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.22 vs. Shotgun: Squirrel Hunting’s Great Debate

Squirrel hunters have been debating the merits of a .22 rifle and a shotgun for years.

When I was twelve years old, I entered an informal squirrel hunting contest with my neighbor, also twelve.

By the end of that fall’s squirrel season, I had harvested over 100 grey squirrels from the woods near my home. My weapon of choice back than was a borrowed H&R 20 gauge single shot.

Later, my fall hunting pursuits were more focused on big game, but I still found time to take a few bushytails each year. As my need to kill waned and my hunting style matured, I gravitated to a Marlin bolt action .22 while chasing the chicken of the trees.

But that’s me; what about everyone else? All things equal…

What is the best gun for squirrel hunting?


If you are looking to kill as many squirrels as possible in the shortest amount of time, a shotgun will probably be your best bet.

A shotgun hunter can shoot moving squirrels as they jump from limb to limb or scamper across the ground. A shotgun is also better at shooting through obstructions like early season foliage.

A shotgun is the perfect weapon for a beginning squirrel hunter looking to bag some squirrels and gain confidence.

However, there are drawbacks. A shotgun’s range is limited to about 40 yards. The report of a shotgun is much louder than that of a .22 causing it to spook squirrels and other game in the area (a definite concern if you squirrel hunt in the same area you hunt deer.)

Also, close range shots with a shotgun can ruin most of a squirrels meat.

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Squirrel hunting with a .22 is a precision game, making it good practice for big game hunting.

.22 ammo is cheaper than shotgun shells (even with the currently inflated rimfire ammo prices). Squirrels can be taken at a longer range range with a .22, and the quiet nature of the gun causes less disturbance in your hunting area.

Squirrels shot in the head with a .22 will yield 100% of the available meat.

The .22 does have some limiting factors though. Only skilled shooters can hit moving squirrels with a .22, and the ability to shoot longer ranges can cause safety concerns.

Since a .22 bullet can travel up to one and a half miles, shots should only be taken at squirrels on the ground or in front of a solid back stop.

Many hunters wish they were carrying a shotgun as a squirrel bounces from tree to tree or sits silhouetted on a limb, chattering at the hunter below.

Which weapon should you choose?

The right weapon for a squirrel hunt depends largely on time of season and the hunter’s goals for the hunt. If you want to stalk the late October woods as a deer season warm up, a .22 is probably your best bet. If your goal is to limit out as quickly as possible in the lush opening day woods, a shotgun may be just what the doctor ordered.

Whatever weapon you choose, make sure you get out after some squirrels this year. It is a great way to spend an autumn afternoon and is even better if you take a kid or beginning hunter along to join in the action.

Always remember to be safe and have fun.

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.22 vs. Shotgun: Squirrel Hunting’s Great Debate