Guns & Weapons

Best Varmint Rifle: Finding A Good Rifle for Varmint Hunting and Control

Varmint rifle
Andrew McKay
Written by Andrew McKay

If you are dealing with nuisance animals or you are interested in long-range hunting of vermin, you are going to want to have the best varmint rifle. Vermin control is important for the health of livestock, crops, and for the prevention of disease.

Varmint hunting is also for the purposes of amusement, rifle practice, and while one’s first thought maybe that vermin include rats and mice, the scope of animals that are covered under the term varmint is much larger. With an appropriate weapon on hand and the ability to use the weapon safely and efficiently, you will find it easy to implement nuisance control or to enjoy the excitement that comes with vermin long-range hunting.

Types of varmint

Since the early 1530s, the terms vermin and varmint have been in use, both of which have been used to refer to the infestation of foods with insects and/or worms. In fact, the two words, varmint and vermin, are rooted in the Latin vermis meaning worm. The formal reference for nuisance infestation is vermin. The term varmint means different things and its meaning is dependent upon a number of factors.

Types of varmint

The term is culturally defined and some states define what constitutes vermin while simultaneously imposing regulations for vermin control. The list of animals that fall under the categorization of a nuisance animal can therefore differ from one country to another and from state-to-state.

Target practice

Varmint hunting most often involves the pursuit of smaller mammals, and not for the purposes of consuming the animals for food. The animals that are most commonly identified as varmint include a variety of small game and predators:

Nuisance AnimalReason Hunted
·         Arachnids

·         Beavers

·         Bed bugs

·         Cockroaches

·         Crows

·         Fleas

·         Groundhogs

·         Lice

·         Muskrats

·         Pigeons

·         Porcupines

·         Rodents

·         Snakes

·         Squirrels

·         Termites

·         White ants

 

Non-hunted vermin include a large scope of different organisms. These nuisance animals are often destroyed in order to prevent the spread of disease or injury to animal, livestock, or the destruction of food crops. On occasion, some may become an invasive species.

 

·         Australia – rabbits

·         Galapagos Islands – goats Prince Edward Islands – Cats

·         Urban/suburban vermin – cockroaches, mice, and rats

Locations/Culturally defined vermin identified as varmint due to the excessive spread of a species. Such animals may be hunted to get population numbers back under control.

 

·         Badger

·         Bobcats

·         Cougars

·         Coydogs

·         Coyotes

·         Foxes: Goshawk

·         Owls: Snowy, Screech, Barred, Horned

·         Raccoons

·         Snakes

·         Snapping turtles

·         Sparrowhawk weasels

·         Wolverine

·         Wolves

These animals are sometimes viewed as predatory as they have a history of killing off farm animals.
·         Hares

·         Lagomorphs

·         Pikas

·         Rabbits

·         Rodents

Sometimes damage pastures and crops.

Varmint rifle attributes

A person who engages in varmint hunting, either for the purposes of controlling pest population, dealing with unwanted pests to protect the environment, habitat, crops, and plants, or for the sheer challenge of the hunt, is sometimes referenced as a varminter.

A hunter may also engage in varmint hunting when looking to protect livestock and animals on farmland; for example, the varminter might want to protect chicken from fox, sheep and goats from wolves and coyotes, or ducks from weasels and raccoons. In some cases, varmint hunting is necessary for protecting domestic pets like dogs and cats from the likes of coyotes, bobcats, skunks, raccoon, coydogs, fox, weasels, fishers, and opossum.

Varmint rifle attributes

When it comes to hunting vermin, there are rifles that prove ideal for making the most efficient, effective, and ethical kills. The types of weapons one will use will depend on the animal hunted. The animals considered varmint are, not only regulated by special laws with minimal regulations, but vermin are regionally defined. Consider for example, burrowing animals like prairie dogs and groundhogs, which can wreak havoc with one’s property, landscaping, and garden.

The animals are fast and difficult to get close to before they take off running, so the varminter will require an accurate long-range rifle for use in pest control operations: This being the case, Varminter rifles or the best varmint rifles will have highly specific characteristics making them best for the unique challenges varmint control poses:

  1. Velocity & trajectory: The ideal varmint rifle will have the appropriate characteristics in terms of external ballistics, meaning the trajectory (the physical path of the expelled projectile) produced by the projectile is flat and the bullet is expelled from the rifle at a high velocity.
  2. Minimized projectile penetration: In terms of the characteristics of the terminal ballistics, the varminter’s bullets are lightweight and do not penetrate the prey deeply.
  3. Acidized attributes: The varmint rifle is one that offers impressive accuracy and ease in hitting small targets, either at close or long range with equal effectiveness.

About rifle caliber

Basically, for all intents and purposes a varmint rifle is one that serves as a firearm of small caliber. The weapon is an air gun that is high powered and really used for the sole purposes of varmint control. If you were to compare the varmint gun with other weapons it would serve as a bridge weapon between the .22 caliber long rimfire weapons and bigger, more powerful game rifles.

The most common rimfire weapon is, in fact, the .22 long rifle, is good for dealing with vermin, but may be mildly underpowered for some of the smaller predators that a varmint rifle would do well to handle.

.220 Swift rifle

You won’t need heavy ammo to pursuit varmint, but you will need a gun that delivers a fast shot: A lot of varmint, such as groundhogs and other rodents will dodge underground in burrows long before you can get within a 100 meters or so of the animal. With a bullet that is fast and a rifle that serves up the flat trajectory, there is less dependence on estimations of range or distance as this feature is less critical to getting the actual shot fired with accuracy.

The varmint rifle that will be capable of doing a good job will have a speed that is faster than 910 meters per second or 3000 feet per second. To that end, some rifles like the .204 Ruger and the .220 Swift rifle can go as fast as 1200 meters per second or 4000 feet per second:  Both weapons are superb options for a long shot. In fact, both weapons have the flat trajectory one desires across a long distance at a high velocity: That is the equation for an excellent varmint rifle of choice.

History of varmint rifle use

The .204 Ruger and .220 Swift rifles are but two varmint rifles used throughout history, and are not the only weapons that serve up the speed and flat trajectory desirable when hunting varmint. The emphasis on a flat trajectory is critical and cannot be overstated: A difference of a mere five centimeters up or down and you can miss out on the kill of the varmint in question. These same bullets come with a speedier rate of disintegration, less particle ricochet production, and therefore serve up the fastest kill possible.

Following the First World War the .22 Caliber rifle was becoming the most coveted weapon for the varminter. However, for those who wanted to pursue varmint at a distance of greater than 100 meters, the .25-06 Remington, 6mm Remington, and the .243 Winchester rifles grew in popularity for their speed and accuracy over the long range. Several calibers do an ample job of rounding up varmint: It is never a bad idea for the varmint hunter to have a choice of weapons and to have more than one caliber for the hunt.

.243 Winchester rifles

Interestingly, when it comes to shooting different varmints, this is an area of hunting where several calibers that are actually smaller than the 5.56 meter weapon (.22) are in use. Some of the smaller caliber rifles used for killing varmints includes the 4.5 mm .17 caliber gun and the .17 Remington.

The .204 Ruger

The .204 Ruger is also a small caliber option that hunters seem to having a liking for because it uses such small rounds. Alternatively, if the varmint hunter is seeking weapons that are perfectly suited for short range firing, and by short range one defines it as 90 meters or so, the .`17 Hornady Magnum Rimfire, the .223 Long Rifle, and even the .17 Mach weapon will do well. Bear in mind that the muzzle serves up slower projectile motion that can result in both subsonic and supersonic transitioning: This diminishes one’s accuracy.

.17 Caliber weapons

WeaponBest Use
.17 RemingtonThe bore sized on this weapon is .117 and it easily surpasses the speed of alternative rifles like the Swift. Bear in mind this weapon relies on light ammunition, and these bullets can have their trajectory changed by high winds. Nevertheless, in calm climates the .17 Remington can achieve 350 meters with ease.
.17 Remington FireballThe case of this weapon is based on the 221 Fireball. The rifle is akin to the 17 Mach IV Wild with the bore of the weapon is a .177 bore size. When using a bullet weigh 20 grains can achieve speeds of 4000 feet per second, and if the bullet is 25 grain at 3850 feet per second, you end up conquering a ground of at least 250 meters.
.17 Remington HornetThis is a mid range varminting rifle and is akin to the 22 Hornet while bridging the gap between the .17 Hornady Magnum Rimfire and the .204 Ruger. You get a quieter recoil, which means more comfort when having to perform repeat shots or the kill of multiple varmints. The .17 Hornet, when used with a 20 grain  ballistic tip can get 175 to 250 at a speed of 3550 feet per second. Due the light caliber, again, wind can be an issue.
.17 Hornady Magnum RimfireThis weapon is perfect for the short range  shot. Shot with a Ballistic tip of 17 grain it achieves up to 175 feet at a speed of 2550 feet per second. Use a bullet with a 20 grain  hollow point and you get 2250 feet per second. Wind remains an issue with this weapon.

.22 Caliber rifles and more

WeaponBest Use
6mm & .25 Caliber varmint riflesWith the better wind control of heavier ammo, these weapons became popular for varmint hunting. The most coveted of this group are the 25-06 and the 243 Winchester. These weapons have more recoil and noise, but offer up superior performance in windy conditions.

 

 

.223 RemingtonA typical weapon used by military forces around the globe, this is the most common weapon used for going after varmint too. With the .223 Remington, when coupled with the 55 grain  bullet, you can cover 300 meters at 3200 feet per second. The main issue with the use of the .223 Remington is that it proves less than ideal for going deer.

 

220 SwiftIf you are looking for the leading when it comes to varmint rifles, then the 220 Swift rifle is surely one of your best bets. The weapon is louder, bigger, and speedier than the .204 Ruger and can conquer 3950 feet per second or more with a 55 grain projectile headed for a threshold of 350 meters. If you want this weapon to work at its best, you will require a 26 barrel.

 

.222 RemingtonThe .222 Remington when operated with a 50 grain projectile promises you the ability to achieve 225 meters at a rate of about 3100 feet per second. Many varmint hunters still prefer the .223 Remington to the .222.

 

 

.22-250 RemingtonThe .22-250 uses up quite a bit of powder because it is a larger cartridge. It will move a projectile of 55 grain at speed of 3800 feet per second and you will easily achieve 350 meters in the process. Of course, with the greater degree of powder use you can anticipate a bigger recoil and a lot more noise.

 

 

.22 Winchester Magnum RimfireAnother varmint rifle option: Use this rimfire cartridge with a 40 grain bullet and you will cover about 140 meters at 1850 feet per second. There are some newer 30 grain tips that can go 2200 feet per second too.

 

 

.204 RugerAkin to the Remington Magnum previously mentioned, this weapon has a case that is necked down to the bore size of .204. Use a V-Max 32 grain tip and it will go an astounding 4225 feet per second. Use a 40 grain head and it slows down just about to 3900 feet per second, but you will achieve at least 400 meter weapon, thereby making it one of the best varmint rifles in the industry.

Varmint rifle accessories

To make the weapon you choose even more efficient, there are a number of varmint rifle accessories you can choose. The accessories available make it easier to use your weapon and make it easier for you to hunt during specific times of the day, at various locations, or specific predatory animals. The accessories you can and should consider include, but are not limited to, the following:

Scopes:  The general rule when choosing a scope for your varmint rifle is that the larger the scope is the better it will be for you when it comes time to target your prey. For weapons up to a .223 Remington, a scope with a four to 16 variable is necessary for optimal results. If you are going beyond the .223 Remington , you can opt for scopes that are 24, 32, and 40 power magnification.

Varmint rifle accessories

Mounts: Yes, you need a mount to put the scope on the varmint rifle and you want a mount that isn’t going to create an issue between the scope and barrel in terms of alignment. Thus, the include scope is recommended for use with the varmint rifle. The mount should feature a picatinny rail.

Silencers: Since varmints are fast movers, it will only help the hunt if you decide to invest in silencers and noise dampeners. Couple your accuracy with a quieter shot and you are bound to kill more vermints. The silencer you choose should be selected with care and you don’t want it to interfere with the speed of the shot.

In conclusion

Whether you choose to hunt varmint for fun, or you are doing it to protect your property, the appropriate weapons are necessary. Your weapon needs to cover a good distance quickly and as quietly as possible, all while delivering a good enough impact to kill the varmint but the least amount of kickback to keep you comfortable when shooting. While all of the latter characteristics seem like a lot to ask for, there are, indeed, a series of quality rifles that fit the best varmint rifle bill.

Needless to say even among the varmint rifles suitable for long-range varmint hunting, there are some big differences in the yardage the weapons can cover and the types of varmints such weapons are good for using to hunt specific predatory varmint. You will need to consider the weapon and accessories you choose with care.

About the Author
Andrew McKay
Andrew McKay

Andrew McKay is a seasoned hunter and fisherman from Anchorage, Alaska. Andrew thinks that he is the luckiest person in the world, as he lives in the most gorgeous place in United States and does what he loves to do. As a member of Alaska Professional Hunters Association and International Hunter Education Association, he is always looking for the ways to improve his skills and to teach people around him.

  • Ben Lewis

    The .22-250 is the best rifle because it causes a hydrostatic shock. Meaning, fast rounds go in and create a shockwave through liquid filled tissue resulting in a quick death. Now this is from what people around me tell, don’t quote me on this.

    • Hi Ben,

      Yes, I do agree with you on that Ben. However, since the .22-.250 cartridge uses more powder, it has a tendency to create more noise and, if you miss, it will create more noise than you need and will scare varmint away faster than you can shoot them.

      Regards,
      Andrew

  • Frank Shaw

    I’ve tried using my brother’s .17 HMR on several occasions and they are indeed powerful. It’s unbelievable how you can take down groundhogs with just over 150 yards. Most people would be concerned of the ammo cost though (like me) so maybe the .223? I think it would be unlikely to have deers as pests.

  • Andrew McKay

    Regardless of the varmint you choose, make sure it exhibits the best of: velocity & trajectory; minimized projectile penetration; and acidized attributes.

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