What Can You Hunt with 22lr in California?

Benjamin David | April 7, 2021
A tree squirrel taken with a 22lr. A well placed head shot preserves the meat.

What can you hunt with 22lr in California? Maybe you are new to hunting in California, or maybe you just want to pursue something different. We’ve put together a short species list of animals that are commonly hunted with a 22lr, and included a few others that are less typical.

Small game hunting with a .22lr in California is a great way to hone game spotting, hunting, stalking, and shooting skills. You can hunt high deserts, semi-arid deserts, hardwood and conifer forests, marshy wetlands, and chaparral in California, making it a fun place to hunt and that’s just scratching the surface.

The sheer size of California, and its wide range of terrain provides the opportunity to pursue a variety of small game, non-game, and invasive species with a .22lr. However, it’s fair to say, while there is a lot of opportunity in such a big and unique state, the reputation for overzealous regulation, is real.

I’m commenting from the knowledgebase, experiences, and understanding that I have about California hunting laws at the time of writing. I am not a lawyer, and I provide information with no warranty of accuracy. It’s worth spending time researching any seasons, method of take, and legalities involved in hunting any animal, in any state where you intend to hunt.

Sportsman’s Magazine, myself, and other contributors aren’t responsible for your stupid life choices, and resultant consequences. You should consider both ethics and legalities, as well as know your skills, abilities, and effectiveness of a .22lr bullet. Consider whether or not you can effectively and humanely harvest an animal, and whether or not it is safe and ethical to do so. Just because you can legally do something, doesn’t necessarily mean you should. Disclaimer aside, let’s move on…

Hunting Jackrabbits, Hare, Cottontail

If you have ever hunted jackrabbits then you know that they can be a challenge. Skittish jackrabbits in big sage deserts rarely give up an easy shot. Shots are often greater than 50 yards, between plant life, and rarely is a jackrabbit static. The brief pause that most jackrabbits and hare make between hundred yard dashes, can sharpen hunting skills very quickly.

Despite what others may have told you, jackrabbits, like snowshoe hare and cottontail rabbits, are great table fare when treated and prepared properly.

Jack O’Connor, the famous hunter and writer, not only supplemented his family’s diet during rationing, but also credited his ability to shoot moving animals to hunting jackrabbits.

Cottontail rabbits are often easier to hunt, less skittish than jackrabbits, and wait longer to flush. They are smaller than a jackrabbit, and even when they do run, they cover less ground, do so more slowly, and pause more frequently. We’ve conducted blind taste tests with schnitzel made from Cottontail rabbit and chicken, and the Cottontail was hands down the favorite. Cottontail are fun to hunt with a .22lr, and very enjoyable to eat.

Hunting Squirrels

Ground squirrels are a great way to turn a hobby of plinking, into hunting, and while most regard california ground squirrels as inedible, they are edible, with a caveat. They do have a reputation for having higher rates of bubonic plague, as well as the reputation for being cannibalistic, and just sort of gross. Like any animal, choose to hunt, process, cook and eat at your own discretions and risk.

Moving away from terrestrial critters, but sticking with squirrels, tree squirrels are incredibly fun to hunt with a 22, and make for a tasty meal. A lot of people hunt squirrels with a shotgun. It’s an easier method of harvesting a fast moving squirrel jumping from tree branch to tree branch, but it also leaves you with bruised meat that is full of steel shot.

Hunting squirrels with a 22lr is a little more challenging than hunting with a shotgun. Similar to jackrabbits, it requires a pause in a squirrel’s movement, fast site acquisition, and a clean head shot. The result is a squirrel that often looks like a bloody mess from the neck up, but provides completely undamaged meat that is nicer for butchering.

Hunting Bigger Critters

Bigger animals on our list of things you can hunt with a 22lr in California include, skunks, opossum, raccoons, pigs, and coyotes. However, as animals get bigger, they require more foot pounds of energy to humanely dispatch. Since the max energy of a 22lr is about 140 foot pounds, shot placement becomes paramount.

While a skunk, opossum, and raccoon can be taken with a shot to the vitals, a head shot is a faster, more effective way to dispatch animals that size. Don’t underestimate the tenacity of an opossum, or any other small mammal, to stay alive.

At the largest end of the list of animals you can hunt with a .22lr, are small pigs and coyotes. Iit is possible to take a coyote with the proper ammunition at close range, and the perfect shot placement.

However, and this is a very serious caveat, just because it’s possible, it doesn’t mean it’s recommended. Poor shot placement will just maim an animal, even small ones. It can be cruel, and I’d venture to say sadistic.

Know Before You Go!

Cottontail rabbits and tree squirrels are considered small game in California, have a season, shooting hours and require a hunting license.

Muskrat, mink, beaver, badger, raccoons, and grey fox are all considered fur bearing, and also have seasons and require a license. Fisher, marten, river otter, desert kit fox and red fox are all protected.

Non-Game species include english sparrow, starling, domestic pigeon, coyote, weasels, skunks, opossum, moles and rodents. In California any hunting, including non-game, requires a hunting license and legal methods of take, even if there is no season or limit.

Since we are specifically looking at California, you may not be legally allowed to hunt in certain counties, or near cities with a 22lr. The idea behind the restriction being that small shotgun shot sizes have a shorter lethal range than the typical 36 to 40 grain 22lr bullet. In more densely populated areas, someone is less likely to accidentally be shot, and injured by stray steel shot, than a .22lr bullet.

Check the CDFW regulations, to see if your county is an area with any of the aforementioned restrictions.

Alternatives to a 22lr, for hunting small game and pest control, are .22, .25, and .30 caliber air guns. Some pack enough energy to humanely take coyotes, and more powerful air guns can humanely take big game. Good air gun options for small game and pest control at close distances, include the Beeman Chief, Benjamin Maurauder, or even an upgraded Crossman 1322. Air guns may require pumps, and optics. Some may be fairly expensive. However, in today’s pandemic buying environment, there is no issue finding air gun pellets, like there is finding .22lr ammunition. California also requires lead free .22lr ammunition for hunting, whereas there is no such regulation for air guns.


There are things to hunt with a 22lr in California, and while I’ve tried to be thorough, I make mistakes. I could have provided more commentary on hunting a specific species, but I intended this to be more of a what can you hunt with a 22lr, and not a how to hunt with a 22lr article. Maybe I missed a critter, or you have some additional thoughts. Share them in the comments.

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Written By Benjamin David
Benjamin is an avid outdoorsman with a wide range of experience hunting, fishing, climbing, and backacking. He brings his knowledge and experience, to Sportsman's Magazine, and is a major content contributor. Leave Ben a comment or question.

Modern Air Guns

Modern air guns are a great alternative to the standard 22lr small game rifle, or plinker.

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