The .22LR cartridge is one of the most useful rounds ever produced.
.22LR can be used for just about anything—target shooting, recreation, training. It’s even viable for home defense. Though, it’s not necessarily the best option.
So it goes without saying that a .22 rifle is an excellent addition to your arsenal. But it makes sense that if you’re going to have a .22 rifle, you may as well get the best one you can get your hands on.
We’re going to cover that. But, if you’re in a hurry and need a quick answer, check this out:
OUR BEST CHOICE
The Ruger 10/22 is hands down the best overall .22 rifle you can get.
Moving on, if you’re still on the fence about buying one, here’s what makes them such great little guns.
Our Top Choices
What’s So Great About .22LR?
The main thing that makes this rifle so useful is the round it fires. Here’s why the .22 such a solid all-purpose round:
- It’s incredibly affordable. You can get .22LR for less than 4 cents a round. Enough said.
- It’s sold everywhere. Just about every sporting goods store and gun store in the United States sells .22LR. It’s even more common than 9mm.
- It’s effective. The .22LR is accurate and carries enough ballistic power to be useful in short range contexts like competition shooting and dynamic critical incidents inside your home.
Before I go on, I should note that .22LR is not the best round for defense or hunting. There are better options. 9mm is a better defensive round and a centerfire rifle round like .270 or .308 is better for hunting anything larger than varmint-sized game.
However, .22LR has enough power to be viable as long as you:
- Use a rifle. .22LR isn’t a big or fast round, so you’ll need the longer barrel for both muzzle velocity and accuracy.
- Use hollow point ammunition. .22 bullets are typically made of a soft metal like lead and waxed to reduce friction in the barrel.
- The soft metal is good. It deforms and usually stays inside whatever it hits, rather than punching all the way through. In fact, it’s fairly common for .22 rounds to ricochet off bone and cause wounds to multiple organs.
- Hollow point ammunition enhances this quality in a .22 bullet and gives .22LR enough power for defensive use.
So, can a .22 can kill you? Can a .22 can kill a deer? Yes to both.
But shot placement, weapon type, and ammunition type all play a large role in how well .22LR works for defense.
Also, if you plan on using a .22 rifle for home defense, make sure that you have the standard defensive kit (a sling and a flashlight) to go with it.
4. It’s versatile. One of the ways people take advantage of the price and availability of .22LR is by using it for competition and training. Not only is .22LR ammunition super affordable, .22 rifles are also very affordable, as far as rifles go.
There are plenty of conversion kits that enable you to use .22LR rounds in 5.56mm and 9mm rifles and handguns. So you can use .22LR to make it much more affordable to train and compete.
As you can see, there are a lot of potential uses for a .22 rifle. However, there are a few things to keep in mind as you get after it with your .22 rifle.
Considerations for Using .22LR
There are only two real drawbacks to look out for when you shoot .22LR. They can be summed up in two words:
The first stems from the fact that .22LR is a rimfire cartridge. The rimfire design is less reliable than the centerfire design. So, even with a very reliable firearm, you may still experience ammunition malfunctions.
The second consideration involves both ballistic performance and range. .22LR IS powerful enough to stop a person or animal, but only with good shot placement. If you plan to use a .22 rifle for home defense, you need to train a lot. A poorly placed shot with a .22LR most likely will not stop an attacker.
As for range, a .22 rifle will work just fine for short range tactical competition, training, or recreational shooting.
However, .22LR is ill suited for long range shooting. If you’re interested in shooting accurately beyond about 75 or 100 yards, you’ll need a larger round.
Now that you’re familiar with the .22LR round itself, it’s time to talk about guns.
We’ll start with the best .22 rifle of 2018, and follow up with some honorable mentions.
Best .22 Rifle of 2018
The Ruger 10/22 is also the best .22 rifle of 2018.
You see where I’m going with this.
The 10/22 has been around for decades, and it might be the best .22 rifle ever.
First, the 10/22 is as reliable as .22 rifles get. The design has been improved over the years to the point where it’s unlikely that the 10/22 could get more reliable.
Second, there’s a 10/22 for almost every shooting context. There are so many aftermarket parts and custom 10/22 builds that you can get 10/22s that look more like AR-15s than 10/22s. No matter what you’re doing, you can make a 10/22 work for you.
It’s worth noting that the 10/22 comes standard with an 18.5 inch barrel. Most modern models come with a synthetic stock to keep the weight down. The sights are standard steel, adjustable sights.
But none of this is set in stone. If you’d like to upgrade a part, there’s probably an aftermarket option for that.
The most common 10/22 upgrade is the receiver. The standard 10/22 receiver is not prepared to accept mounted optics. So many shooters get a notched receiver so they can use an optic with their 10/22.
To make the versatility even better, 10/22 rifles are super affordable. You can get a 10/22 for less than the price of most 9mm pistols.
The 10/22 is also a compact platform. This may not apply to everybody, but the 10/22 is small enough that most children can get a solid grip on the rifle.
Then, it’s also a fairly light rifle. It’s not the lightest .22 rifle you can get, but the 10/22 comes it at just 5 pounds. The low weight and small size make the 10/22 an excellent rifle for teaching children how to shoot safely.
One last thing to consider is that the 10/22 is built like a traditional semi-automatic hunting rifle. So if you’re looking to make your 10/22 tactically viable, you’ll most likely need to spend a few bucks on some upgrades and customizations.
There’s really no reason NOT to have a 10/22 in your collection. Across all calibers and firearm types, there are very few guns that provide as much value as a Ruger 10/22. That’s saying a lot.
Even though the Ruger 10/22 is the clear winner in the .22 rifle category, there are some other great options. These are the ones that give the 10/22 the best run for its money.
Best Tactical .22 Rifle
If you’re looking for a tactically oriented .22 rifle, the Colt M4 Carbine .22LR is the best base model to start with.
The obvious reason is the form factor. The M4 is built to look and function almost exactly like a true M4 carbine. It’s a great option for those who want an AR-15 style rifle for training but don’t want to pay the price of training with 5.56mm ammunition, or for introducing new shooters to the AR-15 platform.
The carry handle is removable and the standard handguards can be changed out for a rail system if you want to add optics or attachments to enhance the capabilities of your .22 rifle.
Since it fires a lighter round, the M4 is also exceptionally light, even by AR-15 standards. It weighs in at 6.3 pounds, which is plenty manageable for young shooters.
There are only a couple downsides to the M4:
The M4 sometimes has reliability issues. The M4 was originally designed for the 5.56mm round, so the .22 conversion isn’t failproof. Most malfunctions are related to extraction issues.
However, the M4 is still reliable enough for training, recreation, and even home defense if you’re proficient with your rifle.
The shooting experience isn’t exactly the same as shooting actual 5.56mm. Even though the M4 is an excellent training tool, if your primary rifle is a 5.56mm AR-15, you’ll still need to put some trigger time in with that one to maintain real proficiency.
So, the M4 isn’t a perfect replacement for a true AR-15.
But it’s still a solid addition to your collection that can help you save a lot of money and introduce shooters to one of the most venerable rifles in history.
Best Bolt Action .22 Rifle
Marlin is one of the great American firearms manufacturers. They’re mostly known for their hunting rifles. The Marlin XT-22 brings Marlin’s expertise with larger hunting rifles to the ultra-small caliber field.
The XT-22 is excellent for training shooting fundamentals and practicing for hunting season. The slow rate of fire and hunting rifle form factor force a shooter to concentrate on their trigger squeeze proper sighting practices.
Marlin equipped the XT-22 with an adjustable trigger and adjustable sights. So it’s also a great rifle for learning how to dial in your weapon.
All this makes the XT-22 an excellent option for young shooters and as a training platform for both new and experienced hunters.
The XT-22 is also drilled and tapped for a scope, so you can use it for training with your hunting optics as well.
Although it’s a great training tool, the XT-22 can be pressed into service as an actual hunting rifle. But, even though the XT-22 has a 22 inch barrel, the .22LR round is still only enough for small game like rabbits and squirrels.
Overall, the XT-22 is arguably the best option if your primary shooting context is hunting, or if you primarily shoot bolt action rifles.
Add to this that you can usually get the XT-22 for under $200, and you’ve got a really value-packed platform.
Best Semi-Automatic .22 Rifle
Mossberg makes some of the most revered shotguns in the world. They put all their expertise into the Mossberg 702 Plinkster.
Mossberg designed the 702 Plinkster specifically to deliver the balance, feel, and accuracy of a high-end rifle at a much lower price.
As such, the Plinkster is equipped with a free-floating barrel and and adjustable sights for precise inherent accuracy and a solid aiming system.
The receiver is also dovetailed so you can mount a scope on the Plinkster if you’re looking to get as much range as possible from your .22 rifle.
Mossberg built the 702 Plinkster with ergonomic controls that are more user-friendly than most .22 rifles. Left handers will find the Plinkster easy to use.
The build quality is outstanding, but the real standout feature of the Plinkster is the magazine. It holds 25 rounds.
There are very few .22 rifles that beat the Plinkster when it comes to magazine capacity. This makes the Plinkster a great recreational rifle, since reloading really isn’t that fun.
The only real downside of the Plinkster is that it’s not terribly customizable. Unlike the Ruger 10/22, there aren’t a ton of aftermarket parts for it. So the Plinkster may not be the best option if you’re looking for a platform to build a custom rifle on.
But if you’re looking for a great small game or plinking rifle that keeps you shooting instead of reloading, the Plinkster is an excellent option that comes at a really nice price.
Best .22 Rifle For Long Range
.22LR isn’t the best round for long range shooting. But, there’s no reason not to shoot it as far as you can, right?
The Volquartsen VM-22 is designed specifically to wring every yard of effective range out of the .22LR cartridge.
Volquartsen built the VM-22 around their Superlite Barreled Action and put a 20 inch barrel on it. The barrel is threaded to the receiver—he same way that high-end long range rifles are built—so that you can make accurate shots at the very edge of the .22 round’s capabilities.
For ergonomics, Volquartsen brought Magpul in for the stock. The Magpul X-22 Hunter Stock provides excellent ergonomics, even for left handers. The X-22 stock utilizes a pistol grip design with a more vertical grip angle for a more natural point of aim.
Additionally, the X-22 stock is incredibly light. The entire VM-22 rifle weighs in at only 5.4 pounds, which is light enough for any shooter, young or old.
The VM-22 comes with a picatinny rail for mounting optics, and an integral sling mount so you can mount everything you need for hunting or competition without buying any additional hardware.
Lastly, the VM-22 is fitted with a threaded barrel for muzzle devices like suppressors and compensators.
The VM-22 is an incredible rifle that really makes .22LR shooting the best it can be.
The only real weakness of this rifle is the price. The VM-22 costs more than many deer rifles. So this one is primarily for really serious .22 shooters.
But, the high price does buy you a lot of gun.
Best Budget .22 Rifle
Rossi built the Rossi RB22 to deliver the best performance at the best price. That’s why the RB22 is the least expensive rifle in this article.
However, that doesn’t mean that it’s the worst. The RB22 is actually well built and comes with a solid feature set.
First, the RB22 is equipped with a free float barrel, a feature usually found only on more expensive rifles.
Second, the RB22 is one of the lightest .22 rifles on the market. The synthetic stock and aluminum parts create a complete package that weighs just 4 pounds. As such, this is a great rifle to use if you take your kids hunting. It’s light enough that the little guys won’t strain to haul it around in the woods.
It’s also a great rifle for teaching children to shoot. The bolt action puts focus on shooting fundamentals and the light weight helps minimize fatigue so your kids get more practice without getting worn out.
The RB22 also comes with fiber optic sights so it’s easy to find the sights and line up shots quickly. The sights are adjustable so you can zero the RB22 for precision at specific distances.
The RB22 has a ten round detachable magazine, which is fairly standard for .22 rifles. But, the RB22 magazine protrudes from the bottom of the receiver. This makes the magazine easier to remove and insert than a flush-fitting drum magazine.
Where the RB22 comes up a bit short is in customizability. There are very few aftermarket parts for it. It’s also not fitted to accept an optic without some modification. So the performance cap for the RB22 is a bit lower than some other .22 rifles.
Despite this, the ergonomics and price of the RB22 make this rifle especially great as a training rifle for children to learn shooting safety and fundamentals.
Moving to the Extraction Point..
Each of the rifles mentioned here has its strong point. And depending on your shooting context, one of the honorable mentions might be best for you.
However, the Ruger 10/22 is the best all around .22 rifle you can get. It’s not specialized for any particular shooting context, but it does pretty well in almost all of them right out of the box. Plus, it offers the most options for creating your own specialized rifle, if you’re willing to make some modifications.
But, no matter what you plan on using it for, any shooter will benefit from having a .22 rifle in their collection.
So pick one up and have some fun!