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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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!
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 Shooters 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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