What is the Best Gun for Hunting Squirrels?

Here is a question nearly as old as the gun itself: what is the best gun for squirrel hunting? Unlike most game species—deer, birds, etc.—where the legal weapon of use is decided by your state’s Fish and Game Department, squirrel hunting offers leniency. There are no bow or muzzle loader seasons for the squirrel hunter. You have a choice. Here we will break down the best options and considerations for choosing your squirrel hunting gun.

 The .22

the .22

The Good: It’s a classic for a reason. I don’t know of any dedicated small-game hunter who isn’t familiar with the .22 caliber and hasn’t used it in the field. Models with a long-standing reputation, such as the Ruger 10/22 and the Marlin Model 60 are notoriously accurate, trustworthy, and affordable. Its small caliber size offers a quiet shot, cheap and available ammunition, and compactness which allows the hunter to easily carry twenty rounds or more in his pocket. To kill a squirrel with a .22 a hunter must be proficient in their shot. Many hunters enjoy this challenge.

The Bad: I find that the .22 does have one major disadvantage though. Unless you’re hunting ground squirrels, most of these critters are going to be up in a tree. Firing a rifle into the air at an angle can be dangerous. If you miss that squirrel up in its sparse oak tree, that .22 round can fly and who knows what or who it could hit. Firearm safety 101 will tell you this is poor practice. So, for safety, squirrel hunters who use a .22 will usually only take a shot if there is a clear backstop—like a tree trunk, for example. In my experience, getting in the perfect position where there is a tree behind the squirrel I’m about to take, isn’t exactly an exciting challenge, but a frustrating one. I’ve circled trees multiple times trying to find that perfect angle that is just not there. If I had a shotgun, I could’ve taken the squirrel fifteen minutes earlier. So, that leads me to my next squirrel hunting gun.


The Shotgun

the shotgun

The Good: The nice ol’ scattergun is just as utilized by squirrel hunters as the .22. It’s arguably safer. Of course, one should always be mindful of where their shot could potentially fly, but considering the terminal velocity of shotgun spray is significantly less than that of a rifle, the risk of stray shot hitting a home or person is greatly reduced. It’s common practice to shoot a shotgun into the air. Duck hunters often call themselves Sky Blasters.

Ree Dolly from Winter’s Bone once said, “You’ll think you can’t miss with a shotgun, but you can.” This is true, but every hunter would agree it’s a lot easier to miss with a rifle than it is with a shotgun. Shotguns have a spray. Perfect accuracy isn’t as essential when squirrel hunting with a shotgun. The two most common bores for squirrel hunting are the 20 gauge and the .410. Although, I’ve used a 12 gauge with 8 shot and found that it worked fine.

The Bad: Shotgun shells these days are harder to find than .22 shells, and they’re significantly more expensive, especially if you buy steel shot. A box of 25 shotgun shells could buy you a couple hundred .22 shells, and a couple thousand air rifle pellets. Shotguns are also loud. Some might not mind this at all, but others find the explosive bang irksome and a bit over-the-top for such a small animal. And finally, many hunters complain that shotguns cause too much damage to the animal. They don’t enjoy meat that is full of little pellets, or meat that is so ripped to shreds you can’t even eat it. Personally, I have found that shotguns aren’t all that destructive on squirrels, as long as you’re taking them from a fair distance and using lighter loads. But, to each their own.


The Air Rifle

the air rifle

The Good: Once just a toy for kids, the air rifle is becoming a growingly popular choice for small-game hunters. They’re accurate. They’re surprisingly powerful. Every day their technology seems to expand. And for me, most importantly, they’re easy to get your hands on. You can have an air rifle and thousands of pellets shipped to your door through any of your air rifle online retailers. No background check. No license. Air rifles are a simple, easy option and are absolutely effective at killing squirrels. 

The Bad: Air rifles tend to be a bit heavier and more awkward to carry than their .22 counterparts. The reloading process is also a bit more irksome. Furthermore, although the air rifle certainly has its place in the American outdoorsman’s tradition, many hunters find it doesn’t carry the same sentiment as a gunpowder-based firearm.



As it goes for most these ‘which is better’ type topics in the hunting world, this one has the same answer: it’s personal preference. The .22, the shotgun, the air rifle, heck maybe even a crossbow can make a great weapon for hunting squirrels. Using the guidance provided, I’m confident you can choose the one that suites you.

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About The Author
Joseph Sigurdson

Joseph Sigurdson is a writer, poet, and outdoorsman. His novel, Buffalo Dope, was released by Thirty West Publishing House in 2021. One of his articles on his first hunting dog won the Gabrielle Rico Challenge as well as a Pushcart Prize. He writes articles for various outdoor publications on hunting and its history. In his free time he hunts small game with his four dogs who he adopted off the street one cold winter in a remote Alaskan village. You can find him on Instagram at www.instagram.com/joesigurdson/