If you haven’t lot-tested rimfire ammo in your 22 LR rifle, then GIGO will certainly bite you — GIGO being the programming acronym for Garbage In, Garbage Out. Shooting 22 LR rimfire rifles accurately presents an unavoidable problem for small-game hunters: You can’t load your own ammo. So, to get the best groups out of your rabbit gun, you’ll have to lot-test rounds. The thing to understand about lot-testing rimfire ammo is that brand matters, and lot number matters.
If you want to shoot your 22 hunting rifle better, begin your own lot-testing by getting three to five boxes of ammo and shooting 10 well-aimed rounds of each into different targets. Compare the group sizes. Usually, you’ll see one good target, one bad target, and three in the middle. Keep just the good target and record the brand/lot and reserve the rest of that box. Use up the others in less-critical work. When you can afford it, repeat the process with five new boxes and again keep just the winner. After five trials, pit the winners in a shoot out. When you find out which brand shoots the best, go buy as much of it as you can afford. If you have several so close you can’t pick a winner, then you’re the winner. Go buy the cheapest. A “lot” is a specific run of ammo by the manufacturer, and many brands show wide variation between lots. The lot number is usually recorded on the inside flap of paper boxes or stamped on the shell of plastic boxes. The trick is to find brand/lots that shoot well in your gun. But is it worth the time and trouble for most shooters to do? To me, there’s nothing more frustrating that shooting a shot that doesn’t hit the intended mark, and me not knowing why. If a shot isn’t on call, then I go looking for answers.
But is there really a noticeable difference brand to brand? I recently shot several 22 LR ammo brands from CTD, spending more than $500 in the process (which these days is not that hard). To shoot the ammos, I used an inexpensive bolt-action 22 LR model, a Chinese-made NS 522 bolt action imported by KFS, Inc. that I bought for $300 several years ago. It measured 39.5 inches in length and weighed 7.75 pounds unloaded. The 21-inch blued barrel was hammer forged and free floated. I shot five record groups with each ammo lot on Speedwell Police Rifle Shot Log/Targets at 100 yards. I bench-fired all the guns off a Ransom Rest front benchrest and a rear bunny bag. To ensure a level playing field, I first cleaned the barrel, then fired fouling and sighting rounds as needed, usually about 15 rounds. Then I fired five-shot record groups per ammo lot. I used the same Bausch & Lomb 36X benchrest scope throughout. To measure the groups, I scanned the targets then used the ruler tool in PhotoShop to record group diameters to the thousandsth of an inch, and rounded to hundredths of an inch.
The Results What did I find after the smoke cleared? My test rifle shot inexpensive Eley Sport the best, recording 1.50-inch groups on average. However, it’s currently not in stock (CTD No. 7-EL22SP, $3.14). Fiocchi Exacta Super Match ranked next at 1.63 inch (No. 34169, $8.50), and then Federal Gold Medal Match Target at 1.76 inch (2-FEGM719, $3.70). RWS R50 shot 2.04-inch groups, but it cost a lot more (2-UX2134187, $17.80). Winchester T22 Target shot 2.04-inch groups (No. 6-0300930, $30.92), and CCI Green Tag shot 2.44-inch groups (No. 6-0315449, $14.26).
The Bottom Line Does that mean that R50, T22, and Green Tag are bad ammos? No. It means they didn’t shoot well in my 522. The point is, if you shoot enough brand/lots, you can find a reasonable match of price and performance.