As a trapper, I’ve used a 22 to take more animals than I could ever count. I carried a 22 in the woods for years until I moved to bear county.
A 22 can easily kill small game. It can also kill medium and large game at close range with a skilled shot to a thin part of the brain cavity. A 22lr is adequate on animals under 15 pounds and marginal on animals 20-35 pounds under normal hunting conditions. Large coyotes and raccoons are often hard to kill with a 22.
Just when, where and how is a 22 best used? What are its practical limits? I’ve got real-world experience, numbers, and lots of information for you ahead.
What Can You Hunt With a 22?
A 22 is perfect for squirrels, rabbits, opossums, foxes, and other small-game animals under 20 pounds. It’s fine for the average raccoon and coyote, but larger ones may prove hard to ethically harvest, and hard to retrieve.
I pulled from my experience and put together a chart of small game animals and their recommended max distance for hunting with a 22lr.
|Animal||Max weight||Max distance with 22lr||Notes|
|Porcupine||40 lbs.||55 yards||The long quills across the body make it look bigger than it is, resulting in an easy miss. It’s hard to judge where the vitals are. Porcupines are slow, and won’t go far when shot well.|
|Raccoon||40 lbs.||50 yards||Raccoons have tough muscles and can have very thick fat. They can also run and climb fast and are hard to track. Recommended headshots only.|
|Coyote||35 lbs.||50 yards||Coyotes are fast. Unless a headshot is made, a coyote can run a long way and be impossible to find after being shot.|
|Bobcat||30 lbs.||50 yards||Just like a coyote, only headshots should be taken.|
|Fox||25 lbs.||50 yards||Smaller target than a coyote. Heart or lung shots will work, but headshots are recommended if you want to recover the animal.|
|Opossum||15 lbs.||75 yards||Small target, but tend to not run when shot. Thin-skinned and fairly slow. Head or body shots will do.|
|Rabbit||2-5 lbs.||100 yards||Rabbits are very small, light-skinned animals. They die easily from a 22.|
|Squirrel||1-2 lbs.||100 yards||Squirrels are tiny. A 22 will kill them easily with a body shot if they sit still for it. Shooting a squirrel with a 22lr is like shooting a deer with an elephant rifle.|
Some of these animals are just hard to recover if they don’t drop quickly. Some of them really are just getting too big for this cartridge. A 40-grain solid 22lr shot on a bad angle at a coyote probably won’t reach the vitals. The same goes for coons, porcupines, and bobcats. Been there done that.
Shooting a fleeing raccoon in the hindquarters with a 22 is a bad idea. You probably won’t kill the critter, and it will only live to suffer. If you only take a perfect broadside shot, you can stretch the max distance out a bit further.
When using small rimfires like the 22lr, the shot angle is uber important. Except on a rabbit or squirrel. You can shoot those at any angle on a center axis and they’ll be done. A lot of rabbits die quickly even with a gutshot from a 22.
When hunting, we want to consider not only the potential o an animal to die after being shot, but also if we as humans are creating unnecessary suffering. The responsibility of a hunter is to take the game as cleanly and quickly as possible and to recover the animal for meat and/or fur.
I’m not saying you can’t use one. I’ve killed tons of animals with my Ruger 10/22. I recently killed a 35-pound porcupine with my 22. That’s bigger than most northern coyotes. It can work, but you need to know how to make it work without just making animals suffer.
Can You Kill a Deer with a 22?
A 22 is not only vastly underpowered for deer, it’s illegal in all 50 states. Poachers routinely kill deer with a 22 by shooting the brain or brainstem from the side. It’s not recommended and should only be attempted in a survival situation.
A 22lr would never be considered a deer rife. In an extreme situation, it may have some merit. I do know it certainly can be done. You’d need to be familiar with the anatomy of a deer’s skull. A front-on brain shot may simply hit the sinus cavity, or ricochet off the snout.
A bullet to the brain, brain stem, or top 4 vertebrae will kill a deer outright. These targets are best reached from the side. If you want to know more about this, I wrote a full article on it. Here is the link.
Is a 22 good for Coyote Hunting?
The 22lr is underpowered for coyotes. Coyote hunters warn that a 22lr causes “run-offs” and dead coyotes that are unable to be recovered. Even the most powerful 22 ammo often fails to bring them down quickly.
A 22 often passes through a coyote without doing much damage, at least compared to dedicated coyote bullets. If a coyote doesn’t drop right to the ground, they often run far and hide underbrush where they will not be found.
A 22 magnum Is a fine choice for coyote hunting under 100 yards. It has over twice the energy of a 22lr and more penetration potential. If you are limited to a rimfire, I strongly suggest a 22 Magnum over a 22lr. it will give you much better results.
Let me put it in a different perspective. If we calculate bullet energy and the weight of the animal (and I did), shooting a 25-pound coyote with a high-velocity 22lr is equal to shooting a 150-pound deer at 250 yards with a 30/30. That’s with 40 grain Mini gags going around 1,250 fps.
If we used a 40-grain hyper-velocity like the Aguilla Interceptors (1,470 fps), it’s like shooting a deer at 200-yards with a 30/30. Either way, it’s a pretty far streach for that cartridge.
If you’d like to know more, I have a full-length article on “The Best 22 Ammo for Coyote Hunting”. Here’s the link.
Can a 22 Stop a Human?
In most self-defense cases involving a 22, a single shot stopped the situation. A 22 can kill a person as long as the bullet penetrates a vital organ, or major artery, or vein. Hits other than to the Central Nervous System and main arteries will not kill a person quickly. A 22 has killed people, but many more have been killed by 9mm pistols.
Best 22 Ammo for Hunting
The best 22lr Hunting ammo is Aguila Interceptor 40-grain hollow points. They are the most accurate and consistent of hyper-velocity 22lr ammo. For rabbits and squirrels, any 22 ammo with a published velocity of over 1,100 fps will do well.
“The best” is a little subjective, but it’s not far off. The Aguilla interceptors are on par with CCI Velocitor as full-weight hypervelocity 22lr ammo. The title of “best” goes to Aguilla because of their priming system.
They use the Eley priming compound and methods. Eley primed 22 ammo has a more even, more consistent burn rate, which leads to increased precision and more good hits. They have less of an extreme spread in velocity, and with peak pressure in the chamber.
Is a 22lr Good for Survival?
The 22lr is a poor choice for survival. It’s underpowered for large game hunting, predator defense, and self-defense. The 22 is easy to carry but lacks potential in too many situations to be a good survival rifle when compared to other available options like an AR-15 or 12-gauge shotgun.
Best 22 Ammo for Self-Defense
Aguila interceptors are the best 22 ammo for defense with a 22lr rifle. If using a pistol, Federal Punch is arguably the best 22 ammo for self-defense. Experts agree that the 22lr is not a good choice for self-defense and recommend against using it that way.
I made a video talking about this on my Youtube channel. You can watch it below.
What Makes a 22 so Deadly?
The 22 is lethal because it shoots a bullet with enough force to penetrate a skull or penetrate over 10 inches into a body. The 22 actually has a significantly lower death rate compared to other guns like a 9mm. The 22 is less deadly than most guns, but it is still lethal at times.
The 22 is deadly, but it isn’t as deadly as most other cartridges. Its low energy levels cause it to lack much killing potential. A 22lr doesn’t bounce around in a target. A bullet from a 22 doesn’t really ricochet of ribs either.