white showshoe rabbits in the snow
Tip: Don’t hunt with a trigger set to less than 3 pounds in cold conditions. Numb fingers and light triggers are a recipe for a negligent discharge. Andrew Hetherington

With winter upon us, now is a good time to downsize your hunting and go after small game. There are many great guns to choose from, but the following are among my favorites.


If there’s a must-have gun for every hunter, it’s a good small-game rifle. Of course, the first thing that comes to mind is a good .22 LR. The “ol’ two-two” has no doubt been more hunters’ first firearm than anything else, and options range from dusty antiques to slick tactical guns, with just about any action or configuration you could ever want.

Although the .22 LR adequately covers the gamut of small game, it’s also worth talking about the .17 HMR and .17 Hornet. Both are awesome cartridges that can do everything the .22 can, but faster, farther, and more accurately.


Henry Classic Lever Action .22

Henry Classic Lever Action .22 • $360

These are quality rifles, and I get nostalgic just picking one up. It takes me back to my childhood days of stalking irrigation ditches and sagebrush for cottontails. It’s a rifle that you can count on passing down to your grandchildren.


Ruger 10/22 Takedown

Ruger 10/22 Takedown • $409

It’s hard to argue against the 10/22. It’s earned a reputation as one of the most reliable semi-autos on the market. Loaded with CCI Stingers, it’s formidable on even larger critters—I have killed a lot of coyotes with them.


Savage MK II FV-SR

Savage MK II FV-SR • $284

This bolt-action .22 with a tactical twist lives up to Savage’s reputation for accuracy, and it comes threaded for a suppressor. Mine wears a Liberty Regulator suppressor and, shooting subsonic Eley match ammo, is a quiet tack-driver.


Savage A-17

Savage A-17 • $465

Savage’s new hot rod has filled a huge gap for the .17 HMR. This great cartridge has needed a reliable semi-auto for years, and here it is. This is a quick-shooting, reliable, and ergonomic package. Furry critters, beware.


CZ 527 Varmint (.17 Hornet)

CZ 527 Varmint (.17 Hornet) • $775

Although a little hot for a standard small-game rifle, the .17 Hornet is a deadly accurate round. Whether you’re knocking the heads off cottontails from 150 yards or hunting the larger end of the spectrum, like lynxes, bobcats, foxes, and coyotes, the CZ–.17 Hornet combo has you covered. Hornady’s 20-grain V-Max factory loads shoot sub-MOA, and unlike rimfire rounds, the .17 Hornet can be reloaded.


Whether you’re wingshooting grouse, ptarmigan, pheasants, or other upland birds, or chasing running rabbits, no small-game arsenal is complete without a good shotgun.


Mossberg 500 .410

Mossberg 500 .410 • $330

Probably the first shotgun I ever fired was my dad’s Mossberg .410. A full choke on doves will truly test your wingshooting skills, and using 3-inch shells with No. 6 shot will knock down grouse or ptarmigan.


Remington 870 20-gauge

Remington 870 20-gauge • $417

It’s hard to discuss shotguns without bringing up the 870. Along with the Mossberg, it is one of the most time-proven and widely used shotguns out there, and it is responsible for more filled bird bags than any other shotgun.


Stoeger Coach Gun

Stoeger Coach Gun • $449

There’s something about the feel of a side-by-side while you’re kicking up birds in the brush, but I probably will never shell out the money for a high-end one. I tend to beat the tar out of shotguns, and it won’t break your heart to beat this one up. It is affordable and, in my experience, dependable. No frills, chokes, or anything fancy, but I still get a smile on my face when I fold up a flushing ruffed grouse and crack the action.


There may be a lot of rifles and shotguns to take care of your small-game needs, but sometimes a handgun is in order.


Ruger Single Six Convertible Stainless (.22 LR/.22 WMR)

Ruger Single Six Convertible Stainless (.22 LR/.22 WMR) • $659

This is my main go-to handgun, whether I’m popping ptarmigan, dispatching animals on the trap line, or taking down grouse or rabbits while I’m hunting bigger critters. It’s an accurate, versatile, and very dependable handgun that will last a lifetime.


Browning Buck Mark Camper Stainless

Browning Buck Mark Camper Stainless • $429

In a sea of lead-spraying semi-autos, the Buck Mark has been building a reputation as an accurate, dependable pistol. Most semis can’t keep groups inside a coffee can at 20 yards, but the Buck Mark does.

hunter holding rabbits in snow
Headed home with a brace of snowshoe hares taken with a shotgun. Andrew Hetherington

Aim Small, Miss Small

It’s a given that with small game, you’ll have a small target. You won’t have much room for error if you’re looking to salvage meat, so head shots are your best bet. Practice shooting, but forget the bench. Work on offhand and kneeling shots, and using improvised rests such as trees or fence posts.

Fundamentals are key, and the more you practice repeating a good shot sequence from each position, the better your shooting will become. Shoot groups from each position and save your targets so you can track your progress over time.