Squirrel guns

Mike Bleech Outdoors Columnist

Several years ago on this outdoors page I argued with myself over the perfect squirrel rifle. After using .22 rimfire rifles for decades, out came a couple of new .17 caliber rimfire cartridges, the .17 HMR and the significantly shorter .17 Mach 2. I bought one of each, both with heavy barrels. Both shot very well.

Surprisingly, both shared a ballistic characteristic. When scopes were zeroes at 100 yards, both were also zeroed at 50 yards. That is a lot better than any .22 rimfire can do, even the .22 Rimfire Magnum.

Do not worry about bullet energy. This is not a significant issue for squirrel hunting and any comparison between .17 rimfire and .22 rimfire.

I did plenty of squirrel hunting with both .17 rimfire cartridges. There was a big difference. The difference between .17 Mach 2 and .17 HMR is similar to the difference between .22 Short and .22 Long Rifle. The .17 Mach 2, like the .22 Short, is much quieter than its longer counterpart.

This makes quite a noticeable difference in the ways squirrels react to shots. Squirrels do not pay much attention to the quieter rimfires. If you get into one of those exciting situations when several squirrels are in the same tree, with the quieter rimfires you may get a few shots before the squirrels pay any attention.

Of course the .17 Mach 2 is superior to the .17 HMR for squirrel hunting. And advantage in range the larger .17 rimfire has is unimportant. No one needs a squirrel rifle to make shots longer than 100 yards. The target, often moving, is just too small.

But a problem arose. It appears that the .17 Mach 2 may go obsolete. Or so I was told by folks in the guns and ammo business. So I traded off both of my heavy barrel .17 rimfires and bought a standard weight .17 HMR, a great squirrel hunting cartridge even if it is louder than the .17 Mach 2.

Come my first fall to use the newer .17 Mach 2, squirrels are reasonably abundant. My squirrel rifle is zeroed at 50 yards. That is plenty far for my squirrel hunting. I could hit dimes just about every shot at that distance.

But squirrels are not dimes.

My first shot of the season was maybe 15 yards at a gray squirrel on the ground. I shot, but the squirrel did not move. I made no attempt to rack in another cartridge because I was waiting for the squirrel to fall over. Instead it ran off, but not far. The next shot was at a distance of maybe 25 yards. Again a miss.

It turned out to be a pretty good morning for squirrel hunting. Good for hunting, not so much for squirrel hitting. Shot #3 a miss… Shot #4 a miss… Shot #5 a miss… And the same all the way through shot #12, my final miss and final shot of the morning.

I hate to tell tales about my old hunting pal Bill Anderson, but just to make whatever point I am trying to make I will force myself to do it. He also was using a new, standard weight .17 HMR. The only difference between our rifles is that his has a wood stock. Mine has a synthetic stock. Both are Savage Model 93R17. The reason I bought mine was because I liked his.

Anderson and I have a lot of the same stuff.

Apparently that morning of squirrel hunting we both has the wrong stuff. The only difference was that he had not missed quite as many as I had missed.

Things worked out so that we did not get out squirrel hunting again that season. Usually we get out squirrel hunting several times each year. Winter passed, and sometime the following summer we took those squirrel rifles to the shooting range. Both were right on the mark. So between the two of us we missed about 20 shots at squirrels that season. Not so hot, hmmm.

Neither he nor I have an explanation for our lousy shooting during just one particular hunting season. It just happened.

Maybe we need to spend a few hours at the shooting range before we hunt squirrels this year.

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