The .22lr rifle has been a staple of American shooting culture for generations. In forms ranging from small youth rifles, to full size replicas of modern military arms, survival, target shooting, military training, recreational shooting, and even self defense, the .22lr rifle has earned a place in the hearts and gun safes of millions. This wild popularity, leads to one constant question; what is the best 22 rifle in 2021?
In our attempt to answer that question, we will look at the most popular uses of the .22 and offer our choices. We have considered nearly every production .22lr rifle available, and using a combination of financial cost, reputation, user reviews, quality of design, and a little bit of old fashioned gut instinct to make our choices. Take a look, and see what you think.
Best 22 Rifle Comparison Table 2021
The Best .22LR Semi Auto Rifle
Choosing the best .22LR semi auto rifle is extremely difficult. There are a number of very popular rifles made by well known companies on the market. Both the Ruger 10/22, and Marlin Model 60, quickly come to mind, along with offerings from companies like Mossberg and Remington.
Ruger 10/22 Carbine
The almost default choice is to select the Ruger 10/22, and for many good reasons. It is probably the single best selling semi auto .22 on the market. It has an incredible aftermarket support. In fact, it is possible to build a 10/22 style rifle without a single Ruger part in it. With a large number of aftermarket stocks, barrels, magazines, trigger assemblies, and even custom receivers- plus fun things like fake tactical accessories and even mounts that turn a pair of 10/22’s into a poor man’s Gatling gun, it is easy to see why this is such a popular .22.
On top of the aftermarket support, Ruger sells a number of 10/22 variants, including a pistol, and a takedown version. Not only is there is a 10/22 for every occasion, they have even been used by the Israeli Defense Force as a suppressed sniper rifle and riot control weapon. Sounds like a pretty incredible semi auto .22 doesn’t it?
But despite being used from everything from combat to casual plinking, the Ruger 10/22 isn’t the only semi auto .22 on the market, and some shooters will even decline to give it the title of “best .22lr semi auto rifle.” Instead, there are a lot of people who favor the Marlin Model 60.
Marlin Model 60
The Marlin Model 60 is widely considered to have superior out of the box performance. Many shooters believe that it offers a better trigger and better accuracy than a stock 10/22. With that in mind, persons with little interest in customization or modification will purchase a Marlin and simply put their favorite optic on it.
With that in mind, one could say the best .22lr semi auto rifle is the Ruger 10/22 if you want to customize or modify it, and the Marlin Model 60 if you want superior out of the box performance at a slightly lower cost than a stock 10/22. Either way, both rifles are a fine choice, and it might just be worth buying one of each!
The Best .22LR Rifle for Hunting
The .22lr has been used for hunting ever since it was designed. It is a supremely viable small game cartridge, and even in one freak incident been used to kill a grizzly bear. Certainly it has been used and misused for all manner of hunting, and that makes selecting the best .22lr rifle for hunting difficult.
Any decently accurate .22 can be used for common hunting, and that covers the vast numerical majority of .22’s made over the last hundred plus years. So how do we narrow it down?
Cost is always a consideration, however there are many fine rifles in upper and lower price ranges that will do the job. Types of actions are important as well, but mainly for personal tastes. However there are a few things that should matter on the best .22lr hunting rifle in 2021.
- All weather construction: Polymer stocked guns offer superior protection when hunting in less than perfect conditions.
- Accuracy: This needs little explaining. An inaccurate rifle is no good for hunting.
- Good iron sights: While many hunters prefer scopes or other optics, the short range of the .22lr means a lot of folks still will just use their iron sights.
- Built for accuracy. While minute of tin can is “good enough”, an ethical hunter will choose a more perfect rifle whenever possible.
With those points in mind, the ideal choice for best 22 rifle for hunting is the Ruger American Rimfire Compact.
Ruger American Rimfire Compact
The all weather polymer stock will withstand any weather conditions you might choose to be hunting in. What is especially nice is the fact the Ruger American Rimfire Compact also has an adjustable comb on the stock, shipping with two different combs which can be installed. This can change both the length of pull and make it easier to use with iron sights or optics.
This rifle also includes the special Ruger Marksman Adjustable Trigger which allows for fine tuning the trigger pull to your ideal specifications. This is important in a hunting rifle, because a light trigger improves accuracy.
The shorter barrel on the Ruger American Rimfire Compact might be a problem on centerfire hunting rifles, but it is more than sufficient to develop full accuracy and power for the .22lr. This leaves you with a lighter, handier rifle to carry in the woods, and is less likely to leave you frustrated with the weight of a heavy rifle.
In addition, this rifle is equipped with a built scope mounting grooves for standard rimfire optics, and drilled and tapped for Weaver style bases, making it possible to mount pretty much any sort of scope you might want.
All these factors, plus an affordable price come together to make the Ruger American Rimfire Compact the best .22lr rifle for hunting.
The Best .22LR Bolt Action Rifle
We’ve already looked at one very fine bolt action .22 rifle, but is it the best .22lr bolt action rifle? And how do we determine what makes an ideal .22 bolt action? There are many different types of .22 bolt action rifles, ranging from simple single shot youth rifles, to extremely expensive Olympic grade match rifles that cost many thousands of dollars.
The advantages of a bolt action rifle lie in their inherent accuracy. Because the gun isn’t cycling an action at the same time a round is traveling down the barrel, it is possible to build a more accurate rifle using a bolt action gun. Without the different movements of the gun on firing that you find in a semi auto rifle, a bolt action gun is capable of far superior accuracy.
For the purposes of answering the question of the best .22 bolt action rifle, we’ve settled on a few simple criteria.
Is it affordable? High end match rifles are wonderful- and priced beyond most shooter’s wallets.
Is it practical? There are unusual bolt action rifles on the market from small manufacturers or imported from Europe or other parts of the world. While they may be fine rifles, there is no assurance parts or support will always be available.
Is it accurate? Nobody loves an inaccurate rifle.
And lastly, we’ve decided that the best .22lr bolt action rifle should also be physically attractive.
With that in mind, we’ve settled on the CZ 455 Training Rifle.
CZ 455 Training Rifle
Built with Old World style and craftsmanship, the CZ 455 is a rifle unlike any other. Not only can it be converted to .17 HMR with a barrel swap, but it is designed to serve the needs of all .22 bolt action rifle shooters, it ships with a 5 round magazine, you can get 10 round magazines or evena single shot adapter for training new shooter. This fine rifle features precision iron sights, is easy to scope and comes with an adjustable precision match grade trigger unlike any on the market today. Retailing for around $400 it is a worthy investment that is an heirloom grade rifle for the generations.
The Best .22LR Tactical Rifle
It is true that the .22lr is no combat round. However, .22 rifles have found their place in riot control guns, survival rifles and training guns in militaries around the world. They have also been widely built into close copies of full power military combat rifles for the purpose of civilian training, collecting and creating affordable replicas of rare or unusual arms.
We consider a .22 tactical rifle to externally resemble a full power military or tactical gun. It should be semi automatic, feature removable magazines, ideally have a threaded barrel, and should readily mimic the controls and feel of it’s more powerful cousins.
So what is the best .22lr tactical rifle? For starters, we are going to disregard .22 caliber AR-15’s, for the sole reason that we are going to examine those in a different category. We will also disregard .22 AR uppers for the same reason.
There are inexpensive AK-47 and AR-15 lookalike rifles imported from the Philippines. These are fine rifles and quite entertaining in their own right, but not quite refined enough for our purposes. Frankly too, a .22lr tactical rifle should be fun, because they exist mainly for training or entertainment. With that in mind, we want a “cool” .22 rifle, something that looks good in the gun safe and is good wholesome fun at the range.
Sadly, restrictive laws in some areas govern how a rifle looks, and many .22lr tactical rifles might run afoul of so-called “assault weapons” laws, so we want a gun that is both tactical and won’t cause the owner to run afoul of gun control gone wild. That rifle is the Kel-Tec SU-22.
Built to mimic the centerfire SU-16 series, the SU-22 comes with all sorts of great tactical features. The muzzle is threaded and can accept a silencer. AR-15 lookalike magazines that hold 26 rounds, and 10 round magazines are also available. An AR style handguard, top Picatinny rail for optics, and a folding stock round out the package. Uncommon, practical, tactical and easy to modify to suit your unique needs, this is a marvelous all around gun that is sure to be a hit at the range, and easy to dress up as tactical as you might want.
The Best .22LR AR Style Rifle
The AR-15 is America’s rifle. It is the modern day Winchester, and has captured the hearts and minds of millions of law abiding citizens who enjoy a practical, modular and modern firearm. Because of that, it is only natural for folks to want the best .22lr AR style rifle.
Here is where it is needful to have a frank conversation. Pretty much any .22 AR style rifle is going to be a blowback gun using AR-15 stocks, handguards, pistol grips and maybe a few other bits and pieces. The receivers invariably will be cheap polymer or inexpensive alloy. They are built using well established technology, common .22 magazines, and a good number of off the shelf parts.
What this means is that there is little to set any .22 AR style rifle apart from another, outside of price point, brand name and external looks. Because of this, we first must ask, what makes the best AR-15 style .22 rifle?
If we start by accepting that any rifle made by a reputable manufacturer is going to be roughly equal in accuracy and function, then what is left? Sure there is prestige in having a Colt or Smith and Wesson branded rifle. And you can get different guns with various cosmetic enhancements. And because they use many parts in common with real AR-15’s, the ways to configure your .22 AR style rifle is nearly limitless.
So what is the best .22lr AR style rifle?
Well, all things considered. Price, brand, consumer options, quality, and a bit of random chance, we settled on the Smith and Wesson M&P 15-22 Sport.
Smith and Wesson M&P 15-22 Sport
No other .22lr style AR rifle comes with so many high end features. Featuring Magpul MBUS folding iron sights, M-Lok compatible handguard, a standard AR-15 stock and pistol grip, and much more, this is a rimfire rifle packed with features that normally command a premium on AR-15 rifles. This is an ideal gun for training on an AR-15 style rifle without spending the money on ammo. The controls, and build mimic a standard AR-15, and you could even build a rifle to match your .22. What’s not to love?
The Best .22LR AR Upper
Fast on the heels of the best AR style .22lr rifle is the related question of what the best .22lr AR upper is. Because the AR-15 is a very modular rifle and you can change calibers with the push of a couple pins, many shooters have wisely chosen to simply purchase a dedicated .22lr upper for their favorite AR-15. Here too we have wild controversy. There are simple adapters that turn a standard 5.56mm upper into a .22 rifle.
The biggest problem with these conversion kits is that you get limited practical barrel length and they can be picky about ammo and the type of hammer installed in your lower. However, they are a simple solution that requires only swapping out your bolt carrier group, which leaves you training with the exact same rifle you normally shoot.
Their fairly affordable price is also attractive. For about $260 you can quickly convert your rifle to .22lr and it even ships with a mag.
CMMG - AR-15/M16 22LR Bravo Conversion Kits
Another choice is a dedicated .22lr upper. By simply swapping out uppers and magazines, you turn your AR-15 into a .22 rifle. Some of the best .22 AR uppers are made by Chiappa Firearms, and are reasonably priced. With multiple choices available, you can pick the .22 upper that best suits your needs. And if you decide to change the handguard later on to something else, that will be easy enough too.
The best .22 rifle for the money
Having looked at a number of fine .22 rifles already, we are left with what may be the most difficult question to answer. What is the best .22lr rifle for the money? Many people would argue with very good cause that rifle should be the Ruger 10/22 or Marlin Model 60. But first we need to consider what criteria would answer this question?
Certainly cost is a consideration. With that in mind, we decided to only consider rifles around $250 or less. Anything more than that is drifting into specialty rifle territory, and we have to find a quality all purpose rifle here.
Another important consideration is the type of action. Semi automatic .22’s are very common and popular. But so are bolt action .22’s, and at the end of the day, does it really matter? The joy of a .22 rimfire is the inexpensive ammo and the ability to sit and shoot for hours on end with relative ease compared to more powerful centerfire guns. Certainly then, the type of action isn’t as important as the quality of the gun.
A good all purpose .22lr should also be accurate, and useful for hunting, plinking or general target practice. It should be an every person’s rifle and should do most anything you’d want from a rifle. In fact, this gun should fulfill any purpose of a .22 outside of elite level target shooting. You might think this is a pretty tall order to fill, but we found such a rifle.
Savage Arms B-Series Bolt-Action Rimfire Rifles
Savage Arms has been building inexpensive, high quality .22 rifles for several generations. Even today, many of their single shot rifles from the 1930’s and 40’s can be had at a low cost, and will hold their own against any modern rifle. Their legacy of building high quality, affordable rimfire rifles holds true today with their B Series rifles.
These bolt action rifles feature a 10 round rotary magazine, a stock carefully designed to enhance accuracy and performance, an adjustable match grade trigger, scope mount, premium quality iron sights, and an easy handling 21” barrel.
Sure it lacks the shiny factor of this month’s trendy semi semi auto, but it is hard to beat a quality Savage bolt action rifle.
The Best .22LR Target Rifle
This time we are going to pull out all the stops. The best 22 rifle for target shooting should be among the finest of its kind that money can buy. Price isn’t an object here, because the object is to find a precision marksmanship tool that is several steps above other mass produced guns.
The best .22lr target rifle therefore will be built for exactly one task, and that is match target shooting. It should be a bolt action rifle due to the superior accuracy potential of that type of platform. It should be readily adjustable to fit the shooter’s body, built by a company with an undisputed reputation for quality and performance, and should be recognized as a leading standard in target rifles.
Now, there are many rifles that fit that category. Some come with unique aluminum and polymer chassis stocks. Others are more traditional. None are as legendary as the Anschutz Model 1903. https://www.anschutznorthamerica.com/store/p43/1903_Target.html
Anschutz Model 1903
The fact the Anschutz 1903 can be had in left and right hand variants was an important consideration for best .22lr target rifle. However, there are a lot more important reasons for this choice.
Anschutz has been building high quality sporting rifles since the 1850’s. This history of success allows them to craft what many consider the gold standard for competition shooting.
The Anschutz 1903 is a single shot .22 which can be fitted with various types of precision iron sights or optics. It features an adjustable match grade trigger, butt pad with adjustable length of pull, adjustable hand stop, and adjustable stock comb. This all combines to allow a shooter to perfectly fit their Anschutz 1903 to their body and preferred shooting methods.
With a suggested retail price around $1400, make no mistake, this is an expensive rifle. It is also the proven rifle of champions and one of the most perfect platforms to practice .22 target shooting with. Few other .22 target rifles compare, and none have the enduring reputation of an Anschutz, making this our pick for the best .22lr target rifle in 2021.
The Best .22LR Lever Action Rifle
Lever action rifles hold a special place in the hearts and minds of shooters. Forever linked to the mythology of the Old West, lever action rifles are the stuff of romance, glamour and a tangible link to the legends of westward expansion in North America. For that reason, lever action rifles have remained popular even to this day, but aside from being cool, they are also practical. The simple manual operation of a lever action rifle is easy to master, and with practice, it is very easy to remain on target while cycling a round.
However popular lever action rifles remain, there are surprisingly few .22 lever action rifles on the market today. The famous Marlin 39A has been relegated to a limited run rifle, making it hard for people to acquire. If more widely produced, we would have been hard pressed to make another choice for best .22 lever action rifle. However, we must sadly pass this icon over.
Browning builds several fine lever action .22’s, and they are worth every penny of their premium price. However, their price detracts from making them accessible to the average consumer. While there is always a place for a prestigious brand lever action rifle, built to high standards and made to be a work of art as well as a functioning rifle, lever action rifles were historically working rifles. We want a working rifle at a working person’s price point.
Henry Classic Lever Action .22
Enter the Henry Classic Lever Action .22. Advertised as “Made in America and Priced Right”, Henry boasts of selling over a million of these rifles, making it without a doubt the best .22 lever action rifle today. Priced right at well under $300, these no frills, no gimmicks rifles are the true spiritual successor to the lever actions that helped shape America.
Featuring a genuine walnut stock, hooded front sight, grooved receiver for scope rings, incredibly smooth action, a large loop lever, and an unbeatable lifetime warranty, you will be hard pressed to find a better lever action .22 for the money. And if you want to spend a little more money, Henry offers a number of premium .22 lever action rifles that hold their own against anything on the market today.
The Best .22LR Pump Rifle
Just as the lever action rifle is an enduring American icon, so too is the pump action .22. Once the mainstay of shooting galleries, and popular with shooters who wanted something nicer than the usual .22 bolt action rifles of the day, rimfire pump action rifles are a bit of a forgotten breed, appreciated by shooters who like good things in life, and enjoy the timeless sound of racking a .22 shell into the chamber of their walnut stocked, blue steel rifle.
Today, there are precious few .22 pump action rifles sold on the market. They are complicated to make compared to other popular rimfire designs, and have a smaller market than other types of guns. When contemplating the best .22lr pump rifle, we considered a few special things.
Because these rifles have a place in American culture, we knew from the beginning that the best .22 pump gun will be something special looking, something that you could take back in time a hundred years and nobody would even notice it being different. It would have to have classic styling, and be made by people who care about shooting heritage.
Remington Model 572
Remington’s model 572 BDL filled most of that bill. Remington is an old, honorable company, and they build fine rifles. Their pump action .22 is second to none in quality, and built to last generations. It is also over $700 and features more modern pump action styling. No, as great as this rifle is, we want something different, and so we again look to the good people at Henry Repeating Arms.
Henry has built a reputation and a business out of classically styled .22 rifles, and they pay close attention to what their market demands. And their market demands true classics that turn back the pages of time to a different era. Their Pump Action Octagon .22 is just that rifle.
Stocked with walnut and made in the USA, this rifle has an old fashioned octagonal bore, traditional buckhorn sights, a 16 round tube, advanced safety features, and with a suggested retail price well below $600, it is within the reach of shooters who want a traditional rifle without buying an antique.
The Best .22LR Takedown/Survival Rifle
Takedown rifles have been popular for as long as somebody figured out how to make a rifle come apart in two pieces, and go back together safely and easily. Takedown rifles soon became popular with hunters, travelers, and even those who enjoy the novelty.
As a survival rifle, takedown .22’s have been wildly popular. Many modern takedown .22’s are designed to stow under aircraft seats or in boats. These survival rifles are intended for small game hunting, signaling and even light self defense in case of being stranded in a wilderness environment. They are also popular with backpackers who want to bring a rifle with them, but don’t want to carry a traditional rifle.
Because there is some overlap between traditional survival rifles and takedown rifles, we are going to consider two different rifles here. A takedown rifle is not always used for survival use. In fact many are bought for the novelty factor, or ease or storage. They may also be used as survival rifles, but may require additional modification to be suitable for that purpose.
Two of the most popular .22 takedown rifles is the Ruger 10/22 Takedown and the Marlin 70PSS. Of the two, the Marlin has been in production for decades, and ships in a floating foam filled case. Designed to be corrosion resistant, it is an ideal gun for a saltwater environment, although the design is a bit dated and somewhat crude. However, it is a solid gun, but not the best .22 takedown rifle. That title must go to the Ruger 10/22 Takedown Lite.
Ruger 10/22 Takedown
Built around the famous Ruger 10/22 action, this lightweight takedown rifle features a threaded muzzle for attaching a suppressor or other muzzle devices, making it the ideal choice for a hunter’s backpacking rifle. The stock features an adjustable comb, making it easy to fit to individual shooters, and ships with a lightweight ventilated handguard. There is no other mass produced takedown rifle that is as feature rich and supported as the 10/22 Takedown Lite.
Now let’s look at survival rifles. An odd and ill defined class of gun, a survival rifle is really exactly whatever gun you choose to carry for hunting and protection when leaving civilization. However, there is one .22 survival rifle that stands out among all others on the market, made notable by the many decades it has remained in production, and that is the Henry US Survival Rifle.
Henry US Survival Rifle
First introduced in 1959, this brainchild of Eugene Stoner, inventor of the AR-15, has become the default survival rifle for private pilots, boaters, hikers, and those who travel outside of the comfort and safety of civilization. Originally designated as the AR-7, the updated, modern version by Henry includes a scope ready receiver, three 8 round magazines, and the entire gun breaks down and fits into the stock, which when properly sealed up also floats. What more do you want out of a basic, affordable and reliable .22 survival rifle?
The Best .22LR Scope
Having looked at all sorts of the best 22 rifles on the market today, we have a couple other things to examine. For starters, now that you have your rifle, what is the best .22lr scope to put on it?
Selecting a scope is a tricky and personal matter. Many .22 scopes are little more than 3/4” tubes with minimal magnification. Good enough for shooting tin cans on a sunny day, and little else. On the other end, there are rimfire scopes costing many hundreds of dollars. Between the two there is reality.
After much consideration, and after pouring over dozens of different scopes, we settled on one near universal rimfire scope that is affordable, reliable, and holds up well to regular use.
BSA Sweet 22
The BSA Sweet 22 is an affordable scope, often available for about $40. The 3-9 magnification is sufficient for any close or long range shooting a .22 is capable of, and the 40mm objective lens delivers an exceptional sight picture. Backed by a limited lifetime warranty, this scope mimics the configuration of many popular centerfire scopes, making it easy to transition between your favorite .22 and your hunting rifle.
The Best .22LR Ammo
Because .22lr ammo is often sold in inexpensive bulk packs of hundreds or even over a thousand rounds, it has become a popular cartridge for teaching new shooters, and casual shooting. Certainly capable of taking small game, and proven to be accurate enough for match shooting, this little cartridge can be had in all manner of configurations suitable for cheap blasting, to precision shooting. Which then begs the question of what the best .22lr ammo is?
Our instinct is to reach for a brick of Federal .22 or even the once much maligned Remington Thunderbolt. Both of these rounds are great all day plinking rounds, and Remington has greatly improved the performance of the Thunderbolt. In fact, really any brand name, bulk pack .22 should be sufficient for your afternoon of shooting.
And while it is true some guns favor certain ammo over others, the low cost of .22lr makes it easy toat figure out what your gun likes best. But we aren’t here to talk about inexpensive bulk ammo, no matter how much it warms our hearts to burn through a brick of .22 on a summer afternoon. No, we are after something a little bit better.
And that is the CCI Mini Mag.
CCI Mini Mag
Sure it costs more, but this isn’t all day shooting ammo. This is higher quality ammo designed to deliver superior performance and power. While still inexpensive compared to centerfire ammo, the CCI Mini Mag is outstanding where reliability in semi automatic .22 rifles and pistols is a concern, and the superior choice for most small game hunting. So when you are grabbing a box of bulk ammo, be sure to grab some Mini Mags too, and use them where accuracy and performance is what matters the most.
The best .22lr rifle is always going to be a subject of debate. We looked at a number of fine rifles, and didn’t even mention a great many more. It is all but impossible to declare one .22 to be the best of a type, and when dealing with modern name brand guns, consumer brand preference remains an important factor.
Buying a gun is a personal choice and an important consideration. Reviews help shape how you view a gun, but nothing beats handling it in person in the store. We looked at and handled many guns, and are pleased you are considering our opinion on this matter. .22’s are affordable rifles, and easy to acquire. It may be that you choose to buy a couple different .22lr rifles. Or it may be that you disagree with everything we said here and choose a different gun altogether. But that is ok. What matters is the journey and the gun, and we hope our suggestions have proven valuable to you.
Remember to use shooting ear protection to protect your ears from damage when shooting.
Steve Coffman is a consulting historian presently researching the dark history of the Washington State Secret Service, and their concerted assault on civil rights in Washington State 1917-1919.