, fast, and use lighter bullets that will open quickly and with devastating terminal results. A number of these chamberings will also work well on animals that bridge the gap from varmints to predators – like foxes, bobcats, coyotes. Here are the rounds you want when the varmageddon strikes.
This is hands down one of our favorite rounds, not only for varmints but also for predators and even larger game as well. Based on the .250-3000 Savage, the .22-250 Remington works wonders in bolt-action rifles and single shots alike. Load up with light bullets from 45 grain all the way up to 77 grain depending on the prey. We’ve knocked down more prairie dogs, other varmints, and even predators with the .22-250 Rem than any other round on the list.
Though it has a tad more recoil than the other lightweights on this list, it’s still negligible and almost always allows shooters to verify impacts through the optic. The .22-250 Rem is an ideal crossover round for varmints, predators, hogs, and it’s even capable of taking medium-sized game. Reaching out to 500 yards is no problem for the .22-250 Rem, and some practiced hunters can push it even further.
Though met with plenty of disdain from devotees of the good ol’ .223 Remington, Federal’s young .224 Valkyrie does all the same things, but it does them even better. Think higher ballistic coefficients and bullets that equate to flatter shooting at greater distances. The Valkyrie uses a 6.8 SPC casing that is necked down to .224 caliber. Though it excels in modern sporting rifles like our Savage MSR-15 Valkyrie, bolt guns are also coming on strong, with most major manufacturers producing rifles for the round. One thing is certain – The Valkyrie will put the hammer down on varmints and predators alike at distances equal to or greater than the venerable .223/5.56.
With bullet weights spanning 60, 75, and even 90 grains, the Valkyrie carries not only a catchy name but also knockdown power for everything from little critters on up to snarly predators and even deer-sized game. With the correct rifle platform, barrel length, and projectile selection, the .224 Valkyrie can hold its own at 1,000 yards. Not many others of its size can say the same. Though the .22 Nosler was just gaining favor and is still a solid selection, the .224 Valkyrie throws down the trump card in both performance and availability.
While there are certainly better performing rounds out there, it’s simply impossible to deny the popularity – and availability when not in a nationwide ammo shortage – of the .223 Rem/5.56 NATO chambering. That combination adds up to the least expensive and most available of the centerfire rounds. Whether it’s in a modern sporting rifle, bolt action, single shot, levers, or any other platform, the .223 Rem gets the job done on varmints and predators every single day of the week.
With the widest variety of bullet weights and types, shots out to and even beyond 400 yards are very doable with the correct bullets and wind conditions. What wins most often for the .223/5.56 is the fact so many shooters already own an AR-style rifle with ample ammo. Taking it out for varmints becomes the logical choice rather than buying a dedicated varmint gun.
Ruger hit a winner when the .204 Ruger was introduced in 2004. Based on the .222 Remington Magnum, this little .20 caliber fills a gap in the varmint lineup. Not only is it blazingly fast – over 4,000 fps – but the projectiles with ballistic tips simply vaporize vermin. In fact, the .204 Ruger offers 5 percent more case capacity than the .223 Rem.
Loaded ammunition offerings are not as plentiful as with most of the other choices on this list, but the .204 still has some great factory options from Federal Premium, Hornady, Sierra, and Nosler. It’s one of the fastest and most accurate of the choices. Even with its lightest bullets, this round cuts through the wind surprisingly well. Bullet weights span 24, 32, 40, and 45 grain. The bullet is still going strong – and flatter than most – past 500 yards. Talk to almost any hunter who uses a rifle chambered in .204 Ruger, and they’ll tell you that you’d have to pry the gun out of their hands.
It’s impossible to make a definitive rimfire selection without the standby .22 Long Rifle or the charged up .22 WMR. However, the .17 HMR offers considerably greater advantages in the vermin game. Its velocity is off the charts in terms of rimfire ballistics. The tiny bullets make quick work of chucks and prairie dogs, with some hunters using them on game as big as bobcats or even coyotes at close range. The ammunition is cheaper than its closest centerfire relatives, and it’s also tons of fun on the range.
Recoil is non-existent, and even the noise is not bad. The only downfall to the .17 HMR, like almost any rimfire round, is limited range. Reasonable varminting distances of sub-200 yards are ideal, but shooters must be aware of a greater tendency for wind drift at distances. While our favorite rimfire will remain the 5mm Remington Magnum, the combination of both rifle and ammo availability means the .17 HMR gets the nod on this list every time.