This week on The Rimfire Report I want to briefly touch on a subject that has been the subject of much debate. With .22 LR being a widely available, inexpensive and easy to manage cartridge, it is no surprise people have tried to use it beyond its intended scope. So what exactly is .22 LR capable of and what are the practical upper limits of the long-lived rimfire cartridge?
Small Game Hunting
22 LR started off its life in 1884 as a popular target shooting and small game hunting round. Even today, 22 LR is used by many as a very light and inexpensive pest control round. Some manufacturers have even gone as far as to create specialized ammunition for specific pests.
You can expect to take out most small field pests such as rodents, snakes, rabbits, squirrels, and small birds. Most 22 LR ammunition comes in between 36 and 40 grains in bullet weight and travels at about 1070 fps out of a rifle length barrel. Cartridges in this category can quickly put down small game humanely at reasonable ranges.
Even though the cartridge works well for some small game hunting, I would not recommend taking quarry any larger than a groundhog. 22 LR is not suitable for taking down foxes or coyotes, even using higher velocity ammunition such as CCI Stingers. Even though 22 LR can remain lethal for over a mile, the probability of reliably placing a killing shot on small game at greater distances is not high enough in my opinion in order to use the cartridge beyond 100 yards. Past 100 yards there is nearly a foot of drop from your initial point of aim coupled with a drastic drop in velocity.
Self Defense with 22 LR
Rimfire rounds as a whole offer many obstacles to being used as defensive handgun cartridges. Right out of the gate anything concealable will be sacrificing a lot of barrel length which will reduce the performance of the already contextually anemic round. But what if it was all you had to defend yourself with?
If we compare 22 LR to another common cartridge, 380 ACP we should get a good read on just how disappointing the former is at self-defense applications. Some will claim that 380 ACP is the bare minimum for self-defense while others will claim that 9mm takes this claim to this role. In my opinion, either cartridge can sufficiently and reliably fulfill this role.
However, if 22 LR is all you have then there are a few small advantages on your side. 22 caliber cartridges all tend to be extremely light recoiling, with practice, even under stress it should be no problem for a competent shooter to place the first 5 shots or so center mass. Most 22 caliber pocket pistols are cheap, easy to handle and inexpensive to train with.
If it is all you have then it is certainly better than nothing but my main concern with using 22 LR as a defensive carry option is overwhelmingly going to be related to reliability. If you’ve ever gone out for an entire afternoon of rimfire shooting you’ll probably have at least a handful of failures to fire. With such an unreliable priming system I would not willingly trust my life with 22 LR.
Precision shooting with rimfire calibers has become very popular in recent times. Competitions like the Mid Atlantic Rimfire Series and the NRL 22 have made precision rifle shooting available to everyone. Historically 22 LR has not been looked at as a precision cartridge but with some practice and a good understanding of the round, it can actually be an extremely precise platform to work off of.
Generally, most people will use 22 within 100 yards with 100 yards being generally accepted as “long-distance” for the round and anything under 25 yards being considered almost point-blank. If we leave out both hunting and self-defense applications for the round we can actually take it much further while maintaining a good amount of accuracy. Obviously, the cartridge loses a lot of velocity and thus destructive energy at greater ranges but it will still behave predictably enough to make accurate shots.
Shots can be reliably made out to 250 with standard ammunition and barrel lengths. At that range, the bullet is dropping some 160- inches (18.2 MRAD or 61.5 MOA). This is an absurd amount of drop but it can be done consistently with the right optic and wind conditions. You won’t be taking down any game at that distance with the bullet dropping to about 800-fps at those ranges, but you can impress some friends by ringing some steel.
22 LR quite possibly has lasted so long based on the merits above. Being well over 100 years old, the basic design of the cartridge has largely remained the same but has also benefited from modern technologies and practices. Whether you’re teaching your children to shoot, doing pest control around some land or competing in a national match, 22 LR can fulfill those roles to some degree.
So what are your opinions on the limits and areas of excellence for 22 LR? I personally love the round primarily for its versatility and secondly for its affordability. Let us know your thoughts and experiences down in the comments below and we’ll see you in the next Rimfire Report.
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