Varmint rifles are popular; there’s no denying that. More shooters are taking to hunting everything from prairie dogs to coyote. Spending your off hours ridding someone’s land of vermin is usually a welcome pastime that landowners don’t always have time to do. Varmints are a destructive, invasive and generally unwanted group of pests most people would rather live without. So what’s the best tool for the job? It really depends on what you’re planning to eradicate.
The standard varmint rifle fills a gap between small .22 LR rimfire rifles and larger deer calibers. It is a sort of sweet spot where you get decent range, accuracy and flat trajectory all in one package. Ideally, a varmint rifle will have a few characteristics that set it apart from a smaller hunting rifle. Heavy barrels are a common inclusion. They allow for more accurate follow-up shots since they take longer to heat up. Often, varmint hunters utilize a fixed position and use more ammunition than hunters who stalk their prey.
Another useful addition is a magnified scope. Varmint hunters frequently face the difficult task of hitting small, fast-moving targets. Manufacturers generally also include free-floating barrels to increase accuracy as well. As far as actions go, most varmint rifles are bolt guns. However, the semi-automatic AR trend seeped well into the world of varmint hunting in recent years. Specialized AR varmint rifles are commonplace and some argue they fill their respective roles better than their bolt-action counterparts do.
Since accuracy is the most desired feature, the calibers chosen usually offer a flatter trajectory. This means the projectiles need to be small and fast. A lightweight bullet traveling very fast means that hunters won’t have to adjust their shots as much for bullet drop. Ammunition manufacturers often design the bullet to disintegrate on impact. This means all the energy from the round transfers into the animal, rather than traveling straight through. This creates a cleaner kill and less chance of wounding the critter in question.
The most popular calibers for varmints are usually part of three separate groups, beginning with the smaller, quieter calibers. They’re perfect for shooting vermin at closer range in more populated areas. Common choices are the .17 HMR, .22 WMR, .22 Hornet and .218 Bee. Inside of 185 yards, they get the job done perfectly.
At medium ranges, a little more beef is necessary. The .222 Remington is a nice choice and performs very close to the more popular .223 Remington. Both cartridges are solid choices and if I was only able to own one rifle, it would probably be a .223 Remington. A decent scope on a .223 bolt-action is one hugely useful tool.
For those shooters who are trying to stretch it out to the next county over, the .22-250 is an amazing piece of hardware. In my personal experience, .22-250 rifles perform extremely well for varmint hunting, offering a nice balance of power and accuracy. Other options include the .220 Swift, .223 WSSM, .243 Winchester and the 6mm Remington. Some of these rifles share the distinction of being useful deer and hog cartridges as well. In particular, the .243 Winchester has a long-standing reputation as a useful all-around cartridge for anything up to large hogs.
Serious varmint hunters have to use their specialized tools to make extremely accurate shots at great distances—often while the target is on the move. This means the shooting skills required to be successful are greater than some other forms of hunting. Choosing the proper rifle will help, but it takes a lot of practice to be a proficient varmint exterminator. Check out our varmint rifles and see if one fits you. Those pesky critters won’t stand a chance.