If you step outside right now and go for a short walk, the most likely wildlife (aka: prey) you are likely to see will be small and furry, or small and feathery. While big game may satisfy our survival dreams, the reality is that the billions of squirrels, chipmunks, gophers, prairie dogs, and even rats will be the game of plenty. On the avian side there are crows and pigeons. I am not endorsing the illegal taking of animals, or poaching, or reckless inner city hunting, but I am pointing out that although we might go without the rule of law, we won’t go without food.
By Doc Montana, a contributing author
It is also imperative that one does not saw off the ecological branch they are sitting on by eliminating the critters necessary to keep the flow of food in balance. I know that will be a hard sell when times are tough, and there is little precedent on this planet for restraint under stress, and indiscriminate harvesting makes as much sense as eating your seed stock.
Fur-Covered Protein Bar
Given that the most abundant protein running around is in the rodent and bird food groups, those who fancy themselves prepared should consider adding a small-caliber tack-driving rifle to their arsenal. The most obvious choice is the ubiquitous .22 long rifle. I’m going to avoid the subject of ammo shortages for the moment and assume that the .22 LR is the best choice over its nearby contenders such as the .17 HMR and .22 WMR. Pellet guns are also great choices but there are very good reasons why we don’t hunt with them enmass, especially when what’s in your hands must double-duty as a light defensive option.
I can envision the squirrel gun being like car keys or a cell phone. It would be something you want handy when you walk out the door, and to have more than one on hand. It is not a survival rifle but more of a tool in the shed. As any hunter of the small and furry can tell you, shot placement is not critical for killing the critter, but it is a massive issue when you want to preserve as much usable meat as possible. In fact, unless it’s a head shot, its a bad shot. And shooting a ping pong ball with whiskers at 25 yards does take some skill. Luckily there are plenty of tack-driving bolt action .22s on the market with prices beginning at ~$150 for a new one and often sub-Benji for a used one.
The low-to-no recoil of a .22 has allowed scope makers to produce some of the most incredible crap ever offered the shooting public. But also some mighty fine optics for a fraction of the cost of their centerfire siblings. If you truly need a SHTF squirrel gun, don’t bother filling out that lifetime warranty card. Just buy quality from the start. The perennial standard for a .22 scope, is a power equal half the number of cylinders in your bug out vehicle. Around here that is usually a 4x. However, for just a little more money and a tad more weight, you can get a variable power scope perfectly suited for urban and Siberian squirrel hunting. Perhaps something in the 3-9x range.
With a solid rest and a 9x scope, you can drill a half-dollar all day long at traditional squirrel distances. In case you are thinking that if 9x is good, then 12x is better, and 20x is best, forget it. Regardless of price, size and weight, the optical physics demand more light for more magnification. And there is a loss of low-end power which makes the scope much more versatile when things move up close. Whether binoculars, camera lenses, or rifle scopes, usually the only thing preventing someone from making a bad purchase is the price tag. If price were no object, the average Joe would be carrying around 14x binoculars, a 600mm camera lens, and a 16x rifle scope. Oh, and zero success in everything they do with their over-sized, overweight, and overpowered optics.
To drive home the point of the scope, walk your neighborhood with scope in hand. Sight in on birds in trees, squirrels on poles and power lines, and ground dwelling furry beasts. What power works for your walk will work for your hunt. Critters move so tracking them under too much magnification is worse than iron sights. Around here, we have few elevators and even fewer escalators so the artificial canyons of modern society encompass just a few square blocks of my most populated haunts. The rest is as it was back when all America use to be like Montana still is.
Tacticalness is another dangerous temptation. On many an occasion out at the range I’ve noticed some shooters with Turrets Syndrome. You know what I mean. Their rifle scope has three or even four turrets growing out of the scope body like branches on an oak tree. Its as if the size and number of your turrets is proportional to your skill as a shooter. Thus a raging case of Turrets Syndrome. Here’s the surefire test for Turrets Syndrome. Put on your best “impressed but curious” look and inquire how use such magnificent turrets. In more than half the cases, the owner of the scope has no idea how to make the turrets do their job. On rainy days, try it for fun at a big box gun store. It’s not that the scope is useless, but that it has a pile of features that are of no use to the average owner, especially when Mil-dot and MOA are used interchangeably, and the number 1/6283 means nothing to them. But I admit, tactical scopes are engineering marvels worthy of study even if their feature set is barely tapped.
So with a shopping list containing an inexpensive bolt action .22 LR and a variable power 3-9x scope, I headed to the pawnshops. My list is simple. I want super accuracy, ultimate durability, utter simplicity, a name-brand with a proven track record, and from experience, a removable magazine, no wood, a full-length barrel, zero bells and even fewer whistles, and something in the hundred dollars to one-fifty range. This shooting machine won’t be fancy, just a deadly accurate killer of critters. And it will live it’s life in a dark corner of a climate-controlled gun safe.
When the dust settled, the choice was Savage Arms, the Model was the II in .22 LR, the stock was black synthetic, and the barrel was… well, I couldn’t decide so I got a standard barrel and a heavy barrel both in 26” length. I thought I had the squirrel gun concept dialed in my head, but decided that maybe a lightweight iron sight version would be a nice option for the mobile hunt, as well as a heavy barreled target model with an optic for more local sniping. Since both are considered tack drivers that shoot groups way above their pay grade, I assumed both would be winners. And I was right. Neither rifle had the famous Savage AccuTrigger, but what was I expecting for a hundred bucks? If buying new, the AccuTrigger is the best super-cheap trigger on the market and well worth the few extra bucks.
The heavy barrel Savage with Vortex 3-9x Crossfire II scope was scary accurate. At 50 yards it was more accurate than if I was stabbing my tactical pen into the target from an arm’s length away. And once I got the open sights straightened and elevated on the regular barrel version, it punched holes good enough for any government paperwork. If any squirrel out to 25 yards that pauses for a few seconds its called dinner with the open sights putting the lead right between the beady little eyes. And head shots out to 50 yards with the optic are child’s play. Both guns will sling lead much further, but fresh meat is scarce and even a .22 will destroy a considerable amount of flesh if striking south of the shoulders.
Small bird heads are more marble-sized than ping pong balls so they’re much harder to hit consistently although any impact touching the marble counts. Although birds constantly swivel their noggins around, the rotational point is close to the center so regardless of which direction their beak is pointed, so the center of cranial mass is the same size and shape. And shooting marbles (pardon the pun) is easy if you’re a Savage. And don’t forget you can “wing” birds which is exactly where the term came from in the first place. Any partial hit that causes a FTF error in a bird (Failure to Fly) will give you enough time to catch and dispatch the fowl in hand-to-hand combat.
The New Normal
Granted, most of the civilized world already has a .22 or three in their gun safe, or closet, or under the bed, or pickup truck rack so why get another. Three reasons: First, when ammo is plentiful again, having 10k+ of rounds on hand will be the new norm. And any ammo supply that deep should feed more than one gun. Second, the Ruger 10/22 is still the go-to small caliber in my opinion. It is just way too versatile to ignore, but it has it’s limits, and ultra-accuracy is one of them. And Finally, hunting is a social activity so having more than one .22 in play more than doubles your chance of success. Since kids will still need to grow up in a World 2.0, there will always be a need for another .22.
I’ll already admitted to you that my squirrel guns will live their lives in solitary confinement, but should they be called into action, their contribution to survival will be worth more than gold. So squirrel away a few bucks and then pull the trigger on a squirrel gun or two. You’ll thank me later.