Match-Grade Rimfire Ammunition – Is It Worth It?

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I mentioned that I am on a quest, right? I’d like to be able to shoot one-hole groups at 100 yards – quietly. Ok, I’ll settle for 0.5 MOA at 50-100 yards. But before I start talking about my equipment and ammunition deficiencies, let me be clear: I need practice. Lots of practice. That being said, at what point does a promising precision rimfire shooter need to start using match-grade ammunition?

After my ‘MOA All Day’ post a few weeks back, I was determined to get back out on the range and punch some even smaller groups. I was out of my favorite Eley flavor of match ammo, so I decided to check out the other options available at my local gun store (LGS). My thought was this: buy a few boxes of different varieties and find one that shoots laser beams. Then head back to my LGS and buy a case or two of the same lot number that performed best.

I talked briefly with Steve Boelter of Anschutz North America about my ammo dilemma. “For the most part, it depends on the kind of shooting a person is doing. If you are practicing off-hand shooting, and your hold on average at 50 meters is 5″ circle, then the small difference between high end ammo and target ammo does not matter,” said Boelter. ” If you are learning Benchrest shooting and reading the wind, then you really need to use the best ammo possible because you won’t know if the slightly off shot is ammo or a missed condition.”

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I spent a couple hours trying out a handful of brands of match rimfire ammo, targets set at 75 yards with disappointing results. As such, I asked myself, is it worth it to buy match-grade ammunition when my skills and equipment are still just average?

Did I tell you that I need practice?

RWS R50

($18.95/50)

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Federal UltraMatch

($9.00/50)

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CCI Quiet 22 Segmented Hollow Point. (Non-Match control)

($5.99/50)

In my (and CCI’s) defense, this particular ammo wouldn’t cycle my 10/22’s action. I also didn’t re-zero, so I had a significant amount of holdover.

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Observations:

  • I need a better bench (in process)
  • I need a better optic
  • I need a better (bolt) rifle
  • I need more practice

However, while I work on my list, I still can’t decide if I am ready take advantage of match-grade rimfire ammo. At what point does standard ammunition make it difficult to shoot for score? Does buying more standard ammunition at lower prices or less match ammunition at higher prices at make more sense at this stage of the game?

I know quality rimfire ammo makes a big difference for an expert marksman. But what about for the ‘slightly-better-than-average’ shooter?

Thoughts and ideas welcome.



Pete

LE – Science – OSINT.
On a mission to make all of my guns as quiet as possible.
Pete.M@staff.thefirearmblog.com


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  • SimonSays

    It seems a waste to do this with a semi/auto if accuracy is your main goal, perhaps there is a way to non destructively make your 10/22 single shot and see how the accuracy works out?

    I have a bolt action Anschutz mod 1907, it is a very old gun (30+ yrs) but when I feed it SK .22 Rifle Match rounds and I do my part all holes touch at 100 meters (supported prone position in an indoor range). These rounds are very light so outdoors they will most likely not archieve this accuracy, but this old gun cost less than a 10/22 would have cost me and the barrel and action is superb.

    So far all semi-autos I have shot where a compromise for accuracy and personally I would not invest in them for target use unless the semi-auto function is mandatory. Same thing for the ammo, the match munition we get at our gun club is very light and won’t cycle the 10/22. But the high velocity stuff that does cycle is less accurate.

    • Pete – TFB Writer

      I think you are absolutely right. I love my 10/22 with its Volquartsen barrel, but I am eagerly awaiting an Anschutz.

      Thanks.

    • Trey

      Single shot magazines

      Ruger 10/22 BX-1-1 Rotary Magazine

      “ride” the bolt down to keep lower possible damage to nose of bullet. maybe ?

    • Jordan Mickelson

      I don’t think it is a waste at all if you are shooting in a semi division. If you know what you are doing Eley Tenex and Lapua Center X will do wonders. If you shoot bench rest and really want to get down on your groups a harrel style tuner is also a worthy investment.

      I agree on the HV point, HV ammo is junk and should not be in your range box unless you are just plinking.

  • Sarig

    I don’t think ammo is your problem here, and you’d get more bang for your buck just shooting more. I did clovers at 100m when I was 14 at 100m, prone with a sling, but that was with Anschutz rifles, and aperture sights (which I think are far better than any optics when shooting are circular targets).

    Do you need a bench? Does it make you a better shooter, or does it just make it a bit easier? I mean, you’ll probably hit better, but does it make *you* better? Shooting with a sling makes you a lot better, because you’re still supporting the entire thing yourself, whereas I feel a bench might just be a crutch that could hinder your development. Even if your goal is bench-shooting, I’d still have a good foundation out of the bench before using it.

    If you don’t have experience with aperture sights, I’d also check that out before getting better optics. Depending on where you are, it might be different to find someone to borrow a rifle from, and a good set will set you back a few hundred bucks, but they are *really* good for this purpose. I have no comments on the rifle, as I’ve never personally shot semi-auto .22’s.

    • Pete – TFB Writer

      Excellent. Thank you.

    • Jordan Mickelson

      Agree, grab 3 or 4 brick of CCI Standard and a little better rest and just practice for a while, the spread on your groups is pretty eratic, consistency is your friend. Thanks for sharing!

  • Roger

    Some things to consider.
    If you are shooting a .22 RF at 100 yds, use std velocity ammo. The HV ammo goes trans-sonic at about 85 yards & de-stabilises.
    .22 RF rifles are notoriously picky about what ammo they shoot well. Trying different brands of ammo can result in widely varying results. Pick the brand and type YOUR rifle likes the best.
    Because the .22 RF ammo (particularly the std velocity) is so slow, the shooters form, that is his follow through, consistency of hold, head / eye / cheek position, trigger control, firmness of hold, are far more critical than the much faster center fire rifles. Lock time of the rifle is more important also.
    The ballistics of the .22 RF bullet are poor, the shape of the heel based bullet does not lend itself to good stability or have a good BC.
    Due to the low velocity and poor ballistics, they are quite wind sensitive. Even a mild crosswind will move the 40 grain bullet more than most folks would believe.
    Higher quality ammo will (or at least should) be more consistent with consistent bullet weights, powder charges and priming.
    All together, the humble .22 RF is a challenge to get really good accuracy from.

    • LG

      That is what makes the 22 LR at 100 or more yards such a good tool for practicing wind doping.

  • PK

    You might look into a single shot, a bolt action, a toggle bolt, or any of the (many) used Anschutz rifles out there. You need to get away from the 10/22 and any autoloader to really start hoping for a single hole at 100 yards, sadly.

    Don’t get me wrong, I love my 10/22. It’s just never going to replace even a middle of the road bolt action.

    • Jordan Mickelson

      I have a few Kidd builds that would have to disagree with you 😉 But they are also bedded, floated, anchored, with accurized stocks and cost more than I would like to admit. A CZ 452 or Anni would have great accuracy out of the box but still need trigger work IMO.

      • PK

        That’s a good point, with customization and a decent amount of work the 10/22 can be stunningly accurate. I was thinking more of off-the-shelf suggestions.

        • iksnilol

          A 10/22 can be precise if you remove all the Ruger parts. Kinda pointless IMO.

      • LG

        Even a customized 10/22 type weapon could not have the accuracy potential of a well built bolt un such as an “Annie” with only a minimal of gunsmithing. The consistent lock up and barrel to receiver rigidity and consistency is not in the 10/22s genes, no matter how much hey are modified.

        • Jordan Mickelson

          The top USBR [semi/benchrest] 5 shot group averages are in the low .1s @ 50yds. Do “Annies” have more inherent and built in accuracy potential, yes but a competition 10/22 that is bedded, floated, anchored, and accurized has extreme potential for accuracy.

          Would I shoot one of those vs an “Annie” for competition given the choice? Probably not, but it would depend on the disciple.

    • Xanderbach

      I agree- I have both a 10/22 (stock) and a henry .22 lever action (stock). The Henry shoots like a laser with cheapo ammo. The 10/22 shoots like a shotgun with the expensive stuff. Admittedly, neither is inaccurate at 100yds, but if putting hare on the table is essential, it’s the Henry all the way.

  • LG

    Sorting the ammunition with a quality rim thickness gauge can isolate lots with excellent accuracy from “standard” low velocity buys.

    • Pete – TFB Writer

      You just gave me an idea. Thank you!

      • Pete, I found a vernier caliper or other micrometer and a Quick Release socket from an air comresor hose are amazing rim gauges for nothing if you already have the gear.

        I mounted mine into a wood block hinge system, and sorted roughly 300 cci standards. Gained/?lost? .25″ @ 100yd with my 10/22. At that time I had more time and effort than money or ammo, so I just dicked around doing silly diy stuff.

        Oh, and I was a complete noob with more brains than experience, trying to milk accuracy without needing to train badic skills first.

        • Pete – TFB Writer

          Good call. I’m on it. Thanks!

  • SmithTech22

    Strap your rifle into a rest so it absolutely will not move. Shoot 5 5 shot groups, shooting for group size only don’t bother aiming other than to make sure it hits paper. Average the 5 groups. When you can consistently shoot groups no bigger than 2x that average its time to move to better match grade ammo. Just my thoughts on deciding if its worth paying for the better ammo.

    • Pete – TFB Writer

      Looks like I need to invest in a rest. Thanks.

  • QuadGMoto

    You’ve accurately identified a key point for ammo testing: Stability is everything. If your bench moves, your seat moves, or your rifle moves your precision will take a dump. In addition to the bench, I’ve found that using a bipod isn’t sufficient. As you adjust your aim, you can introduce torque into the bipod which will mess up an otherwise well aimed shot. Use sandbags or a good rifle rest.

    The 10/22 needs more than just a good barrel to be accurate. You need the bolt to move smoothly, the firing pin to hit the rim consistently, a good trigger, and more to get it decently accurate. So far I’ve found it easier to just use a good bolt gun.

    I have found that high end ammo is consistently more precise than cheaper ammo. The UltraMatch and RWS R50 you tried have been among the best for me. Also Eley Tenex and Lapua Midas + have been tops in accuracy. (Lapua makes X-Act which should be better than Midas +, but I’ve never been able to find any.) Surprisingly, Wolf Match Extra has given me some of my best groups. Most of the time I don’t actually use these for practice. Cheaper loads (like the Wolf), SK Rifle Match (Wolf Match Extra with a different label) and Lapua Center-X are my go to rounds for practice.

    For pistol practice (especially just working on the basics) or fun, CCI SV is my go-to cheap ammo.

    Also, pay attention to heat. A box of ammo sitting in the sun will shoot differently than one that hasn’t been heated up.

    Finally, if you can’t tell the difference between the high end ammo and the cheaper ammo in your testing, then there’s something else limiting your precision, as you’ve identified. Use the ammo that matches your maximum equipment and/or skill level until it either really matters (like a competition) or you’ve dialed things in tight enough that the differences are clear.

    • Pete – TFB Writer

      Awesome. Thanks. I’m starting Part 2 already.

      • Jordan Mickelson

        Awesome Pete, following closely, in the process of testing out new ammo for my Kidd 22 to figure out what it likes, spendy… 😉

  • Trey

    With Match rifle yes, IF and only if you feel the need for that tiny bit more accuracy.

    Some rifles will like some brands more than others of course. There are also levels of “match” some are only 2x cost of “bulk .22″ and may be a good way to split the diff.

    As for .22 autoloader you CAN make a 10/22 into a sub minute gun (I have 26” steel bull barrel Fajen Stock and hard bedded with 24x scope) but it will still be a lot on YOU more than the tool.

  • Useless effort… I’m disappointed. How can you gauge the ammunition if all the other variables are crap?
    Come on TFB.

    • Pete – TFB Writer

      Relax George. This was a primer. The whole point was to acknowledge the variables and talk about ammo choices, not compare accuracy/precision of different ammo manufacturers.

  • Joe

    Guns like different ammos. My “precision” 10/22 can do 5 shots in a half dime size groups at 50 yds. Not crazy accurate but it loves green tags. Eley ammo (tried several types including the very pricy tenex) does about the same but it’s more pricy. CCI select does ok bit not as good. Any match federal just doesn’t shoot well. I’m not saying green tags are as good as tenex but in my gun with my limited ability it does.

  • Kevin R

    I would like to see the Remington Eley primed ammo tested. Item RE22T.

  • Lt. Dan

    Give wolf match a try! I have a Kidd barrel in my 10/22 and it LOVES that stuff.

    Kidd also mentions it can take something like 25-50 rounds for a barrel to “adapt” to a particular kind of ammo (I’m paraphrasing). So rapidly switching ammo types and/or over cleaning might not be helping your results.

    My friend and I have observed similar behavior in his .308 when he switched from turned solid projectiles to his regular SMK bullets. His groups went to hell and he basically had to completely strip the copper from the barrel and start fresh. That lends some credence to Kidd’s suggestion IMO

    • Jordan Mickelson

      Great suggestion Wold Match which is also sold as SK Standard [both made by Lapua] is a huge step up from your standard 22 bulk pack w/o breaking the bank too much. A great round!!!

    • Pete – TFB Writer

      Thanks. The 25-50 adaptation period is new to me. Research time.

  • Pete – TFB Writer

    Awesome, thanks Jordan. I’ll stop by for a visit!

  • Mystick

    300 yards is the real challenge with .22LR…. gotta love Velocitor in a Volquartsen… it will do sub-MOA all day. Granted, it’s not linear… definitely more than 3″ groups at 300, but it’s still on-target.

    I would like to try some of these…

    • Blake

      Velocitors are absolutely awesome. They’re the only max-power 22LR loading we’ve found that groups satisfyingly well in our guns.

      The real trick is getting your hands on some, & not balking at the price when you do…

  • Austin

    Granted its not match grade but Winchester Super-X and CCI standard velocity both in round nose 40gr, I know I’m not the most accurate shooter but they have both been consistent for me.

  • Data Venia

    Love that you are posting the process of shooting. It’s great to have discussions of precision shooting but most of us go to the range with what we’ve got. Starting there and trying to get the most out of what you’ve got is damn fine place to start.

    My humble suggestions:

    I’d take that same ammo (plus some premium ammo) and pull your targets back to 50 ft. If that seems too easy that’s the point. We’re trying to see differences in the ammo not your ability (at this point). To make it even easier (and thus better for ammo testing) I’d suggest shooting off sandbags from a prone position. Sandbags and a mat are cheaper than a quality shooting bench and a lead sled. That set up should limit the shooter and environmental factors, leaving you with the firearm and ammo as the remaining variables.

    If you can’t see differences in the ammo at that range that may be a sign you should try a different range (closer or further). Or it may be a sign that your gun is the limiting factor. If testing at different ranges tells you “yeah they all shoot pretty much the same” then it’s time to focus on shooter and environmental variables to get the most you can out of your 10/22. That series I’ll be very interested in reading. It’s all well and good to say “go buy/build a better gun” but learning to get the most out of what you have is more realistic. Most of us aren’t shooting at the limit of our equipment. We should be.

    My final encouragement: Consider using the sling as a shooting aid. If there’s one thing that I’d like to see more shooters doing, it’s using a sling instead of rests. And it will help you wring the most accuracy from your current set up.

    • Pete – TFB Writer

      All great points. Thanks!

  • Nocternus

    Ditch the 22 LR and get a 17 HMR or a 17 WSM still rimfire but a lot easier to punch .5 MOA groups at 100 yards.

    • Blue Centurion

      Of course it is, but that is not the challenge. .22 with the right rifle setup can shoot sub MOA at 100 yds. Check out Rimfire Central…

      • Nocternus

        I have not shot competition rimfire before wouldn’t you be competing against all rimfire calibers or do they break it up by caliber? Seems like if it was all rimfires you would be shooting yourself in the foot by choosing 22lr.

  • AndyT

    I was going to do this very same test with my bolt savage on a bench and bipod with the 8-9 different subsonic flavors of .22 I have. Now that .22 ammo is readily available in North Texas I can get some neat varieties to run in my bolt gun. Any interest in me sharing what happens? I’m a mediocre shot at best so not sure how telling it’s going to be.

  • Blake

    Federal Automatch seems to be made for the 10/22; it groups extremely well in every 10/22 I’ve used it in. You didn’t mention what barrel you’re using, but the basic recipe for turning a pawn shop rat 10/22 into an inexpensive tack driver seems to be:

    – 16″ bbl w/Bentz chamber, e.g. Green Mountain (make sure the bbl profile you get fits the stock you have). These start at around a hundred bucks.
    – polyurethane bolt buffer
    – take apart the trigger pack, clean & polish everything, & swap in a Wolff spring kit
    – a case of Federal Automatch

    Other than the various higher-end Ruger 10/22s, another semi-auto 22LR that’s deadly accurate out of the box is the CZ-512, but then it ain’t a 10/22 so don’t plan on fiddling with it much…

    • Jordan Mickelson

      Glad you are getting good results with the Automatch, it is usually pretty hit or miss. Green mountain barrels have some good value too!

      • Blake

        Automatch isn’t absolutely the tightest-grouping 22LR ammo we’ve found (let’s be realistic: it’s basically just bulk Federal ammo optimized for semi-autos & manufactured to tighter tolerances), but given the price, consistency, & availability, it’s all we use anymore.

        • Jordan Mickelson

          “Automatch isn’t absolutely the tightest-grouping 22LR ammo we’ve found” <<< Understatement of the century. Eley Tenex, Laupa Midas and Lapua Center X are the tightest I have seen in my precision builds BUT paying $0.30-$0.50/rd for 22LR is not for the faint of heart.

          That being said of the bulk ammo available and for the price Federal Automatch cant be beat for plinking and fun shooting. It is the only ammo Walmart can order in bulk and sometimes I luck out and they will sell it by the case [3250rds] and let you buy as much as you want [$175/ea]. Luckily snagged 3 cases last time, should have grabbed a dozen… 🙁

  • Jerry The Geek

    It’s a little difficult to expect a decent evaluation of .22rf ammo when you’re using a 10/22.

    Having said that, I spent much of my formative years (ages 15-20) competing in gallery rifle competition. In practice, I learned all about breath control and even timing heartbeat in all four shooting positions. With not-very-expensive Remington and even MONARCH ammunition. In a Model 52, it really didn’t seem to make that much difference; besides, I had a lot of trouble with my off-hand scores. (I was better with Kneeling than Sitting …. Breath Control issues.)

    I spent my summer vacation the second year working in the local harvest to get enough money to buy a real match rifle: A Valmet “Finnish Lion” Olympic Quality rifle, with all the hand-rest knobs and hook-rests and (arf arf arf!)

    I went to matches and shot Ely ammunition, racking up scores of 200-19x on prone and 195-12x offhand. Practice practice practice, and a match grade rifle with a 20x Unertl scope .. plus a young man’s strong heart.

    It took several years of twice-weekly practice and the right equipment to get to the point where the ammunition actually made a difference (except that the cheap ‘practice’ ammo was usually dirty, and fouled the barrel before the first 50-round box was finished!)

    So, yes, match-grade ammunition DOES make a difference … when you’ve disappointed yourself by turning in a Expert Class 200-15x prone score and taking second place in a state match.

    With a 10-22? Not so much.

  • Blake

    If you want it accurate & you want it suppressed, then you probably shouldn’t be using a 10/22.

    The gas escape rate of the suppressor will affect the blowback energy of the bolt, & the noise of the bolt recoiling & opening (& the resulting gas escape) doesn’t exactly help noise suppression.

    I suggest a suppressed Henry carbine…

    • Jordan Mickelson

      Actually that isn’t true at all. Every barrel is going to respond differently to added weight on the muzzle just like a tuner, sometimes more accurately, sometimes less. You can also add a de-resonator to improve your harmonics. In the UK and across Europe the use “moderators” aka suppressors when they develop their load selection.

      Henry carbine would not be much fun for suppressed as you wouldn’t be able to access the feed tube w/o removing the suppressor…

      10/22s can be very quiet as can many semis in all calibers my SilencerCo Sparrow and Warlock work great on my Kidd and Ruger 10/22s, if you want real quiet, the Savage Mark II TRR-SR with CCI Quiets is absolutely ridiculous!

  • Tadatadum

    When you can consistently shoot groups of 5 shots at 25 yards that have 3 or 4 touching but the other one or two are ‘ out there’ through no fault of your own, you’re ready for better ammo.

  • Smedley54

    Free advice from a mediocre Smallbore Silhouette shooter –
    Get a decent bolt action rifle. Suggestion: CZ 452/455 American.
    Get decent glass. Suggestion: Leupold VXII or AR Mod 6-18×40.
    Decent scope rings. Suggestion: BKL 257.
    Try some SK Standard Plus in your rig, if it works out well, get (at least) two bricks, and go practice. A lot.

  • Mike F

    You need a box of CCI green tag ammo their most accurate loading

  • Old Gringo

    Interesting article….I have seen that $50 per box ammo and thought it was nuts for a 22. I shot competition 22 in ROTC in 1967-1969 and we shot Eley only. Then later I was awarded 7 expert ratings by the Army and Air Force and thought I could shoot, only to find out later, I am only average. I met a guy shooting a Mossberg bolt action open sights, over the hood of a pickup. He shot 50 rounds at 100 feet and had one hole smaller than a dime. He shot the cheapest stuff he could buy….today, I agree, every 22 prefers a different brand and if you shoot suppressed some guns won’t group 6 inches at 25 yards, ask me how I know. And I tried some of that no lead 22 ammo and in most of my guns, it grouped like buckshot.
    That being said the old bulk package Remington gold bullet that I shot 50 years ago groups as good as anything else. And like many have said, when I bought my lead sled solo, it taught me a lot….like my 300 Wby Mark V Deluxe really only groups about 1.5 inches and my cheapo Savage 17 HMR shoots every brand of ammo I have tried into half inch moa….go figure…..get a lead sled, see where they shoot, then shoot off hand with pie plates at 50-100 yards, if you can….don’t waste your money on target grade 22s…..instead buy the cheap stuff and teach a kid to shoot….

  • Old Gringo

    Oh yea…one more suggestion….while they look goofy, put an 18 power 50mm scope on your 10/22 and shoot from a bench…groups shrink dramatically. We put a 9 x 50 mm scope on a cut down Lee Enfield Mk IV, in British 303…..with military ball it only shot about 5 inches….then we put the 32 acp adapter in the gun and shot 1 moa–with 32 acp…..it was a hoot and apparently the bore size, twist, and velocity had a lot to do with it….but the point is, the good optic pulled in lots of light making aiming easy and showing the real difference with the 2 calibres down the barrel of the same gun….optics matter..

  • I think you would be better served to slug your barrel and mic the ammo before calling one brand of match ammo “better” based on brand identity and price. Most of the other serious testing I have seen of rimfire ammo found that the things which mattered were in order: 1) Projectile is at least as large as the groove diameter of the rifle. [Ammo that shoots great in one rifle or pistol will shoot badly in any rifle that is a loose fit, thus leading to one guy legitimately saying Brand X is the best, and another legitimately saying it is THE WORST.] 2) Crimp consistency. Some brands have frequent loose crimps. 3) propellant consistency.

    I’ve seen and read a lot of testing on this, and the overwhelming conclusion from the data is that cheap bulk ammo which fits your bore does better than fine match ammo that is too small diameter. Fine match ammo which fits your bore is even better. A couple guys on youtube: FortuneCookie45LC and 1957Shep had extensive collections of .22lr of varying grades and lots of fine target firearms. They also got a lot of viewer comments. We found a very compelling correlation between what ammo each of our guns “like” and diameter. There is a huge variety of diameter from gun to gun of same model, within almost every brand, even within production runs. Ammo tends to be more consistent, but Brand 1 is very different diameter from brand two. And by brand, I mean exact product line. We found that a lot of Eley stuff was on the small side but some were big. Same for Remmington, Winchester, Federal, Aguilla…. Wolf target actually did well in many guns since it is consistent and on the fat side.

    You really can’t have too fat a bullet if it will chamber, but too small is a big problem.

  • LetsTryLibertyAgain

    I bought A LOT of 50 round boxes of every type of 22 LR ammo I could find, many years ago, when it was cheap and available. My intention was to use this ammo to test various firearms to see which each liked, and hopefully find a reliable and accurate ammo that was fairly cheap to shoot. I never got around to any of that testing, but I’d still like to do that.

    I’d also like to get a good stainless bolt action 22 LR that’s very accurate.

    I also need to finish my rock solid portable shooting bench. So many projects, so little time/energy.