"All you need for happiness is a good wife, a good horse and a good rifle" — Daniel Boone
Just as sure as the sun came up this morning, you need a good .22 rifle. Now, friends and neighbors, you should know I feel this is a statement of fact and not really open to debate. There has to be some consistency in the universe to hold things together, and this is part of it.
So, we are together on this, right? OK, then we may continue.
Most of the things you may attempt in this life require the proper tools. Whether you are going to change the brakes on your truck, learn to be a good public speaker or do brain surgery, having the correct tools is a must. Likewise, if you are a bona fide hunter, shooter and outdoorsman, you must have a .22 rifle.
A crusty old shooter and reloader told me once, "You need a .22 rifle to just shoot!" That pretty well sums it up. If you are going to be a shooter, you have to practice; for rifle skills, nothing beats a .22. Even with all the craziness going on lately about just getting your hands on some .22 ammunition, you can still buy enough to practice and not go broke.
Sometimes you just need to load up and take your .22 rifle to the range. Plinking — think of the sound you hear when certain targets are hit — with a .22 rifle is a great way to work on your shooting skills and have fun while doing it. It is also the best way to introduce young people and other new shooters to the sport.
There was a time when most farms and houses in the country had a .22 rifle handy by the door. Garden pests as well as raiders on the chicken house could be taken care of with the trusty .22. Those who grew up on a farm will remember the need for an occasional rat killin', and if you raised and processed your own hogs, the .22 rifle was usually brought out for that.
When your new shooter, child or otherwise, graduates from the BB gun stage, go directly to the .22. Firearms larger than this in the initial stages can be a mistake. Low recoil and noise factors make the .22 the way to go.
You can plink everything from bottle caps to empty shotgun casings to clay pigeons to empty cans to Necco Wafers! While you are doing this, remember to work on the fundamentals of shooting. Think about proper stance, sight alignment, breathing and trigger control. Don't go out there and "just shoot." The key here is to work on those fundamentals and improve our marksmanship while having fun doing it. This is especially important for the new shooter.
One quick thing about sight alignment: I believe every shooter should learn to shoot with open sights. It is just a fundamental I think we should all learn, like driving a stick shift car. Once we get to serious hunting, I am all for a good scope on the rifle. I just think initially we need to learn how to shoot open sights because it will make us better shooters. OK, that will give you something to debate at the barber shop.
Treat yourself to some serious sessions with the .22 this fall and see if you don't do better once rifle season for deer hunting starts. As always, make sure you have a safe place to shoot with a good backstop. Insist the shooters who join you, new or experienced, practice strict muzzle control and other firearms safety. (Off target, off trigger is very important.)
For certain types of hunting, the .22 rifle is again a necessity. There are many squirrel hunters who would not think of pursuing the bushy-tailed rodents with anything but a .22 rifle. I am pretty much in that cadre, thanks to Dad, who probably killed several truckloads of squirrels with a Remington Model 34 .22 rifle.
Just one thing about .22 ammunition for hunting: I am not a big fan of hollow-point ammo for small game. There is really nothing wrong with it, but these rounds will damage your squirrels a little more than necessary.
When it comes to which .22 rifle to purchase, we could spend the next several columns on that subject alone. If you are asking me, I would start a new shooter off with a mid-range, bolt-action .22. One that has caught my eye lately is the CZ-USA Model 457. You may think of shotguns when hearing about CZ-USA (I do sometimes), but this company, based in Kansas City, Kansas, makes some fine rifles, including some very interesting models for rimfire ammo.
The 457 line is a descendant of CZ's old 452 and then the 455, both of which are somewhat legendary in the 4-H/youth training world. The 457 comes from a long line of accurate .22 rifles that have been used for training and competition for years. The original 452 was first dubbed the "military training rifle," and thousands of riflemen (and women) have learned to shoot on this gun. The 452 evolved into the Model 455 and for many years was the rifle of choice for many shooting programs in the .22 world. The CZ-USA 457 comes in several configurations.
I'll just let you explore that and find which one you like best.
If this is for a young shooter, I might go with a bolt-action, single-shot model. You can graduate to a semi-auto later.
There you have it. If you don't have a .22 rifle, go get one soon. Those of you who do have one (or several), what do I always tell you? Get out there and burn some powder!
"The Trail Less Traveled" is written by Larry Case, who lives in Fayette County, W.Va. You can write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.