.22 LR hunting small game: rifle v. pistol?

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Aug 5, 2005
Far N, E coast
Imagine in some future world, you are limited in the number of guns
that you could carry with you to acquire food.
(Yeah, I know, that's a stretch. But work with me here.)

You want a centerfire rifle for medium game - deer, etc.
(For me, that's going to be a Marlin 336 in .30-30. That's not up for discussion.)

You also want a .22 LR for smaller game (squirrels, rabbits, birds...).

Problem is, you will be on foot for much of the time that you're hunting.
You'll have a pack (day pack, fanny pack, backpack...),
but you don't want to tote around two rifles.

Now, this is a fairly new concept for me.
Up until now, I've considered buying a Marlin 39A (.22 LR) in addition to the 336.
(I'm selling a CZ 452 Style, which - even though a fine rifle {freaking tack driver it is},
I haven't been able to warm up to it since I'm a lever and pump person, not a boltie.)

But I came to understand that, in such a hypothetical scenario -
in which you only want to carry one long gun and one handgun -
it would be tough to decide which long gun to carry: .30-30 or .22 LR.
(What will I see today on my walk? Deer or squirrel or both?)

That led me to a new configuration for the toolkit:
.30-30 for the long gun for medium-sized game
(which are harder for most of us to get close to),
.22 LR in a handgun for small game.

After a couple of dozen hours of reading reviews, etc,
my current top contenders for a .22 hunting handgun hover around
a Ruger MKII/III Hunter or a Browning Buck Mark Hunter.
(Nota bene: this isn't really a thread for debating their pros and cons,
although I'm reasonably certain that will happen anyway,
even though there's plenty of other threads that already deal with that ... :rolleyes: )

I'm most interested in those two pistols right now.
I'm not opposed to a .22 revolver, like the Ruger Single Six,
but for now, it seems I'm most interested in a semi-auto pistol.
I like their longer barrels, the ability to mount a scope, etc.

So, here comes my question.

In my experience, one typically shoots small game (squirrels, rabbits) at shorter distances.
It's been a while (years) since I hunted squirrels, but my recollection is that,
even with a .22 rifle, 40 yds was a LONG shot.

Assuming one practices with said .22 pistol, and maybe even has a scope on it,
what is a reasonable maximum that one could take small game? 25 yds? 35 yds? 50 yds?

Yes, yes, I know, it depends on skills, eyes, etc.

But I'm trying to decide how much disadvantage one would accrue by carrying a pistol
(even with a longer barrel, say, 5" - 7") rather than a rifle with a 20" to 24" barrel.

Opinions are good.


In my experience with hunting small game with .22 pistols, I can't remember a time I could have made the shot with a .22 rifle but, instead, missed with a .22 pistol.

Don't get me wrong, I've missed with a pistol...I just think a rifle wouldn't have made a difference.

Thanks for your opinion, as always.

I'm thinking the same as you:
I'm not sure a rifle would make a difference.

I just thought I'd see what others are thinking about this topic.

I took a running squirrel this past season at 50 yards with my Romanian M69 military trainer in .22lr. I know I could not have done that with the .22 pistol I carry for backup when hunting small game.

However, the bullet, a CCI Mini-Mag HP, seemed to lose steam pretty quickly at 50yds. The two times I hit it on the ground only slowed it down, then it climbed a tree. I put another through its chest, and, as it was hanging from a branch, through its head. Not much squirrel left.

I was able to do this with intense practice as I was shooting and not hitting prior to this.

I usually do things this way: If it's a handgun, it goes to the body. If it's a rifle, I try to take a head shot.


Josh <><
With a scoped rifle you can definitely take a longer shot, some HP's will literally 'blow up' when fired from a rifle. You can also place your shot more carefully... many 'target' type sights on .22 handguns are great for bullseye, too coarse for small game.

I love my Ruger Mk2, but a handgun has limitations over a long gun, regardless of caliber. I've killed squirrels, prarie dogs, rabbit and a grouse with my Mk2, I've done more hunting with a .22 rifle, and killed more game with it. I can consistantly knock down bowlingpins with my Mk2 at 100 yards, but I can't place the shots with the same accuracy as a rifle, ie: aim for the red triangle on the pin and hit it.

BTW the Marlin 39 is an EXCELLENT small game rifle, it's nearly a bull barrel. Do some long range shooting with it off a bench, you'll be shocked at the accuracy. You might also consider a Marlin 795 semi auto rifle... they are inexpensive and capable of great accuracy.

5 shot group, 100 yards, .22 cal Marlin model 995, Federal High Velocity 40 gr round nose bullet. Weaver 1.5-4.5x variable fine crosshair scope. The Rifle and scope might be worth $100, and that was just one grouping from that day at the range, if I had fiddled some more I may have got down to sub 1moa.


I know a Marlin 39 will outshoot my 995, if that's what you want by all means it's a great rifle.
DR, good points all. Thanks for your opinions.

So, two questions:

1) if not for small game, what is the value of a .22 pistol?
(Other than paper punching and plinking, which I'm not interested in.)

2) In lieu of the Marlin 795, what do you (and others) think of the Marlin 60?

One of the things I'm wanting to get away from in my CZ
is that magazine sticking down where I want to carry it in my right hand.

The 795 has the same issue
(magazine just in front of the trigger guard).
The 60 does not.

Tubular mags hold a lot of bullets = Good, in fact the same as the lever action 39. Now I've heard some folks complain that the tube is 'more fragile' than a magazine, but I know there's a 40 year old marlin 39 in the safe that was carried all over and has never had an issue with feeding.

I'm not saying a pistol is BAD for hunting, I'm saying a rifle allows you longer shots with more precision and more power. .22 lr pistols are great for squirrels and rabbits.

I just pointed out the 795 as an inexpensive option, the 60 would be a good choice too.

If you buy a rifle, get one with sling studs... I had no sling on my 995 for years and it would bother me to no end, then I'd forget about it until the next time I hunted.
I've got 2 Marlin 39s (a Golden M & an AS) and they are fantastic hunting rifles. I killed rabbits with each of them last weekend. The Golden M is tiny, a gift from my dad when I was 8. I recently gave it to my 9-year old son. He got tired of carrying it on our hunt, so I carried it a while and drilled a running jack through the lungs at 65 yards. :D

I also used my Browning Buckmark on rabbits last weekend with great effect to about 75 yards. I was not taking head shots, mind you - but easily killing rabbits out there a way. I would be able to take them farther out with a little smaller front sight - it's an accurate handgun.
There are pistols and then there are pistols. I can take any shot with my scoped pistol you can take with your rifle, then I can switch barrels and take deer as far away as you can with your lever gun. :D

It's called the Contender and it's the best danged hunting system extant. Since you just have ONE registered frame, you can shoot anything with it. You can get black powder rifle barrels, shotgun barrels (.410) that also fire .45 colt, rimfire barrels, and every thing in between for it, with a limit on rifle calibers of course. The Encore offeres high powered rifle calibers, but then no rimfire.

My 10" scoped .22LR contender barrel can take squirrel easily to 50 yards off my shooting stix, not a problem. In fact, it's more accurate than probably 90 percent of the rimfire rifles offered for sale.

I'd need a .45-70 barrel for mine and I'd have one handgun that could take anything that walks in north America, and that's before I put a rifle stock and rifle barrel on it. :D
Think about hunting tactics or scenarios: If you're deer hunting, you're focussed on that. A shot from a .22 at a rabbit (either rifle or pistol) can cut down the chances of success on deer.

If you're specifically not deer hunting, but are looking for squirrels and rabbits, in general a .22 rifle yields more reliable chance of a hit--for most people.

If I were backpacking across coutnry, I'd probably think in terms of takedown rifles. One or the other in hand, depending on what I was after.

It seems to me that if you're going across country and do kill a deer, you're then in a base-camp situation for some period of time...You gotta do something with it, right? Make jerky, whatever?

If you're sneaky-snaking around, a .22 rifle is quite a bit quieter than a pistol.

But, yeah, a .22 pistol, assuming good sights and the skill, is quite effective to some 20 or 25 yards or thereabouts.

I'd personally switch it around a bit with a .22 rifle (magnum please) and a big bore handgun.

I was out rabbit hunting once with a .22 (Mag) and came up on a gorgeous buck, after calculating that it was indeed deer season and I had nothing but a .22mag I sadly had to watch him bound away after staring him in the face for what seemed an eternity. Since then, I carry a big bore handgun when small game hunting in big game season. A .357 would've been ok, but the .41Mag seems to cover the bases well for me even if it isn't popular.
Thanks to all for thought provoking comments. All are much appreciated;
they're helping me sort through this decision in an interesting way.

More about that later, after work.

For now, can anyone identify the scope on the Buckmark Hunter in this photo?

And if so, can you also provide pros and cons of that particular scope for that gun (or any other similar .22 hunting pistol? Browning must think of it as a good match for their hunter, lest they wouldn't have used it, right?

If there are other scopes or sight combinations (for those 50 yd shots with aging eyes) that you would recommend instead, I'd appreciate hearing about those, as well, with as many details as you'd care to include.

(I pretty much know what I'll do for sights/scoping both my Marlin 336 and any .22 rifle I end up with,
but I'm just now starting to consider sights and scopes for a pistol. That's very new territory for me.)

Well, I plan on hunting rabbits with my Mk III hunter and my 10/22 w/ scope this next week off. My hypothesis is that the pistol will be great for quick shots under 30 or so yards, and for close range running bunnys, while the rifle will be much better suited for longer range still targets.
How about a TC Contender with .45 Colt hot loads and a .410/.45 colt barrel. You could hunt your small game with the shotgun barrel, effective to something over 20 yards and the .45 Colt is good to about 50 yards due to not so great accuracy out of that particular barrel. One do all gun, though, and a running bunny is much easier to hit with a shotgun.

One thing, though, you can carry a lot more .22 ammo than .45/.410. The take down .22 rifle really is a good idea for survival. A head shot with a .22 out to fifty yards will do in a whitetail. I know that I could, at 100 yards, make a head shot on a whitetail with my .22 mag, though, and you could carry a lot of ammo for that, too.

Of course, you COULD get a Savage 24V or just carry your double barrel shotgun with a shot load for squirrel/rabbit in the full choke (rear trigger) barrel and a slug in the open choke. Shotguns can get-er-done...;)

Haven't I seen those horns on cheap Tasco scopes???? Er, heck, maybe it's Bushnell trophy (a decent scope). I know it's a common trademark and someone here knows.:D
A 22 rimfire handgun is a good companion for your 30-30. The Max range depends on your target size and skill. For myself I wouldn't take a shot on game beyond 25 yards and would rather be closer than that. They are typically small and relatively light. Portability is the handguns biggest asset.

The disadvantage is they are loud, they are more difficult to shoot accurately and there is about a 200 fps drop in velocity vs a rifle.

I am going to propose another option. Use your 30-30 with reduced loads for small game. Before my big bore conversion my hunting bullets were 30 caliber. An amazing amount of bullet configurations are available and there is a lot of data for reduced loads that are perfect for the taking of small game. It is fairly easy to find a load that will shoot the same POA as your hunting load at small game ranges.

Today I shot a reduced load to see how it would print compared to my full powered Jacketed bullet load in my 30-06. 0 Buckshot pressed into a 30-06 case with thumb pressure over 2.3gr of Bullseye. To my great satisfaction the load proved to be quite accurate and POI just behind the bead at ranges of 10-25 yards. After going 7-7 on plinking targets I put a shootn' glow target sticker on a 4x8 chunk and stood 25 yards away to see how they would group. Now mind you I am certain that if I was using sand bags or even sitting or prone I'm certain the group would have been tighter but as it is, that would easily be minute of grouse...


Low report and plenty powerful enough for grouse, rabbits and squirrels. I could carry another 2 boxes of 30 cal ammo in the same space and weight at 22 pistol & ammo would take up.

I have also had great luck shooting a 170 gr cast bullet over Red Dot (5.5gr) in my 30-30. Accurate out to 50 yards and very close to the same POA=POI as my hunting load.

That being said I almost always rifle hunt with my single six on my belt. I use it for grouse. There isn't much sport to it as they think they are invisable. They don't realize how tastey they are either.

So far I have not been successful developing a reduced load that will shoot the same POA=POI as my 45-70 hunting loads. I'm still trying though... When I do, the Single Six will probably not be on my belt.
JsM, interesting thoughts. Thanks.

(And just when I thought most of America was either out or asleep on Saturday night.)

That being said I almost always rifle hunt with my single six on my belt. I use it for grouse. There isn't much sport to it as they think they are invisable. They don't realize how tastey they are either.

I'm liking the Buck Mark Hunter, myself.

Would really enjoy a deep-fried grouse with a side of fries and a salad right now.
Imagine in some future world, you are limited in the number of guns that you could carry with you to acquire food.

This is the condition that sets up the scenario for recommendations; Only what you can carry.

My first thought was a 357 or 41 mag rifle and revolver combo. I just bought 250 rounds of 41 mag. The package said 16 pounds shipping weight. 250 rounds is not very much in a long term survival situation and that is a bunch of weight to carry around with you.

So, if you are talking about long term survival and foraging for food, perhaps a 22 rifle and 22 revolver would be the best choice. If you like autos, then a Ruger 22 auto...
The "What if...?" game:

Yeah, an ambush-shot with a .22 rifle, between the eyes, will kill a deer or elk. Great!

But if your hunting-for-food country includes mama bears and cubs and you wind up between them, a .22 rifle is a lousy self-defense weapon. Un-great.

Stuff like that, seems to me, should be included in the analysis...

ive really really wanted a break action over and under 22lr/.410 combo. that would take care of all the issues exept rapid follow up shots. you have .22lr for small stuff and can load with a .410 slug for deer or whatever else you might encounter. also the option of shot for smaller game.

as far as the issue of the magazine hanging down, what about the ruger 10/22? the magazine is flush and they are reasonably accurate.

i prefer the mark I or mark II from ruger. i dont like the mark III. too much safety junk for me.
A 5 round magazine is nearly flush on the CZ 452.

I would say a small takedown .22 rifle (maybe a Marlin papoose) and your 30-30.
A thread comes back from the dead

So, I'll update.

I've traded in the (sweet) CZ-452 bolt gun in .22LR for a Marlin 39A (sweeter).

Now, I'm researching a .22LR handgun to accompany the center fire rifle (336 in .30-30)
in case I run across a rabbit or squirrel for the camp pot.

(When I carry the 39A for squirrel and/or rabbit, the 686 .357M 4" is along for deer.)

Top contenders so far:

* Browning Buckmark Hunter (semi-auto; leaning more towards revolvers these days...:scrutiny:
* SW 617 (heavy {41 oz}, but I understand that will help stabilize the shot)
* SW 317 (air weight; good for packing in the wilderness & emergency pack)
* Ruger Single Six Bearcat (got that 4" barrel for more sight radius)

What say you?
You can shoot a handgun from a hasty rest, same as with a rifle. The main things are to have done enough practice to really know your sight picture, and a decent trigger so you don't jiggle off-aim as you shoot.

Which is one reason S&W revolvers are really, really good for the purpose. It's why so many guys laud the K-22 or the Kit Gun (I forget the model # 63?). I wouldn't have a barrel shorter than 4". A 6" K-22 will let you hit a quail in the eye, if you know your point of aim...

As a generality, it's a tad more difficult to get a superb trigger with stainless-steel innards.

Overall; just points to ponder: If you already have meat in camp or at home, you're not really interested in Bambi. So, whatever you'd shoot would be for a variety in your diet. Take the .22 rifle.

If you're hunting Bambi, hunt Bambi. Don't get diverted; those grouse/quail/rabbits/squirrels will still be in that area tomorrow or the next day. Bambis might be hard come by. IOW, prioritize.

If you're just meddling around, then that's when you're opportunistic. The .30-30 and the .22 pistol allow you to take whatever strikes your fancy.

:), Art
Nem, you pose some tough ones... No clear winner but I'll weigh in anyway.

If'n I were you and these were my top three... I might lean toward the SW's. Reasons include, you already own the centerfire version(s) don't you?, double action an higher capacity. The sights are better and precision is important when hunting with small calibers. No sense in missing, wounding or ruining meat with poorly placed shots. SW typically have better triggers which make it easier to deliver the goods to the right address.

Bearcats are rugged and dependable. Small enough to pack around which is its greatest strength, yet it's still big enough to shoot well. If it came with the 22 Mag cylinder like the Single Sixes did, it would be my choice.

Out of bounds but here is my sales pitch for the Single Six: The 22 Mag cylinder expands the versatility and is a superior hunting cartridge. Mine shoot the 40gr Federal 22 Mag ammo right around 1400fps which is better than most 22lr ammo out of a rifle. Larger critters, say up to coyote are more easily dispatched. It would be a comparitively better defensive round. When I have a centerfire rifle I just use mine with 22lr. If it is the only firearm on my person I will usually carry it configured in 22 Mag with the 22lr and ammo for it in my pack.
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