What caliber is the best for the walking varmint hunter?
My pick is the often-overlooked .22 Magnum.
The market is full of calibers with the reputation of being able to knock down tanks and outrun a jet. The quest for power increases with each newly invented cartridge.
How much power do we need for a walking varmint rifle, though? This is where the .22 Magnum is a sweet-shooting little caliber.
The .22 Winchester Magnum Rimfire cartridge has a long history since its invention in 1959. Winchester's Model 61, a pump-action rifle, came along in 1960 and became a great gun to tote around for small game and vermin.
The .22 WMR cartridge had much more power that the .22 LR did. The longer shots at groundhogs were now possible from a light and very easily carried .22 WMR rifle.
Let's take a close look at the cartridge itself. When loaded with a 40-grain full metal jacket, soft-point or jacketed hollow-point projectile, speeds around 2,000 feet per second are the norm.
A 50-grain projectile knocks back the speed a bit but hits harder on target. My personal favorite load is the Remington Premier 33-grain V-Max .22 Magnum cartridge.
It's absolute dynamite on groundhogs, and the V-Max projectile pretty much eliminates ricochets.
Utilizing a synthetic-stocked Savage Model 93 bolt-action rifle with the above loads will allow you to connect all the way out to 200 yards.
I found early on that the accuracy, lightness and quietness made this the perfect rifle to rid my friend's apple orchard of hole-digging groundhogs, for example.
Even the advent of the much-anticipated .17 Hornady Magnum Rimfire didn't doom the .22 magnum. With a .22 WMR case necked down to a miniature .17-caliber bullet, the velocities sizzled and small targets like prairie dogs were in trouble.
Big eastern groundhogs and coyotes received shallow wounds by these fast opening lightweight pills. The .22 Magnum still had more smack than those original .17 HMR cartridges did.
The .22 WMR ammo still did what it was meant to do: drop small game and pests.
Price of .22 WMR cartridges also generally is a bit easier on the wallet. With the multitude of rifles and handguns chambered in this caliber for nearly six decades, rifle ammunition companies have been cranking out rimfire ammunition for a long time.
The market is currently flooded with fine rifles made by brands like Henry Arms, Marlin, Taurus and Ruger that you can find new or used at gun shows and gun shops.
Choose single-shot, semi-automatic, lever-action, bolt-action or pump-action. There are even tiny revolvers North American Arms has made for the .22 WMR cartridge.
Every groundhog I ever shot with a .22 WMR rifle went down in a hurry. Some just slumped and never moved on the way to the other side.
Get ready for an easier walk with a lighter rifle that doesn't leave your ears ringing!
Do you like articles about the outdoors? Click here to view more articles by Eric Nestor. You can follow him @ericthewoodsman on Twitter, The Classic Woodsman on Facebook, and @theclassicwoodsman on Instagram. You can view more Nestor Photography photos at Nestor Photography.