The Rimfire Report: Alaskan Small Game Hunting with Rimfire Rifles

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Hello and welcome back to another edition of The Rimfire Report! This ongoing series is all about the rimfire firearm world. I’ve recently started watching a series put on by National Geographic called Life Below Zero which details the lives of several individuals and families living close to or sometimes far north of the arctic circle in Alaska. A common theme in the series is people living a self-subsistent life by hunting (sometimes with rimfire rifles) and trading either trapped or hunted animals that live in the Alaskan arctic and northern interior.

Photo: Life Below Zero – National Geographic YouTube

The most avid of you, hunters, know that there are several factors that contribute towards firearm selection. For one, you have to select the right caliber for the prey you’re after. Today we’re going to focus on small game which can be found in the Alaskan arctic and that are suitable for consumption and or trade. Another consideration for hunters is the overall weight of your hunting gear. In the southern states, many hunting lands are either on your own property or only a short walk from a populated area.

The Alaskan environment is both mountainous and parsley populated which often leads to many people having to travel miles to find a suitable game. So for today’s article, we’ll go over a few rimfire firearms that I think I would personally choose for small game hunting in the Alaskan North as well as what kind of prey can be found up there.

The Rimfire Report: Alaskan Small Game Hunting with Rimfire Rifles

Grouse and Ptarmigan – Marlin XT Series – .22LR

Spruce grouse, rock ptarmigan and willow ptarmigan are three species of game birds that live in the northern regions of Alaska. Grouse and ptarmigan are medium-sized game birds and are most comparable to quail or even domesticated chickens (they share the same order and family).

The Rimfire Report: Alaskan Small Game Hunting with Rimfire

Photo: Anchorage Daily News

The usual go-to firearm of choice for grouse hunters is a 20 gauge shotgun – this provides a solid spread of pellets to make sure the bird has a quick and humane death but also carries the burden of removing all of the birdshot during processing. I have heard of .22LR being used in lieu of 20-gauge shotguns for both weight concerns as well as a reduction of projectiles having to be picked out of the meat (note that it is illegal in some states to hunt grouse with .22LR).

The Rimfire Report: Alaskan Small Game Hunting with Rimfire

The Marlin XT series is going to be the most economical selection on this list and also provides enough power to down a grouse with a single shot. Another great benefit of the bolt-action design is that you won’t run into any issues due to ammunition or cold weather working against the action of the firearm.

Grouse and ptarmigan usually yield about 2 lbs or so of meat sometimes more or less depending on the specific species. Since bag limits in Alaska are usually pretty loose, the 12-round capacity of the Marlin XT will be more than enough to get yourself a few birds for a solid dinner.

The Rimfire Report: Alaskan Small Game Hunting with Rimfire

Photo: 24hourcampfire

Arctic Foxes – Volquartsen Summit – .17HMR

For years, foxes played a pivotal role in native society within Alaska and to some extent still do to this day. Many native populations use the pelts of foxes to make a living to buy basic goods and supplies but in other areas of the Alaskan arctic, these foxes can almost become a nuisance. Oftentimes foxes will live off of human food waste and will become accustomed to the presence of humans.

Photo: Bret Hartl

This lack of fear from foxes often leads to people being bitten and foxes are known to have rabies. Foxes becoming too comfortable around humans has led the Alaska Department of Fish and Game to officially ask that  “Foxes that approach humans without fear or show aggression may have rabies and should be killed (without damaging the head) and wildlife authorities contacted.”

The Rimfire Report: Alaskan Small Game Hunting with Rimfire

The Volquartsen Summit rifle is a straight-pull bolt action rifle that is available in several rimfire calibers. However, .17HMR is very popular based on the people I have spoken to and the many forums I’ve browsed on the subject. The .17HMR is very effective and accurate at short range but has the downside of quickly losing its energy after 100 yards. The straight pull once again provides the shooter with a more reliable method of cycling the rifle in cold conditions, not to mention the Summit rifle can be equipped with some great optics with its included Picatinny rail.

The Rimfire Report: Alaskan Small Game Hunting with Rimfire

Photo: Volquartsen

Arctic Hare – Bergara B-14R Carbon – .22WMR

Hares are quite different from the rabbits we are used to seeing down here in the lower 48 states. Rabbits tend to not be quite as wary of humans and it is not uncommon to run into one at less than a couple of yards out in the woods. Hares will tend to keep their distance from humans and can outright disappear if they feel threatened and you’re hunting alone.

The Rimfire Report: Alaskan Small Game Hunting with Rimfire

Photo: United States Fish and Wildlife Service

For hares, I would pick something like the Bergara B-14. In fact, if I had to choose just one rifle off of this list it would probably be the B-14R Carbon in .22WMR. Not only is the rifle a fine piece of machinery, but it is also set up as a Remmington 700 style rimfire trainer meaning when you switch over to your full-size centerfire rifle calibers, you’ll feel right at home. This would make switching over from small game to large or medium-sized game a breeze.

What would you pick?

This was just a bit of a thought experiment on my part. Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve tried to learn as much as possible about the conditions and animals that exist up there. Since I have always wanted to move to Alaska, I found myself putting more and more thought into various subjects if that were to ever happen and hunting small game with rimfire rifles came up naturally for me.

If you had an unlimited budget what would be your preferred rimfire calibers for small game hunting in the cold wilderness of northern Alaska? My biggest concern with my selections above was mostly about the operation of the rifle in colder temperatures. Since I know it’s next to impossible to keep moisture out of the action in colder temperatures when walking about, I picked firearms that were manually operated. Would there be a reason in your mind that a semi-auto rifle or pistol would be better suited for this type of environment? Let me know down in the comments and we’ll see you in the next edition of The Rimfire Report.



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