Everyday Outdoors — The Mighty .22

The big groundhog was well hidden among the bean plants. A young boy peered through the 4-power scope on his older brother’s .22 rifle. The bean patch the groundhog was destroying was not a novelty or hobby. The boy’s father, with help from the rest of the family, worked hard to grow lots of delicious and nutritious food for his family, which the boy’s mother canned to feed the family all winter. Finally, the groundhog’s face, with a shining eye and a mouthful of bean plants, became clear in the boy’s sight. A quiet “spat,” and it was all over. The mighty .22 had spoken again, and the bean patch was safe, for now.

For many, if not most folks, a .22 rifle was the first “real” firearm they were exposed to. Parents and grandparents for generations have been teaching kids to shoot using a .22 rifle.

In days gone by, the .22 Short and .22 Long were very much in use, along with the more powerful .22 Long Rifle (LR). I remember my Dad talking about using .22 shorts, which are still manufactured, to hunt squirrels in the huge timber that was around the town of Magnolia when he was a kid. He liked them because they were so quiet. He said that when squirrels were feeding in the tops of the huge oak or hickory trees he could often shoot one and the others would not even stop “cutting” on the nuts they were eating. There were still .22 Long cartridges available in country stores in the 1970’s, but I haven’t seen any for years. Most of the time today if someone is talking about a “22” firearm, whether it be a rifle or handgun, they are speaking about a firearm chambered for 22 LR. For our purposes here, we are talking about rifles.

Pictured, from left, are an 85-year-old Winchester bolt action single shot with iron sights, a 30-year-old Ruger semi auto with a low magnification scope, and a modern Savage bolt action repeater with a high magnification scope. All three make dandy “squirrel ” rifles.

A .22 rifle is an extremely versatile firearm. It is the perfect tool on which to train a new shooter. The low noise and recoil levels make it easier to learn and follow good marksmanship principals than when using louder, heavier recoiling firearms. Those same characteristics, along with the comparatively low cost of ammunition, make it a great choice for an experienced shooter to practice with as well. And of course, the .22 makes a great small-game, close-range varmint, and general-purpose pest control rig.

A .22 rifle can be about as basic, or as tricked out as you want. The have been untold thousands of small game animals harvested, farm animals slaughtered, and pests eliminated by very basic .22 single shot rifles wearing iron sights, as well as millions of rounds put through them for recreation. The most popular rigs today are probably bolt action or semi auto repeaters wearing a scope. Over the years, there have also been many great .22s built as lever actions, pump actions, and almost any other type of action you can imagine. The possibilities are endless for the type of rig you want to assemble.

So whether you pull Grandpa’s old iron-sighted single shot out of retirement to teach the next generation, get your modern scope sighted repeater out for some practice, or put together a specialized rig with an advanced optic capable of accurate shots at distances we never dreamed possible just a few years ago, get those .22s out and do some shooting.

Make sure that everyone shooting or watching has eye and ear protection. Check local laws for where you can legally shoot. Make sure that you have a safe backstop. Be safe, have fun, and increase your proficiency with the old classic, The Mighty .22!

Wade Shambaugh has lived in Morgan County his whole life and is a lifelong outdoorsman.