Learn the benefits and limitations of a rifle/shotgun against squirrels. Why is the .22LR better than other calibers, and how to choose a squirrel shotgun?
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When discussing what gun is the best for squirrel hunting, we should understand that both rifles and shotguns can deliver awesome results as long as your marksmanship and stealth skills are sufficient. So this is not about what gun is best in general but rather what works best for you.
But how to decide that? In this article, we compare squirrel hunting with a .22 rifle and a shotgun and discuss why the .22 LR cartridge is best for squirrels and what shotgun ammo delivers just the right results.
Why Choose .22 LR For Squirrel Hunting?
Though the .22 LR is on everyone’s lips, it’s not the only small-caliber cartridge used for harvesting small game animals. However, in the context of squirrel hunting, there are a lot of arguments in favor of .22 LR. First of all, your range is limited to around 30 yards since this is the length of an average tree. With more powerful magnum cartridges, such as .17 HMR and .22 WMR, you simply won’t be using that extra distance you win when choosing them over the .22 LR. Besides, more power means overkill and less edible meat.
Compared to the less powerful .22 Short and .22 Long, .22 LR ammo is far easier to get at a decent price.
Hunting Squirrels with a .22 LR Rifle
The main clear-as-day difference between rifles and shotguns is the number of projectiles these weapons shoot downrange. With a rifle, you have only one bullet and one chance to knock down that squirrel once and for all. And this wouldn’t be a problem if squirrels were at least the size of a rabbit. But these critters are very small. Add the distance, and now you aim at a target the size of a walnut. Besides, if you harvest squirrels for meat and hide, you should avoid body shots and aim at the head area, right behind the ear.
As you see, shooting squirrels from a rifle is far from an easy task. Compared to shotguns, a rifle requires your marksmanship to be at a decent level. Yes, these shots are hard, but if you’re a challenge-seeker, a .22 LR rifle should become your weapon of choice.
Also, a rifle allows you to deliver a quick, accurate, clean kill. A wrong shotgun shot grouping can lead to all projectiles missing critical areas or meat severely filled with BBs. Rifles are more straightforward in this respect – you either hit or miss the target. If you’re successful, one big projectile is easier to find and extract than small BBs.
Another advantage of a .22 LR rifle is that it’s lighter than many squirrel shotguns, which means less fatigue during hours of walking in the woods. It’s also quiet, and a .22 LR rifle fire will spook fewer squirrels in your area.
Hunting Squirrels With A Shotgun
Multiple projectiles flying downrange increase your chances for a successful shot. This is why a shotgun is considered the best weapon for beginner squirrel hunters. But to minimize the damage to hide and meat, you should choose the right shotgun and the proper ammo.
First of all, you need the right gauge. The gauge is the caliber of a shotgun. The higher the gauge, the smaller the bore diameter, e.g. a 12-gauge bore is wider than that of a 20-gauge shotgun. Following the logic, the wider the bore, the more BBs the shell comprises.
The best squirrel hunting shotgun is one with a narrower bore diameter, a 20-gauge or a .410 bore (just for the record, there are no 22 caliber or 22 gauge shotguns). With a lower-gauge shotgun, you’ll be sending too many projectiles that literally riddle the poor critter.
Many hunters prefer a 20-gauge shotgun because it’s more suitable for those 30-yard shots thanks to higher BB concentration in the core of your grouping, but you need to be careful at short ranges. On the other hand, .410-bore shotguns are safer to use at 15-20 yards. If you suspect your grouping to be too tight in given conditions, edge your pattern to the nose of the squirrel. Remember, you’ll always need to use a full or modified choke for a tighter pattern.
After you’ve picked your gauge, you need to choose the right ammo, particularly the shot size. Some hunters prefer 7 ½ shots, while others swear by 4s. We recommend you go with 5s or 6s because those have more power to push through tree leaves and hit harder. 7 ½ may not produce sufficient penetration because of the thick hide of squirrels, while 4s can spoil the meat.
As you see, there are lots of nuances in preparing for your squirrel shotgun hunting. However, once you’ve built your system, hunting becomes easy. A shotgun doesn’t require advanced marksmanship skills and gives you more room for error. Also, hitting a moving squirrel becomes possible.
Another benefit is that a group of projectiles do a better job at pushing through thick vegetation in the early season.
Benefits of a .22 LR Rifle
- More accuracy
- Clean kill
- Quiet report
- Lighter gun
- Picking ammo is easier
Benefits of a Shotgun
- Pinpoint accuracy is not required
- More room for error due to multiple projectiles
- Higher chances of hitting a moving target
- Leaves don’t interfere as much
How To Attract Squirrels
If you plan to visit one particular location for hunting squirrels, you may consider setting a feeder with their favorite food – hazelnut, peanuts, maize, corn, and sunflower seeds. And if you like to roam in the woods, moving from one squirrel spot to another, a game call must be present in your squirrel hunting gear set. A squirrel call will help you control critters’ behavior by mimicking sounds to calm them down, make them give away their location, or entice them to move closer to your position.
How To Carry Squirrels
Another useful piece of gear in your set will be a hunting vest with a game pouch on the back. If you don’t want a vest, purchase some game bags.