Why Buy the .22 Long Rifle Cartridge?

By Bob Campbell published on in Ammunition, Handgun Ammunition, Rifle Ammunition, Rimfire Ammunition, Ruger 10/22

A proven resource in creating a marksman is the use of inexpensive .22 caliber ammunition and .22 caliber firearms. The rimfire offers little or no recoil, minimal report and good accuracy. It is recognized that the rimfire is a good training aid for pure marksmanship, that is trigger control and learning sight alignment and sight picture. In today’s tight economy, we see both .22 caliber conversions and dedicated .22 caliber firearms pressed into service in training. With the high, and increasing, costs of training, .22 caliber conversion units and .22 caliber firearms appear to be a good buy.

A boy in a gray t-shirt and safety glasses using a .22 LR to practice his shooting skills. The background is a green and brown grassy area with a wooded area.

There is no better handgun than the .22 LR for bringing the young shooter into the shooting world.

Any way you slice it, the difference in price between rimfire and centerfire ammunition allows the shooter to fire 10 rounds of rimfire for the price of a single service cartridge. The .22 may be used in ranges that would not be safe with high-powered firearms.

The .22 is a different design from a different era and this must be understood. The .22 isn’t a miniature centerfire; it is far from it.

Let’s look at the construction of a .22 caliber rimfire cartridge. The bullet is soft lead and heel based. Heel based simply means the bullet is the same diameter as the cartridge case. A heel or rebated rim on the base of the bullet allows the bullet to be pinched into the cartridge case. This construction is not as robust as the centerfire, which typically features a jacketed bullet crimped into the cartridge case. The rimfire gets its name from the type of priming compound.

Drawbacks to Rimfire

The .22 Long Rifle is the last survivor of the rimfire cartridges, primarily because it is not used for critical duty. The service size .38 and .44 rimfire cartridges have long been obsolete. The inside of the cartridge case is primed around the cartridge case rim. The .22 headspaces on this rim. When the firing pin strikes the case rim and crushes it against the firing chamber, the priming compound creates a flame that ignites the powder in the cartridge case. This type of ignition is not as reliable as centerfire technology. Rimfire cartridges are reliable in general but not as reliable as the more modern centerfire cartridge.

.22 Short revolver with black handle and barrel pointed to the left on a white background.

The revolver can digest .22 Short, .22 birdshot and any other low recoil load.

Due to the rimfire construction, .22 caliber firearms may be damaged if they are dry fired because the firing pin strike sthe firing chamber. The heel-based bullet is also not as sturdy as the crimped one in centerfire. (The more modern .22 Rimfire Magnum uses a crimped, jacketed bullet.) The bullet is more easily bent away from the cartridge case during cycling. As an example, when the rimfire fails to properly feed, due to a bullet shifting in the case, an immediate action drill—ramming the bolt forward—often makes the jam worse. The powder used in rimfire cartridges is intended to maximize the cartridge in a rifle barrel. This powder often fails to burn completely in a short handgun barrel. As a result the .22 is dirtier loading than any properly loaded centerfire cartridge.

A black Ruger .22/45, barrel pointed down, with 2 boxes of ammunition against a wooden background.

This plain and inexpensive Ruger .22/45 is a great all around 22.

All of these drawbacks are apparent to sportsmen and shooters who grew up on the .22. A tactical shooter practicing with the rimfire may be disappointed. They will find the .22 begins to malfunction at the 300-round mark. Cleaning is needed more often. The bullet is less robust in handling than a centerfire. When firing thousands of rounds, often as not, there will be several misfeeds and even a failure to fire of the inside primed rimfire cartridge. This may prove unsettling to a shooter who knows that the centerfire Beretta, Glock or SIG will go thousands of rounds without any sort of malfunction or without cleaning.

The value of the rimfire is unquestioned, but those who adopt the .22 for training must understand the nature of the cartridge. While quality is sometimes an issue even with the best quality rimfire firearms perfect reliability is not in the cards. However, when using modern .22 caliber ammunition, such as the CCI Mini Mag, malfunctions are very low. If you use a revolver or a bolt-action rifle you may never notice the malfunctions. That being said, the .22 is a wonderful training cartridge and a fine small game round. Those of us that grew up on the cartridge understand this. The shooter moving from the 9mm to the .22 for economy needs to understand the cartridge.

Training Considerations

We have discussed the characteristics of the .22 caliber cartridge. The need to clean the firearm often is indicated as well as the acceptance of less cartridge reliability. The light recoil and low muzzle blast are ideal for marksmanship training. There is no distraction from the fundamentals of marksmanship, which is fine for target shooting.

Tactical shooting demands movement and firing quickly at moving targets. These tactical drills are not the same as target shooting.

The primary mistake most shooters make when using rimfire firearms for practice is failing to firmly grasp the firearm as they would when using a centerfire firearm. They relax the grip because there is no recoil. They breeze through training and ace the course with minimal effort. The cadence of fire is also disrupted. For example, when firing the service pistol the cadence ce of fire is not set by how quickly you are able to press the trigger; it is set by how quickly you are able to reacquire the sights and control recoil.

The .22 does not present the same set of problems. Shooters may find themselves firing much more quickly and perhaps making five hits with the .22 in the time it takes to make two good hits with the .40 caliber pistol. This is not necessarily a good thing. If .22 caliber training crosses over to the centerfire handgun, the shooter will be firing too quickly and missing. In short, the shooter using the .22 caliber firearm for tactical training must use the same strong grip and hold they use with the centerfire. They should also time their shooting in the same manner as with the centerfire. Fire, control recoil, reacquire the sights, and fire again. Only in this manner will rimfire training cross over to the centerfire in a profitable manner.

When it comes to rimfire training, the distance is not as important with handguns. Rimfire or centerfire we will keep our training within 25 yards. With the rimfire rifle we may use reduced range targets to make training relevant. Pepper poppers and other steel reaction targets must be set for the .22 rimfire or they will fail to register hits. Often, even a light ping isn’t heard despite a direct hit with the .22. There are many considerations but as you see, there is much that must be done correctly to make rimfire training profitable.

Rimfire training will never take the place of live fire with the service gun and ammunition and it is a cost effective option for training. With a few simple considerations, a rimfire training program is both profitable for the shooter’s proficiency and light on the shooter’s wallet.

A Bit of History

A black Ruger competition and target model, barrel pointed down and to the right on a background of wood.

The Ruger competition and target models are wonderfully accurate and make for great recreational firearms.

By far the most popular .22 rimfire is the .22 Long Rifle. This loading has been around since 1887—originally loaded with black powder. The .22s were seen as gallery rounds for indoor target practice and for taking small game. The .22 short is shorter, less powerful and more expensive these days, but a fun little round for short range and plinking. The .22 Long is still loaded primarily in the excellent CCI CB ‘cab’ for low-power plinking. There are also shot shells available for the .22 for ridding the garden of pests at close range. Just over three billion rounds of .22 are produced every year.

Keep shooting folks!

  • .22 Short
    Introduced in the Smith and Wesson Number 1 in 1857, basically an enlarged Flobert cab, which was in many ways simply a percussion cap with a lead ball. The 29-grain pill breaks about 1,000 fps from a rifle.
  • .22 Long
    A long rifle case with a 29-grain short bullet. Just a little hotter than the .22 Short.
  • .22 Long Rifle
    The most popular and useful .22. Many variations but a velocity of 1150 to 1250 fps from a rifle with a 40-grain bullet is average.

Have you used the .22 for training? Let us know in the comments below!

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Bob Campbell is a former peace officer and published author with over 40 years combined shooting and police and security experience. Bob holds a degree in Criminal Justice. Bob is the author of the books, The Handgun in Personal Defense, Holsters for Combat and Concealed Carry, The 1911 Automatic Pistol, The Gun Digest Book of Personal Protection and Home Defense, The Shooter’s Guide to the 1911, The Hunter and the Hunted, and The Complete Illustrated Manual of Handgun Skills. His latest book is Dealing with the Great Ammo Shortage. He is also a regular contributor to Gun Tests, American Gunsmith, Small Arms Review, Gun Digest, Concealed Carry Magazine, Knife World, Women and Guns, Handloader and other publications. Bob is well-known for his firearm testing.

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Comments (25)

  • tdub

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    god I love the first picture. a boy in the woods. wearing ear plugs and safety glasses. that will be my 3 year old boy some day . that is me. that is us. never give up . stand and fight. stand your ground. . there are a lot of important things in life but we must never give up our rights. stay strong. live free or die. fuck those who even suggest we give up our small arms.

    Reply

  • Doug

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    I fortunately bought up a bunch of .22 when they were dirt cheap. there were a couple of times I bought 5000 at a lick for 80.00 plus shipping and every couple paychecks would go to wally and buy a brick or bucket. I have a couple heavy deer rifles and never used them for deer. my .22′s are set out about 70yds and that is what I used for several deer that I killed on my property. the lowly .22 has killed more deer and many men in it’s lifetime. a well placed round will bring nearly anything down albeit larger than deer slower, but that is where practice with it comes in. the reason .22′s are short is the gubment ordering 1.8 billion rounds. everyone is trying to get that order filled and forgetting the smaller rounds for civie use.

    Reply

  • Hank Alvarez

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    Doug: What’s the “Gubnment” doing with 1.8 billion rounds of 22′s except pissing us off? And that they are accomplishing quite well. During my time in the Marine Corps and since I saw a lot of different ammo in Uncle Sam’s supply system but I can’t recall ever seeing any 22′s. Hank

    Reply

  • Hide Behind

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    O.K. we find 22 ammo so expensive we buy every box we can find, and hide em in the closets, under bed , in garage, buried with rifle and cleaning kit, and we know tha 40,000 rounds sounds like huge number that we remember firing an eas 250 or more while our buds did the sam; So maybe 100, 000-150, 000 might be enough.one thing that sells like hotcakes that almost all 22 0wners have are GI ammo cans.
    A hint that some reloaders already know ; but so what.
    Talk of no lead means buy lead and tintype; Save your 22 cal casings as they can become jackets for lead cored 223 rounds .
    Learn how to black powder your single brl shot gun.

    Reply

  • JOHNCHAP2

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    My first handgun was a .22 on which I accustomed myself to the gun’s relatively modest kick. I worked up to larger calibers (including .44 mag) and their greater kick gradually, and shot competitively at 25 yards. Even today, I start out each practice round shooting .22 to adjust to maintaining a smooth trigger pull with the gun’s kick. At the range I now see so many people (including police unfortunately) whose first gun was the 9mm and who now can’t hit a target, let alone the bullseye, at 25 feet. When I commented to the range monitors that the people would have been better off starting with a .22 to get accustomed to a handgun’s kick, I am looked at like I am crazy.

    Reply

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