If you’ve ever been hunting before, you know that it’s crucial to have the right tools for the job.
For smaller game, a varmint rifle is the best option, but what is it, and how well does it shoot? Here’s everything you need to know about varmint rifles.
What Is a Varmint Rifle?
A varmint rifle is a firearm designed to take down a variety of small game, including weasels, turtles, rabbits, prairie dogs, badgers, coyotes, foxes, minks, snakes, and many more.
Varmint hunting is much different than big-game or bird hunting because you have to be fast and accurate. Because varmints are usually small, fast-moving targets, you can’t afford to miss or wait for a slow reloading action.
What Are The Best Varmint Rifles?
We have an entire article on the best varmint rifles for the money but to get you started here are a few of our top picks:
Savage 110 Varmint
Since the Savage 110 Varmint is one of the oldest bolt-action rifles in production in the US, it makes sense to use it for this type of hunting. Compared to other target rifles, the Savage is relatively lightweight and super accurate.
We also like the Savage 110 Varmint because it works with tons of different varmint cartridge options. Modern varmint rounds are deadlier, although some of them are designed for maximum penetration to allow for minimal pelt damage.
It’s also easy to mount an optic sight onto this rifle so you can pinpoint your target more efficiently. Since varmints have to be accurate rifles, installing a scope can make or break your success rate.
Tikka T3X Varmint
The Tikka T3X is an excellent varmint rifle because it’s light and yet comes with a longer barrel for better accuracy. Most varmint hunters don’t know about the Tikka and its capabilities, but this rifle can take down a wide array of pests without leaving you wanting more.
Plus, this rifle has a slightly larger bullet capacity, allowing you to take more shots as necessary to bring down your target. Or, if you come across multiple varmints, you can potentially shoot them all in rapid succession without losing accuracy and precision.
This rifle is not as easy to mount a scope to, but it still works well with open sights.
Remington 700 SPS Varmint
Those that engage in varmint and pest control hunting tend to prefer the Remington, making it one of the top-selling small-game rifles around. However, based on our usage of this gun, its position as a best-seller doesn’t make as much sense as something like the Savage.
Nonetheless, Remington is a well-known brand, and the 700 SPS is often considered the gold standard for varmint shooting. The bolt action is a bit cumbersome, but this rifle has excellent accuracy and recoil absorption. Plus, you can mount a scope very easily, allowing you to target different varmints quickly.
This gun is also the lightest of the three we’ve mentioned, so you can carry it from one spot to the next if you decide to stalk your prey for any reason.
If you want to see other high-quality varmint rifles, check out this video for a rundown of the top-selling models.
Common Characteristics of Varmint Rifles
If you’re interested in varmint shooting, you need to know what elements to look for when comparing and buying a rifle. Here’s a breakdown of the characteristics that make these guns so valuable.
The most common firearms used for varmint hunting are bolt-action rifles. However, some hunters may prefer a semi-automatic rifle that allows for a single shot for every squeeze of the trigger.
Even varmint pistols are bolt action and rarely semi-automatic to ensure better accuracy and fewer wasted shots.
Varmint Rifle Barrel
Unlike big game or predators, varmints are usually hunted from a fixed position instead of stalked. So, these rifles use heavier barrels because weight isn’t as much of an issue.
When hunting for varmint and pest control, many shooters will use bipods, sandbags, or other mounts to keep the rifle steady while firing. In fact, varmint hunting rifles typically have a wider forend to sit steadier on a sandbag than a thinner barrel. (2)
Varmint Barrel vs Standard Barrel
Varmint barrels often have a slight taper toward the front and are much heavier than standard hunting rifles. Because shooters don’t have to carry the gun over long distances to stalk their prey, they can use thicker barrels that absorb recoil and improve overall accuracy.
That said, most varmint rifles also allow shooters to mount an optic sight as they’re more precise than an open sight. However, some individuals may still shoot with open sights because they don’t want to strain their eyes by looking through a scope for long periods.
What Calibers Are Good for Varmint Rifles?
When choosing the best varmint gun for your pest control needs, you have to make sure it’s compatible with the best varmint cartridge options. While there are tons of individual calibers that work well for this kind of hunting, here’s a rundown of the most common:
- .22 Caliber Varmint Cartridges – 22 rifles were practically built for varmint shooting because of their small size, low bullet drop, and ease of use. Virtually all hunters cut their teeth with a 22, and it’s one of the simplest rifles to master. However, if you’re using something a bit more powerful, 22-caliber bullets are still excellent for small game like rodents and other light-caliber hunting.
- .222 and .223 Remington – When you’re tracking your prey from long distances (i.e., 400 yards), you need a caliber with as little bullet drop as possible. So, a 223 Remington makes a good long-range varmint caliber that’s also useful up close, just in case you wind up taking your prey by surprise. The Remington is also one of the best commercially successful varmint cartridge options you can find.
- .243 Winchester – Technically, a 243 Winchester is large and powerful enough to take down a deer, so it works perfectly for larger varmint prey like coyotes. Plus, because these are heavier bullets, they’re not as affected by wind. But if you’re looking for rodents and prairie dogs, you might wind up with an exploded target.
- .204 Ruger – When you need a fast bullet with a flat trajectory and low drop, a Ruger is an excellent choice. This caliber works for all kinds of varmint shooting, from rodents to foxes to coyotes. The downside, however, is that it can be hard to find this bullet size.
Can You Use Air Rifles for Varmint Hunting?
Yes, air rifles are useful for urban pest control because air gun pellets are not as destructive or noisy as regular firearms. This way, you can shoot your targets without worrying about neighbors calling the police. (1)
However, because air guns don’t have the same penetration or firepower, hunters have to be more strategic about finding their prey. Typically, you have to be closer to the target to make the kill, so it’s important to be smart when hunting.
My Personal Notes and Findings
Because varmint hunting is so different than stalking predators and big game, you have to approach the situation with a unique perspective. Here are some notes on how to ensure a successful varmint hunt:
- Know Your Target – Hunting rabbits is different than hunting prairie dogs, both with how you find and kill your prey. So, make sure to do some homework to see if you need a faster bullet, lighter rifle, or unique scope (i.e., a thermal or night-vision scope).
- Practice Makes Perfect – When stalking a deer, you have a big target to hit, and wounding a deer can often be as good as getting a kill shot. With varmints, you need to be able to move and fire quickly, so practice as often as possible so you’re ready when the time comes.
- Use DOPE Sheets – Many varmint hunters attach DOPE sheets to their rifles so they can account for windage, bullet drop, and other environmental factors. Since these elements can make or break your success rate, it’s crucial to have the data at your fingertips.
For more reading on accurate hunting rifles see our write up on Sub MOA meaning.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is a varmint rifle vs regular rifle?
There are several characteristics that distinguish a varmint rifle from a regular rifle, including a heavier barrel, optic sights, and faster firing capabilities. Since varmint hunters need to be fast and accurate, these rifles are designed for efficient varmint shooting.
What is the varmint rifle good for?
A varmint rifle is good for killing small game and animals like crows, rodents, prairie dogs, and even coyotes. The primary purposes of varmint rifles are pest control and small game hunting.
Is the AR-15 a varmint rifle?
Yes the AR-15 is a varmint rifle. Although most AR-15 owners don’t consider it ideal, it fits within the same category, provided that it’s mounted with an optical sight. Serious varmint hunters would likely prefer something that isn’t so “tactical.”
What can you hunt with a varmint rifle?
You can hunt a wide range of animals with a varmint rifle, including crows, squirrels, rabbits, rodents, skunks, boars, goats, coyotes, gophers, and foxes. Basically, you can shoot anything smaller than a deer or elk (i.e., big game hunting).
What is an acceptable 3 shot group for a varmint rifle?
An ideal 3-shot group for a varmint rifle is about ½ an inch, but anything one inch or less is acceptable. A shot group is when you take multiple shots at the same target, and the group size is the distance between bullet holes.
What is the difference between a varmint contour and a heavy contour rifle barrel?
A varmint contour is usually a #4 contour – a heavy barrel with a slight taper toward the front – while a heavy contour is usually thicker and straighter and may be a #5 or #6. However, barrel manufacturers set their own numbers based on variables like length, diameter, and tapering.
What is the rifle twist rate for a Remington 700 varmint in 223 Rem?
The rifle twist rate for a Remington 700 Varmint Rifle is 12 inches in 223 Rem. So, the bullet makes a full rotation at 12 inches, which is why this rifle has a longer and heavier barrel.
What is a 308 varmint rifle?
A 308 varmint rifle is a 308 Winchester with a slightly longer and heavier barrel for shooting varmints and pests. The 308 also works for deer and elk hunting, but typically with a lighter barrel, so it doesn’t get too tiring to carry all day.
What makes a varmint rifle?
Nearly all varmint guns have the same characteristics – a long and heavy barrel, a short action (i.e., faster reloading), and optics for shooting. Typical varmint rifle cartridges include 17 Hornet, 223 Remington, 204 Ruger, and 17 Remington.
What is the most accurate varmint rifle?
The most accurate varmint rifle is likely either the Savage 110 Varmint or the Tikka T3X Varmint. Both of these guns have excellent accuracy, allowing you to take out your target with one or two shots. However, it’s hard to say which is the “most” accurate because many elements can affect varmint shooting.
What is a varmint?
A varmint is some sort of pest animal, usually. The definition of “varmint” can change depending on the situation. Varmints can include small rodents like rats or large animals like coyotes.
Is a 223 a good varmint rifle?
Yes, a 223 Remington is a good varmint rifle because it has a fast action and excellent accuracy. Rifle calibers like the 223 are better for small game and varmints than big game like deer or elk.
What is a predator rifle?
A predator rifle is a firearm designed to take down predator animals like coyotes, bobcats, wild dogs, and more. Because these are often fast-moving targets, the best predator rifles have shorter barrels, high-velocity cartridges, and lighter weight so hunters can maneuver more easily. For some situations, a predator rifle may work better than a varmint rifle.
- Utah’s predator control program, Retrieved from https://dnr.wisconsin.gov/topic/WildlifeHabitat/damage
- ATF, Is a rifle a firearm subject to the NFA? Retrieved from https://www.atf.gov/firearms/qa/rifle-firearm-subject-nfa
Dakota Potts is a gunsmith, armorer, and gun rights advocate with nearly 10 years of experience. He is well respected in the industry and his work has appeared on various industry leading firearm publications. He enjoys learning about firearm history and technology. You can follow Dakota Potts on Youtube or see his Facebook.