Article Date: Monday, December 12, 2011
By Richard Mann
I was five years old sitting beside my father with a .410 shotgun in my lap watching squirrels running a muck for nuts. And, I was out of ammunition. I don't remember how many times I fired but my shoulder was sore. On the way back to camp I asked if I could use the .22 rifle next time. Dad said, "I reckon so." I did and never looked back. No more shotgunning squirrels for me!
Hunting tree squirrels can be as hard or as easy as you want to make it. Dad liked slipping through the woods looking, listening and stalking. Mom liked sitting in one place bushwhacking squirrels that came by. My best friend prefers a squirrel dog. Regardless of how I hunt them, it's always with a rifle.
A squirrel rifle has to be accurate; ideally capable of sub-inch groups at 50 yards. The sights and cartridge you choose should be influenced by the hunting methods you employ. I've tried about every rifle even remotely suited to squirrel hunting; every action design, chambered for every rimfire cartridge. Here's four, tried and tested rifles ranging in price from less than $ 500 to over $ 1800.
CZ 455 AMERICAN 17 HMR
After one year squirrel hunting with this rifle I was convinced it was the "answer" when it came to a stalking rifle for squirrels. No matter the distance, you just held dead on and pulled the trigger. Admittedly, a .17 HMR is a bit much for squirrels if anything other than a head shots is taken. The good thing is head shots with the CZ are easy; at 100 yards you can cover every shot with a quarter.
I've tested a half-dozen CZ rimfires and all shot exceptionally. You'll find the safety operates backwards from American made rifles and you might feel the trigger a bit creepy. A drop-in, aftermarket unit from Timney will fix the trigger and after a few trips to the range you'll be comfortable with the safety. www.cz-usa.com, $ 417.00
RUGER 77/22M .22 Magnum
When I got my first .22 Magnum, after years of squirrel hunting with a .22 LR, I felt like I'd traded my .30-30 for a .300 Win. Mag. I could hold dead on and hit a squirrel beyond 60 yards. After several .22 Magnums to include a rare Brno ZKM 611, I finally decided on Ruger's classic 77/22.
The 77/22 Magnum has a nine-shot, rotary magazine, dual extractors, a stainless bolt, classic lines, integral scope bases and comes with scope rings. Mine shoots half-inch, 50 yard groups with all the ammunition I've tried and close to one inch at 100 yards with most loads. The factory trigger has a bit of creep and is a tad heavy but a $ 50.00 Timney sear and spring kit will fix that. I figured I'd give this rifle to my son when he was ready for his first magnum and completely by-pass the shotgun for squirrel hunting. I did and he's already put it to good use. www.ruger.com, MSRP: $ 793.00
NEW ULTRA LIGHT ARMS RIMFIRE .22 LR
New Ultra Light Arms is a custom shop in the hills of West Virginia which set precedence 25 years ago, offering incredibly accurate big-game rifles; some weighing less than five pounds. I've used Melvin Rifles - that's what I call them because Melvin Forbes is the guy that designed them - to take my first black bear, my best whitetail and the most squirrels in a single season.
Melvin's rimfires use the same space-age, synthetic stock his centerfire rifles rely on for strength and barrel supporting stiffness. Mine is a single shot which you might think a handicap but friend, when a rifle shoots like this one, it's not. Single-shots and repeaters area available in right and left hand actions and you choose the barrel length and stock color. They come standard with a Timney trigger, Talley rings and a hard case.www.newultralight.com, MSRP: $ 1350.00
COOPER JACKSON SQUIRREL RIFLE
Most will back away from an $ 1800 squirrel rifle like a politician backs away from a promise. Only seriously addicted squirrel hunters will lay out the cash for a rifle this pricey. The Cooper Jackson Squirrel Rifle is one of the best looking and most accurate .22 bolt-action rifles I've handled. It'll even shoot Remington's subsonic 22 CB loads into 3/4's of an inch at 50 yards.
This rifle has an exquisite walnut stock that is a cross between a classic and target design. The trigger is as sweet as a tea berry, breaking at exactly two pounds with no creep. Cooper says their Jackson Squirrel Rifle is the Ferrari of squirrel rifles. If high performance and good looks are what they base that statement on, I'll have to agree. www.cooperfirearms.com, MSRP: $ 1895.00