One of my associates recently showed off his brand new AR-15 type rifle at the firing range. The difference between that rifle and the others on the range —it was chambered for the .22 Long Rifle cartridge. He bragged about how the stock, sights and firing mechanism mimicked his .223 so closely that he was able to practice tactical rifle shooting for a pittance. I nodded my head, put the eyes and ears on and began firing my Daniel Defense .223 caliber rifle. My cohort busily ripped through a brick of .22-caliber ammunition.
Since the cost ratio is about 10.5 to 1 between the rimfire and centerfire, he had a good time. As I loaded my fourth 20-round magazine, he had nearly used six boxes of Winchester Wildcat—among my own favorite loads. Occasionally, the bolt failed to close, and his immediate action drills did not always do the business. Once or twice, he actually broke the bullet, skewing the heel-based bullet at an angle common with the .22 caliber rifle. And that is what the piece is—bottom line, this is a .22 caliber rifle.
After 400 rounds, this stalwart fellow grunted under his breath, “Guess I better clean it.” Simply squirting lube in the chamber would not do the trick. I hope he knew how to detail-strip the piece. I picked up my brass and left the range—my cohort was free from policing his brass. Not being overly nosy, but always aware of my surroundings, I noticed this erstwhile shooter had not accomplished much during his range trip. He primarily made brass.
Making brass is shooting without a purpose. I am all for recreational shooting, and I also hunt with the .22. It is a fine cartridge, as are many of the firearms that chamber the humble .22 rimfire. But there are certain rules governing the .22.
One of those is that it is not a scaled-down .223, .308 or 9mm, or whatever you are used to using. It is a case by itself.
Those who move from the .30-06 to the .308, from the .223 to the .204, or upward in caliber may do so more or less seamlessly. The rules are the same. That is not the case with the .22. Both the cartridge and firearms are significantly different. In deference to the popularity of the new breed of .22-caliber trainer, I am discussing the .22 as a trainer, primarily, and touching upon the important mechanical and practical aspects of shooting the rimfire.
We must imagine the rimfire purchase was for economy. The shooter who purchases the new .22 caliber shadow of the AR-15, the Glock-style or the 1911 is a different shooter. In the past, those wishing to own a .22 usually began shooting with the .22 rimfire. They learned the ins and outs of the .22 as their first firearm. Inexpensive and friendly, the .22 is overall a good learning experience.
For many, the .22 was their first, and only, gun for some time. As an example, one of my grandfathers kept a pistol for defense and a shotgun for hunting, while his only rifle was a .22. He passed his long life without owning a centerfire rifle. Today the situation is reversed.
Those who purchased a centerfire rifle or pistol for one reason or the other are turning to the .22 for economical shooting. Unless they are cognizant of the trade-offs involved, chances are they will accomplish little other than making brass. First, let’s look at the cartridge itself.
The .22 Long Rifle is a hoary old round with roots going back some 150 years. While there have been improvements in powder technology, the cartridge remains pretty much the same as ever, as far as priming and bullet technology. The bullet is a heel-based design, which means the bullet is of the same diameter as the cartridge case.
There is a rebated section in the end of the bullet that fits into the cartridge case. This design works well enough for manually operated firearms, although it is not ideal for self-loaders. The bullet sometimes becomes twisted and bent at the case mouth. Many shooters venturing into .22 caliber territory do not realize this and find that immediate action drills, rather than clearing the cartridge, results in further jamming the cartridge.
Slamming the bolt home does not work. You must clear the malfunction and discard the cartridge, rather than shoving the cartridge into the chamber. You cannot manhandle .22 cartridges. Those who grew up on the .22 realize this. Today, fewer and fewer cops, soldiers and personal-defense shooters are familiar with the .22. They may not have discovered that, often enough, a 50-round brick of ammunition will have a bent bullet or two.
Another tradeoff in the .22 is that the powder–specifically designed for rifle use–is often dirtier than centerfire cartridges when fired in handguns. Even when used in rifles, .22 caliber ammunition is dirtier than centerfire loads.
We must address the cleaning needs of the .22. A rule of thumb is that 300 rounds of .22 are about all we may expect to fire between cleanings. And we mean a thorough cleaning, followed by appropriate lubrication. If you are not up to this regimen, be ready for stoppages.
Unburned powder, and even lead shavings, become a problem after a few hundred rounds. Unlike the .223 rifle or 9mm pistol, you cannot keep shooting for hundreds or even thousands of rounds without cleaning. I have often stated that I would not give houseroom to a shooting iron that would not go 1,000 rounds without cleaning. That attitude will not prevail with the rimfire.
The .22 caliber bullet is self-lubricating, and the lubricant is on the outside of the bullet. While the action becomes quite dirty, the bore seldom needs cleaning. In fact, we are advised not to clean the bore at all. However, there is another problem that comes up even with the best of the .22 caliber conversion units. When you use a quality .22 caliber conversion unit—such as the CMMG version that I often plug into the Bushmaster—cleaning is minimal and performance excellent.
On the other hand, lead bullets clog the gas port and possibly the tube. Taking down the gas tube and port is not something we normally do when cleaning the AR-15, although you had best learn how, and quickly. At some point, you need to make the choice of a conversion unit, such as the CMMG, or a dedicated .22 caliber firearm.
.22 or Full Bore
The choices aren’t as simple as they first appear. From a pure training objective, the conversion is a good choice. The dedicated firearm gives us a separate, and equally useful, firearm as an assistant to the centerfire. As an example, a young cop on a budget may spend a little more money for a quality .22 AR-15. He then has a spare firearm he leaves at home for home defense.
At present, unless you spend the money for the first-class Kimber .22 caliber 1911, the 1911 .22s simply do not compare with a quality 1911 and conversion unit. The Ruger .22/45 is not a 1911, but it is certainly a usable trainer. Quite a few of the AR-15 conversions are not purpose-designed at all; they are simply adaptations of economy rifles.
If you own a revolver and use the .357 for personal defense, the Taurus 94 or Taurus Tracker is an affordable choice. Mull things over first, then choose. The important consideration is to understand the tradeoffs when using the .22 for practice, and then to live with them. With the need to clean the firearm and the different dynamics of malfunction clearance firmly understood, we are ready to address .22-caliber training.
Too often, shooters who intended to undertake meaningful practice with the rimfire end up simply making brass or plinking. The key is to practice as you fight, and that is to practice in the same manner as with the centerfire firearm. When you are firing the .22, grip the firearm in the same manner as you would if using a centerfire. Keep the 1911 .22 in a good strong grip, and use the two-hand hold whenever possible.
When using the .22 caliber rifle, keep the firearm in close to the shoulder and keep a good hold using proven techniques. Do not use a softer hold simply because you can. There is little to no recoil with the .22, and we may become lazy in handling the firearm. Do not allow yourself to do so. Keep the firearm gripped tightly, and use the .22 in training as if your life depended upon it. Remember, simple marksmanship training is not the same as combat training, and this new bunch of rifles are intended for combat training. With this understood, you may now undertake combat drills. So what drills should you undertake with the .22? The same as you use with the centerfire.
You are training for what may occur, not what you wish may occur. Building skill demands credible exercises, but we do not wish to outpace ourselves. It is quite easy to quickly master the .22 and become a better shot with the .22 than the centerfire. While a good goal for target shooting, the tactical shooter will avoid mastering the rimfire over the centerfire.
We wish to produce the same results as with the centerfire, but no better, while maintaining the constant climb in proficiency. We are learning sight picture, sight alignment and trigger compression with the .22. When we address a target, it is easy enough to put four .22s into the X-ring in the time it takes to work up two .223 caliber hits.
What you need to do is to develop a cadence of fire. The cadence of fire with a centerfire firearm is set not by how quickly we are able to press the trigger but how quickly we are able to control recoil and realign the sights. We do not spray and pray; we make every shot count. With the .22, the recoil control component of the equation, cadence, is often left out. We simply cannot do that.
We must be certain to control the firearm; use a proper firing grip or hold and devote enough time to trigger compression and sight alignment and sight picture. Of course, you can shoot faster with the .22, although you should not because this builds bad habits with the centerfire. This will cause us to attempt to run a course in record time with the .22 that we simply cannot run as quickly with the centerfire.
We will be firing the .22 more often due to simple economics. A good ratio is 10 rounds of .22 for every centerfire round, wrapping up every practice section with a few centerfire rounds. We can learn to fire the firearm well and be a first-class marksman or combat shooter as we prefer with the .22, but we must learn to control recoil with the centerfire.
Using rimfires for practice as a limited substitute for centerfire firearms is a time-proven asset. The German Luger was among the first service pistols made available with a rimfire conversion, and gallery adaptors were manufactured for the Springfield 1903 rifle. While there are trade-offs in using .22s for practice, the bottom line is that for both economy and proficiency, there are real advantages.
Training with the .22 in Earnest
At handgun distances, there is little difference between the .22 and the centerfire as far as target acquisition and range. We will practice close range drills inside of seven yards and build gun-handling and manipulation skills. We also will practice firing from behind cover and at the center of mass. When we use the rifle, it is obvious that we are not going to be firing the .22 at more than 100 yards.
Steel reaction targets that are set for the .223 will not budge when hit with a 40-grain .22. Fortunately, Mike Gibson Manufacturing (MGM) produces a neat little .22 pepper popper that is affordable and able to withstand thousands of rounds of .22 caliber ammunition. The MGM device means you can stay sharp and keep rolling with the .22. Reduced silhouette targets for the .22 also are available and do a good job of simulating a 100-yard marksmanship problem at 25 yards.
How about you? Have you trained with the .22? What were your results? Share in the comments section.