Experimenting with .22 LR as substitute for 5.56mm

This guest post and accompanying photographs are contributed by a guest writer, Alton Chiu. Alton currently writes for Small Arms Review. This is his second article contribution to TFB and is on the merits of using .22 LR ammunition for training. 

22LR is well known for cheap plinking fun and for introducing junior shooters. Even with new adult shooters, the author had observed a desire to transition into “real” calibres as soon as possible from both the coach and trainee. This article explores how a 22LR rifle can be an effective training tool for seasoned and budding rifleman alike, because it is comparatively inexpensive and is less environmentally constrained.

Just like how a professional musician routinely practices scales and etudes to hone the basics, a seasoned rifleman should routinely practice the high power rifle discipline. Appleseed (RWVA) introduces many to the marksmanship basics, and the 22LR rifle is favoured for its cost effectiveness and minimal recoil. At 25m, any deviation can be attributed to the rifleman rather than equipment; this facilitates diagnostics by removing “golf excuses”. 22LR also allows volume practice at a reasonable cost. Factory match grade 5.56x45mm and 7.62x51mm cost about $1 per. While hand-loading can bring the 5.56x45mm cost to about $0.35 (excluding case), high quality 22LR such as SK and Eley is about $0.12 without the labour of reloading. 

Wind reading is another critical marksmanship skill that should be habitually practiced. Ironically, the money and technology that allow a projectile to better buck the wind is undesirable for training because a long distance range is required to fully appreciate the wind effects. Geography does not always afford this luxury. In contrast, the 22LR shines as a windage training tool because its slow velocity and low ballistic coefficient allow it to approximate a centerfire cartridge at much closer distances. The following table show the range where the two cartridges have equal angular hold off in a 10mph wind.

22LR Subsonic 40gr 100m 150m 200m

6.5 Creedmoor 140gr 300m 420m 580m

This accessibility in range space and cost can help proliferate PRS-style 22LR club matches where positional skills are honed alongside fundamentals. The barrier to entry for the club is lower than a centerfire PRS match because the space needed is much smaller, and the steel targets are cheaper due to thinner gauge and smaller size. The barrier to entry for the rifleman is also lower due to reduced equipment and ammunition costs. The cost to try is nearly free because most already have a 22LR rifle and are also likely to have a spare “el-cheapo” scope. In addition, the inconsistencies of bulk 22LR ammunition would not impact enjoyment if the match is held inside 100m. Even a “no expense spared” 22LR rifle is notably cheaper than that of a centerfire precision rifle. The low barrier to entry helps to draw in new shooters, and eases the burden on the club.

22LR also proves an excellent training vehicle in the high volume action-shooting discipline where steel targets provide immediate feedback. Instead of using centerfire calibres that require expensive steel to withstand the impact and specially angled stands to manage splatter, one can substitute 22LR and practice on cheaper steel with reduced splatter. The cost effectiveness of 22LR further shines when the relaxed accuracy requirements allow the use of bulk ammunition. Cursory search showed bulk 22LR (e.g. Federal AutoMatch) to cost 5cents per and bulk 5.56x45mm (e.g. Wolf 55gr steel case) to cost 20cents per. Although 22LR cannot mimic centerfire recoil, the quadrupled volume helps the action-shooting discipline because skills such as the double-tap cannot be honed with dry fire.

The author assembled a 22LR AR upper as a companion to his 18” AR-15. The same Seekins 12” SP3R V3 handguard and matching upper were used to maintain consistent handling. The 22LR upper featured a Nightforce SHV 4-14×50 F1 which shared the same MIL-R reticle with the NXS 2.5-10×32 of the 5.56 upper. The reduced distances of 22LR necessitated the parallax adjustment of the SHV. A Bobro 20MOA QD scope mount was used so that the author may substitute an Aimpoint CompM4 to practice “run-n-gun”. The Beyer 16” barrel gave excellent accuracy, and a CMMG bolt rounded out the internals. The lower receiver and its Geissele National Match trigger were shared between calibres. The author opted for a Boonie Packer Better-Mag adaptor to retain bolt hold open function in the 22LR upper. A 10 round magazine was used for easier handling in unconventional shooting positions.

The author noticed that bulk 22LR ammunition produced good groups at 50m, with fliers appearing by 100m. When shooting to 130m, the author noticed that SK Standard Plus (40gr subsonic) had much more consistent performance than the CCI Mini Mag (40gr supersonic). The author believed this was partly due to the super- to sub- sonic transition and associated buffeting. It is noteworthy that the 5.0mil bullet drop of the subsonic is significantly more than the 3.7mil of the supersonic.

This article examined the cost efficiency and easy accessibility of 22LR as a serious marksmanship training tool, worthy of a home with seasoned and budding rifleman alike. If this piece had piqued the readers’ interests, the author encourages them to attend the next 22LR match at their local club, or even start a club match.





Miles

Infantry Marine, based in the Midwest. Specifically interested in small arms history, development, and usage within the MENA region and Central Asia. To that end, I run Silah Report, a website dedicated to analyzing small arms history and news out of MENA and Central Asia.

Please feel free to get in touch with me about something I can add to a post, an error I’ve made, or if you just want to talk guns. I can be reached at miles@tfb.tv


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  • Audie Bakerson

    ” Even a “no expense spared” 22LR rifle is notably cheaper than that of a centerfire PRS rifle.”

    What’s your centerfire PRS rifle cost? If I spared no expense on a 22LR rifle it would be based on a machinegun receiver (or for that matter buying congressman so I didn’t need one if we’re going all out on spare no expense).

  • Dr. Longfellow Buchenrad

    Ive never been a fan of training with .22LR. It has its uses, but it is not a direct substitute for your centerfire rifle. .22LR training can help you develop your trigger control and manual of arms training (assuming you use the same trigger and rifle pattern) and your general shooting technique (breathing, grip steadiness, follow through, etc), but there are some things it just cant do.

    1. With the reduced recoil of .22LR you are not getting the practice of recovering from recoil and getting back on to target quickly that you get with the actual rifle. I consider this practice to be very important.
    2. Growing accustomed to the reduced recoil also can also cause a flinch when switching back to the full power rifle if youre not careful. If you dont shoot your main rifle much you become programmed to expect .22LR recoil but you know youre going to get more but you forget how much more. It can be overcome without much trouble, but its just not natural.
    3. As was mentioned with .22LR you can get some unique windage training, but it is .22LR windage. If I want to convert that to windage for my main rifle I have to do math and if time is of the essence and Im stressed the last thing I want to be doing is switching my train of thought to doing math.
    4. I dont see much that .22LR training can do that cant be done with dry fire training; and thats free.
    5. It requires the purchase of a second gun/upper that is similar in configuration to your main rifle which can get pretty expensive if your main rifle is expensive and you want your .22LR to be configured the same way.

    If all youre looking for is the joys of competitive precision rifle shooting on a budget then sure it makes sense. Most of my objections are more pertinent to defensive shooting than precision shooting so Im not so much countering the article as I am the general attitude of “ammo is expensive. Ill just buy a .22 version of my gun and shoot that instead.”

    In the end this is why I choose not to seriously attempt .22LR training. Im not an expert and Im not saying others are wrong for doing so, but I cant see the point for my own uses. This ended up being a lot longer than it was supposed to be.

    • glenn cheney

      Stated much more eloquently than I, but I’ve pulled an all nighter, so, a bit less analytical than you.
      You are expert enough for me Sir.

      • Dr. Longfellow Buchenrad

        Ive been up since 11pm Mountain Time at work. At least they dont care if I cruise TFB while Im here doing nothing.

    • Paul White

      I like it for handguns; do a cylinder of a big bore revolver, then a cylinder of 22. Or three.

      41 mag and 44 mag kick a mite, both your wallet and wrist

    • iksnilol

      I pay a Polish guy to whack my .22 rifle with a broom every time I take a shot. Simulates recoil well, and is cheap.

      Regarding windage, .22 LR at closer distance is about the same as 5.56 at longer distance. So 150-200 meters with 22 is almost like 500-600 meters with a 5.56

      • Pedenzo

        Albanian’s work for less….and hit harder….will simulate .458 SOCOM recoil easily…..

  • glenn cheney

    My 7 year old grandson is building his first AR-15 with grandpa. He will go straight to 5.56.
    His mother was in a tree stand at ten, by herself. I see no advantages to shootING at 25 yards, lol, and pretending it’s 100, let alone 300, 500, or more.
    22 ammo in bulk is down to approx. 8 cents, I get Golden Tiger, BT, near match, good to go at 600, at 16 cents.
    How can any person compare MATCH GRADE ammo, at near a buck a round as mentioned, to popping 22lr’s at 25 yards?
    Most egregious, is addressing the recoil pulse of a .223 or 5.56. If that is a problem, they need to pick some video game on a couch near them.
    223/5.56 Ammo is nearly at 22lr, lol, 22 magnum still 20 cents or more.
    Such detail, trigger talk, a 700, 800 dollar baby AR, to save a few cents on ammo?
    SMH. Not to mention optics, this is the stuff of Brits.
    Only advantage of the 22LR is for getting kids into the sport. Varminting, small game, a different matter, but ol’ Rambo isn’t going squirrel hunting with a 7, 8 hundred dollar 100 yard plinker.
    I collect old 22’s, have dozens and dozens, so I like em…just sayin.

    • Paul White

      Or if you have no real interest in AR’s or 223. I know more than a few guys that havea 308 or bigger…and a .22. They mostly practice with the 22 and put a box or two through their big rifle a year

      • glenn cheney

        Agreed, I have many calibers, up thru 30-06, incl. 308, 270, 7.62×39, never got to hunt out west, so missed the need of big bore stuff.
        The 300 Win mag ammo from a base’s armorer I give selectively to some SWAT associates in two diff. county depts.
        I went 40 years saying “I don’t need me no black rifle” and now, well, I keep finding detents or springs, you know.
        I have gone the gamut from a 20 round box of hunting ammo, that lasted for decades, as bullet needs changed, but, hard to beat AR ammo at bulk, plus, it keeps old farts from annoying youngsters (under 50) with back in the day tales.
        I kinda like recoil, makes me feel, well, lol, alive. This activity or sport is what you make of it, I was one of the one rifle guys.
        What ever keeps you at the range is good.
        I have PA-63’s that folks run from, but, I love em’, same for my CZ’s.
        To me, cheap ammo is a plus, sending Federal Premium Nostlers at paper gets limited and bore sighting is a must.
        I look at it this way: Two AR rifles seemingly identical, 7, 8 hundred bucks plus optics…only one is 22LR, the other pick your Cal of choice.
        I’m picking the centerfire every time. It’s just me.
        Fwiw, one of my two all time best shots was from a 22″ bbl. Rem. single shot bolt my grandfather gave me.
        I can earhole most anything with a 22LR. If it works for ya’ do it.

        • Tim Campbell

          My best 22LR shot was at about 50 yards hunting rabbits in the desert in Utah. Hit the jack rabbit between the eyes with a hollow point. Did not exit the body, just expanded into the body. Best shot ever, with a bit of luck also.

    • Klaus Von Schmitto

      If there’s no value in shooting at 25 yards then why did the US Army shoot 1000 inches for nearly a hundred years?

      • glenn cheney

        Dunno, you tell me.
        I used to train at 100 yards with my Ruger Mk1 regularly.
        First time my 10 y/o shot a revolver, at an indoor range, 38’s, she put a five shot group all in head at 2/3 to 3/4 all way back.
        It was a counter rented 357 shooting 38’s…that was a year ago, she’s 40 now.
        I guess for this clan, 25 yards is like cheating.
        Why did Germany practice trench warfare for so long in WWI, or not develop a 4 engine long range bomber in WWII?

        • Klaus Von Schmitto

          Well as to the first question, it was to practice basic shooting skills including stance, breathing, aiming, trigger control, and sight alignment. Secondly, it used scaled targets for marksmanship skills, The idea was, if you could consistently hit the 1000 inch bulls-eye, when presented with a suitably scaled up target at longer range, you could hit that too. It was a sight picture you were familiar with. It was also used for zeroing rifles at a known distance, with a known hold over at 1000 inches so when you went to the full length range, the rifle would be on-paper at least, and most likely very close to being zeroed. Lastly, it was a standard competition range. The Army shot 1000 inches against other services.
          As to the second question I believe the Germans also invented a thing called the Blitzkrieg which doesn’t have a lot to do with trench warfare. I’m pretty sure the US Army was practicing for the last war in the Louisiana maneuvers of 1940.

          As far as your last question, I don’t know for sure, but I’d say they didn’t have a lot of aluminum to start with and they correctly predicted that if war came, they would mostly be on the defensive in the air or the Luftwaffe would be relegated to supporting attacking ground forces. So they concentrated on fighters and tactical aircraft.
          Since I’m an Austrian, you might want to ask a German for sure as the last person I knew (Horst Petzschler) who flew for the Luftwaffe died in ’08.

          • glenn cheney

            I was enjoying the twist n turn.
            I was Navy, didn’t get much “Army training Sir!.”
            At the early stages American military had soldiers marching with sticks for guns. The small arms used were necessitated by lack of arms, ammunition at the time. America’s war machine was just awakening.
            Interesting, your notation of calibration, that I was not aware of in the 1000 inches.
            Blitzkrieg tactics were second helping, WWII. Very effective, and was Stormin Norman reaffirmed in 1991.
            As for the four engine bomber, it cost Germany victory over England, and, to an extent, the air engagement known as The Battle of Britain.
            The two engined bombers lacked fuel capacity to degrade Brit assets, they had approx. 15 min. air time over target, plus to and return from forward European bases.
            Aluminum was not a factor as to one, two or four engine aircraft.
            Hitler basically planned for a more localized theater, however, Russian war production was moved by Stalin much farther eastward, out of range, so German scorched earth practices had no effect on war production, and Lend Lease and north Atlantic deliveries was a successful operation. Luftwaffa couldn’t reach deep Russian airspace.

            Germany did have long range bombers that could transAtlantic to U.S. seaboard in planning, but never made it off the desk designs, and the few four engined aircraft were too late and few in numbers to be a factor.
            German war planning never considered the need for defensive purposes, Strickly offensive, as per Blitzkrieg, until it was too late for Hitler’s generals to convince there was a need.
            Interesting discussion. Metallurgy was the nemesis of German jet technology, but Germany was way ahead of its time in technology.
            Had Hitler waited for the bomb, the aircraft to deliver both nuke and or ordinance without the aforementioned limitations, there could quite likely be a different world we currently know.
            Salute.

          • glenn cheney

            Lol, this weekend being spent in CTL project. It was the method by which Germany provided petrol for their war machine in WWII, as Ploesti couldn’t provide needs, plus was vulnerable as a concentrate geo target.
            I knew a vet that flew the Ploesti missions in a B-24.
            Sadly, all my military vets from that era long gone now.

  • Brett baker

    Good article! .22 is getting cheap enough we can practice again. You can do 70% of your training with an air gun and 90% with a .22. Not everyone has a big budget.

    • Seth Hill

      So you can do 160% of your training with airgun or .22?

      • Brett baker

        Not 160% but most of it. Just shooting BB’s at 10-12 yards with my Crosman M4-177 helps a lot.

        • TheNotoriousIUD

          Just round up to 200% so you get more practice time.

          • Ed

            Magpul told me that the Ruger American plus the Mapul stock equals 200 percent American, and thats science and you can’t argue with science.

          • Klaus Von Schmitto

            I switched over to 45 minute hours a few years ago so I get an extra 6 hours per day.

    • Rogertc1

      BB Guns are used by wimps.

  • Edeco

    I thought of a conversion for my AR but I do believe there’s glass powder in 22 lr which gives me the willies. Could get a 10/22 for the price of the conversion kit plus 100 rounds of primo 5.56, which would possibly basically be wasted if it goes out of tune.

  • DrRichardForce

    I love these type of articles! Save money by practicing with a .22 instead of your normal SUPER EXPENSIVE ammo. Author builds $1700+ upper for practice……..

    I may be really bad at math/logic here, but I’m glad that he decided to save money by building that rig instead of buying 7000+ rounds of SUPER EXPENSIVE Wolf Gold (assuming .23 CPR as shown on Gun.Deals this morning)…..

    Really?!

    • ARCNA442

      Yep, I keep looking at building a .22 upper to save money, but then I see how many rounds of 5.56 I could get and buy them instead.

      • glenn cheney

        I was gonna chase all these Jone’s too, lol, until I saw HARDENED ARMS, HAS .223, 16″ PINNED/WELDED WITH S.S. SUPPRESSOR FOR 799.00, I COULD GET TWO , ONE FOR ME, one for my “kid” and, have 200.00 left over, for one of two tax stamps.
        Hardened makes good stuff, rails usually Yankee Hill.
        799.00 for fully suppressed .223, TWO OF THESE, or, ONE Brit. edition .22LR upper. Of course, the 1700.00 22LR runs 200.00 more, but I’d need two tax stamps at 200.00 ea.
        I know where I’m headed, and it’s not to walmart to find a box or brick of 22’s.
        Ga-day Mate.

    • Brett baker

      To quote the great Fortier,”Go be poor somewhere else.”

  • Seth Hill

    I’ve long suggested that 3-gun, etc offer an entry class that allows .22 and .410 or 20 gauge.

    • Brett baker

      Ditto

  • JHayes

    A S&W m&p 15-22 can be bough for $325. Grab a gun just had them on sale. That’s less than 1000 rounds of .223. And you get another rifle.

    Now, 1000 rounds of decent .22 ammo is $125. So for $450 you have a nice .22 AR and 1000 rounds of ammo for fun, matches and practice.
    Mount your optic of choice with a one piece or a good set of rings and it’s quite simple to rezero in 3 rounds.
    There are quite a few people I shoot PRS with that have .22 trainers. When barrels last 1500 rounds before they lose velocity, start giving fliers, or generally shoot like crap compared to what they should, a .22 is a great way to get positional practice, barricade practice, and so on without spending a pile of money.
    Great article.

    • int19h

      Isn’t S*W M&P 15-22 still banned from e.g. Appleseed?

      • mazkact

        Yes, and I do not know why. My 15-22 has been reliable for five years, no issues. I do have a high dollar NM H-bar A2 .22 upper from Model one sales and it shoots lights out with Wolf or SK. I’ve won some Three position .22 matches with it shooting along side Anschutz rifles and the like.

  • thedonn007

    How much .22lr does he need to shoot to pay off the cost of the .22lr upper, scope, and mount?

    • Rocky Mountain 9

      By my calculation, the author’s rig shown here is conservatively worth the equivalent of 36,000 rounds of .22 LR ($1800). Assuming 5 cents per round of .22 and 30 cents per round of brass cased 5.56, the upper/ammo combo and bulk 5.56 become cost equivalent at 7,200 rounds ($2,160). However, if we estimate the upper at a more realistic *retail* value of $2500, the break even point doesn’t occur until 10,000 rounds. Change the 5.56 over to steel cased Wolf in this scenario (20 cents per round), and the magic number is roughly 16,700 rounds. Actually not too awful in this perspective, but in my opinion the author spent way, way too much money considering it’s a .22 LR upper receiver and not even a complete rifle.

      • thedonn007

        Thanks for doing the calculation. It would take me a few years to go through that many rounds.

  • TechnoTriticale

    Might be nice to have an article on choices in .22LR conversions (which I’m guessing are limited to upper-swap and those funky bolt/mag-only swaps).

    Also is there any solution for .22WMR?

    • Iggy

      I have a mental .22 design that involves a Gatling action, chainsaw grip, an electric drill repurposed for cranking and a backpack feed if we’re talking no expense spared…

  • Gun Fu Guru

    I’d rather get the CMMG bolt carrier group replacement than a dedicated upper. This way, I can still use my ACOG.

    • Cap’n Mike

      I tried that with my Aimpoint Pro. My zero changed too much for it to be useful after I switched bolts. This was with a colt 16 inch 1/7 twist barrel.

  • Cap’n Mike

    I have a cmmg dedicated .22 upper with bettermag adapter similar to whats in the article. Mine has a 9.5 inch barrel though and I use it with my SBR lower. I have a primary arms red dot on it and use 10 and 25 round M&P 15-22 mags. Everything together cost me about $600. I wasn’t trying to save money, i just wanted something really useful and fun.

    My kids use it at Appleseeds and Its plenty accurate at 25 meters to shoot a riflemans score. Its also nice and light, under 6 pounds so they can shoot offhand with it.

    I use it with new shooters. The low recoil, low noise, light weight, 2 hands on the rifle, short pistol range distances and red dot sight make it so easy for a novice to be hitting the target on the first shot.
    This makes it more likely they will come shooting again.

    I use it for tactical training. My club will let me shoot my 5.56 rifles at any distance I want, as long as its 50 or 100 yards on the clubs single rifle range with paper targets only. I can shoot the .22 at the clubs 5 other ranges, day or night, indoor or outdoor, as close as 7 yards at the clubs metal targets. Good for working on speed, follow up shots and reloads.

    My .22 CMMG upper is very reliable and soo much fun to shoot. The bettermag adapter was worth the trouble of installing it so that the last round bolt hold open will work. It also removes in 10 seconds from my lower.

    I also have a drop in .22 conversion bolt that i have used in a 5.56 rifle for decades. It works well but the zero on the iron sights and whatever optic I had on is different for each caliber. The accuracy out of a 1/7 twist barrel is less than steller.

    Im sure we all have guns in the safe that may not make the best financial sense, but if cheap .22 ammo is one more justification you can use to buy another upper, whats the downside?

  • glenn cheney

    WEAZEL ALERT: BAG EM OR DRAG EM 4.3, 4.4 CENT 22LR
    50 rnd Aguila Super Extra High Vel 40 gr. CPRN. $2.15. AMMOMEN LLC.

    525 RD. REMINGTON GOLDEN BULLET 36 gr. CPHP 4.4 CENT 22LR $23.00. AMMOMEN LLC.

    As of 5 min. ago, per report date today, IN STOCK.
    They just blinked, lol. That dime a round was hanging on for dear life, .04 per round more like it, come to Daddy, for those in need of 22LR love.

    ***This just in, FOR HOGS, GLUTTONS, and paranoid armed insurrectors:
    5000 rd. CASE AGILLA SUPER HIGH VEL. 40 gr. CPRN .044 per rnd., $219.50.
    AMMOMEN LLC.

  • Rocky Mountain 9

    “Save money on that pesky bulk 5.56 ammo by build a .22 LR upper using a billet receiver, free floating handguard, $90 ambi charging handle, and fancy barrel! Don’t forget to add a compensator to tame that punishing .22 LR recoil, and be sure to top it off with a $1,000+ optic and precision mount for those grueling 100 yard shots! Just imagine the savings!” -Alton Chiu

    • Rocky Mountain 9

      But seriously – let’s say that Mr. Chiu has spent (very conservatively) $1800 dollars on this upper. Seeing as you can have quality, factory new, brass cased 5.56 ball shipped to your door for $.30 per round… that’s a bare minimum of SIX THOUSAND rounds of 5.56 worth of cash spent on this rig, all before investing a single penny into the .22 ammo to feed it. Alternatively, you could buy a nice Ruger 10/22, doll it up with a bull barrel, a Hogue stock, and a decent rimfire optic, and buy something to the tune of 22,000 rounds of .22 ammo (~$1100 worth) to feed it.

  • jfsoren

    This is NOT a “new” thing. The Air Force used .22 rimfire conversions in our M-16 rifles to shoot on the air base’s indoor range back in the 1980’s.

  • Rogertc1

    Added a Franklin Gen 3 trigger to my dedicated AR 15 . It is awesome.

  • MichaelZWilliamson

    Occasionally during the Clinton Years the military used .22 conversions in M16s for training.

    Worthless. They do not substitute for a real gun and do not do anything for “training.”

    They’re okay for training small children. That’s it.