Best 22LR Rifles for Plinkers, Hunters, and Survivalists

by Travis Pike

May 3, 2021

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No armory, arsenal, or collection is complete without some form of 22LR rifle. The venerable 22 Long Rifle earned its fame by being one of the smallest, most efficient cartridges known to man. It’s the most successful rimfire cartridge known to man and became super popular due to its affordable price point, its low recoil, minimal noise, and the fact it’s super fun to shoot.

22LR rifles are and always have been superbly popular and come in all shapes and sizes. You can find semi-auto rifles, bolt actions, lever actions, single shots, pump actions, and heck, even revolving cylinder actions. With so many rifles out there, it can be tough to find the right one for you.

The good news is I’m here today to show you the best 22LR rifles out there and to give you the best rifles for the specific categories 22LR rifles excel in.

The Little Plinker That Could

Way back when sodas only cost a nickel, the 22LR came to be. Building and improving upon the 22 Long, the 22LR came to be in 1884. Since then, the round has improved a bit, but ultimately it’s still a rimfire round designed for a few specific purposes. These days the round uses smokeless powder and modernized projectiles but still excels in a number of categories.

The little 22LR absolutely dominates the world of rimfire rifles. Newer, faster, and more effective cartridges exist, but they’ve never outclassed the 22LR. Reason being is while those new rounds deliver some serious potency, they can’t match the efficiency of the 22LR when you factor in ammo availability, useability, rifle selection, and of course, cost.

Why does the 22LR rule? Well, first off, it’s cheap, super cheap. Even the best 22LR rounds still cost a lot less than any centerfire ammunition. 22LR varies in quality and also varies in price, but it’s always cheap.

22LR rifles provide a very soft shooting experience. They deliver very soft recoil, very little concussion, and deliver excellent performance for the price and size. Even small children can handle the 22LR with ease. I’m betting most shooters who started as kids have stories about 22LR rifles as kids.

Some of my fondest memories are being a kid with a 22LR rifle putting holes in Coke cans under the watchful eye of my dad. The super-low recoil and low cost of ammunition made it an excellent option for new shooters.

Even shooters who begin as adults benefit greatly from a 22LR rifle. I taught a very nervous young lady basic shooting fundamentals with a 22LR, and after a few shots, her fears subsided. She expected it to be loud, to have excessive recoil, and to be hard to control. After her fears subsided, she became quite the shot.

The Realms of the 22LR Rifle

As a small-bore, lightweight projectile powered by a low powder charge, the 22LR is limited in its usefulness. It’s hardly the best option for self or home-defense. It doesn’t do well-hunting anything beyond small game and certainly won’t win long-distance awards.

Like anything, the 22LR excels in the roles that suit it, and it occupies a number of roles well. First, as mentioned, it’s perfect for training new shooters. It’s also very affordable, making it perfect for training and informal shooting. 22LR rifle competition presents one of the cheapest shooting sports out there.

It’s also capable of taking numerous small game critters. Squirrels, rabbits, and similar animals quickly become stews with a well-placed 22LR projectile. For pest removal, snake defense, and similar tasks, the little 22LR excels.

Lastly, for survival purposes, the 22LR rifle is an excellent choice. With rifles and ammo as light as this, it’s easy to put a rifle and 300 rounds of ammo in a backpack without adding a ton of weight. Plus, the 22LR cartridge works well for taking small games and even for some limited self-defense in the brush roles. When used correctly, the noise of a gunshot can be a signaling device.

Best 22LR Rifles by Category

Best 22LR Rifles

RifleDetailsCheck Price
Best Overall

Ruger 1022
Ruger 10/22
  • Modular
  • Reliable
  • Jack of all trades
Check Price
Best Training

SW MP 1522
S&W M&P 15-22
  • Replicates AR-15
  • Ergonomic
  • Fun to shoot
Check Price
Best Hunting

Tikka T1X
Tikka T1x
  • Extremely Accurate
  • Lightweight
  • Refined and well-made
Check Price
Best Fun Gun

Henry Classic Lever
Henry Classic Lever
  • Cowboy style lever action
  • Fun gun from the Wild West
  • Accurate and reliable
Check Price
Best for Kids

Ruger American Compact
Ruger American Compact
  • Built-in irons
  • Adjustable LOP
  • Uses 10/22 Mags
Check Price
Best Survival Rifle

Chiappa Little Badger
Chiappa Little Badger
  • Folds in half
  • As compact as it gets
  • Fascinating design
Check Price
Best For Targets

CZ457 Varmint Chassis Featured Image
CZ 457 Varmint Precision Chassis
  • Extremely accurate
  • Easy to adjust
  • Modern handling
Check Price

REVIEWS OF THE BEST 22LR RIFLES

#1 Ruger 10/22 : Best Overall

Ruger 10/22

The Ruger 10/22 sets the standard for what a 22LR rifle should be.

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Ruger 10/22 Specs

  • Capacity 10-25
  • Weight 5 pounds
  • Length 37″
  • Action Semi-auto

RUGER 10/22 BACKGROUND

There is no better example of the 22LR rifle than the famed Ruger 10/22. With over 7 million sold, the Ruger 10/22 sets the standard for semi-automatic 22LR rifles.

My own 10/22 has been kicking around for more than a decade and what has to be tens of thousands of rounds with no real issues.

It’s a superbly reliable action that eats through the cheapest of ammo types with little issue.

Ruger produces tons of different models, including a carbine, rifle, take-down models, and many more. Ruger produces a 10/22 for everyone and for every purpose. The Ruger 10/22 takes its place as the best overall because it can be used for essentially every purpose under the sun.

A Ruger 10/22’s capabilities include hunting, survival, plinking, target practice, pest control, and as a teaching rifle for new shooters. Ruger 10/22s can be dressed up and down to improve ergonomics, accuracy, and overall function.

The Ruger 10/22 offers you an affordable rifle that can fulfill the need of nearly any shooter. It might not be the top of the line or the best in any specific category, but it’s more than suitable in any 22LR rifle role.

RUGER 10/22 PROS AND CONS

  • Affordable
  • Versatile
  • Reliable
  • Expensive extended factory magazines

RUGER 10/22 Gun Deals

#2 S&W M&P 15-22 : Best For Training

S&W M&P 15-22

If you’re looking to “get good” with an AR-15 without all the extra expense, this 22LR is the perfect training rifle for you.

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S&W M&P 15-22 Specs

  • Capacity 25
  • Weight 4.8 pounds
  • Length 33.8″
  • Action Semi-auto

S&W M&P 15-22 BACKGROUND

Let’s be real here, the vast majority of gun owners own some form of AR 15. Gun manufacturers pump AR 15s at an unbeatable rate, and the gun-buying public picks them up at nearly any price point.

With that in mind, 5.56 ammunition gets expensive. When it comes to training on the cheap, the 22LR provides a hefty source of ammunition at a low price point.

The S&W M&P 15-22 takes the standard AR 15 format and chambers it into 22 LR. A lot of AR 15 based 22LRs look like AR 15s but do not function as actual AR 15s. The M&P 15-22 effectively mocks up a AR 15 nearly perfectly.

This rifle provides shooters with a weapon perfect for training for reloads, malfunctions, accuracy, and drills on the cheap. Direct impingement is gone and replaced by a simple blowback system that functions well with 22LR ammunition. Everything from the magazine to the size of the rifle mocks the typical AR 15 design.

The biggest difference will be in recoil, muzzle rise, and the rifle’s weight. Other than that, the M&P 15-22 mocks a AR 15 perfectly and makes for an awesome training rifle and a very fun plinker.

S&W M&P 15-22 PROS AND CONS

  • Mocks an AR perfectly
  • Affordable
  • Lightweight and ergonomic
  • Blowback action causes fouling

S&W M&P 15-22 Gun Deals

#3 Tikka T1X : Best For Hunting

Tikka T1X

Looking to take down smaller game? This light bolt-action rifle from Tikka is exactly what you need.

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  • Reliability A
  • Accuracy A+
  • Shootability A
  • Ergonomics B+
  • Value A+

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Tikka T1X Specs

  • Capacity 10
  • Weight 6.3 pounds
  • Length 34.75″
  • Action Bolt

TIKKA T1X BACKGROUND

Tikka made a big name for themselves by producing high-end bolt action rifles enjoyed by hunters around the world.

As Tikka’s first 22 LR rifle, the T1X had one mighty expectation to live up to.

Luckily, the T1X lived up to the reputation of both Tikka and Finnish firearms designers with this superb rifle.

Like most Tikkas, the T1X excels in the accuracy and ergonomics department. Both quite critical when it comes to small game hunting. Tossing an optic on the T1X requires little effort, and once done, you have a powerful option for head-shotting squirrels, rabbits, and even coyotes. The bolt is smooth as butter, and the trigger delivers an extremely satisfying experience.

The Tikka T1X also shaves off a good bit of weight. Hunting small game often requires lots of movement, and a light rifle ensures you can track tree rats all afternoon and not feel tired. When tracking those tree rats through the trees, the rifle’s lightweight design ensures you don’t start shaking due to muscle fatigue.

As far as bolt action rifles go, the Tikka T1X might be the most accurate out-of-the-box rifle for hunters.

Check out our full review on the Tikka T1x

TIKKA T1X PROS AND CONS

  • Superbly accurate
  • Lightweight
  • Excellent trigger
  • Comb height

Tikka T1X Gun Deals

#4 Henry Lever Action 22LR : Best Fun Gun

Henry Lever Action 22LR

There are few things more satisfying than a lever-action 22LR.

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Henry Lever Action 22LR Specs

  • Capacity 15
  • Weight 5.25 pounds
  • Length 36.5″
  • Action Lever

HENRY LEVER ACTION 22LR BACKGROUND

If you don’t give a rush of dopamine every time, you work the lever of a lever-action rifle; I’m afraid you might hate joy.

There is something so fun about shooting lever-action rifles. Henry has been making my rimfire dreams come true for decades now with the Classic Lever Action design. And with over a million sold, I’m not the only one who loves the design.

Americans are born with a piece of inherent knowledge and adoration for lever-action rifles. Lever action rifles often shoot expensive calibers, like 45-70, so getting that dopamine hit is expensive. Or is it?

Working the lever of a 22LR delivers the same dopamine rush as a larger caliber. The Classic Lever Action design makes me wanna saddle up and play cowboy. It’s tons of fun, super accurate, and easy to shoot. It’s a super simple design that delivers not only a very fun but very capable rifle.

It’s fun to shoot but also effective for hunting, training new shooters, and any other tasks you need a 22LR for.

HENRY LEVER ACTION 22LR PROS AND CONS

  • Super fun to shoot
  • Quite accurate
  • Very reliable
  • Slow to reload tubular magazine

Henry Lever Action 22LR Gun Deals

#5 Ruger American Rimfire Compact : Best For Kids

Ruger American Rimfire Compact

Rimfire rifles are an excellent way to safely introduce kids to properly handling firearms.

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Ruger American Rimfire Compact Specs

  • Capacity 10-25
  • Weight 6 pounds
  • Length Integrated Backup Trition Iron Sights
  • Action Bolt

RUGER AMERICAN RIMFIRE COMPACT BACKGROUND

I chose the Ruger American Rimfire as the best kids rifle for several reasons.

For safety’s sake, I like starting new shooters on single-shot or manually operated weapons.

Manually operated weapons also tend to be more reliable while being very affordable. You can use the cheapest, crappiest ammo and still keep the gun running. The Ruger American Rimfire also uses 10/22 magazines, so they are available everywhere at all price points.

Ruger’s compact variant utilizes iron sights that are open and easy to shoot with. Ruger wisely designed the rifle with a short youth-sized length of pull, and the gun weighs a mere 5.3 pounds.

Kids get interchangeable stock modules that allow you to extend the LOP as the shooter grows. Accuracy is tough to beat when you combine a great bedding, a cold hammer-forged barrel, and an adjustable trigger. You’ll have young shooters popping tin cans, steel targets, and more before you know it.

RUGER AMERICAN RIMFIRE COMPACT PROS AND CONS

  • Adjustable ergonomics
  • Excellent accuracy
  • Perfect for smaller shooters
  • Bolt is somewhat stiff

Ruger American Rimfire Compact Gun Deals

#6 Chiappa Little Badger : Best Survival Gun

Chiappa Little Badger

This rifle is perfect for stashing away in the event of emergency or wilderness survival.

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Chiappa Little Badger Specs

  • Capacity 1
  • Weight 2.9 pounds
  • Length 31″
  • Action Single shot

CHIAPPA LITTLE BADGER BACKGROUND

Survival rifles come in numerous shapes and sizes with a wide variety of different roles.

For off-road trucking, ATVing, mountain biking, hiking, kayaking, and more, a folding 22LR can be quite valuable. The Chiappa Little Badger is perfect for survival use and delivers shooters an incredibly compact folding rifle that folds in half.

The Chiappa Little Badger is extremely cheap and perfect for stashing for emergencies. This single shot, hammer-fired rifle delivers surprising performance. The peep sights are a nice touch, the quad rail allows for optics and accessories, and the threaded barrel is perfect for a suppressor.

The gun looks like a guy made it out of pipes in his garage, but it functions and does well. The Chiappa Little Badger delivers as compact a rifle as you can legally get. You can fold this light and thin rifle up and toss it in a backpack and forget about it till you need it. It’s not great for other tasks and can be outperformed by most rifles on this list.

However, they don’t get much smaller than this.

CHIAPPA LITTLE BADGER PROS AND CONS

  • Super lightweight
  • It folds in half
  • Out of the box ready
  • Poor ergonomics

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#7 CZ 457 Varmint Precision Chassis : Best Target Shooter

CZ457-Varmint-Chassis-Featured-Image

CZ 457 Varmint Precision Chassis

Whether it’s competition shooting or just target practice, this CZ takes the cake.

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  • Reliability B+
  • Accuracy A+
  • Shootability A
  • Ergnomics A+
  • Value A-

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CZ 457 Varmint Precision Chassis Specs

  • Capacity 5
  • Weight 7 pounds
  • Length 39.9″
  • Action Bolt

CZ 457 VARMINT PRECISION CHASSIS BACKGROUND

Someone once said, “CZ, you come for the handguns, but stay for the rifles.” That statement presents my exact experience with CZ.

Rifles like the CZ 457 Varmint Precision Chassis rifle provide you with one of the most modern and most accurate 22LR rifles out there.

The CZ 457 was already a winning design, but the addition of the Varmint Precision Chassis takes it above board.

This chassis allows you to customize the rifle’s stock for the individual user to a rather absurd degree. CZ used the famed Luth-AR stock that’s quite popular with the precision crowd. It might look heavy, but it’s honestly rather light. Not that it matters for most target shooters.

Featuring a buttery smooth bolt action and an adjustable trigger ensures you receive a high-quality experience with every shot. You’ll be producing teeny tiny groups with little effort, and if you’re not careful, the rifle will make your ego grow. CZ proved once more that they could keep pushing their designs forward.

Check out our full review of the CZ 457 Varmint Precision Chassis

CZ 457 VARMINT PRECISION CHASSIS PROS AND CONS

  • Adjustable trigger and stock 
  • Extremely accurate
  • Suppressor ready
  • Far from cheap

CZ 457 Varmint Precision Chassis Gun Deals

BECOMING A RIFLEMAN (OR WOMAN)

Now you know all about 22LR rifles, and you hopefully have narrowed your options down based on use. I know it’s tough when many amazing 22LR rifles exist, so keep in mind you can always have more than one. This is America and all.

Now that you’ve chosen a 22LR rifle or are on your way to choosing a 22LR rifle, we have a little extra information for you. This will ensure your success with any 22LR rifle and make the ownership experience a good bit smoother.

ALL ABOUT 22LR AMMO

22LR utilizes a rimfire primer. Most modern cartridges use a centerfire primer that’s prominently placed in the center of the cartridge. Due to the small size of the 22LR’s case, centerfire isn’t possible, so it’s stuck with that rimfire system. Rimfire is old tech and was replaced by centerfire largely due to the unreliability of operation.

22LR often has a higher number of ‘duds’ than centerfire cartridges. You’ll have to expect a click when you should hear a bang. It’s the nature of the beast, and even the highest quality 22LR ammunition can present duds.

Speaking of, 22LR ammo varies widely in quality. Cheaper bulk ammo tends to be less reliable and more prone to duds, poor cartridge seating, lower accuracy potential, and often poor cycling in some semi-autos. 22LR ammo was not designed for semi-auto rifles, so it’s wise to look for ‘hot’ ammo to ensure the blowback actions function correctly.

Ammo liked Federal Automatch, CCI Stinger, CCI AR, Aguila Super Extra, and Eley High Velocity offer better performance at a minimal addition to recoil. Some high-quality ammo might not function well in semi-autos when it’s labeled subsonic.

These rounds keep the projectile’s speed below supersonic and eliminates the crack associated with supersonic rounds. Subsonic rounds are perfect when paired with a suppressor for the ultimate quiet rifle. They tend to work best in manually operated rifles.

When putting your 22LR rifle to the task of hunting, consider high-quality ammunition with a copper jacket and hollow point. This ammo is not only more reliable but penetrates deeper and expands to ensure a safe and humane kill.

THE MANY DIFFERENT 22 ROUNDS

Projectiles .22 inches in diameter tend to be quite popular, and in the rimfire world, we get four total 22 caliber rounds. We have the 22 Long Rifle, as mentioned extensively in this article, but also the 22 Long, the 22 Short, and 22 Magnum.

22 Long Rifle is not compatible with 22 Magnum, and the rounds won’t chamber or fit in most rifles and magazines. 22 Long and Short can be chambered and often fired safely in 22LR rifles. As always, refer to your manual to ensure compatibility. Be warned they won’t fit in most 22LR removable magazines.

In tube-fed rifles, using these shorter cartridges can grant you higher capacity but tend to underperform and be somewhat uncommon compared to the classic 22LR.

CLEAN YOUR RIFLE!

Sorry to yell, but I got to make a point here. 22LR rifles get dirty quick, real quick. They also tend to get fired a ton due to the cheap ammo and the fact you can buy it by the hundreds of rounds for less than 30 bucks.

Semi-autos, in particular, get nice and gummed up if ignored over a long period of time. The dirty little rounds leave a mess behind. A little CLP or Hoppes No.9 combined with an AP brush, rag, and bore brush can go a long way.

Bore cleaner and a bore snake or bore brush are also a must. Soft lead 22LR projectiles leave bits and pieces of projectile behind. This lead in the bore and rifling will degrade accuracy over time. Clean it, oil it, and you’ll keep shooting it for years to come.

THE VENERABLE 22LR RIFLE

I can describe sufficiently how much fun a 22LR rifle is. As I write, this ammo is tough to obtain, yet my stash of 22LR keeps me entertained without worry. I own several 22LR rifles and will likely own several more. Having a 22LR in the armory means worry-free shooting that often remains unconstrained from financial burden.

Plus, we can’t forget their overall usefulness as training rifles, pest removal rifles, and the means in which I plan to obtain rabbit stew this fall.

What’s your favorite 22LR rifle? Let us know below.

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About Travis Pike

Travis is a former United States Marine Corps Infantryman and currently a firearms writer, instructor, and works in Emergency Management.

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