The .22 LR is often underrated and mistaken as a child's gun. It is, however, a very versatile and practical round, earning its place among the top five calibers sold in the USA.
Given its versatility and low cost, every arsenal should have a .22 rifle. Pretty much every non-specialist firearms manufacturer produces at least one model of .22, leaving hundreds to choose from. Below we outline the best .22 rifles on the market today.
At a Glance: Our Top Picks for .22 Rifles
Comparison of the Best .22 Rifles
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Why Are .22 Rifles So Popular?
Most people's first experiences with a firearm are with a .22 rifle, but this venerable round isn't just for kids. Most survival rifles are chambered in .22LR.
In extreme circumstances, a .22 can be used to take down medium or large game with careful shot placement. In normal circumstances, the .22 is an often underrated varmint round that doubles as the ideal target round.
It even has an advantage over centerfire rounds in home defense, as over-penetration is unlikely. In all of these use cases, the .22 enjoys the advantages of being the cheapest ammunition available and offers the ability to pack more rounds into a given space than almost any other caliber.
Aspects to Consider When Buying a .22 Rifle
As with all firearms, the main thing to look for in a .22 is accuracy and long-term reliability at a reasonable price. Accuracy mostly, though not entirely, comes down to barrel quality. Hammer-forged barrels are often touted as a selling point. In reality, quality depends more on the standards followed in the manufacturing process rather than which process, such as cut rifling or button rifling, was used.
Build quality, design, and material selection determine reliability, while also contributing to accuracy. We live in a world of space-age polymers and aluminum alloys. The traditional bias for machined steel and walnut doesn't always equate to a reliable and accurate firearm.
Some of the best guns use polymer, aluminum, or injection-molded steel where appropriate to keep costs down while using top quality components where it matters. Unless you are looking for a showpiece and status symbol, don't be put off by the inclusion of a few components that aren't made of machined steel.
Design not only partly determines reliability, but also offers a specific set of functions. The basic types of action are bolt-action or semi-auto. The main benefit of a bolt action is long-range accuracy. The .22 is a short-range cartridge, so there is no reason not to enjoy the benefits of a semi-auto action, especially given the affordability of the round.
Not all semi-auto actions are created equal, however. Some designs have a reputation for proven reliability, and some manufacturers have better implementations of those designs. Below are our picks of the most reputable and outstanding models available.
How Accurate is a .22 Rifle?
Within its effective range of around a hundred yards, the .22 can be very accurate. Although it may have a reputation as a kid's gun, the .22 is used in top-level competitions such as the Olympic biathlon. The accuracy-to-cost ratio of the .22 is exceptional. The round benefits from a total lack of recoil. This means that there is no chance of developing a flinch that would ruin your aim.
It also means that quick follow-up shots can be just as accurate as the first one. As the most-sold caliber worldwide, the quality of .22 rounds available on the market varies wildly. Despite lacking the inherent accuracy of a centerfire cartridge, even cheaper .22 ammo is usually more accurate than the shooter. The quality of ammunition will be evident more in reliability than in accuracy, though you will get what you pay for in accuracy to some degree as well.
Review of the Best .22 Rifles
There are limitless models of .22 LR rifles on the market today and it can be very hard to know how to pick the best one for your needs. Quality and value for money vary wildly, so follow our guide to find a .22 rifle that you will never regret buying.
Ruger 10/22 Carbine Semi-Auto Rimfire Rifle with Stainless Steel Barrel
No one should be surprised to find a 10/22 at the top of this list. These have been some of the top selling and most ubiquitous firearms in the USA since their release in 1964. They are also possibly the most customizable guns on the market today. If you are not happy with some component of your 10/22, fear not, there are dozens of after-market alternatives to choose from. In fact, it is possible to build a 10/22 entirely from after-market parts.
When a gun has remained not only popular, but on top of the game for over fifty years, you can be sure that the design, build quality, and accuracy are beyond reproach. Ruger produces about a dozen versions of the 10/22, depending on the year, which themselves come in a dizzying array of finish and stock options. For all practical purposes, however, the stainless 10/22 Carbine is simply the best.
There is no need to lug around a heavy bull barrel on a .22 and modern gunpowder negates the need for anything more than a carbine-length barrel. The stainless steel with a synthetic stock is the perfect combination for a bomb-proof gun that will take whatever abuse you throw at it and come out swinging. This model comes with the standard ultra-reliable ten-round rotary magazine, extra-accurate two-screw plus V-block barrel-mounting system, gold bead front sight, and scope mount.
This is the most rock-solid variant of the most popular, versatile, and reliable .22 rifle on the market today. You simply can't go wrong with this 10/22.
Best for the Money:
Henry US Survival AR-7 Semi-Auto Rimfire Rifle
Are you a fan of Eugene Stoner? Who isn't? Before the legendary gun designer changed the world with the AR-15, he revolutionized survival rifles with the AR-7. The AR-7 is a semi-auto improvement on Stoner's earlier bolt-action AR-5. Originally intended as an emergency rifle for military pilots that had to punch out over unfamiliar terrain, the AR-7's design is ingenious.
The barrel, receiver, and two included eight-round magazines fit inside the buoyant stock, behind a butt pad that acts as a waterproof seal. The rifle can be assembled in seconds without tools and is surprisingly ergonomic and well-balanced.
The steel barrel has a unique plastic coating to prevent corrosion. The front sight is a high-viz orange blade, while the rear sight is an aperture, offering better long-distance accuracy than open sights.
As ingenious as this rifle is, proper ammo choice is important for it to work reliably. Round-nosed bullets work better than flat-nosed ones. Also, as the feed ramp is part of the magazine, and therefore exposed when not seated in the receiver, it is susceptible to damage.
At 3.5 lbs. the AR-7 is ideal for packing around in a backpack or anywhere weight or space is an issue. On the downside, it means that this rifle is not meant for long days at the range; it serves best in its intended role as a survival rifle in emergency situations or as a backup. It is a great gun to have around, just not as your main, every day .22.
The Henry AR-7 excels at what it was designed for, emergency survival situations. It is an ingenious design and is great for long backpacking trips or as a backup. It is a fun curiosity to have around and an interesting piece of firearms history.
4. Smith & Wesson M&P 15-22 Sport Rimfire Rifle
This is as close as you can get to a genuine assault rifle chambered in .22 LR. The Smith & Wesson M&P 15 is an affordable AR-15 for the military and police market, hence the name. The centerfire version is an outstanding, serious tactical weapon.
This is an excellent pedigree for a .22 rifle. The .22 version shares the same manual of arms as its centerfire parent, including field stripping. It even shares the same trigger group, although it lacks a forward assist or dust cover, neither of which are necessary on a .22. There is a shell deflector for the benefit of lefties.
The rifle benefits from two wildly popular Magpul accessories, an M-LOK compatible handguard and folding MBUS aperture sights. It comes with two-inch M-LOK rail panel for easy accessory attachment and a 25-round magazine. The stock is a six-position CAR stock, providing a natural fit for any shooter. The 16.5" carbon steel barrel is chrome-lined and sports an Armornite finish.
Shooting a Smith & Wesson M&P 15-22 is some of the most fun you can have with a firearm. It is a great practice gun you can use to train yourself to use any AR-style rifle. It will excel at any task to which a .22 rifle can be applied, whether plinking, varmint hunting, competition shooting, or home defense. Don't be put off by the polymer receiver. If you want a great quality, exceptionally accurate AR-style rifle that you can shoot all day long without breaking the bank on ammo, look no further.
5. Browning SA-22 Grade I Semi-Auto Rimfire Rifle
If there is one firearms designer who is more revered than Eugene Stoner, it is John Moses Browning. No one has designed so many firearms that are still household names and market leaders over a hundred years later.
The Browning SA-22 is to this day the Cadillac of .22 caliber rifles. This take-down model is nothing if not elegant. It is the .22 version of an aristocratic shotgun, appreciated for its fine walnut and engraving options. Lefties will love the SA-22 for its downward eject. This also leaves a greater surface area on the side of the receiver for engraving.
The SA-22 is unique among tube-magazine-fed rifles in that the magazine is oriented backward, through the stock. The shooter twists the follower end at the butt to retract it and then loads the shells through a port in the side of the buttstock. The sighting arrangement includes a brass bead front sight and a folding leaf rear.
This is a gorgeous, top-flight, rock-solid varmint hunting rifle that doubles as an effective take-down survival rifle. In this case, the take-down design results in zero compromises in reliability or accuracy. At the same time, unlike a 10/22, this is not a gun that you can throw in the back of your truck and forget about.
If you want a fine showpiece and icon of firearms history that will serve you and many later generations admirably, this is it. If, however, you want a faithful, knock around rifle that you're not afraid to scratch, scroll up.
5. Marlin Model 795 Semi-Auto Rimfire Rifle
The Model 795 is one of the 10/22's top competitors. The 795 is a slight improvement on Marlin's venerable Model 60, first released in 1960 and as much of an American classic as the 10/22. The improvement is the switch from a tube barrel to a detachable box magazine. This makes reloading safer and faster.
Given its pedigree, the 795 is an incredibly good value for money. It also has almost half the weight of the 10/22 and is usually slightly more accurate out of the box. The heavy, spongy trigger will take some work to make it satisfactory, however.
The overall build quality doesn't match the 10/22 and therefore neither does the reliability. You will experience more jams than with a 10/22, but this can be minimized with cleaning and ammo selection.
It works best with high-velocity ammo. It is an easy rifle to clean. The magazine and sights leave something to be desired, but these can be adjusted or replaced. There is also an integrated rail for a scope mount. Note that the length of pull is in the 'youth' category. Butt pads or spacers can bring it up to the proper length for an adult.
At the end of the day, this is a classic .22 rifle and an amazing bargain. It's not as customizable as the 10/22 but it is, on average, slightly more accurate. This is a great truck gun or knock-around workhorse, especially if you have a lot of varmint work to do.
Outside of shotguns, .22 LR rifles offer some of the greatest joy and bang for your buck that you can get with a firearm. They are also eminently suited to a wide variety of practical applications, varmint hunting and plinking foremost among them. The best .22 rifle for you will depend on exactly what your intended use is. No matter what that may be, you will be hard pressed to find an option better than those on our list.