Quantity has a Quality of its Own

huge number of ammunition bullets. 22 LR (long rifle) in disorder

Not everyone can shoot powerful centerfire guns. For a person with wrist damage, even a mildly recoiling 9mm service pistol would be too much. A person with little upper body strength would be  hard-pressed to handle an AK or an M1 carbine, though they feel very light to most shooters. Shoulder  damage would make recoil of a .223 feel excessive. Many turn to rimfire guns as the best alternative, counting on landing a greater number of hits to make up for the lower power of the round. Is that prudent?

Let’s look at the home defense application first. The reduction of power from the oft-recommended  12ga or 20ga shotgun to a .22 rifle is drastic. A typical .22LR bullet weighs 40 grains, same as a .30  caliber #1 buck pellet. A single round of buckshot contains 16 of them, more than a typical rimfire magazine. Penetration is very similar at 10″ to 14,” with 40gr hollow points expanding to about .30  caliber in gelatin when fired from rifles. While rifle bullets retain velocity further downrange, that’s irrelevant for the typical in-house defensive use. Due to insufficient penetration, 30-grain varmint  rounds are less effective against human-size attackers.

By this comparison, we can expect a magazine dump from a sporting semi-auto .22 rifle to have an effect similar to a single shotgun blast. A rimfire rifle has no muzzle flash and much less  pronounced report compared to a shotgun. Given the minimal recoil of such rifles, good practical   accuracy is actually quite typical in home defense situations. For the same reason, diligent practice is possible even for those who cannot handle the recoil or the weight of the bigger rifles.

The downsides to using rimfire used to be the reduced reliability of the ammunition, the awkward  rimmed cartridge shape for autoloaders and the limited magazine capacity. Fortunately, these  problems are now largely imaginary. Let’s consider them one by one.

“Everyone knows” that rimfire ignition is less reliable than centerfire. That is certainly evident with  bulk ammo. Some brands and lots may have a misfire every 20 rounds. This lack of reliability is  most certainly not an issue with the higher grade cartridges. A CCI competition shooter has  recently reported a million rounds fired without a single misfire. While not up to a million rounds, I’ve  had zero malfunctions over tens of thousands of such defense-oriented types as CCI Mini-Mags  and Velocitors, or any of the Eley-primed types.

Rimmed cartidges are indeed rather tricky to fit into magazines. Fortunately, we’ve had well over a  century to perfect the feeding devices. Straight box magazines can hold up to a dozen, tube magazines up to 18, curved box magazines up to 32. They all work fine. Some people prefer the  smaller flush-fitting box (or rotary in the case of 10-22) magazines, others like the higher capacity  and the additional leverage at reload time afforded by the extended models. Rimfire drums can hold 50 rounds but keep only the few rounds in the feed tower under spring pressure. The  remaining 40-odd cartridges are supported by the individual cogs. That solution drastically reduces  the friction inside the rotary magazine and also eliminates possible deformation of the unjacketed lead bullets. 275-round pans for the American 180 submachine guns remain a less practical  curiosity. The plus side of the rimmed design is the simplified headspacing which permits looser  chambers and thus greater tolerance for fouling.

The sporting background of the traditional rimfire rifle makes it a bit challenging to operate under  pressure, especially when reloading is required. Fortunately, a large number of rimfire clones of  fighting rifles are now available. These mimic Sig 556, AR-15 and SU16 carbines in all but the  caliber and the weight. Most use polymer lower and sometimes upper receivers to shave off a  pound or two of weight, with almost another pound saved by the lighter ammunition. These guns have familiar oversized controls, accessory rails and tend to be fairly robust. When recoil is a concern but weight isn’t, rimfire conversion kits become an option.

Peter Grant, a friend who has trained many handicapped shooters, favors .22LR in very few  cases, mainly when centerfire is just not an option. He said that the low cost of the ammunition and  the minimal wear on the shooters allowed his trainees to hit a rolling ping-pong ball reliably after  expending hundreds and even thousands of rounds in practice. Three of his students used laser sighted rimfire pistols to fight  muggers, all with the same outcome: dead thugs had their faces  cratered by multiple .22 slugs. With the same rounds being notably more energetic when fired from  rifles, there’s no doubt that they can be adequate for self-defense. A 12-gauge shotgun or a  centerfire rifle may be the choice for most Americans, but the lowly rimfire rifle is far from inadequate. In many cases, it gets pressed into defensive service simply by being closer at hand than a dedicated fighting rifle. In any case, it’s worth knowing what it can and cannot do in combat.

About the Author:

Oleg Volk

Oleg Volk is a creative director working mainly in firearms advertising. A great fan of America and the right to bear arms, he uses his photography to support the right of every individual to self-determination and independence. To that end, he is also a big fan of firearms.
The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (10)

  1. Comparison of a magazine full of 22lr to a single 12ga shell may be flawed as the 22s get there over a period of time and the 12ga pellets arrive at the same time. I would not assume an attacker would passively wait around for a defender to empty the magazine.
    But I do get the point as John’s comment (#2 above) sums up; having a 22 – beats not having a gun.
    While walking or running in the neighborhood I forgo my carry KelTec P40 for a NAA mini 22 revolver. My threat assessment for the area/activity includes rabid foxes and coyotes. Both have been observed in the area including one bite from a rabid fox on a neighbor. The NAA satisfies the protection requirement against the perceived threat and is concealable with running clothes.

  2. PMR30 and RMR30 carbine certainly fit the bill — but they aren’t 22LR and so will be a subject of a later article covering various 22Mag choices.

  3. Thanks for the article on 22’s; would like to see more of them. I feel pretty well armed around the homestead with my Ruger 10/22 Compact and two Ruger-made 25-round mags. After my own informal evaluation of various ammo, I like the Remington “Golden Bullet” solid 40-grain 22’s for all-around use. A compact (8-in-long fixed 4 power duplex reticule) scope is on order. Using the see-thru mounts so I can still use the open sights close-up. No mounted lights for me, but a laser sight mounted under the barrel is a possibility. Gots a “hasty” sling for easy carrying and more stable off-hand aiming. Yeah, thats a nice little rig – for under $300 invested.

  4. I would think that the almost vaporware Keltec PMR would fit into this category, but I know not of the force of felt recoil on that design from the higher powered 22 magnum.

    Good story, going to share.

  5. Calico Arms – .22 caliber pistols and rifles with 50 or 100 round magazines. I always wished that they would make the .22s in .22 mag…

  6. Brings to mind a couple of familiar expressions:

    1. A hit with a .22 generally beats a miss with a .44, and

    2. Having a .22 at hand when you need a gun is better than having a .44 in the safe when you need a gun.

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