November 05, 2020
By Dr. Todd A. Kuhn
Over the years, plenty of squirrels have fallen to bargain-priced, over-the-counter scoped .22s that have ignobly begun their careers riding down big-box-store conveyor belts among gaudy Halloween decorations and 64-packs of toilet paper. But where’s the fun in that?
This fall, build yourself a tack-driving squirrel slayer of the highest order. A rifle so accurate it’ll take the cap off an acorn at 100 yards. A gun destined to become so legendary that future generations of squirrels will involuntarily quake with fear—an evolutionary response coded in their DNA—at the mere sound of it being drawn from its case.
We decided to build such a rifle. Here’s how it came together.
Factory stocks are designed to anthropometrically fit the masses, and no matter how hard engineers try, they’re never quite perfect. Adding a custom stock with a pleasing ergonomic design is one of the quickest ways to shrink your groups and increase your level of shooting enjoyment.
We dropped our barreled action into a Boyds Rimfire Hunter laminate stock that we treated to a custom abstract camo paint job.
Our Boyds stock features a slender wrist for a sure grip and a raised comb for a comfortable cheek weld. A thin, rubber butt pad protects the aft end of the custom stock and three swivel studs accommodate any sling or bipod combination. ($152; boydsgunstocks.com)
SCOPE AND RINGS
Optics matter when focusing on golfball-sized squirrel heads. Sadly, hunters often settle for commodity optics, which can hinder accuracy on small targets.
We opted for a Leupold VX-3i 4.5-14x50mm with side focus, which we lashed to the rifle with 30 mm medium Warne rings. ($62.49; warnescopemounts.com)
The VX-3i offers a crystal-clear field of view and has plenty of power to zoom in on tiny targets peeking over a limb or around a tree trunk. The 50mm objective offers excellent low-light performance, which will be appreciated when hunting under thick canopies early or late in the day. ($974.99; leupold.com)
It’s said that a rifle is only as good as its trigger, and for our ultimate squirrel gun we demanded the best. That’s why we went with a Timney RPR, as reliable, crisp and clean of a trigger as you’ll find anywhere.
The RPR is a self-contained, drop-in (no gunsmithing required) two-stage model. It’s factory-set with a 1/2-pound first stage and 1-pound second stage. However, the first stage is user-adjustable from 8 ounces to 1 pound, and the second stage can be set from 8 ounces to 2 pounds.
The trigger housing is constructed of military-grade 6061 T6 alloy and is anodized to fight the harsh elements to which our squirrel rifle will be exposed. The sear is heat-treated to 58-60 Rockwell and Teflon-nickel coated for lubricity and a dependable, long-lasting life of service. ($139.99; timneytriggers.com)
While the factory finishes of the components were fine, we just couldn’t leave well-enough alone. To ensure everything had a uniform look, and to reduce glare while adding a “wow” factor, we opted to have the barrel, bolt, receiver, scope and suppressor treated with Cerakote. Cerakote is a thin, scratch-resistant, ceramic coating that shields parts from the elements and prevents corrosion. ($200; cerakote.com)
Building the perfect plinker starts with a great foundation. Our ultimate squirrel slayer started life as a stock, nondescript Ruger American Rimfire .22 LR bolt action with an 18-inch stainless steel threaded barrel. We chose the Ruger American for its quality of build and pedigree for accuracy.
Its flush-mounted, detachable 10-round rotary magazine adds to the rifle’s overall balance and nimble handling. A factory-floated barrel contributes to its accuracy, and its one-piece aluminum scope rail is precision machined into the receiver to provide a rock-solid mounting base. ($429.99; ruger.com)
Stealth is key in the squirrel woods. To muzzle our Ruger’s bark, we threaded on a Tactical Solutions Axiom suppressor.
The 1-inch-diameter Axiom weighs just 6 ounces, thanks in part to lightweight yet durable titanium baffles. The split-tube design allows for easy removal of the baffle stack for cleaning and maintenance. It’s compatible with rifles chambered in .22 LR, .22 WMR, .22 Hornet, .17 HMR, .17 HM2, .17WSM and 5.7x28. ($465; tacticalsol.com)
ULTIMATE BUILD ACCESSORIES
REAL AVID SMART DRIVE 90
The Real Avid Smart Drive 90 is a 90-piece gunsmithing kit that includes a main rubber-gripped driver with magnetic bit holder, a smaller driver for precision work, a jeweler’s spin top and a 360-degree LED light that helps you see what you’re working on. The kit comes with virtually every bit you might need for working on your gun collection. All pieces come in a durable polycarbonate tool case. ($99.99; realavid.com)
MTM GUN VISE
With 11 compartments in the base, this injection-molded gun vise lets you work on your favorite rifle while keeping all your parts and tools organized and handy. The MTM Gun Vise features a fast, single-adjustment clamp that offers a secure, non-marring hold. High and low forks give the option of a level clamp-up for maintenance or a sloped clamp-up for drainage when performing cleaning chores ($54.16; mtmcase-gard.com)
REAL AVID ACCU-PUNCH HAMMER WITH BRASS & STEEL PIN PUNCHES
Removing or installing pins on firearms can be frustrating, and many traditional drift punches are not designed to safely remove these fasteners without marring them. The Real Avid Accu-Punch Kit includes a hammer (with four interchangeable heads), three steel punches, seven brass punches and a pin alignment tool. The kit comes in a handy carrying case. ($49.99; realavid.com)