One of the most popular sporting cartridges ever produced, the .22 Long Rifle still enjoys great popularity with hunters around the world. Part of that popularity comes from the accuracy of the cartridge. Your old 10/22 may not be able to reach the broad side of a bear, but Olympic and competition shooters enjoy rifles that can easily put a bullet in the same hole at 50 yards.
If you’re hoping to replicate their success without spending thousands of dollars, I’ve got bad news. He may not be able to turn his old squirrel rifle into a tack driver without spending more money than the rifle is worth. However, there are several things that you they can do to make your .22 LR more accurate, which should translate to more success in the small game woods.
What is “Accurate” for a .22?
Only accurate rifles are interesting, but accuracy is also in the eye of the beholder. An Olympic shooter’s definition of “accuracy” will be very different from a 12-year-old throwing six-inch steel targets from 40 yards.
But there are one or two common criteria that most hunters and shooters use to determine how their rifles compare to others. Just as centerfire cartridge rifles are considered “accurate” if they can post a group of less than an inch at 100 yards, .22 LR rifles are considered accurate if they can do the same thing at 50 yards. Many rifles shoot at smaller groups, but an inch at 50 yards is a common baseline.
That standard works if you’re thinking of competing in an NRL 22 match. These matches mirror the National Rifle League’s centerfire runs and rarely require a target of less than an inch at 50 yards.
An inch is also a good standard for small game. A squirrel’s head is wider than an inch, but squirrel hunters know those little critters are tougher than they look. If you don’t get one right in the eye or below the ear, it’s likely to pick itself up after a few seconds and run away. If your gun can fire one-inch groups at 50 yards, you should have no problem dispatching a squirrel quickly and humanely.
Try different ammunition
Not all .22 LR ammunition is created equal, at least your gun doesn’t think so. If you want your double deuce rifle to be more “accurate”, find the ammo that shoots the best.
While the .22 LR is not available in the same bullet weight range as other cartridges, you still have plenty of options. If your rifle doesn’t like classic 36-grain bulk ammo, try some match-grade 40-grain pills. If that doesn’t work, try a faster 40-grain Hunter Match or even faster 31-grain small game loads. I’ve had especially good luck with high-velocity match-grade options, like these HV Gold Medal Rimfire cartridges from Federal.
As with all accuracy tests, try to get as far out of the equation as possible. Make sure both the front and back of the gun are stabilized in bags or a gun rack, take your time and take good shots. After firing five groups of five shots with each ammo type, you’ll know which one your gun likes best.
clean the barrel
The .22 LR is a famously dirty cartridge, so if you haven’t cleaned your old squirrel gun in a few seasons, give it a good rub. I know I know This is like when you asked your mom about your lost hat and she told you that “you will find it when you clean your room”. Cleaning is never fun (whether it’s a gun or a room), but Mom knows better.
A good tip: use a solution that removes copper as well as carbon and lead, and let the solution do most of the work. Pass a damp patch through the hole and let it soak for as long as the instructions recommend. After that time has passed, take a nylon brush and scrub that shit off. You may be surprised at how much your groups adjust.
Tighten the screws
Over time and for a variety of reasons, the action bolts that attach a rifle receiver to the stock can loosen. This happens most often in large caliber rifles that generate a lot of recoil, but .22 LR rifles are not immune to the problem.
Make sure the action bolts are torqued to the specifications listed in your owner’s manual. If the manual does not list them, contact the manufacturer.
While you’re at it, make sure your scope rings and bases are snug as well. A loose scope doesn’t technically affect a rifle’s accuracy, but it does make it hard to hit anything.
Upgrading the trigger won’t make the rifle more accurate either, but it will help your Be more precise while shooting it. Anyone can hold a reticle or iron sights on the target. You miss because you can’t keep those sights on target while you pull the trigger. A crisp, consistent trigger can help keep things steady.
If you picked up an old squirrel gun at your local pawn shop, you may have trouble finding aftermarket trigger options. If that’s you, contact your local gunsmith and ask if they’ll work on your trigger.
If you have purchased a newer model rifle, you will have better luck. Timney makes triggers for the CZ 457, for example, and there are lots and lots of options for the Ruger 10/22. Of course, many new rifles come with great triggers from the factory (I’ve had great experience with Savage triggers), but you may still want to get that extra edge.
fire the rifle again
Recommendations 1 to 4 can be implemented regardless of your rifle. Changing the barrel of your gun is more complicated, but it’s also incredibly effective. Much of your rifle’s accuracy comes from the barrel, so changing barrels they can Instantly turn your squirrel gun into a tack driver.
If you have a Ruger 10/22 (or similarly designed rifle), that process is relatively easy. There are a plethora of aftermarket barrel options available along with a plethora of how-to videos on how to do it yourself. It doesn’t require any special tools, although you may want to let a gunsmith do it.
Other types of rifles may present more difficulties. A qualified gunsmith will be able to provide you with more information about your specific firearm. Some can be put back in the barrel without too much of a headache, although it can cost several hundred dollars. Other barrels are impossible to remove without ruining the receiver. In that case, you’ll just have to buy a new rifle (a real bummer, I know).
Don’t Bother: Trade Stocks or Recap Barrels
While upgrading a stock or re-crowning a barrel can certainly improve accuracy in extreme cases, it’s probably not worth the time or expense. If your stock isn’t warped or cracked and the barrel crown isn’t noticeably damaged, chances are none of the upgrades will give you the accuracy improvements you’re looking for. This is especially true of a low-recoil .22 LR rifle. If you’ve exhausted other options, maybe consider these two; if not, don’t bother.
If your .22 LR rifle isn’t accurate, it’s not the cartridge’s fault. Legendary rimfire has the potential to be exceptionally accurate, and there are several things you can do to reduce your groups and catch more squirrels. No strategy is foolproof, but even if you try everything and come across a lemon, you’ll still have fun playing with your rifle and spending a lot of time behind the trigger.