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The 12 Best Animals to Hunt With Your .22 Rifle

Hunter in Camo Walking Through the Woods With a Gun and a Backpack

The .22, particularly the .22 LR, is one of the most popular cartridges in the world. This popularity is mainly due to its accuracy and minimal recoil, making it easy for beginners and casual shooters to use. Another reason people love it is its versatility for hunting many different game animals.

The .22 is an ideal caliber for hunting small game. The best animal to hunt with a .22 is the squirrel, but the .22 is also an excellent caliber for eliminating varmints and hunting game animals from rabbits to pigeons to coyotes.

In this list, I have included the 12 best animals to hunt with a .22. It goes over why the .22 is an effective caliber, the unique challenges of these animals, and the particular .22 variant I recommend. If you want to find the right game to take advantage of the .22’s accuracy and versatility, read on. 

1. Squirrels

Squirrels are what I primarily hunt with the .22 caliber. In my 25 years of shooting, I have found that this caliber is the perfect combination of effective and challenging. 

The .22 can easily take down a squirrel with the right shot without destroying too much of the animal’s fur and meat. Plus, since squirrels are abundant, small, and especially fast and agile, hunting them with a .22 requires a level of marksmanship that is fun and rewarding.

To see how perfect the .22 is for squirrels, visit one of the weigh-in centers for the Arkansas Big Squirrel Challenge. This statewide contest is held annually at the beginning of January to see who can take the largest squirrel. One of my favorite events in my home state, I’ve seen plenty of plump squirrels harvested by .22s.

I use the .22 LR specifically. I wouldn’t recommend the .22 Magnum because while you may get a more extended range, you risk damaging more of your quarry. You can also use centerfire variants like the .22-250 Remington.

2. Rabbits

Rabbits are another fun game animal to hunt with the .22. They’re small and agile like squirrels but not as easy to find, nor do they congregate in such large numbers. 

Plus, they’re primarily crepuscular, meaning they’re most active at dawn or dusk when marksmanship is more difficult.

The .22 caliber is ideal for rabbits because even the biggest quarries have a high bone-to-soft tissue ratio. That’s why when you order rabbit, you spend an hour nibbling away only to end up hungry with a plate full of bones. With a rifle chambered for .22 cartridges, you can kill a rabbit without destroying what little meat there is.

Once again, I recommend the .22 LR unless you’re hunting large rabbit species like a jackrabbit, in which case the .22 Magnum or .22 Remington Auto is probably okay. The .22 Rem Auto isn’t as accurate, so use it for the extra challenge.

If you decide to hunt rabbits with a .22, you’ll have to spend a lot of time in places where they commonly live and feed. These include open grasslands, wooded areas, bushes, and thickets.

Closeup of a hare or rabbit on grass in the forest

3. Groundhogs

You’ve probably heard of the .22 as an excellent cartridge for “varmints.” Groundhogs are one of those varmints. Their burrowing habits can cause damage to gardens, crops, and landscaping. 

You can use the .22 as pest control or hunt groundhogs, usually classified as small game.

Groundhogs are an excellent place to start if you’re interested in hunting with a .22. They’re larger than squirrels and rabbits, and even though you often find them alone, they aren’t particularly fast or agile. In other words, they’re easier targets. You can often find them foraging or basking in the sun near their burrows.

The .22 LR is once again going to be your best bet. However, groundhogs are particularly wary of hunters, so you may have to shoot over a long range. This necessity makes the .22 Magnum a good choice as well.

4. Raccoons

Raccoons are nocturnal and intelligent, so they’re a particularly challenging game animal. 

Additionally, they can be varmints or pests like groundhogs and often occupy people’s homes, spread disease, attack pets, and steal food and crops. The .22 caliber is an excellent choice for controlling their population on your property or hunting them for their useful fur.

Check near water sources if you want that coonskin cap enough to look for a raccoon. Raccoons are famous for washing their food before they eat it, so they frequent water often. When chased, they typically run up trees. 

In human habitats, they like sewers and crawl spaces. You may sometimes have trouble spotting the raccoon, so look for signs like tracks and droppings.

The .22 LR is the best choice for raccoon hunting because of its close-range accuracy. You will likely have to flush the raccoons out of their hiding places before firing. The .22 Magnum or the .22 Rem Auto may be a good choice, though, if you’re actively hunting raccoons in the woods or dealing with a particularly large varmint.

5. Opossums

I consider the opossum one of the most widely misunderstood and unfairly villainized creatures. 

Despite popular belief, they don’t spread rabies or other diseases. They help control insect populations and are a vital part of the North American ecosystem.

Nonetheless, having woken up to a possum camped out in my laundry room after climbing through the dryer hose, I understand why many people want to eliminate them as local varmints. 

In this case, the .22 should be your go-to, thanks to its power and accuracy over short ranges. Plus, if it is near your home, you’re less likely to get gore everywhere that you must clean up later.

Frankly, I wouldn’t use any cartridge besides the .22 LR. I’ve never seen a possum except at close range after popping out of a dumpster or bush.

6. Nutria

Nutria are aquatic rodents native to South America. They look like a hybrid between a rat and a beaver, which is literally what their name means.

If you’re thinking, “Hold on a minute. I don’t want to fly to Argentina just to hunt a giant water rat,” don’t worry. They’ve been introduced to North America, where they’re now an invasive species in 20 states. 

They’re primarily concentrated in the Gulf Coast region, but they’ve also moved into Arkansas, the Carolinas, California, and the Pacific Northwest.

As a result of their invasive status, most states have lax regulations on hunting them in hopes that hunters will help eliminate them. Not only do the rodents outcompete native species and destroy the landscape with their burrowing and foraging, but they can also transmit diseases to humans by contaminating water supplies. 

While I’m unsure how tasty a nutria steak is, I know its fur is highly prized. You can get a nice hat and help your local conservation effort by getting out your .22 to hunt some Nutria. 

The .22 LR, in particular, should give you the accuracy for their relatively small bodies without destroying too much of the fur. 

7. Foxes

A fox walking next to a tree

If you keep chickens on your property, you’ve likely experienced the expression “fox in the hen house” personally. The .22 is one of the best calibers for defending the roost in this case. It’s also effective if you’re interested in hunting foxes for their fur.

Foxes are especially difficult quarries because of their cunning and speed. Plus, they often hunt at night and move quietly, which can be dangerous to humans. Sometimes, you may have to flush a fox out of its burrow. Hunting foxes has long been considered a challenging sport for these reasons.

Foxes are one of the few cases where I’d recommend the .22 Magnum over the LR because a tricky fox will likely get some distance on you before you can hit it. The .22-250 Remington is also a good choice.

8. Crows

Crows have long been considered pests because they tend to eat and destroy crops and pester livestock. After all, this is why farmers put up scarecrows in their fields. 

You might not know that crows are great game animals for stocking your fridge. If you’ve never tried crow stew, it’s a delicious way to take advantage of the generally tough but tasty meat.

If you want a pest-control strategy with more firepower, .22 cartridges are excellent for taking out crows. Crows are a fun and challenging game animal for hunting. They are highly intelligent and can communicate and plan with each other. You’ll have to stay sharp if you want to take one.

9. Pigeons

I’m a big advocate for pigeon hunting. Their meat is tasty, versatile, and delicious. Meanwhile, the birds are annoying pests that pollute human habitats with their droppings. They spread disease, destroy property, and are just overall a nuisance.

One of the best things about pigeon hunting is that you don’t have to travel far out of town for it. Pigeons are everywhere. Aside from attracting them with bait—if legal—I recommend pigeon decoys.

.22 ammunition is your best bet for pigeons because it’s accurate without popping the bird and covering the surrounding area with their feathers and gore, arguably even worse than their droppings. Due to their small size and willingness to approach humans, the .22 LR is a perfect choice.

10. Prairie Dogs

Prairie Dog

Although groundhogs dominate in the East, prairie dogs are more common out west. They’re smaller and more social, living in large groups that can damage farmland with their burrowing. They’re swift and spend little time outside their burrows, representing a unique challenge for hunters or farmers looking to protect their crops.

I recommend the .22 for dealing with a prairie dog infestation. You may consider the .22 Magnum or .22 Rem Auto, as well as the LR, to get some extra speed to hit them as they pop up from their holes.

11. Bobcats

Bobcats are one of the larger game animals I’d recommend hunting with a .22. You should still be able to harvest the animal ethically with an accurate shot.

Although bobcats can occasionally disturb livestock like chickens, people mainly hunt them for their fur. They’re fast, intelligent, and stealthy, so you need skill and marksmanship to take one. Additionally, they’re crepuscular, adding the extra challenge of hunting in low light.

You may need more stopping power for a bobcat, so consider the .22 Magnum or .22 Rem Auto. Be sure also to check your local laws to ensure rimfire ammunition is allowed for bobcats. If not, I recommend the .22-250 Remington as a centerfire option.

12. Coyotes

Out west or down south, on a farm or in the city, coyotes likely affect your life in some way, and probably not a positive one. Cunning pack animals, they attack livestock and pets and destroy property in the process.

In addition to the help of a 100-pound (45.3 kg) Great Pyrenees, my grandpa used to protect his homestead from coyotes with his reliable .22. 

Although I would qualify that by stating that coyotes are the largest game I would hunt with a .22, it is undoubtedly an effective pest control method if you are a decent marksman. Always be careful when hunting coyotes that you’re aware of the pack, as the animals can also threaten humans.

Suppose you actively look for a coyote, perhaps one that’s been causing your livestock trouble. In that case, you’ll need to hone your hunting skills due to the animals’ intelligence and adaptability. You may need to use calls or more advanced tracking to flush it out.

The .22 LR works well enough and is what my grandpa shot coyotes with. Nevertheless, consider the .22 Magnum, in this case, to get more stopping power. It’s not only unethical to shoot a coyote just to wound it, but it’s also dangerous since you might anger the animal into attacking you.

For more, check out The Best Place to Shoot a Deer With a .22.