A rancher, Steve Simpson worked in law enforcement and has hunted big game (pronghorn antelope). He is a lifelong shooter and reloader.
The .22 Hunter Project
My very first firearm was a Ruger 10/22 .22LR rifle; the Sporter model with the wooden stock and no barrel band. I would imagine a lot of American shooters could tell a similar story, given that so many folks start their shooting hobby with a .22.
My dad bought me this rifle in 1978 when I was 10 years old. We had many a fun trip to the range with that 10/22 and I learned all the basics of shooting with it. I sold it years later, like an idiot, and if I knew where it was and who had it I would pay triple the market price, maybe more, to get it back, whatever condition it was in.
Fast forward to about 2014/2015. By this time I had been married, divorced and re-married. I had worked most of a career in law enforcement including tactical team experience as an entry team operator and sniper. I had also hunted big game in the form of pronghorn antelope in Wyoming and had strongly solidified my interest in all things shooting (well, mainly rifle and pistol since I’m not as much of a shotgun guy).
I decided I needed to buy another Ruger 10/22, so I did. I went down to Big 5 and purchased the standard, bare-bones 10/22 with the wood stock and barrel band. I shot it a few times and enjoyed it, had a couple of jamming issues and thought the trigger was a bit heavy. Well, a lot heavy I suppose. I kept this rifle around in its factory form for a few years. Then, I started having need of a .22 with more capability than what this rifle offered.
We moved to northern Nevada and bought a ranch. Tickled pink to be out of Southern California, and California period, I began to learn how to work around the house more and do mechanically inclined things I had never been good at. Part of that was working on guns, in a very limited sense.
The nice thing about the 10/22 is that it’s so modular that I think one of the only other guns that compares to it in this regard is the AR-15. If you want a Ruger 10/22 bolt, stock, trigger, barrel, sights, and so on, all those things are readily available and easy to install. Trust me, if I can do it so can you. You can even build a complete 10/22 from parts available by internet order or brick and mortar store, and your new rifle will have never seen the inside of the Ruger factory.
We always had ground squirrels around our new property, but they have exploded in number for some reason. They dig holes everywhere and they multiply like nobody’s business and dig more and more holes, which is bad for a variety of reasons. Hence, the transformation of my 10/22 began.
I took a couple of shots at squirrels with the bone stock rifle and after having used some very nice tactical firearms in a work capacity as well as shooting matches, the stock 10/22 left a little to be desired. Working on a budget, I began changing out components and improving this gun little by little.
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The first thing to go was the stock and barrel band. I replaced that with the amazing Magpul Hunter X22 stock in black. This stock not only offers a nicely angled pistol grip but also has panels that serve to lengthen or shorten the length of pull. Not to mention the rubber butt-pad which sticks nicely to clothing and offers a more secure weld between stock and shoulder.
Next, I went with a set of XS sights on the stock barrel. The front sight was a gold bead and the rear was a peep sight. These are really nice if you’re inclined to stick with iron sights, and I also installed a Ruger BX trigger group. Being that I am on a budget, the BX trigger is about 1/3 the price of some other after-market 10/22 triggers and offers a marked improvement over the heavy stock setup. Another nice thing about the Magpul stock is the M-LOK mounting capability. I also installed a Magpul MS Series sling with a QD front attachment mounted to a Magpul QD socket, which conveniently attaches to the stock via M-LOK mounting.
I was pretty happy with this setup for a while and I whacked a few squirrels with it. But, since my eyes are older and I have neighbors in pretty close proximity, it became apparent that some improvement in hit probability was going to be necessary as I had also missed quite a few shots. Subsonic ammo was the choice for my situation, but the solid 40 grain hollow points will still ricochet and I was missing too often. The law of probability is such that the more rounds fired, the more ricochet possibility there is and therefore the higher chance of something bad happening, even when you are meticulously careful about your shots and background. More work needed to be done.
My next two and most consequential improvements to this rig were an ER Shaw Sporter Contour 18” match grade barrel and a Vortex Crossfire II 2-7X scope in Tally scope rings. These two changes put this rifle in a totally different category. The ER Shaw barrel is perfect for my purposes, as it’s a Sporter contour, lightweight barrel that free floats in the Magpul stock and is very packable and very light. Other match-grade barrels are three times the price, but this ER Shaw is only $99.00 or so, and the worst shooting load I’ve used still goes into 3/4” at 50 yards off of a bipod. That brings me to my next upgrades.
Another Magpul accessorizing possibility is a bipod mount, mine being the standard setup that a Harris bipod will mount to. They also offer a Picatinny mount if you prefer that option. The Harris bipod I installed is the 6 – 9” version that extends out when you push the button. Shooting off of a hasty rest is better than standing or kneeling, but being able to prone out with a bipod is really nice when you have the time and position to allow it. After the bipod, I installed an InForce 600-lumen weapon light, which, you guessed it, also mounts to an available Magpul light mount with a Picatinny slot. The mount attaches to the stock via one of the M-LOK slots. A tactical light on a ranch/pest control rig? Darn straight! There have been a couple of instances where pest control occurred inside a dark barn or in a drainage pipe. Both are dark locations, especially when my eyes were not ready for darkness since I had been out in daylight moments before.
After all these changes, the only stock parts of this rifle that are left are the bolt and receiver. Actually, I neglected to mention that I also installed a Volquartsen firing pin and extractor, AKA the “bolt tune-up kit.” This was also a very nice improvement and the functioning of the rifle improved noticeably after installing these two parts.
If I were going to improve anything beyond what I’ve done already, it would be to get one of the expensive trigger groups like a Volquartsen or Timney. I regularly shoot 40+ yards at ground squirrels, because they’re not inclined to stick around when they see you inside of 50 – 60 yards, especially if you’ve been shooting at them. This offers one the excellent training of stalking into a shooting position within the capabilities of the .22LR, say 50 or so yards in my case. This experience translates directly to big game hunting and I get to rid my property of hole digging pests while gaining hunting experience.
The only other recommendation I have is ammo. After trying a couple of different loads, I found what I consider to be the perfect pest control / small game load for targets in close proximity to neighbors. That load would be the CCI 40 grain Subsonic Segmented Hollow Point. This bullet is offered in Mini-Mag and Quiet .22 versions as well, but the Subsonic is the best of the three as far as I’m concerned. Its advertised velocity is 1050 fps, just below the speed of sound for a subsonic report yet with maximum power in that performance envelope. I zeroed this load at 50 yards and it is a stellar performer. It cycles the action on my 10/22 95% of the time and has a low noise signature. It also breaks into three pieces upon impact, which reduces the ricochet hazard. This fragmentation also puts up some very impressive terminal performance. I’ve only shot ground squirrels thus far, but with any sort of a solid hit they’re dead within seconds, and most of the time, “dead right there."
So there you have it. If you have a similar situation, pest control, or small game harvesting on the down low, I don’t think you can beat this setup. Of course, even with the budget Ruger BX trigger and ER Shaw barrel as compared to more expensive options, you’re still looking at a $700+ Ruger 10/22. But, I can assure you that your money will be well spent and the improved capabilities over the stock rifle are very significant and very gratifying. Happy hunting!
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.