Aguila SSS might as well stand for “Silent, Super-Specialized.” It’s the logical culmination of the effort to make suppressor-friendly rimfire ammunition terminally effective.
Giving up a little velocity, this 950fps load throws 50% more lead than the typical 40-grain subsonic. In order to fit the long 60-grain bullet into the form factor of .22 Long Rifle,
Aguila used a .22 Short case. Fired from a rifle-length barrel, this load approaches ear safe, with a sound suppressor, it produces no audible report at all.
By contrast, the long 60-grain projectile delivers an audible smack on the target end.
Starting out slightly slower than .32 ACP bullet of the same weight, it retains about the same velocity at 100 yards thanks to the greater sectional density.
There’s a catch, the bullet is too long to stabilize properly in the typical 1:16 twist rimfire rifle barrels. If not stabilized, the bullet would tumble right out of the muzzle and could damage suppressor baffles.
Accuracy of an under-stabilized bullet of this length is non-existent. CMMG and Ceiner conversion kits used with AR-15 uppers produce decent accuracy.
Curiously, some rimfire pistols shoot it quite accurately as well.
For testing Aguila Sniper Subsonic ammunition, I had two rifles made with 1:9 barrels: a Volquartsen semi-auto used with a Gemtech G5-22 suppressor on the muzzle, and a Savage Mark II bolt-action with a Hailey Ordnance integrally-suppressed barrel.
Testing Aguila Sniper Subsonic
The VQ rifle was earlier tested with CCI 40-grain subsonics, producing 1MOA, or slightly better, and very quiet report.
It was a surprise to me that the more competent shooter — 22plinkster — and the ammunition for which it was optimized, gave no better than 3MOA and a rather sharply audible “pop” from the ejection port.
Turns out that the edge of the .22 Short case clears the chamber edge too early in the extraction process, and some residual pressure remains in the bore.
Although the rifle cycled well, it was not a good fit for the cartridge despite high expectations. Match-grade accuracy with 40 to 45-grain loads made up for the disappointment.
The Hailey/Savage rig proved to be the quietest rifle in the world. It literally had no report, even the sounds of the falling striker and of the bolt handle being unlocked were much louder than the actual gunshot.
When recording a video, I had to go by the puff of smoke from the muzzle to know the difference between a live shot and an accidental dry fire.
Accuracy did not disappoint, being around 1.5MOA. Using an illuminated 1-6x Vortex Viper PST scope with Mil-Dot reticle, I can adjust for drop out to 3MRAD, corresponding to 155 yards.
Flight time to that distance is about half a second, which makes for a surreal experience: hear a click, wondering if it was a misfire, then hear the hit on steel or berm after a wait.
Mid-trajectory height at 55 yards is around four inches or 2MRAD. The bullet shows good wind resistance, so accurate hits can be obtained further out with a more fully-featured reticle.
The 1-6x optic was a compromise selected for the ability to do quick snapshots at 1x magnification with the reticle’s center point lit up.
The Silent Rifle
The integrally-suppressed barrel has about 10 inches of rifling and a foot of baffles. With a very small powder charge, Aguila Sniper Subsonic ammunition actually shot faster from it than from the 16-inch barrel.
Terminal performance remains consistent at various distances. The bullet doesn’t expand but does tumble, and produces considerable gel displacement.
Penetration drops with distance, being 13 to 16 inches in 10% ballistic gelatin at close range. Plenty for small game and varmints, but the steep trajectory requires very accurate ranging for full effect.
The eerie quiet of the rifle and cartridge combination makes it ideal for introducing new shooters to the basics of marksmanship.
With neither noise nor recoil to distract the novice from learning the basics of accurate riflecraft, it is quite a confidence builder.
Several of my trainees beg the home range visit with: “Could we shoot the silent rifle today?” Even if they’ve long since transitioned to centerfire rifles.
The cartridge has a reputation for incomplete power burn, but I have not found it to be any dirtier than other subsonic loads.
Regular cleaning is obviously a benefit, but the Savage/Hailey rifle has gone a thousand rounds without an issue or a drop in accuracy.
While the same gun also works with regular subsonic cartridges, they are slightly audible and definitely less effective downrange.
While Aguila has changed the packaging for this load more than once over the past decade, the cartridge remains the same great silent performer.
What’s your favorite ammunition to shoot suppressed? Have you tried Aguila Sniper Subsonic .22 LR? Let us know in the comments!