Six Squirrel Rifles On a Budget

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When getting into the world of squirrel hunting, it can get fairly expensive, really quick. By the time you add a scope, ammo, and sling you can easily step over the five hundred dollar mark. Honestly, you can spend $500 on just a rifle. I’m sure there are a few of you out there who have fully rigged out rifles for under the $500 mark, and that’s the focus of this article. The $500 mark should get you the rifle, scope, sling, and one brick (500 rounds) of your ammo of choice. If you choose to use just iron sights, well you’ll be sub $350 easy. When I first started out all of my squirrel rifles fell under the above mentioned mark.

Squirrel Rifle on a Budget

When it comes to budget minded rifles, I have six rifles that I would choose from to get you in the game. Three semi-autos and three bolt actions. Seeing as there are some states that restrict hunting with a semi-auto, it’s only fair to list bolt action equivalents. Semi-autos will tend to be cheaper than bolt actions, but both have a place in the squirrel woods.

Ruger 10/22

If you are new to firearms this will be one of the first you will be introduced to. If you are a connoisseur of firearms this one should be in your collection. You know, everyone needs to own at least one 10/22.

This rifle was introduced in 1964 and has sold in the millions to this date. You can get into the carbine model (beech wood stock and barrel band) for under $230. The synthetic model can be had for even less. There are many flavors to choose from, and some of those go north of $400.

Stock Ruger 10-22

The Ruger 10/22 is accurate enough to squirrel hunt with, but I’m not sure it’s the most accurate out-of-the-box semi-auto on the market. It comes with one 10 round rotary magazine. Buckhorn iron sights are included on most models, along with a scope mounting rail. The stock trigger on the Ruger is the best out of the three semi-autos listed, but that isn’t saying much. On average you should expect 5.5-6.5 pounds of pressure to release the sear. Another point of interest, after firing the last shot, there is no “last shot hold open.” It is only a minor complaint with the rifle. The 10/22 is the Glock of 22 rifles. There are thousands of aftermarket enhancements that can be added to a 10/22. Things can get very expensive if you head this route, and you will likely not get the money you put in the rifle out.

Nate-Jason Squirrel Hunting Ruger 10-22

Just like a Glock, the 10/22 is built like a tank. You probably could get by with cleaning this rifle every 500 rounds, but I wouldn’t recommend that. Consider the Ruger 10/22 high on your list of inexpensive semi-auto options. It may be the best .22 for squirrel hunting in the semi-auto category.

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Marlin Model 60

The Marlin Model 60 is another staple in the semi-auto 22 lineup. This rifle is where my journey into squirrel hunting rifles started. Daddy’s old Model 60 with the squirrel carved into the stock, has taken many squirrels out of the North Carolina timber.

The Model 60 is slim, lightweight, and handy. It has defended a many chicken coops on the family farm, along with riding in the back glass of most good ole boys pick-up trucks. Introduced in 1960, Marlin deems this rifle the “most popular 22 in the world.” Last I heard they had sold over 12 million Model 60’s.

Marlin Model 60

Marlin has a handful of varieties of the Model 60 both in wood stock and synthetic. Most can be had under $200 and that’s being conservative. They come with a set of buckhorn sights, and the receiver is grooved for scope rings. The Marlin probably has the worst trigger of the three semi-autos listed. It should break between 6-7 pounds with lots of play. Loading this rifle happens directly under the barrel, via the tube fed magazine. Marlin states 14 rounds can be loaded, but I know I’ve put more 22 cartridges in my Daddy’s rifle before. Marlin also touts there micro groove barrel for supreme accuracy. I tend to agree and would say this is the most accurate semi-auto on my list. On older models, after firing the last shot through the Model 60 the bolt will lock to the rear indicating your rifle is empty. The newer models no longer have this feature. The magazine fed version of this rifle is the Marlin 795, and has the same attributes as it’s successor.

This rifle is how I cut my teeth into squirrel hunting, and will remain a icon in my collection as one of my favorite inexpensive choices for squirrel hunting.

Remington 597

At seventeen years old I had a chance to purchase my first 22 squirrel rifle. I had to decide between the 597 and the 10/22. Hind sight being 20/20 I would have purchased the 10/22, but I walked out of the gun shop that day with the Remington. Not to discount the Remington, but the Ruger can be more easily customized along with better resell value. Saying that, the Remington 597 now has its own following.

The 597 comes with one 10 round box style magazine. Out of all the semi-autos the Remington has the best iron sights. Its receiver is grooved for scope rings. Accuracy of the 597 is on par with the 10/22. Plenty of squirrels were victim to my Remington 597, especially once I added a red-dot scope. Red-dot on the squirrel, press the trigger and collect your squirrel. Trigger pull on the 597 would rank second out of the three semi-autos listed. A 5-6 pound trigger pull should be expected.

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Remington 597

My 597 doesn’t see any woods time now. I don’t feel, for me, that it meets what I need in a squirrel rifle currently. This is only my opinion and I wouldn’t deter you from trying one out for yourself. The Remington 597 will be in my collection indefinitely because it was my first firearm purchase with my own hard earned cash.

Ruger American Rimfire

I haven’t had a chance to evaluate this rifle, however from what I have gathered, and as a consumer, I think Ruger listened to there customer base. If I weren’t so tied up with CZ 452’s I’d have put one of these in my stable.

Here’s what I like about the RAR(Ruger American Rimfire). First is the stock design. It has a interchangeable buttstock system that allows you to use the appropriate stock for either iron sights or optics. That’s huge for me, as if I want to train my daughter on irons first, the correct stock can be applied, for her length of pull. Ruger decided to allow for either a standard length of pull stock to be used, or the compact/youth stock. By this means, one rifle can cover the whole family. Next is the ability for the rifle to use the standard 10/22 magazine, which fits flush with the stock. If you already have a 10/22 you have plenty of magazines for this rifle. Your sling will fit nicely, on the factory installed sling swivel studs. The safety is on the tang of the rifle where it belongs, hope I wasn’t unclear! Let’s not forget the trigger, one of the nicest features of the bolt action options. It is user adjustable, settable to between 3-5 pounds. Sights are buckhorn variety, with a fiber optic front. The receiver is grooved to take rings for a scope. The stock also has a bedding block system, that to my knowledge provides great accuracy.

Ruger American Rimfire
Photo Courtesy of Sturm, Ruger & Co., Inc.

Accurate, rugged, user configurable, and inexpensive sounds like an excellent combination of features from a manufacturer every firearms owner has come to know. The squirrels have another bolt action rifle to fear.

Marlin XT-22

The older Marlin 925 series and newer XT-22 replacement is another option to consider when attempting to assemble an inexpensive squirrel rifle. My hunting buddy Chad went this route, allowing me the opportunity to spend some time behind this rifle.

Marlin XT-22

The Marlin can be had in either tube or magazine fed options. The downside of the magazine is that it protrudes past the stock and can dig into your back while toting it through the timber. The synthetic version is the only model I’ve evaluated and it fits the bill for a rifle under $250. Wood models are available. Sling swivel studs are installed from the factory. The Pro-fire trigger is adjustable to weights that are inherit for better accuracy. Sights are of the buckhorn variety, and the receiver is grooved to take scope rings. Marlin also touts its proprietary micro-groove rifling, which I must say is accurate. Chad’s rifle preforms very well with Eley Subsonic Hollow Points.

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Marlin XT-22 trigger

This rifle would be a sure fit for your squirrel hunting needs if you are pinching pennies. You may not wow anyone with its subdued looks, but you may surprise someone in the timber with its outstanding accuracy.

Savage Mark II G

I don’t have a great deal to say about this rifle. I’ve only owned two Savage rimfires. A FVSR in 22LR and a Model 93R17 in .17HMR. The .17 was very accurate, but overkill in both sound and meat damage to the squirrel. The FVSR wasn’t up to par in the accuracy department, that’s not to say there aren’t those who own Savage rifles that will shoot accurately.

I’m choosing the G Model based on the fact it carries iron sights like the other rifles mentioned in this overview. One thing can be said about Savage, and that is they were the originator of the Accu-trigger. Every other bolt action I’ve listed in this article has “borrowed” the Accu-trigger design and function in some facet. Magazines on the Savage also protrude from the bottom of the rifle if that bothers you. The magazine release can be easily bent, but you shouldn’t expect a great deal of ruggedness out of a rifle that goes for under $180. The sights are buckhorn style and the receiver is grooved to accept scope rings. My opinion isn’t high in the accuracy department, but that was based on the rifle I had. Accurate enough at 25 yards, but couldn’t perform at 50 yards. I know there are others that are “lights out” accurate.

Savage Mark II G
Photo Courtesy of Savage­­®

When it comes to choosing an accurate, budget bolt-action, I would look to the Ruger and Marlin first. This rifle is due a mention though based on its cost effectiveness, popularity, and features. Savage is one of the first rifles thought of as an entry level 22 bolt action.

If I left out your favorite rifle don’t get your squirrel tail in a bunch. There’s plenty of room in the comment section below to list your favorite budget rifle and why it’s your choice. I hope this article was helpful and gave you a few options to consider.

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Ethan Smith is a seasoned marine veteran, professional blogger, witty and edgy writer, and an avid hunter. He spent a great deal of his childhood years around the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona. Watching active hunters practise their craft initiated him into the world of hunting and rubrics of outdoor life. He also honed his writing skills by sharing his outdoor experiences with fellow schoolmates through their high school’s magazine. Further along the way, the US Marine Corps got wind of his excellent combination of skills and sought to put them into good use by employing him as a combat correspondent. He now shares his income from this prestigious job with his wife and one kid. Read more >>