Varmint Rifles & Varmint Shooting


Explaining varmint rifles and varmint shooting in New Zealand.

Calibres, scopes, accessories and techniques.

Everything you need to know to get into the exciting sport of Varmint Shooting in New Zealand.


We have everything you need to get into the sport of Varmint Shooting in New Zealand


Varmint is an American slang word for Vermin.  It means any small pest species of animals.  In New Zealand, Rats, Rabbits, Possums, Hare & Magpies all fit the varmint tag. If you want to, you can include Goats, Wallabies and other pest birds like Mynahs and in some areas Crows or Pigeons.

A Varmint Rifle can be any rifle used to kill vermin species, but by definition usually means one of the .20 / .22 / .243 calibre centerfire rifles, with a longer, heavier barrel and usually it will have a very powerful scope. The stock is usually a semi-target type, with a flat, heavy fore-end for shooting off sand bags or a bipod. The gun is usually bigger, longer-barrelled and heavier than a normal carry-about sporter. It is essentially a semi target rifle used for a specialised form of precision hunting.

Calibres.  As a benchmark we will use the .22 long rifle a rimfire cartridge with a 40grain bullet at about 1250fps. Maximum effective range is approximately 100 metres.

.17 Hornady Magnum Rimfire (17HMR). A recent rimfire newcomer that can be classed as a short range varmint calibre. These have an affective range of 150-175 meters pushing out a 17grain Ballistic Tip at 2550fps or 20grain Hollow Point at 2250fps. Wind can be an issue for this light round.

.17 Hornet . A recent centrefire newcomer that can be classed as a medium range varmint calibre, based on a slightly imporved 22Hornet case this cartridge will nicelt bridge teh gap between the 17HMR and teh 204Ruger, very quiet and mild recoil will make this popular in close to buildings. These have an affective range of 175-250 meters pushing out a 20grain Ballistic Tip at 3550fps. Wind can be an issue for this light round.

.17 Remington Fireball.   Based on the 221 Fireball case, its necked down to the .177 bore size and is similar to the long standing 17 Mach IV wildcat. With a 20grain projectile at 4000fps or 25grain at 3850fps, this has a realistic maximum range of 250m.

.17 Remington.   A 223 Remington sized case necked to .177 bore size. Exceeds the velocity of the Swift but its light bullets are easily deflected by the wind. On a calm day, easily a 350 metre cartridge.

.204 Ruger.  Based on the 222 Remington Magnum case necked down to .204 bore size. Pushing a 32grain V-Max projectile at 4225fps or a 40grain at 3900fps this can literately be a 350-400m rifle.

.22 Winchester Magnum Rimfire (22WMR). Traditionally this was the only rimfire cartridge that might just qualify as a varmint round. With a 40grain bullet at 1850fps it is perhaps a 125-140 metres maximum range. Recently some ammunition manufacturers have produced a 30grain Ballistic Tip at 2200fps.

.22 Hornet.   A 45grain bullet at 2650fps. Maximum range is perhaps 175 metres. This is the minimum real varmint cartridge, at 70 years old and chambered in a small number of rifles; it is best characterized by its mild muzzle blast. Its shape and size make it not the easiest cartridge to reload for, but well worth the effort in perfecting it.

.222 Remington.   With a 50grain projectile at about 3100fps its maximum range is no more than 225 metres. This cartridge was the darling of the bench-rest brigade from the 50's to the 70's. Sadly it is now in the shade of the .223 Rem.

.223 Remington.   A standard military cartridge in dozens of countries, the 223 is the worlds most popular varmint cartridge. 55grain bullets at about 3200fps, and a maximum range of perhaps 300 metres. With heavier better bullets, the 223 Rem is a great goat cartridge, but a little light for most deer species. Cheap ammo, easy to load for, versatile, but a bit noisier than the .222.   

.22-250 Remington.   This is a bigger cartridge, burning a lot more powder. It pushes a 55grain bullet along at about 3800fps for a maximum range of perhaps 350 metres. More powder, more noise, more performance.
220 Swift.  The Swift is surely the king of the standard varmint cartridges except for the 204 Ruger perhaps. Bigger, louder, faster. A 55grain bullet at 3950 plus fps, and a maximum range of maybe 350metres. The Swift needs a 26 barrel for best effect.

6mm and .25 Calibre Cartridges.   This specialized area grew out of the better wind bucking ability of heavier bullets. The most common are the 243 Winchester and the 25-06 Remington. Fans say the improved wind bucking and performance on goats of the 6mm/25Cal bullets justifies the extra noise and recoil.

Wildcats & Monsters.   Many dedicated Benchrest cartridges such as the BR and PPC in 22 and 6mm are suitable as varminters. 22 Calibre super wildcats built on the 243, 6mm Rem and the 284 cases among others, are gaining popularity. Ultra long barrels (over 28") are essential, as well as a slow rate of fire and careful cleaning. But they are fun to build and use. People even varmint with .270s and .308s. These are great but they are loud, expensive to shoot a lot, and they recoil a bit too much for extended varmint shooting sessions. 

Rifles for Varminting.   Usually bolt action rifles are used, and sometimes single shot rifles like the Ruger No.1. Good quality construction is vital, as is a good target type trigger, good action bedding and a high quality barrel and crowning job.

Rifle Styles.   We think there are Sports Car and Formula One varmint rifles. Think of the lighter carry around varminters, regardless of calibre as sports cars. Light, fast, handy and user friendly. The heavy rifles with big stocks, long heavy barrels and monster scopes are like Formula One race cars. High performance, very specialized and not for every day use.

Suitable Scopes.   The bigger the better. Buy a 4-16 variable, minimum, for guns up to 223Rem performance. Above that, 24, 32 & 40 power scopes are not too much. You will actually learn to shoot between your heartbeats. Select a normal (Plex or 30-30) type reticle in normal or fine sizing. Ultra fine crosshairs and silhouette dots become lost under field conditions. Many are now using reticvles with a variety of over hold positions and extra stadia denoting either MOA or MilRad distances.

Scope Mounts. Long barrels and powerful scopes frequently cause barrel/scope alignment problems. These problems used to be very difficult to solve. The best solution is often a inclined scope rail with picatinny type slots, EGW make some the best available and we are teh NZ Agent for that product. We also stock a wide range of purpose built rings from Weaver, Burris, EGW and Trijicon to suit scopeses up to 34mm tube diameter. There are also Burris Signature Rings & Bases with their adjustable plastic ring liners. 

Target Size.   Think of a rabbit in the lying down, side on position as presenting a target the size of a small clay house brick. Aim for the middle and you've got up to 4" (100mm) left and right, for wind drift. All you've got to get is the correct range for bullet drop. The magpie is a very difficult target, but it is most rewarding when you connect dead centre. Unfortunately the magpie killing zone is smaller than a business card. Beyond 200m, the broom handle diameter vitals of a magpie are a real wind reading exercise. Early morning is the best time for them. Wind is low and the birds will spend a lot of time walking around the fields.

Wind and Sighting in.   It is important to sight in so that the curved trajectory of the projectile in flight works for you, instead of against you. Hornets should be sighted in about 30mm high at 100m. 222 and 223 should be 40mm high at 100m. The 22-250, 220Swift and the 17Rem should be sighted in 50mm high at 100m. Serious Shooters can give you expert advice regarding trajectory and sighting in of your new varmint rifle.

Night shooting.   Varmint rifles are great for night shooting, under some conditions. Murray's 222 Ruger with a Weaver 4-16 and muzzle suppressor is his favourite night shooting rifle. Just aim for the red eyes and squeeze the trigger. But be conscious of the firing zone behind the target. Use ammunition loaded with Blitz or TNT type bullets to minimise ricochets or over-travel. Or load heavier bullets and shoot deer & goat between the eyes. (Where legal).

Silencers / Suppressors.   Using a silencer lifts the use of a Varmint Rifle to a whole different level. Accuracy will never be worse and it will usually be better. The type of silencer must be selected and installed with care. It is wonderful not having to hunt with earmuffs on and the reduced noise opens up hunting areas impossible before. The only penalty is a little increase in weight and the length of the rifle. Serious Shooters is NZ's leading experts on silencers, particularly on varmint rifles.

Accessories.  Indispensable accessories are binoculars or spotting scopes, front lens shade for the scope and a bipod. A broad stretchy Niggeloh or Butler Creek Comfort Stretch sling will spread the weight on your shoulder. A laser range finder is almost indispensable now that the prices have reduced and performance has improved. Also wear camo clothing and for Magpie's use a distress tape.

Handy Tip.   Print your drop tables onto a piece of card and tape it onto the side of your stock.

Cleaning & Barrel Life. Varmint rifles have a largely undeserved reputation of being barrel burners, but bullets do not wear out barrels. Burning powder does. You can greatly extend your barrel life by carefully running in your barrel, just like a new car. Never fire more than two shots without allowing the barrel to cool. Use a quality copper removal system. You will get 1 to 3 times the barrel mileage your mates tell you. Many worn out barrels are just terribly copper fouled. Serious Shooters are experts on all advanced rifle and barrel maintenance and all types of copper removal.

Reloading, Bullet Construction & Safety.  Varmint rifles shoot a long way. Reloading allows you to select fragile bullets that will break up easily to minimise the problems that long-range rifles can create. Reloading allows you to exactly tailor your loads to your rifle, and the projectile to the target you intend to shoot. Serious Shooters will be happy to advise you on all aspects of reloading and bullet selection.

Finance and Lay-by.   Dont make do with inferior varminting equipment or try to do without the things that you really need to varmint successfully.
Serious Shooters can help you get into the exciting sport of varmint shooting.


The information contained in this leaflet is copyright of SERIOUS SHOOTERS LTD

For further information contact:
Serious Shooters Ltd
The Best Gun Shop

726 Great South Road, Penrose,
Auckland, New Zealand.
Phone 64-9-579-3006