.22 Ammo Basics, How to choose .22 ammunition
.22 Ammunition Basics
Ever wondered what .22 Ammunition is all about? Or are you feeling a little behind the curve by not having a .22 Rifle in your arsenal like everyone else? Well the good news is .22 ammo is more popular than ever, and as long as you can get your hands on enough ammo, there are countless firearms and several different variations of .22 ammo for you to explore. Let's get started with the basics.
Centerfire vs. Rimfire
The first major difference to note between types of .22 Ammo is Rimfire vs. Centerfire primers. The majority of of .22 ammo is rimfire because of lower production costs, and typically .22 Rimfire rounds don't require the larger powder loads and more powerful ignition sources found in centerfire ammo. Ignition is achieved in rimfire ammo by striking the rim of the cartridge with the firing pin. This simple ignition scheme means rimfire ammo is easily mass produced, but rimfire ammo is not suitable for reloading because of its simple, one time use design. Rimfire ammo is great for practice shooting, plinking, and small game like rabbits and squirrel, but .22 Rimfire Ammo doesn't have the stopping power or many times the range for larger predators or long range kills. If you're serious about pin-point accuracy when shooting with .22 ammo, rimfire may not be the best choice, but when used for training or recreational shooting, the .22 rimfire is unbeatable.
These days centerfire ammo is the norm in calibers higher than .22, but there are still some specialty .22 calibers that utilize the more powerful centerfire ignition scheme. Centerfire ammo utilizes a replaceable primer placed in the center of the cartridge for powder ignition, and the firing pin strikes this primer as opposed to the rim in other .22 ammo. Centerfire ammo in .22 calibers is also larger and delivers a heavier load than rimfire ammo. Since centerfire rounds handle higher ignition pressures, these cartridges are much more durable and can be salvaged for reloading many times over. When it comes to longer range shots and larger game like predators and some varmits, nothing beats centerfire .22 ammo, at least when comparing .22 Centerfire to rimfire.
.22 Ammo Variations
Now let's examine the popular variations of .22 ammo available on the market today. While some of the original .22 designs like the .22 Extra Long have faded into history, there are still many storied .22 calibers available today.
The .22 short was originally developed as a self-defense round in the 1800s, and while you'll see it primarily used in smaller handguns today, you can still find rifles capable of shooting both short and long .22 rounds. However, it is important to note that .22 short rounds fired out of rifles tend to be less accurate than .22 long rounds. 22 short rounds are always rimfire, and contain relatively light powder loads vs. other .22 ammo. If you're planning on stocking up on .22 short rounds, best do it for your .22 handgun, and leave your rifle round purchases to the more reliable .22 long rifle.
.22 Long Rifle
The .22 LR is arguably the most popular bullet in the world. Each year billions and billions of rounds are manufactured, and that number is constantly growing due to a somewhat sensationalized shortage of available .22 LR rounds. Long rifle ammo has been a long time favorite of recreational shooters around the world, and it is generally regarded as fun to shoot because of moderate accuracy, low recoil, and low cost (although low cost is now debatable). As you would expect the .22 LR is more accurate than its smaller cousin the .22 short, and you'll find a wide variety of firearms including rifles, handguns, and even some shotguns that are capable of firing these rounds.
When it comes to stopping power, the .22 LR is generally effective up to 150 yards with small game, but larger predators may require shots more in the 70 yard range. Although the .22 LR is less powerful than some larger .22 variants, it is important to remember that it is still a rifle round capable of traveling long distances and inflicting serious harm. Aside from rifle range plinking, the .22 LR is a great cartridge for small game like rabbits and squirrel. This is also an excellent firearm training round because of its minimal recoil. Above all else, any budding shooter should put in some time with a .22 LR weapon before moving on to larger calibers.
The .22 Magnum, also known as the .22 WMR (Winchester Magnum Rifle), is a larger and more powerful variant of the traditional .22 LR design. The .22 mag is still rimfire, but it utilizes a larger casing and a bigger projectile than the .22 LR. As you would expect the .22 mag has increased stopping power and range due to its bigger design. .22 mag rounds are more expensive to shoot than .22 LR rounds, and they are slightly harder to find than .22 LR, but they are still widely available across the country. Just keep in mind there is no backwards compatibility for .22 mag rounds in rifles made for the .22 LR, but some .22 magnum firearms are capable of also shooting .22 LR rounds.
The .22 Hornet is a centerfire rifle cartridge that is larger and more powerful than the .22 magnum. It is great for a variety of small game at longer ranges, but it is also just as valuable when hunting varmints and larger predators. While most shooters agree a well placed .22 Hornet shot will take down a deer, concerns about wounding and humane hunting has led lawmakers to outlaw the .22 Hornet for deer hunting. Hornet bullet weight is significantly heavier than that of other .22 variants including the .22 mag, and it also provides a much higher rate of velocity than other .22 rounds. Since the Hornet is a centerfire round with a rugged casing built to handle higher ignition pressure, it can be salvaged and reloaded many times over. Generally regarded as the most powerful mainstream .22 round.
.22 Bird Shot
.22 bird shot rounds are close range pest control rounds that are the same size of .22 LR. They are designed for use with rifled barrels in firearms like .22 rifles, but are really only effective up to 15 yards. Any shot longer than that is really a warning shot, say to scare off excess pigeons in a barn for example. .22 bird shot is also referred to as rat shot or snake shot because of it's use in pest control. .22 bird shot rounds come in two different configurations. Older designs are composed of one solid case that is crimped at the end similar to a shotgun shell, but newer models use a plastic cap filled with shot as the preferred method of delivery. Unless you're a landowner looking to dispatch some unwanted guests, .22 bird shot is really just a novelty round.
Before our initial examination of .22 rounds is complete, we need to also examine what each .22 round is made of and how that effects its performance.
.22 Short And Long Rifle Materials
.22 Short and .22 LR are typically made with plain lead bullets as they are cheap to manufacture. More expensive high-velocity .22 LR rounds are coated with copper to reduce barrel friction and increase bullet speed once separated from the barrel. Copper plating also combats lead oxidization, and copper plated bullets generally have a much longer shelf or storage life than lead only rounds.
.22 Magnum Materials
Nearly all .22 magnum rounds utilize lead cores and copper plating when it comes to bullets. .22 Mag cases are also thicker to handle higher pressures from powder ignition. More modern varieties of now utilize plastic ballistic tips in bullets. These plastic tips still provide maximum aerodynamics because of their streamlined design, but once the bullet strikes it's target the higher impact energy of a hollow point round is still maintained.
.22 Hornet Materials
Like .22 magnum rounds, the .22 Hornet also utilizes lead core bullets with copper jackets. Tips are commonly hollow point or plastic ballistic tip as well. However, since they handle the highest velocities of common .22 rounds, Hornet cartridges are very tough and are salvageable for repeated reloading.
.22 Bird Shot Materials
.22 bird shot utilizes lead shot pellets as its projectile. .22 bird Shot is still rimfire, and hence not suitable for reloading, but they are generally inexpensive enough that reloading isn't really worthwhile. More traditional crimped shells generally carry less shot than their more modern plastic capsule cousins, and shot delivery is also more effective with plastic cap bird shot because it requires less force to deploy the lead shot contained in the plastic. You should exercise caution before deciding to use bird shot with your rifled barrel. While countless .22 bird shot rounds have been fired out of rifled barrels, they are much more effective out of smooth bore barrels. There is likely no consequence of using a rifled barrel with .22 bird shot, but it doesn't hurt to do your research or reach out to the manufacturer to verify that it is safe to shoot .22 bird shot out of your rifle.
A Little Direction
It turns out .22 Ammo and its variants are a bit more complicated than you'd think, but choosing the right rifle and/or .22 ammo shouldn't be. First off, .22 ammo should never be viewed as self defense ammo because it just doesn't have the reliable stopping power desired in self-defense rounds. That being said, .22 ammo is still very lethal, and it should always be fired with the same respect you give any firearm. Unpredictable ricochet is also a very real possibility when shooting .22 rounds, and use with safety glasses is also of vital importance with this caliber like any ammunition.
Unless you have a novelty .22 pistol, avoid investing in .22 short ammo and/or .22 short specific firearms. You'll have a lot better luck with the .22 LR in every respect from accuracy to availability. When it comes to a entry level firearm, nothing beats a firearm that fires .22 LR rounds either. Now if you're a bit more serious about varmit or predator hunting, you can't go wrong with the .22 Hornet. It's a more reliable round than a .22 LR, and it's suited for a wider variety of hunting scenarios. You really shouldn't view the .22 Hornet as a plinking gun unless you're ready drop some serious cash on several boxes of ammo.
Whatever you decide on, do yourself a favor and make sure you have a .22 firearm in your gun safe. It's an invaluable tool for teaching anyone how to shoot safely and without fear of recoil, and just as importantly, they are an excellent way to enjoy a day at the rifle range.