Match-Grade .22 Ammunition

By Bob Campbell published on in Ammunition, Competitive Shooting

Among the most enjoyable of all calibers to shoot is the .22 Long Rifle. Accurate and devoid of recoil, the .22 is the best fun caliber. The subject of match-grade .22 comes up often, which inevitably leads to the question, “Is it worth it?” In short, it certainly is.

3 boxes of Green Tag ammunition

There are many choices in .22 ammunition, and few are bad. Green Tag is good.

Just as I most often fire my personal .45s with inexpensive loads, the .22 is most often fired with inexpensive offerings. As long as feed and function are good and accuracy is acceptable, the ammunition is fine for practice.

However, there are uses for match ammo; one of the more obvious uses is for competition. You must have the edge, and match-grade loads give that edge for several reasons. As an example, my hunting rifle is not a match gun, although it is plenty accurate. The Ruger 722 is a fine shooter; it is the driver, and the ammunition is the tack.

I take my time firing and strive for accuracy. As such, I do not go through a few boxes of ammunition in the evening.

  • The light and handy Ruger 10/22 is a good rifle for slightly shorter range and a great all-around rifle.
  • The Henry .22 is a fun rifle.
  • For pure tack-driving efficiency, my bolt-action CZ is a better choice.
  • The Ruger 722 is the best choice for hunting, for my druthers.

When I was a young man, money was tight and every shot had to count, so I learned that match-grade ammunition is the best for hunting. Yes, hunting, not plinking or target shooting. I have taken pretty long shots on squirrels. Let’s face it: hunting bushy-tails with a .22 is comparable to taking a deer with a 20 mm cannon—killing power is not the question; it is accuracy. However, it is not a hollow point, you say.

Most match-grade ammunition uses a softer lead bullet, and at shorter distances ,it will expand or at least deform. I do not think it matters with the game I am after. I remain as steady as possible, exhale, keep the reticule spot on and take the shot. Will my loads break an inch at 50 yards from the Ruger? Sometimes, but mostly they come close.

A match-grade rifle would do better. Nevertheless, there is a noticeable difference in the rifle between common fodder and match grade. I am not discussing bulk ammunition that I use in the 10/22 with the 25-round magazine to keep the zombie targets rolling. I am talking hunting. And while I hunt with rifles, these match-grade loads are also more accurate in quality handguns.

There are several differences in match-grade ammunition. First, the bullets are loaded to subsonic velocity. That is fewer than 1,000 fps from a rifle barrel. Secondly, the consistency is better. However, an overlooked factor that I have picked up from personal observation is that the bullet-to-case fit seems better with match-grade ammunition. Take a box of standard fare—and be careful because you can pull the bullet from the case—and shake the nose of the bullet. Some are pretty loose.

Single cartridge showing outside lubration on a white background

Part of the problem with .22 ammunition is that the bullet is outside lubricated. CCI applied modern technology to the problem.

The .22 uses a heel-based bullet that slips into the case without a crimp. All of the reasons we left the rimfire behind for the centerfire in service cartridges are inherent in the .22 long rifle. I am certain the majority of tie-ups in the semi-auto are a result of loose motion in the bullet and case contact, while tie-ups occur with bolt guns as well. The match-grade stuff really is put together better. I am certain more care goes into the powder charge and consistency ,and the lubricant on the bullet itself seems slightly drier than with standard fare. Taken as a whole, match-grade ammunition should be more reliable than standard ammunition, and it usually is. As for function in self-loaders, as long as the bullet weighs 40 grains, most semi-autos function with standard-velocity loads.

I have used thousands of CCI’s standard-velocity loadings throughout the years. The reason most of us do not use these loads is because bulk high-velocity hollow points are often less expensive. That is fine; they do the business and if you need to take out pests, and even predators, with the .22, a high-velocity .22 is interesting. I have noted that when you get on the high end of velocity, quality control and accuracy are often very good.

Box of CCI Velocitor Ammunition

High-velocity cartridges may be more subject to buffeting at supersonic speeds. Just the same, the Velocitor is an accurate loading.

The CCI Velocitor, as an example, is a fast and powerful .22 at just over 1,400 fps—with the full-weight 40-grain bullet. I like this one a lot and rely on it for many chores. However, while accurate, the CCI Green Tag is even more accurate in a rifle that is accurate enough to show the difference. A well-worn 10/22 such as mine may actually be more accurate with bulk ammo, simply as a matter of chance. With the Ruger and CZ, match-grade loads show their mettle.

There is more to the story, and the bottom line is this: .22 Long Rifle match-grade ammunition is a step up in quality and consistency. Greater care in manufacturing results in greater accuracy. And while the powder charge and composition are important, my observations about the concentric construction of the bullets are, I believe, valid. On a slightly different subject, although closely related, some ammunition is so good that it is match grade even if not advertised as such. An example is the new CCI Suppressor.

With the popularity of suppressed systems, it was a good move for CCI to introduce this load. The development is spot on. I do not own a suppressed firearm, although I have fired several. They are great gun accessories and keep the neighbors happy when you are firing away. I also believe they would be an advantage in hunting small game. A supersonic crack pretty much alerts the squirrels you are at hand.

Hiram Maxim invented the suppressor, one of his many accomplishments, and he did a great deal for all of us (more than you realize because he also invented the vehicle engine noise muffler). The suppressor uses a 45-grain bullet—a little heavier than normal. This is a smart move because 45 grains at 970 fps is a hard hitter. Designed to give those with a suppressed rifle a good game load, it is quiet and burns clean with high-quality lubricant to aid in the long life of a quality firearm.

Box of CCI 22 LR ammo

While the Europeans make good ammunition—Norma, Eley, SK, and Wolf—in some cases, for most uses in the U.S., CCI leads the pack.

I am enthusiastic concerning this load. A good rule on ammunition selection I considered when firing this new loading is that just about anything is OK at 25 yards, but when you get to 50 yards, match grade is the way to go. Some loads are accurate at 25 yards but fall apart at 50 yards—imagine how poor they would be at 100 yards.

Match-grade .22s are the way to go when the game is more serious.

Which load do you use? Will you change that load after reading this post? Share in the comments section.


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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