Project Squirrel Gun

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 Best Survival Hunting Riflefurry, 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 of Survival Cache and SHTFBlog

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 Best SHTF Squirrel Gunshould 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.

Glass Rules

The low-to-no recoil of a .22 has allowed scope makers to produce some of the most incredible crap ever offered the shooting Best Survival Hunting Riflepublic.  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.

Also Read: Ruger 10/22 Takedown Review

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.

Turrets Syndrome

Tacticalness is another dangerous temptation.  On many an occasion out at the range I’ve noticed some shooters with Turrets Best Hunting RifleSyndrome.  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.

Also Read: Pellet Guns, Not Just For Kids Anymore

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.

Savage Love

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… Best Squirrel Gunwell, 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 Best SHTF Hunting Riflewhy 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.

All Photos by Doc Montana

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33 comments… add one
  • j.r. guerra in s. tx. February 24, 2015, 8:35 am

    You can also check out Ruger’s new bolt action rimfire the Ruger American Rimfire (RAR), its gaining some fans very quickly. Both adult and youth models, with modular stock options, barrel treatments (including threaded muzzles if that floats your boat)

    I’ve pretty much settled on the CZ 452s and parent Brnos, but if I was starting over again, RAR gets my first look. I have heard some excellent comments about the Savage as well. I wish we had tree squirrels where we live at, we have only a few resident ‘tree rats’.

    Thanks for the article sir.

  • Doc Montana February 24, 2015, 10:08 am

    Ruger makes a fine rifle, and if price were not much of an object, I would certainly be looking at many other options especially the Ruger and CZ.

    However, as part of this project I picked up the lightly used Savage bull barrel for under a hundred bucks. Never seen a used .22 RAR let alone a new one under $299.

    Thanks for reading!

    • j.r. guerra in s. tx. February 25, 2015, 8:57 am

      Whoa – under a C-Note ? Man, you shop awesome! That definitely is a great deal. CZ way back in year 2000 was priced near $200, but prices have steadily risen since then.

      Good shooting.

      • Doc Montana February 25, 2015, 10:05 am

        Even better. I weaseled a broken Leatherman Wave into the deal which upon sending in for warranty repair, Leatherman sent me a brand new Wave 2.

        All for $95.

  • Howard Huggins February 24, 2015, 11:58 am

    Great article. Now I need to scour the local pawn shops to see if I can find a good Savage II in .22 as.per the article. One for the price mentioned would be a SCORE as I have an excellent Weaver 4X scope just begging for a home on a new-to-me rimfire rifle.
    Who knows? Maybe I’ll get lucky and find and inexpensive CZ, too. ;-)

    • John Polinsky March 3, 2015, 8:54 pm

      I’ve owned the Savage Mark II bull barrel with a Nikon 3×9 in .22 LR and I can attest too its accuracy 1st hand. Being a golfer I had access to a lot of white golf tee’s. I punched then horizontally into a dead log and used the white tops as targets. At 50 yds. I consistently exploded them out of site. Good choice although good luck finding them at $100…

  • Howard Huggins February 24, 2015, 11:58 am

    Great article. Now I need to scour the local pawn shops to see if I can find a good Savage II in .22 as per the article. One for the price mentioned would be a SCORE as I have an excellent Weaver 4X scope just begging for a home on a new-to-me rimfire rifle.
    Who knows? Maybe I’ll get lucky and find and inexpensive CZ, too. ;-)

  • Drew February 24, 2015, 12:22 pm

    I’ve never been a fan of scopes on my carry-around anti-small-critter guns. My Winchester 52C Sporter has a Lyman 57 receiver sight and will print 1″ or less groups at 50 yards benched all day long. I’ve potted countless gray squirrels and pest animals with it.

    There are a lot of “older” guns like Winchester 57/67/69s, Remington 521/541s, etc., as well as myriad older offerings from Marlin, Savage, Stevens and more that can be nabbed for very little cash, since people tend to look right by them if they’re in used shape. As a bonus, they often come with decent aftermarket aperture-type sights. Just another fun option if you’re looking to pot some squirrels!

  • BamaMan February 24, 2015, 2:24 pm

    Grew up hunting squirrels. Some good thoughts:

    Do not go for the long shot with a high powered scope. Squirrels are very hard to find on the ground in the winter much less in fall months when foliage is still around.

    Way up in an oak tree a shotgun works just fine. Pulling a few pellets out of the meat is better than a .22 knocking the shoulders to pieces.

    A pellet gun is really ideal vs. a .22 for the above reasons. Carry a side arm or extra rifle.

    Another plus to shot gun is with a pump you can have the first shell be double 00 buck shot in case a deer comes by, if you see a squirrel first just pump out the buck shot and have some #6 or 4 behind for the furry fella.

  • Pineslayer February 24, 2015, 3:56 pm

    Marlin Model 60 needs to be on the list of possibles. They are cheap and accurate. I have a collection ranging in prices of $80 – $170. All shoot straight. I have a model 70 also that you can’t miss with.

  • TPSnodgrass February 24, 2015, 4:11 pm

    My two favorite .22LR rifles are:
    Marlin Model 60-accurate, inexpensive and ubiquitous.
    Ruger 10-22-accurate, inexpensive and ubiquitous.
    In the process of accumulating enough for each of the grandkids, almost there, too. Yeah, I’ve got enough ammo for all of them plus our needs too. Been hoarding for years now.

  • Doc Montana February 24, 2015, 4:53 pm

    Thanks for the read and commentary.

    No doubts about the Marlin’s accuracy, but in my project I wanted a bolt action and a box magazine. Semiauto .22s can get a little picky about food. Also I’m done with tube feeds. It’s a neat idea, but hard to load, unload, temperamental, excessive parts, and significantly reduces the opportunity for aftermarket accessories and personal mods. I’m also done with wood.

    But don’t worry. I have another .22 rifle article in the works that pushes the limits in another direction.

    As for pellet guns, I chose to keep a powder load behind my bullets for simplicity, speed, and uniform operation when handing off the firearm.

    Shotguns are a solution to a certain environment. I want the ability to score a prairie dog at 75 yards, a crow 120 feet up in a tree, and a squirrel peaking around a tree trunk at 20 yards. A shotgun shell is dozens of times larger, louder, heavier, and more expensive than a .22 and while it could take bigger game. I could put 38 grains of lead into a deer’s eyeball with my squirrel gun if needed. For full-time big game hunting I will move up in caliber.

    In my experience with the scope, I consider it an advantage where it’s an advantage and a detriment where it doesn’t help. The difference is in the situation. With two eyes open, I can track a squirrel just fine with a scope, and place my crosshairs as needed faster than I can with irons. But if you need to share a rifle with someone much less experienced, the scope will magnify success as well as the image.

    • BamaMan February 25, 2015, 8:31 am

      shooting a deer or turkey with a .22 is illegal in AL. not saying that really bothers me or if i had to there would be a game warden still on the job after SHTF but for today i look at it that way b/c they take the gun and make you wait for court date to get it back.

    • j.r. guerra in s. tx. February 26, 2015, 8:33 am

      Sound reasoning up there (multi-target ability). Just for grins, try out a box of the Aquila 60 grain load. Pretty quiet subsonic load with some ‘smack’ – but many (not all) standard twist barrels will not stabilize the long bullet. Deep penetration is the goal for this one.

      Totally concur on your experience with Savage 24 combination, as far as rimfire goes. Precision fire and the Savage combination – not really compatible with scope, which gets in way of shotgun use.

      You might try a red dot sight to see if you do better. I installed a Bushnell TRS-25 on a 30-30 Win. / 12 gauge that will see some use on feral hog fairly soon (I hope). Red dot is zero magnification and does not interfere with shotgun sighting – this one works for me.

    • lance February 26, 2015, 2:27 pm

      The way my air gun works is with compressed nitrogen
      So it is uniform for every shot,and just as powerful as a .22 long (not long rifle) only disadvantage is one shot and reload
      But as I learned 200 dollars doesn’t go very far with guns
      But with air guns it goes into high quality air rifles
      As for self defense a pistol or spare rifle would be fine.

    • October 6, 2015, 3:05 pm

      Marlin makes some good 22 caliber bolt guns. You can`t go wrong with a model 25 or 25 mn. There is the old 781 or 783 if you want mag. The new 22 mag and 17 and mach 2 has gotten some good reports.

  • Doc Montana February 24, 2015, 5:05 pm

    Hi Drew,

    There are many great older .22s out there. But something I’ve learned is that an elderly single shot bolt action may have had more than its fair share of .22 shorts fired through it, and I’ve had some extraction issues with the older guns because of chambering problems. Also the old extractors are marginal and cost more to replace/machine than the gun is worth. That’s one of the reasons I specified a box mag. It narrowed the playing field to what I hoped were acceptable possibilities. Except for Remington….

    I have an old Remington tube feed semi auto that always works, but the Rem .22s I’ve bought in the last 20 years all sucked. Sorry to generalize, but I have no time in my life for a bad gun, let alone two of them. And don’t get me started on the 700!

    An optic, in my opinion, is like a bench rest for open sights. Since most urban rodent hunting will not happen while using a bench rest (I assume most shots will be off hand or lightly supported by an object) the range of irons is significantly less.

    One of my winter activities is biathlon (cross country ski and shooting). All biathlon is open sights, and my course uses 25 yard/ 6″ plates. It’s way harder than it looks, and the target is larger than a the neighbor’s cat’s head.

    Some folks frown on using optics prior to mastering irons. I prefer the inverse. The fundamentals of shooting are the same whether through glass or thin air, but success is definitely higher with optics and makes new shooting more fun. Starting with success and working backwards is effective.

    However, hunting for survival, in my opinion, is not the time to add additional challenges to the mix.

    And in the case of the heavy barrel Savage, there were no hard sights, so a scope was cheaper than drilling and tapping and buying and installing more iron.

  • lance February 24, 2015, 8:14 pm

    I would rather have a quiet pellet gun than a loud 22 but that’s just my opinion.

  • Roger February 24, 2015, 11:21 pm

    I don’t have a tack-driver 22LR rifle (yet) since my Ruger bull-barrel Mark 1 pistol in an under-the-shoulder holster has been my small game go-to gun for a long time; I think trapping with mouse and rat traps is more productive in time and effort, so targets of opportunity are the most likely small game hunting I expect to do! I do have a 10/22 and a AR-7, which share a cheap 4X scope (though the zero differs), but with 18″ and 16″ barrels, they don’t even come close to consistent 100 foot marble-sized shot groups, but the scope definitely helps! I wish they would make the AR-7 in 22Mag, since you can still use 22LR in them, as well as subsonic ammo to keep-it-quiet, along with a 22″-26″ barrel. Additionally, I have found that 22LR birdshot is almost useless past 15-20 feet, so why bother carrying it! Shotguns are very versatile but can easily be overkill (read-only a cloud of fur or feathers left), perhaps a combo gun like the Savage Mod. 42 with a 22LR barrel over a .410 barrel would be the best compromise? Good Luck!

  • Doc Montana February 24, 2015, 11:40 pm

    Hi Roger,

    I’ve got a stainless Ruger Mark III .22 hunter and love it. While it’s a great pistol, it’s still a pistol. And the .22 loads of birdshot are probably more snakeshot. There is less chance of ricochet if the snake happens to be on a rock as they often are.

    I also have a Savage over/under .22 Mag/20 gauge. It is a fabulously useful gun for grouse and other birds that hug the ground more than fly. But it’s heavy, and the accuracy of the .22 Mag barrel is little more than good enough for basic duty especially with the marginal iron sights. Plus I’ve worked single shot rifles I can load and shoot faster than that gun.

    There really is no substitute for snuggling up to a bolt action tack driver. And great point about the subsonic ammo. I should have mentioned it.

    Be well.

  • irishdutchuncle February 25, 2015, 12:34 pm

    … is there an in possession limit, on those
    Siberian Squirrels?
    the feral hogs haven’t reached my WMA, yet, but two and four legged Coyotes are becoming more common. I’d want at least a .357
    For anything larger than a raccoon.

  • Joel Forge February 25, 2015, 6:13 pm

    Great read doc.

  • Slick February 25, 2015, 10:23 pm


  • Johnny Come Lately March 3, 2015, 12:03 pm

    For scopes on a very economical yet quality basis, hit up ebay and search for Swift scopes. Old Swift products had very, very good quality and aged well, and because they are old and used they go for a cheap price.

  • andrew March 3, 2015, 7:54 pm

    love a 22lr but also deeply in love with my new 22 pellet pistol a cross man 1322 put about 7-10 pumps in it and you can drop a squirrel i was out 50$ for the pistol another 8$ for 500rd of ammo may not be a self defense rifle but that’s what my 9mm is for . it has taken many a squirrel at 20-30yds iron sights only and its no louder than a clap i ordered a shoulder stock for it and some more pellets love to come home and pop old pop cans their is other options in the bb pellet gun arena i chose this guy for its size and my needs . all put together its still chepaer than any 22lr rifle

  • eldon March 10, 2015, 1:08 am

    Article is pointless when most area’s have not had any 22lr for a very long time, All we get is excuse’s from the MFG’s and dist’s , I find 17 hmr and sometimes 22mag so Whos lying about the 22lr shortage , i have heard it all from “There cranking it out as fast as they can” to “Too much Hording” our local wally -world never gets any , But you can get it free when you Buy a new Mossberg 22 AR… I am so pissed off at all the Politics in the Gun hobby I am Changing my devotion to the company’s I used to worship , Remington, CCI, Ruger , et. all . We Gun owners / buyers pushed them to all time highs in Stocks and Sales and they repay us with bullshit!!!

  • Rob W March 10, 2015, 2:25 pm

    I sped through to add my .02. I have purchased a dozen .22’s within the past few years at stores and pawn shops and gun shows. When I consider a phtf gun, I have to go with the bolt action Savage because I can then shoot short, long, and long rifle, even ratshot and low noise without worrying about cycling. I do have the 10/22 and Marlin 60 and several more pistols in .22 but I added the Heritage .22 combo so now, if I can find any .22 ammo from .22 shorts up to .22 magnum I am covered.

  • vic wright March 10, 2015, 7:03 pm

    I use a .177 air rifle, leagle in my state.Four power scope works fantastic and inexpensive.

  • old texan March 21, 2015, 2:20 am

    no one has mentioned the springfield or cz 22/ 410 over and under. Super little piece if you can find one

    • lance April 7, 2015, 12:51 pm

      They make a 12 gauge version with adapters to shoot other calibers.

  • Gman August 17, 2016, 5:49 pm

    Love my Marlin Papoose as ‘squirrel gun’. Cheap,reliable and shoots all brands of ammo without fail so far.

  • Greg September 25, 2016, 7:37 pm

    I sure enjoy the Marlin XT-22TSR with the Nikon Prostaff scope with Redfield .22 See-Thru Dovetail Rings for iron or scope option. . I enjoy the tube feed for the variety of ammo types, short, long and long rifle. Great informative article.

  • andrewbg October 22, 2016, 12:49 pm

    his is an amazing helpful article I have ever found for anyone looking to get a suitable rifle scope. There are plenty of rifle scope development Company in the market making different series of optics with its unique features. With the Company, numbers of Gun & optic online Dealers have been increased over the periods. As i am experience good a “bestsniperriflescope
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    Andrew Morison


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